It is fascinating to me when skills from one arena of my life transfer to another arena. In my climbing days, my knowledge of knot tying from fishing was very useful. My knowledge of rope work and subjective physics (AKA not falling off of the mountain) from climbing has come up useful in many of the projects underway here at CopperMoon. Even the skills of canoe paddling “crosses streams” (a concept from Sticky Wisdom by by Dave Allan and Matt Kingdon).

Of what use could canoe paddling be in a homesteading world? It is true, we never have enough flowing or standing water here to make boats and paddles useful. The paddling skills that come up again and again as crucial are communication, responsibility, and flexibility.

Specifically, I am speaking of two people paddling a canoe together – tandem canoeing. The paddling community refers to tandem canoes as “divorce boats” because if either paddler has any control issues, those issues can easily be triggered in trying to maneuver a boat from one place to another. One person may think that the destination is that big rock and the other has a different idea. The bow paddler may see obstacles in the water that the stern paddler cannot and want to communicate that information quickly and urgently. Even how to use the paddles can become contentious.

In my younger and more naive days of paddling, I used to have the idea that the stern paddler has more control of the boat so, therefore, should make most of the decisions – the Captain Of The Boat syndrome. This might work for a little bit, but eventually one paddler or the other will get frustrated with The Captain approach because neither paddler can see the whole situation all of the time.

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Communication, responsibility, flexibility

What do successful tandem canoeists do (the ones that are still married…)? A more experienced paddler explained this to me once. She said, “each person is responsible for paddling their half of the boat.” This makes the paddlers a team and all the team needs now is a clear understanding of the objective. “Let’s cross the lake and land at that beach.” Or, “after we pass that rock, we’ll back-ferry left to avoid that hole on river right.” Now they paddle their half of the boat to reach the destination.

No matter the objective, if the situation changes, they communicate and work together to stay safe. The bow paddler might call “Draw!” and start madly throwing draw strokes to the right (moving the boat right) the stern paddler better damn well support that. They can discuss what the hazard was after it is safe once again.

Three things come together to successfully paddle a tandem canoe. 1) communication and agreement on the destination; 2) each paddler taking responsibility for their half of the boat; 3) each paddler being skillful, flexible, and willing enough to deal with obstacles or mid-course corrections.

OK, let’s “cross streams” now.

Here at CopperMoon, one might presume that we have a Noble Leader at the tiller steering us in the right direction. Pffft! Can you say, “herding cats”? Periodically, we sit down together, take the fetters off our brains, and turn our brains loose to explore What Could Be. The results of this exploration give us our destinations. We end up with a prioritized list of ideas, goals, and tasks that we want to accomplish. Now we have a destination in mind and we can, together, all “paddle our half of the boat” to get there.

In that mode, one of us may need help peeling alder logs for a project. He or she will ask for help. Peeling alder logs moves us along to completion of the project so one or more of us pitch in to help.

Growing more of our own food is a high priority for us. With that in mind, we’ll work together to create an indoor seed starting station, weed garden beds in the spring, build hugel mounds, week gardens in the summer, harvest and preserve crops, prepare and plant more strawberries and raspberries, plant more crop trees, and prepare for the next year. 

Once, we thought that we had a clear objective of creating an organic swimming pool in the upper pasture. It was – and still is – a good idea, however committing all of that time, energy, and money to such a project right now is not, it turned out, what we want. We corrected course and moved on.

The same three factors are in play here as in a tandem canoe. We communicate and agree on the direction we want to go. Each of us take responsibility for making things happen. We continue to communicate about needs, ask for support, or ask for ideas and discussion when needed.

I love canoeing and kayaking. I think about these skills a lot as we paddle CopperMoon along. I also realize that there are several subjects buried a little deeper behind what I’ve written today. How do we set directions for CopperMoon? How do we keep track of all the balls that we’re usually juggling? How do we make decisions about mid-course corrections? These will come up in future blogs posts. What skills do you pull from “across the stream”?