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086 A River Experience 2010-02-04

Harpeth River put in

Wednesday, May 20th, I went on a canoe trip down the Harpeth River with third graders from University School of Nashville. Cynthia, the trip leader and teacher, came by our house to pick me up so that I could ride with her to the river.

On the way we talked about canoeing and the previous trips. I asked about the seating arrangements as I was supposed to have three kids in the canoe with me. She informed me that the two extras would sit in the middle and only the bow person would get to paddle. When I questioned why only one would paddle at a time (they would rotate into the bow position) she said, "you will wish they would not even paddle at all." I have had some really bad partners before, how bad could it be?

After loading my three students into the boat we shoved off from the bank. The current was swift enough that we floated at a comfortable speed without paddling. It was great. Down stream around the first bend we eddied and waited until all of the canoes were manned, underway, and finally grouped together as a fleet. The canoe company guide, Dawn, led the way. Admiral Cynthia in her extra long canoe was the flagship and she kept the other boats together.

On command we began to paddle, everywhere. Luckily the river was wide. Soon I realized that every stroke I made was actually to correct my bow person’s stroke. They paddled forward, backward, and to each side. No two strokes were ever the same. Not knowing, they paddled J strokes, C strokes, and all of the other twenty-four letters of the alphabet. They didn’t really care where the boat went as long as they were able to paddle. Colliding with other canoes was infinitely more fun than avoiding them. At no time did they have any purpose in paddling. They had a paddle in their hands so they were going to use it the best they saw fit!

But the trip was not about paddling, they were third graders, instead it was a river experience. Each canoe had a check list of things to find along the way. Blue herons - check, rookery - check, beaver - check, muscle shells - check, etc.; each check came with a renewed level of excitement. It was a scavenger hunt of the river’s ecological system. I continually focused my teams attention on the list in hopes they would become so focused on finding the items that they would be distracted from trying to paddle. It worked for a while until they performed a floatation experiment with the list and pen. Both the pen and list floated, but the pen stopped writing and the page’s ink ran to make a blob font - completely unreadable.

Bored with no list, the two members of my team began playing in the water and the bow person persisted in wanting to paddle. The two non-paddlers would lean over the side of the gunwales to help paddle with their hands. There were a couple of times when I thought their river experience was going to include a complete emersion in the watery subject. Luckily we made it to the take out still afloat.

Once on the bank, we had to carry the six canoes a hundred and fifty feet up a steep riverbank to the parking lot. Slowly the students pitched in to help and on the last canoe all nineteen students carried it by themselves as Cynthia walked behind and mushed.

I was glad Cynthia asked me to go with her to help on the trip. The kids were great even though, as bad as I hate to say it, it would have been easier for me to paddle without their help. The students were respectful, helpful, eager to learn, and had absolutely no fear of the water. If all of the classes were as good as the one I met I think that the future generations are in good hands, well, as long as there is not a paddle in those hands! Thanks for a great trip.


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