“Let’s sneak in one final paddle,” I suggest to my husband the November Sunday that we plan to store our canoe for the winter. We choose a site where we can launch without stepping into chilly water: the Erie Canal below Lock 32.
The normally smooth water ripples in stiff wind. I’m sorry I didn’t wear a hat and am thankful for my life vest’s extra layer of warmth.
We don’t talk much when we paddle. With his hearing aids stowed in a waterproof container, Julian barely hears me. Today the wind whisks my words away, and we lapse into companionable solitude.
The scene looks like a child’s drawing of stick-figure trees rising from a scribbled layer of brown. Around a bend, a single red-leafed bush juts over the canal. The leaves on a trio of weeping willows sway in gentle amber waves.
At Schoen Place, the mallards’ green heads glisten in sunlight as they race for breadcrumbs a child tosses into the canal. They quack in an off-key chorus.
A young boy calls a cheery hello between licks of ice cream.
“Glorious day!” I shout to a plaid shirt-clad paddler going the opposite direction. “Yup,” he responds, his canoe a golden smile in the water.Couples strolling the canal path sip coffee. A brisk walker’s sweat shirt is tied around her waist, her arms bare to the autumn wind. The aroma of newly cut grass compensates for a lawnmower’s annoying roar.At the Mitchell Road bridge, we turn around.
A whirligig on a dock rotates in perpetual motion. A pair of empty, weather-beaten Adirondack chairs suggests warmer, lazier days.
Overhead, birds weave a black and white ballet against the azure sky. Following a choreography set to the wind’s music, they circle, soar, swoop, and flap away.
Approaching Monroe Avenue, I gird myself to turn into the wind. We pull in practiced rhythm, careful not to splash each other. The sun, low now, glimmers through leafless trees. On shore, flags and banners flap.
Back at our starting point, we clamber gracelessly onto the dock, sneakered feet still dry.
At home, we hoist the canoe to the garage ceiling. Like a pebble skimming the water’s surface, my mind skips over the dreary, canoeless winter ahead.
“Come on,” I’ll urge my husband when the first buds appear and wildflowers color the canal banks. “Yard work can wait. Let’s sneak in an early paddle.”