A few weeks ago, I was travelling with an Innu First Nation wilderness guide up a remote river while on a trip to the Quebec-Labrador border area. As we pushed up the lower reaches of the river – an area influenced by ocean tides – we came across a long stretch of sandy shoreline beside the woods. We decided to pull over for a short hike.
Because the tide was low and the river was shallow, our small boat could only come within several feet of dry land before getting stuck in the sand. I took a big leap from the bow and landed in an inch of water at the river’s edge. I did that to avoid getting my hiking boots wet.
Later, when we returned from our ramble through the birch and muskeg forest, my guide, Mathias, who was wearing gumboots, walked out into the water to pull the boat as close to shore as he could. Again it came within no less than several feet of land.
The only way for me to get back into the boat was to walk out into the shin deep water. That would have meant getting my feet wet. Not a catastrophic scenario by any stretch of the imagination. But it was cold out and my boots would have taken a long time to dry off afterwards.
The other option was to walk through the water in my bare feet. A much better plan. But the idea of taking my boots and socks off and then putting them back on again seemed laborious – and offputting.
Partly as a kind of challenge, a game for myself, I started wracking my brain to find a third method of reaching the boat that didn’t require either getting my boots wet – or removing and then reapplying my footwear (which for some reason felt like a cop-out solution).
Mathias, watching me curiously, sensed my hesitation.
“Do you want me to carry you on my back?” he asked.
For a moment I had a vision of that almost absurd scene, and shook my head. That would be an even bigger cop-out, I remember thinking. But also, deep down, I was certain there was another solution just under my nose. But I couldn’t think of it – or see it – no matter hard I tried.
Mathias intuitively knew the game I was playing. But by comparison he was relaxed and didn’t appear to be grasping mentally at any answer. He just stood there waiting, patient and receptive.
As I aborted a scheme to construct a birch raft and prepared to unlace my boots in defeat, I noticed Mathias’s eyes lock onto something behind me. He walked over to a piece of driftwood sitting partly buried in the sand. With effort he picked up one end of the heavy log and dragged it back to the boat. He then placed the log lengthwise in the water between myself and the boat, creating a kind of bridge through the shallow water leading to the craft.
I put one foot on the log and discerned the trunk was too narrow to walk across without losing my balance. So Mathias stood in the water beside me and offered up his arm. I grabbed it, took a second step, and easily balanced my way across to the boat.