I found the green paddle lodged in a rapid eight months ago as I crossed the Boundary Waters. It isn’t much to look at, just a tough piece of plastic, the kind you’d hand a kid who likes to paddle rocks as much as water, but the wild favors those who leave no trace, so I picked it up and thought I would throw it away somewhere.
A few days later, I wrapped it in a wetsuit and strapped it to the cockpit of the kayak.
I’d been fiddling with each portage, tying straps and ropes across the Looksha’s hull, using my wetsuit for padding, carrying the boat backwards and forwards, on one shoulder or both. Sometimes the boat lifted easier and balanced better, sometimes I just heaved and collapsed back in the water where I started, but each time I adjusted, learned, and tried again.
The Green Paddle tied it all together. Balanced right, it let the boat sit on my shoulders, the backband braced against my forehead, the weight almost comfortable for a few steps.
But long after comfort faded, it still made it possible to continue on. Even as the paddle dug into my shoulders, I thanked it and whatever spirit ripped it out of some kid’s hands and left it for me in a rapid. Without it, I would have collapsed on some old portage and never gotten up. The New Long Portage, The Grand Portage, The Savanna Portage, the Green Paddle made them possible.
And I still have it, this green plastic paddle, strapped to the back of the boat, ready to smash against rocks in a rapid, to dig up sand for sharks teeth, or check the depth of a mud pit. I’ve used it like a dull machete to beat back underbrush on while exploring islands, to hang a tarp in a windstorm, and to defend the Looksha from a raccoon.
But mostly, I carry it for luck.
So when I saw a red paddle hung up in the mangrove roots, same brand as the green, just as beaten up and worthless. I had to pick it up, maybe just to throw it away somewhere, maybe for some yet unknown reason, but I couldn’t leave it. A second paddle to match the first, a southern bookend to the northern story.
A reminder that the wilderness favors those who leave no trace.