The Uses of a Canoe: Paul Brooks, "Roadless Area"

“Paddle your own canoe” is a misleading expression. A canoe is a boat for two. It is infinitely adaptable. You can paddle it, pole it, sail it. You can sleep in it or under it. You can transport is in a baggage care, on a trailer, on top of your automobile or your back. It will float on a heavy dew, yet is not too frail for the ocean. In rapids it will give you the thrill of a ski run; on a lake at evening it is the embodiment of peace. A canoe, like rum, is a ready mixer. It goes well with fishing or birding or camping or loafing: even- if you are seeking a Permanent Bow Paddle-with courting.
— Paul Brooks, Roadless Area

Roadless Area

Brooks was editor in chief of Houghton Mifflin Company and an active conservationist and outdoorsman. I came across Roadless Area, published in 1964, in a used book store, and I'm glad I picked it up! It's a very enjoyable collection of short stories following Brooks, his wife, Susan, and their family on wilderness treks through African, Alaska, the canyon lands, Pacific Northwest, Appalachians, Caribbean, and, of course, canoe country!

I, of course, love Brooks' passage on "The Uses of a Canoe." The canoe is an incredibly functional, flexible, enjoyable, and comparatively affordable craft. I would argue that it's not just a boat for two though. Some of my most enjoyable moments are either paddling solo or taking the whole tribe out on a cruise. A well-designed and classic canoe paired with a bit of skill can accommodate either with ease.

Grounds for divorce differ according to state laws. But there are certain remarks, when made by a fisherman’s wife in time of stress, that would universally be recognized as sufficient by any judge who has ever wet a line.

Brooks is a funny and entertaining writer, but also clearly a passionate protector of wilderness areas. (Brooks' reference to his wife, "Permanent Bow Paddle," is, of course, an inappropriate and antiquated term because today, many couples paddling sleek asymmetric canoes made of space age materials and put the man in front.

Brooks is also a talented artist. I really enjoyed his sketches throughout the book.

Roadless Area is a worthy addition to the nightstand of wilderness lovers.