Anyone who has been paddling a long time has become attached to something or other, a certain keepsake that becomes sacred. Something that takes on a life of its own, and embodies the spirit of the person who uses it. Maybe it's your paddle. Maybe your boat.
For me, it's my hat.
Actually, it's been more than one hat. Shall I tell you of the black felt Stetson hat with the wide brim that looked like an undertaker's fedora? It made me feel a bit like an undertaker, too. But it was snatched off my head as we ducked under a sweeper coming out of North Oromocto Lake. Just not ducked cleanly enough, I'm afraid. By the time the current slacked off downstream, it was way too far back to retrieve it. My hat was probably underwater, or snagged on a branch. I'm still mourning that one. I wish I had a picture of it.
So a few years back, I was in a hat store in Kalispell, Montana, and stared at a whole roomful of Western hats. It was hard to choose just one, but I found another black felt hat with a not-too-wide brim and a snazzy ribbon around the crown. Yes, I fell in love with this one, too. It went with me down many streams ... Nepisiguit, Nashwaak, Miramichi, well, a long list in any case.
But it suffered the same fate as my Stetson. It was all my fault, actually.
I could have ducked deeper under the sweeping branch ... or I could have powered my way around it by stroking harder on my approach. There was room on the left, after all. But I foolishly lifted my arm and tried to push the branch aside as I ran into it. As my boat went sideways into the brink, my hat went down the Bartholomew River never to return. Same with my snubbing pole. I even had my hat fastened around my chin with a leather string and a slip knot, but it didn't help. Off it came and away.
So I have other hats, but they don't quite do it for me. There is one brown leather hat I wore a couple of times the last two years or so, with a chin strap that works okay, but it doesn't make me feel the same way the other hats did. Maybe no other hat ever will.
I guess I'll have to go back to the first hat I ever owned. It has no shape left at all, and is faded and wrinkled by the sun. It's been the object of ridicule more than once.
But that never fazed me. Maybe I can rekindle an old flame. We'll see next spring.
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