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Portage        Jim Tilley

From Lessons from Summer Camp

During the summer of 2013, Jim Tilley returned to Camp Nominingue for the first time since the 1960s. A result of that return visit is his collection, Lessons from Summer Camp, from which this poem is taken.

Before departing camp for the wild, a Counselor prepares his canoe for portaging with rope, two paddles, and a tump strap. He uses the rope to rig the portage thwart and attach the tump strap at each end to the gunwales just forward of the thwart. He inserts the blades of the paddles into the rigging and ties the shafts to the sides of the bow seat. With knees bent, he stands at the middle of the canoe, grasps it with both hands at the near gunwale and lifts it to rest on his thighs. Leaving his right hand on the near gunwale, he reaches over with his left and grasps the far gunwale. He rocks the canoe gently on his thighs, takes a deep breath, and in a single, smooth motion rolls it upside down while raising it clear over his head with both arms extended. Then lowers it slowly and exhales, letting his head pass through the gap between the paddles so that their blades rest on his shoulders. He places the tump strap between the blades and across the top of his head and adjusts the tumpline until the canoe lies barely above his shoulders with the tump taut. At the start of the trip’s first portage, he will check his preparation by standing for a minute, arms hanging loosely at his sides, the inverted canoe perfectly balanced on his head, its full weight distributed down his spine and throughout his body. Then he’ll depart from the lakeside put-in and start along the trail, man and canoe as one.