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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 forthcoming 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.