Our Red Canoe Photo of the red canoe.

Garrett Boesch
© Copyright 1999 by Garrett Boesch

I will never forget these summer days that I share with my younger brother Austin. We spend the long days paddling around Lake Saint Catherine in the rugged red canoe our stepfather bought us, searching for adventure stories and treasures to share with our friends and family. Every day is another pointless mission that generally brings us nowhere in particular. Today is just another one of those days.

The water is cool and quiet, and the boat traffic is nonexistent, except for a couple wind-surfers and jet-skis. Despite the beautiful conditions, Austin and I can't deny our bodies rest from constantly paddling, perspiring, and bickering. We have been paddling since nine o'clock this morning, and it is now high noon. The gentle breeze doesn't prevent our sweaty faces from being burned raw by the hot August sun. The paddle is heavy in my hands, and the lake feels like drying cement with every stroke I take. I look to the front of our red canoe and notice my brother Austin slacking from his paddling duties.

I steer our red canoe out of the lake's current, and we glide towards the rocky shore. The land accepts us without a fight or struggle. We balance the boat. Austin and I set our paddles and life vests in the bottom, and we both step out onto the shore in unison.

If I didn't know what region of Vermont we were in, I would have thought we shored our canoe on the front porch of an inner-city crack house. The camp is very rundown and in desperate need of repair. Its yellow paint is cracking and peeling to reveal the rotten pine boards keeping the place from collapsing onto it's decrepit slate foundation. It is obvious that no one has inhabited the place in years. It's anyone's guess where the owners are. They could be dead, in jail, out serving our country, or maybe the property was abandoned in a divorce settlement. Despite not knowing the owners, I don't feel any hesitation when deciding to make the place our home base for the rest of our afternoon adventures.

Our stomachs are grumbling for food and our bodies are in desperate need of fluids to help us combat the muggy, hot air. We have not eaten since we shared a pack of Oreo cookies and half of a left over pepperoni pizza before leaving home. We can buy lunch at our friend Nathan's parents' store called Cones Point Market. Unfortunately, we have no money, because we are too busy hunting adventure rather than jobs.

My brother and I brainstorm ways to make money as we rest on rusty, broken lawn chairs and skip flat stones across the glass-lake. We soon can't think of any ideas or find any more stones, So I get up and begin wading and jumping through the waist high shaggy grass of the lawn in search of more rocks. My legs are constantly bombarded with the moisture of snake spit and the bites of tiny insects. When I give up hope, I stumble on a long sharp stick and fall flat on my ass. I pick myself up and look behind me where I fell and see an old Budweiser can. I grab the half-full can, and pour out the muddy water and cigarette butts that are inside.

I look over at Austin, and before I say a word he jumps up and darts towards the road behind the camp. I rub my aching ass a couple of times to wear off the shock of my fall, and I follow him.

I separate from him in hopes I'll find more cans to return than he does. My feet make a loud slapping sound on the hot pavement as I run to the other side of the busy country road. I duck under barbed wire fences, dig through piles of cool mud, and skip around deep murky brown puddles in search of cans and bottles.

My brother and I meet a quarter mile up the road at a muddy pull-off with deep puddles in the ruts left by the tires of cars that once stopped there. Austin has an eerie sense of pride I've never seen before, because he found twice as many returnables as me. I feel bitter about being beaten by younger brother, until I see him standing in a pile of chunky white vomit. He notices me staring at his feet as I crack a giggle and a shit-eating grin. He jumps back, and looks around the surrounding ground and bushes. My grin changes to a look of curiosity when I see him dig a music cassette out of the mud and pull a black hooded sweatshirt from behind a tree.

I am once again jealous about not finding as much stuff. However, I figured a group of drunken kids had pulled off the road, because one needed to puke. There is probably vomit on the sweatshirt, but I want him to figure it out after he puts his hands all over it. Instead of checking the sweatshirt, like I thought, he puts it on the ground and wraps all the cans and bottles we found in it. I am now very pissed off.

I impatiently start heading back to our red canoe that has surely been cooked to the point of almost melting in the scorching heat. Austin follows behind me, bragging about all the treasure he found. I walk with my with my head down pretending to drink out of an empty can so people don't think we are a couple of garbage pickers. We make our way through the yellow camp's jungle lawn and collapse into the hot metal lawn chairs once again.

We count the $3.15 worth of bottles and cans we collected, and clean off the LL Cool J tape Austin found. The tape will never work, but my brother is still one-up in the treasure department with the crusty sweatshirt he discovered. Austin packs the cans back up and hops in our canoe with all his arrogance.

Before I take my seat in the back, I take one more glance around the hideous looking yellow camp for any treasure that might be lying around. As I turn my head to my paddle before shoving off, I see a plastic grocery bag clinging to a long blade of grass, keeping it from falling in the lake.

I lean over the side of the canoe and save the slimy bag from polluting the lake. I instantly know there is something inside, because of its heavy weight. Without thinking I reach my greedy paw through the gunk and filth inside and feel something hard, round, and shaped like a bowl. I close my eyes as I pull it out of the bag, and open them as soon as I feel the clean air on my sticky hand. My brother turns around to see what is delaying our departure. He is shocked to see me proudly holding an artifact once used by the owners of the sleazy yellow camp…an old filthy ashtray. It is a dull red color, with white letters that partially spell Marlboro. The uppercase M is chipped off along with the two lowercase O's.

The ashtray gives us the sense that we must complete a recognizance mission to find cigarette butts that could have been thrown out of passing cars. My brother and I have both smoked a couple cigarettes since June, but I am only thirteen so they are not very accessible. We usually gather cigarette butts that we find on the roads and sidewalks whenever we go anywhere without our parents. We trek through the jungle and split up again by the country road.

We begin scurrying around like it was an Easter egg hunt at our grandmother's house. Austin and I fill our pockets with little crummy cigarette butts that each have two centimeters of tobacco left. My craving for cigarettes erases my thoughts of the people who smoked the cigarettes that we found as we run back to our red canoe.

Austin and I hop into the canoe in unison, because of our eagerness to get food, drink, and a book of matches. As I plop myself down, the sizzling seat instantly sets my sore ass on fire. I clench my teeth in pain, while I strap on my vest and lift my paddle from the bottom of the boat. Imagining the coolness of the water as I drop my paddle in the lake soothes my pain.

We paddle steadily south against the current of the lake towards Cones Point Market. The two of us never speak a word, because we can only think about getting there as quickly as possible. Our eyes are glued on the destination, and nothing can snap our concentration. My brother and I share a rare moment of actually working together without trying to out do each other. When my paddle touches the water, so does his. When I switch sides, he switches with me. All the canoe training our stepfather gave us is finally paying off.

Our paddles both stop when we slingshot out of the current towards the shore. Our red canoe hits the sandy bottom of the lake, breaking the moment of long silence. We scrape our loot together and drag our exhausted bodies out of the canoe and onto land. I take a deep breath, snatch the bundle of returnables from Austin's grip, and take off running in the direction of the store. He quickly tails behind me and tells me to slow down so he can catch up.

We are like the soldiers in Vietnam that our mom always tells stories about when she is driving us places. I feel like my brother and I are the only survivors in our platoon from a mission that is falling apart. We must make it back to rally point for supplies, before we die of exhaustion. Austin and I cut through lawns and driveways, blocking out reality, thinking only of our mission.

By the time we reach the store my vision is blurry and I can't feel my legs-damn my aching ass. We stumble through the door and aisles and slam the returnables on the counter without saying a word. I run to the fridge and get blasted by the cold as I slide the door open and grab two cokes. AsPhoto of the lake. I walk back to the counter I get a bag of Doritos and crackers. Austin pockets a book of matches as Mr. Woodruff sorts our cans and bottles in the backroom. While he rings up our items, we tell him stories of previous adventures and treasures we have shared. He thanks us for stopping by, and we start our long walk back to our canoe.

We feast on our nutritious supper and fight about who is going to tell the story of our adventure when we get home. My brother and I, bickering with one another, shove our red canoe back into the quiet, black lake. The silent peace of nature has always separated our words, but brings our souls and hearts closer together.

Austin and I light up our miniature cigarettes and inhale the stale smoke, which stings our young, pink lungs. All I can see is the orange-red glowing cherries of our cigarettes, and all I can hear is the trickle of the water and the rustle of the wind. We don't even paddle. We just sit there enjoying our cigarettes, and talk about what adventure we might have tomorrow.

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