Travel by canoe

Lynx sees tension growing between Loon and Falcon, their young Algonquian guide. He asks Willow to assist him so Loon and Falcon will have to travel in the same canoe. It's a gamble and Loon isn't keen. Neither is Falcon. Bad things happen in an unhappy canoe.

Click through the gallery below to see illustrations by artist Tom McNeely featured in the novel Enemy Arrows by Will O’Hara

Excerpt from the book

“My canoe was leaking yesterday,” said Lynx, putting his arm on Willow’s shoulder. “I want to do some repairs before I set off. You’re good at repairing canoes, Willow. You can help me. I’m sure we can catch up to Loon and Falcon without too much trouble,” he added with a hint of challenge in his voice.

Loon didn’t react. He had no desire to paddle with Falcon and no interest in joining forces with him in a contest against Lynx and Willow. Falcon felt the same.

“Why don’t I help you with the repairs while they go ahead?” Falcon suggested.

“They don’t know the route,” answered Lynx.

Falcon turned with a disgruntled look on his face and began loading Loon’s gear into the canoe they would take.

“Let’s get moving,” he said sharply to Loon.

“I’ll help you with the repairs, Lynx,” said Loon, irritated by Falcon’s sharpness. “I know how to repair leaks as well as Willow.”

“I’ve seen Willow do this before,” replied Lynx. “I want his help today.”

When Falcon and Loon had loaded their canoe, Falcon signalled for Loon to sit in the front.

“I’d rather be in the back,” said Loon.

“You’re lighter,” responded Falcon.

Loon glanced over to Lynx for support, but he knew the lighter person always sat in the front. There was no way to avoid it. He would be in a canoe controlled by Falcon. They set off without another word. Through the mazes of lakes and rivers and portages.

“We’ll catch you soon!” yelled Lynx, as they paddled away. Before long he and Willow had turned their canoe over and were carefully checking for loose seams. Willow put his lips against the seams and checked for leaks, but couldn’t find any.

Lynx took a pitch stick from beside the fire and began to dab the melted pitch on the canoe at random.

“I don’t see any leaks in this canoe,” said Willow.

“No,” said Lynx. “I guess there aren’t any. I think we’ve fixed the problem. Let’s see if we sink or float.”

He flipped the canoe on to his shoulders and carried it to the water, leaving Willow to puzzle over what he had said.

Falcon and Loon paddled silently along the shore toward the bay with Loon setting a regular rhythm. He had the sense that Falcon’s strokes were always slightly ahead of his own, as though he was trying to set the pace instead of Loon.

“Doesn’t he know to follow my stroke?” Loon wondered to himself, keeping his rhythm steady, no matter how hard Falcon pushed him. A web of mutual distrust hung over the canoe like a wet fishing net.

When the sun was high Loon and Falcon rounded a rocky point to see the lake open into a vast bay. The wind was coming up and a few whitecaps dotted the waves. Loon could barely see the opposite shore where they were headed. Only the faint outline of distant trees was visible. He wondered how they would get there. If they took the direct route across the mouth of the bay, they could be on the far side before dusk, but if they followed the shoreline they would arrive long after dark. Falcon swung the canoe in toward the bay to follow the shore.

“Where are you going?” demanded Loon.

“We’ll follow the shoreline,” replied Falcon.

Loon turned around to see if Falcon had lost his senses.

“But we can go straight across,” Loon said with a bewildered laugh.

“Not me—it’s too windy.”

“Not you! Then let me sit in the back and I’ll take us across.”

Falcon didn’t alter his course. He kept the canoe close to the shore.

“Why don’t you cross?” insisted Loon.

“It’s too dangerous,” said Falcon. “If the winds get worse, they’ll blow us into the open lake and we’ll never be seen again.”

Loon couldn’t understand what Falcon was saying.

“My people wouldn’t hesitate to cross this bay,” he said.

“You must lose many friends—and many canoes,” answered Falcon.

“My people are strong enough to get across a bay like this—and smart enough to know when the wind isn’t dangerous.”

“Are you saying your people are superior to us?”

“We’ll see who gets to the other side of the bay first,” laughed Loon. “I know Lynx will go straight across—and then we’ll know who’s superior.” He laughed uncontrollably at Falcon.

With a sudden thrust of his paddle that nearly threw Loon out of the canoe, Falcon whirled the canoe away from the shore and headed directly across the vast bay.

“This may be your last day, Loon.”

Loon dug his paddle deep into the lake and pushed the canoe ahead with all his strength. He would soon be proven right and teach Falcon how to treat him and his people.

They weren’t far across the bay when Falcon looked back to see the other canoe—a small speck in the distance—following the shoreline of the bay. He didn’t turn back, despite the growing wind, the ripples on the water and the dark clouds forming at the end of the bay. He pulled hard on his paddle, thinking it could be his last day.

By the time Falcon and Loon reached the midpoint in the crossing, where the distant hills on the shore behind them were as small as the hills ahead, the wind was blowing hard from the bay out into the boundless lake. Large waves began hitting them broadside, pushing them away from their path. The edges of the heavily loaded canoe were too close to the water to keep the waves out.

“You’ll have to paddle harder than that!” yelled Falcon.

“If you weren’t lily dipping, we’d be there by now,” cried Loon into the wind.

He paddled with all his strength, but the point they were trying to reach was getting farther and farther away from them. Low clouds raced above their heads, almost close enough to touch, and it was getting darker as the sun faded from view.

“Harder!” shouted Falcon above the roar of the wind. “Is this how your people cross wide bays?”

Loon didn’t reply. He looked in the direction the wind was pushing the canoe. There was no land in sight where the bay opened into the endless lake. He knew they would be blown into the pounding waters of the lake if they didn’t get across. Loon stopped paddling long enough to bail water from the bottom of the canoe and rest his aching arms. He couldn’t tell whether the punishing waves were filling the canoe or it was leaking.

“Never mind that,” screamed Falcon. “Paddle—or we’ll be at the bottom of the lake!”

As the wind grew steadily, it became impossible for Falcon and Loon to make their way along the troughs between the waves without rolling over. Falcon quickly turned the canoe directly into the waves, so they wouldn’t be blown too far away from land. The unrelenting wind kept pushing them back backwards. If the spirits stayed with them, the wind would die down before nightfall and they could paddle to shore—on one side or the other. But the wind grew stronger and the waves continued to swell.

Finally, Falcon had to yield and bail out the canoe, even though it meant being pushed backward toward the open lake. As darkness descended a sense of despair settled over the tiny craft. Both young men had reached the point of exhaustion, but they continued to paddle, knowing they were far from land and the crashing water was weakening the seams of their canoe. In these brutal waves it wouldn’t be long before the spruce roots holding the bark to the ribs began to break apart.

Falcon threw out some of the gear to lighten the load—their heavy weapons and clothing, even their food—but the waves continued to roll over the sides. Their legs were submerged in water and their arms and shoulders ached with fatigue as they tried to keep the canoe pointed into the wind.

A white gull soared over their heads at the speed of an arrow, twisting and rocking in the turbulent wind. Just above it, dark clouds whipped across the sky toward the open lake—toward the landless horizon where they would never be seen again. Dark gray waves rolled in the same direction with white foam blowing violently from crest to crest slashing at their bare chests. The wind roared like continuous thunder.

“Over there!” yelled Falcon over the deafening noise. He pointed to a patch of frothing water not far away, directly across the path of the wind. “We have to get over there. Paddle to save your miserable skin!”