Portaging: What do you put in your canoe?

Portaging is the act of carrying a water vessel over land either between two bodies of water or around an obstacle such as rapids in a river.

I had never heard this word until my book club read “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. In the story, one of the main characters, Molly, is learning about the Wabanaki Indians.  This tribe often had to migrate across water in canoes, so they had to determine what was important to keep in the canoe and what they needed to leave behind. Molly’s teacher assigns a project on “portaging” for which they need to interview an older relative or neighbor about their “literal and metaphorical” journeys and what they chose to carry and “leave behind.”

Prior to our meeting date the hostess asked if anyone would be willing to share a moment in our life where we had to decide what to bring, what to leave behind, and what insight we gained.

I have had several significant times in my life, where portaging has been necessary ~ although I did not realize this is what I was doing. Through much trial and error I began to realize that I had to weed out the emotions and/or circumstance that could weigh me down making it difficult to move forward or…. from completely sinking. Determining what to put in the canoe differed with each journey/transition, and I wound up discovering there are three common things I always carry in my canoe.

  1. Support  In order for me to progress I needed to put my ego aside and ask for help. I thankfully received a lot of love and support from my family and my circle of friends during these times. The various moves from one state to another, the new babies that grew into the challenging teenager years, the ups and downs of marriage, divorce, and death of loved ones became a lighter load when I asked for help.
  2. I had to decide if these transitions were going to make or break me  When I was a 19½ year old newlywed my husband and I moved 800 miles away to southeast Texas.  Leaving behind the only home I had ever known, as well as all my friends and close family ties, I was headed for a place I knew nothing about. I could have given into my feelings of loneliness and the almost eleven years we spent in Texas (with intermittent transfers to Baton Rouge, LA and Niantic, CT during this same period of time) could have been absolutely miserable. I am shy by nature so forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone was a huge and difficult step for me. I chose to make the best of it by attaining an undergraduate degree in education at the nearby university and got involved with a women’s club where I met and made some really great friends. We wound up moving back to my home state, and I returned a better person than when I left.  I did some much-needed growing up, made life-long friends, and created some incredible memories.
  3. Faith  I relied on my faith and the power of prayer to guide and help me through.  I will share that there was a time during one of these transitions when I was extremely frustrated, worried, and felt so helpless that I had to step away from my prayer life because I felt my prayers were not being heard. Understand, I never lost my faith; I just had to step away for a while until I could make sense of it all. I never  have made sense of it and I never fully understood the how and why of that transition; but I eventually came to realize ~ through the grace of God ~ how much that particular transition provided a positive influence in my tolerance of others, empathy for those struggling, and a deeper faith.  In times of joy and sorrow I still rely heavily on my faith and although it is number three in this post, it is always the number one thing I put in my canoe.

As the new chapters of my life unfold there will be more canoes to carry.  I am grateful that I have, so far, arrived at each destination with more courage, resilience, and compassion than I ever thought I could.

As I look toward the unknowns of the future, asking for help, deciding on whether I will allow this transition to make or break me, and relying on my faith will always go into my canoe.

What do you include in your canoe?

Also shared on Esme Salon

17 thoughts on “Portaging: What do you put in your canoe?

  1. Very thought provoking post. Not only your personal insights into what you ‘put in your canoe’, in being able to tackle life’s new chapters, but the fact that these physical decisions were made regularly in the lives of Wabanaki Indians. No doubt, each ”portage’ required different tools/ items needed for each specific crossing…I wonder if there was a type of ‘home base’ where items could be accessed as needed?
    Hubby and I went through a three year journey ‘between homes’ and everything had to fit into our Toyota Camry as we went from place to place. So I get it.
    Your input on the more spiritual inclusions in your canoe are spot-on. And it’s fodder for thought during this time of Lent.


  2. My partner and I used to live in Minnesota and I portaged a canoe many times from one Boundary Waters lake to another. The Boundary Waters are a piece of national parkland that sweeps upward to meet Canada’s Quetico Canoe Area. In all of them, motors are banned and there are no roads. You get around by canoe or you don’t go. It’s my only experience of true wilderness, and it’s still with me, decades and many miles later. It’s beautiful. It’s also frightening. If you go deep enough in–and even on the edges to a lesser extent–you rely on yourself and whoever you’re with. You’re playing for keeps, because there may well not be anyone around the rescue you.

    And those canoes, even though they’re aluminum, get heavy. We portaged our gear separately, because the canoe’s upside down on your shoulders. Thanks for reminding me of those days.


  3. Truly, in the times when I’ve had to pack only what would fit in my canoe, I took an unshakable faith and my love for my family.Sometimes knowing that I would let them down was the only thing that got me off the sofa or out of the bed. Other times, they are the reason my heart is full to overflowing. I take them with me everywhere.


  4. This is a great post!
    Portage is something I have had to do on many, many occasions throughout my life.
    I always pack Faith (in my amazing Heavenly Father), trust in His plan for me & at times sheer stubborn (after all my middle name is Mary – which means stubbornness!) 😉 determination to push through the hard & sad times to the upward goal in Christ Jesus! 😀


  5. I really rid myself of stuff-last year-possessions, that were “hoarded” really for rainy days that hadn’t come along in years. I realised at least part of having extra things was due to fear, really. Fear that I couldn’t replace things-hence 3 blenders, etc. How silly to think that and how good to give it to people that needed it now! Emotional garbage, takes longer, of course, but I have made good progress and will continue, What a nice thought provoking post-thank you!


    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I, too, am guilty of holding on to possessions. For example, clothes. I push them to the right or left as they hang in my closet year after year because I “might” wear. I also have things taking up space in my kitchen and other bedrooms that I honestly need to clear out and the good thing is someone else would benefit from those items. I hop you have a specially day today!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved your post because it was not what I thought it was going to be. My husband and I are moving soon and that will bring a huge change for me as I will not be as close to my darling grandchildren or my family and friends. I am actually discussing this with my daughter as I need some support and someone to share my thoughts with. I’m not sure I want to move so that is the issue. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful post with us at #MLSTL and it is lovely that you have linked up with us. x


  7. Well that was a different to post to what I expected! I was waiting to read about what to take on a canoe trip and found out what to take with me on a life trip instead (much more useful!) Faith has gotten me through a lot of tough times – I think once you turn off the “God why aren’t you rescuing me?” question and start looking at what he’s building into your life through the process/experience, your faith and prayer life is taken to a new level.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂


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