I have spent Rememberance Day on a river for several years now. It seems fitting somehow. I recall sitting in an eddy a number of years ago on the Petite Nation, watching snowflakes fall around us, observing a minute of silence. Before getting back to surfing we discussed how war touched our own lives- a Dutch woman and two Canadians with family ties to the second world war. More recently I have spent Rememberance Day on the lower Mad with some military folk who love to paddle. One of them put it into perspective in a wonderful way- a day in the cathedral.
Rememberance Day is a time for reflection, reverence and appreciation of what we have in our country and why we still have it. Going to the “cathedral” is a way that paddlers honour our beautiful country, so it seems appropriate that this day would be spent on a river.
Henry James mused about the moral equivalent to war and what it might be. I would offer wilderness adventure. The intensity and excitement of whitewater requires one to be present and completely in the moment. There is no future, no past, only here and now. You are alive and vital. There is camaraderie, challenge, hope, fear. There is suffering of sorts (although nothing like that of war) and character building. There is decision making and judgement building. And most of all it develops respect. Respect for oneself, others and place. Cathedral moments.
If there is a moral equivalent to war- an activity that brings out the intensity and character building aspects of war experience, then paddling whitewater may be one. Within the rush and thrill of whitewater, however, it is the cathedral moments that give us pause to reflect upon how fortunate we are. Fortunate to have wild places to visit. Fortunate to have the freedom to enjoy them with good friends and like-minded cathedral goers. And that is worth remembering.