Becky Mason - Books and Articles
Classic Solo Canoeing Alumni
"While the experience is fresh in my mind, I wanted to thank you for your time and hospitality.
You taught me exactly what I needed to know in order to start canoeing again. Not to belittle myself but,
I thought I knew something and yet I know very little. I left the lesson with a great appreciation for the
importance of 'forward momentum'. Canoeing will now become even more enjoyable. "
André Boyer, 2010.
Paddling with Becky Mason: A Lesson in Relearning, by Heather Cullen, Ottawa Outdoors Magazine 2003
"That's the one trouble with hanging around with a master - you pick up some of his stuff, but you use it just when the master is doing the opposite", Norman Maclean, "A River Runs Through It"
Curtains of rain drape Quebecís Gatineau hills and break into patches of blue. Itís a misty morning and Iím on Meech Lake for solo paddling lessons with Becky Mason. Two, two-hour sessions with a master, and I have her undivided attention. No wonder Iím nervous. I am in the red canoe, she is in the blue. She chats to put me at ease, but there is no doubt I am the stranger here. Her boat moves like an extension of her body and she refers to individual rocks and trees as familiars, on a lake she has known her whole life.
I have the delicious sense of stealing two mornings from work for paddling. This sense of privilege and my awareness of our personal and shared history adds weight to the occasion for me. Becky and I are almost the same age. We both grew up with fathers who lived the better part of their lives in canoes. My father paddled his while growing up in the bush near the Central Patricia gold mine. Beckyís father Bill, well ñ you know. Heís the guy who defined canoeing in Canada through a series of films that have become classics. The one who supped with the Queen.
While Becky was filmed demonstration the art of bow paddling with her famous father in their Chestnut canoe for Path of the Paddle, my dad was piling my family into Sportspal, trimmed with sponsons and a faux birchbark paint job. The spongy black interior scorched bare legs on a sunny day, the aluminum ribs popped out, but it was a remarkably buoyant water craft. We used it to gather sandy wild rice. We poked it through reeds in marshes, looking for water lilies in bloom. We figured out how to approach rocky shores in big winds with quiet help from Dad in the stern.
SHE REFERS TO INDIVIDUAL ROCKS AND TREES AS FAMILIARS, ON A LAKE SHE HAS KNOWN HER WHOLE LIFE
Now, some twenty years later, Becky and I are on Meech Lake. The differences between us are clear: Becky paddles effortlessly and I am a workhorse. A hack. I cheat. I use power to compensate for lack of technique, and my teacher catches it all, without criticism. She keeps up a steady flow of talk about black fly repellents. We try most of them during the lesson: vanilla, vitamin B1, lemon, handkerchiefs, swatting and finally bug hats.
In between bug bites, Becky demonstrates familiar strokes: the pry, the draw, the sweep, the J. These are strokes Iíve used all my life, but now I am trying to do them right. They feel oddly new. About every tenth stroke clicks into place. The rest of the time, I feel dyslexic. I have trouble translating her moves into practice, fighting years of ingrained habit. For instance, I can do a draw and the recovery stroke slice at my hips, but as soon as Becky asks me to try one off the bow, the stroke falls apart. My spine fuses. I feel as I do in an aerobics class: catching the step only when the instructor has moved onto the next set of reps.
My teacher on the lake is patient. She diverts my attention to the fish-spawning beds beneath the waterís surface, and points out the beautiful stand of hemlock on shore. She gives me time to soak in our surroundings and her instruction. My mind is going through an incredible series of flashing revelations. When my body breaks into a new pattern itís like a deep thaw. My canoe surges ahead. "Nice J!" Becky calls out. "Did you feel the way the paddle is really working like a fulcrum there, punching you forward?" Punchy, as opposed to 15 feet long and slow. This really IS a change.
Iíll practice a lot on trips to Temagami and Labrador this summer. Each stroke will be repeated hundreds of times to drive the new method into my bodyís memory. Right now it is a hectic mental process, crowding out my end of the conversation. When the lesson is up, I abandon Becky with the canoes to load. I rush back to my car to jot notes. Paddling vocabulary helps me tag and retain the technique. "Shorten the J. Power face for the draw, non-power face for the pry. Sweep followed by pry for sharper approach."
On the drive back into Ottawa, or back into the "Big Smoke", as a friend calls it, an upbeat, nonsense song from the 80's comes on the radio. "Life is life! Na-na-na-na-na-naa!" The tune fits my feeling of elation. Iím looking forward to some time on a chair tonight in my living room, paddling my imaginary Prospector up and downstream.
Itís simple. The first thing Iíll do is perform the stroke correctly. Second, Iíll choose the appropriate, renovated stroke at the right moment. That should only take the rest of the season to figure out, right?
Heather Cullen, a writer and language teacher, moved to Ottawa from Manitoba. She replaces the pen with a paddle whenever possible. Email -- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dancing with Becky - Canoe rendezvous 2003, by Darlene Ricker
Spinning and spinning, stop turn, side slip, and then spin the other way ... nose to nose synchronized spin ... and back. Precision, ethereal, timeless, grace. Sounds like dancing instruction - and it certainly was. Only this was done by solo paddlers on water, to music.
It was Canoe Rendevous at Keji Park, and Becky Mason was our special guest. It was a weekend of inspired teaching excellence second to none, thanks to Becky and her husband Reid McLachlan, who presented several workshops on Classic Solo Canoeing, at the Meadows Beach.
Becky has made a career teaching the various disciplines of white water and flat water canoeing. She lives in Chelsea, Quebec, and does much of her instruction at nearby Meech Lake.
Besides covering some of the basics of solo canoeing, Becky taught a number of strokes and maneuvers unfamiliar to many. She offered easy to remember teaching tips as well. The low circle for example, is practiced with the head looking up, but hands touching or nearly touching the water. If you look down to the water you may take a tumble. "Turn sideways in your canoe, reach over the gunwales, and pat the water with your hands like a raccoon washing its paws. That's the position for the low circle." she advises. Sounds kind a silly, but it works!
A new one for many of us, coined "the traditional stroke" by Becky, involves a quick punch down toward the gunwale with the grip hand, at the same time twisting the torso outward, and parallel to the shaft. The grip hand remains in front of the face area. The blade passes nearly underneath the canoe. The out of water recovery is followed by a cut starting behind the hip line, which initiates the next stroke. The stroke appears to defy all the laws of physics we were ever taught but it really works. The effect is a huge amount of forward power, with very little effort.
Despite heavy wind and rain Saturday afternoon, Becky presented a flawless display of canoe ballet to music, progressing from one maneuver to the next, all in sync with the music. Stunning! Then she invited us all out to try. We weren't quite so elegant, but we were keen and spirited, although a little wet and cold by mid-afternoon. After a delicious barbeque and the warmth of wood stoves and renewed friendships, Becky entertained us with a slide show depicting some of her wilderness adventures across the country, her water colour art work, and her experiences being raised in a family of paddlers. The stories and anecdotes gave us an intimate glimpse of Becky the canoeist, artist, environmentalist, wife and family member.
Always approachable, and with a wicked sense of humour, Becky put us all at ease.
The sunny warm Sunday morning, brought out many more paddlers to her advanced solo workshop. We learned the low brace turn, the one-handed running pry, and a sideslip draw, to name a few. Paddlers from novice, to our own Nova Scotian experts and mentors (like Steve Cook), were out on the water playing with canoe ballet. Leona Boyd guitar tunes filled the air while we danced and spun with Becky.
The morning finished off with a spectacular fireworks display, canoeing style. We forming a long line of 24 canoes gunwale to gunwale, left handed paddlers on the right, and right handed paddlers on the left. We paddled towards shore in sync, and on the count of three, all did the one-handed running pry, creating the fireworks effect all spiraling outward. Cool!
Many thanks to all those who made this year's Rendevous such a success - the staff at Keju Park, volunteer CKNS organizers, administrator Ike Whitehead, the CKNS Board who supported the event, Annapolis Recreation Services for the sound equipment, and all those who participated in the weekend's activities.
Thank you to Darlene Ricker for allowing me to reprint her article from Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia, July 2003 Newsletter, 5516 Spring Garden Road, 4th Floor, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 1G6
All photos provided by Dusan Soudek
2005 Book of Lists,
contributor, Alfred A. Knope
2005 Pierre: Colleagues and Friends Talk
About the Trudeau They Knew, contributor, McClelland & Stewart.
2004 Paddling the Boreal Forest, Rediscovering A.P. Low,
Becky Mason wrote the forward, Natural Heritage Books.
2004 Rendezvous with the Wild The Boreal Forest, contributor, The Boston Mills Press.
2003 Song of the Paddle, contributed to update, contributor, Key Porter.
1999 Womanís Guide Canoeing, contributor, Ragged Mountain Press.
1999 The Basic Essentials of Solo Canoeing, contributed to update, ICS Books.
1999 The Canoe in Canadian Culture, contributor, Natural Heritage Books.
1995 Path of the Paddle update, contributed to update, Key Porter.
1995 Canoescapes, co-produced, The Boston Mills Press.