Kids On The Water | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
Kids On The Water Photo: Scott MacGregor

Knowing When To Step Back

I wouldn’t normally run this photograph. Why not? Let me count the reasons. For starters, my chicken line perimeter rope is too slack. It should be tighter to the raft so that you couldn’t get an arm or leg hung up in it. With all the hubbub about UV radiation these days, the kids shouldn’t have so much skin exposed, or any at all perhaps. And Kate is a mess. I mean look at her. A flare orange rain jacket, lilac PFD and ladybug red and white polka-dot helmet. Call the fashion police. Red alert.

But that’s not what first jumped out at you, is it? No. You were about to fire up your laptop and write a nasty letter to the editor shaming me for running a photo of children in a boat—a whitewater raft no less—not wearing their life jackets. How dare I.

Looking through the eyepiece of my Canon I noticed it too. I almost shouted over to them. But I didn’t.

Instead, I evaluated the situation. I assessed the likelihood of them falling from the boat. I quickly tallied the possible consequences and role-played my immediate actions in the unlikely event my son wobbled from a sitting position to the left or right by four feet, let go of his oars, wasn’t able to grab any of the surrounding equipment, and fell over the 22-inch tubes from the 80-degree air temperature into water he had been swimming in an hour before.

Yes, I did have this conversation with myself. I decided to let it slide. I would have ruined a brief magical moment. Pass judgment as you see fit.

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Someday Doug, Kate or any of these friends may be on a Skype call with a raft guide manager. Maybe they will have applied to guide for the season down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River or Nepal’s Sun Kosi River. The manager will run through his list of obligatory human resource questions establishing attitude and character before he gets to asking about their river experience. For example, “So Doug, been guiding long?”

“Yes, sir, 10 years. Rowed my first boat when I was 11,” will be a likely reply.

If the manager doesn’t believe him, Doug can show him this photo or the freckles on his back to prove it.

This photo is real. Real friends. Real adventure.

What you can’t hear in this photograph is the teasing, banter, knock-knock jokes and bits of useless trivia gleaned from National Geographic fun fact books and the Discovery Channel.

This, my friends, is what raft guides are made of. The only thing left is learning to play “Brown Eyed Girl” on the ukulele.

Yes, I could have shouted over to them, ruining the moment by nagging the boys to put on their PFDs. Instead I half pressed the shutter button to focus on what is truly important and then clicked a few frames.

One day, when I’m tempted to nag him about getting a real job, Doug can hold up this photo to remind me of two very important things: We as parents are responsible for planting the seeds for our children’s futures, and a bad day on the river is always better than a good day in the office.

Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Canoeroots. If it makes you feel better, the boys put their PFDs back on soon after this photo was taken. They did so without being reminded. 

This article was originally published in Canoeroots, Volume 15 • Issue 3. Read this issue.

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