Fifteen-month old Callum is a creature of the coast. He bellyflops in bone-chilling ocean waves at sunset, laughs in delight, then runs back for more again and again until he is paralyzed by the cold. At an age when most toddlers are learning to climb stairs, he navigates over roots and fallen trees with the confidence of a born climber. He takes tumbles that leave him with two black eyes in the space of a day, but doesn’t find this reason to cry.
While his mother, Karen, hoped her son would be a poet and a gardener, Callum is the wild embodiment of his father. This resemblance does not make things any easier on his parents. Ignored for a moment, Callum heads for the nearest trail. His father follows the boy’s shouts to find him hooting into the wrong end of an abandoned privy. That would have been hard to explain, Ian says, his voice a mixture of dismay and relief.
Callum reaches out for water at every opportunity: for starfish off the end of the pier, for ling-cod with a mouth the size of a basketball, for the steering wheel of the sailboat. He has embraced every aspect of his life but one his mother loves the most: the canoe. The first time Karen tried taking him for a ride, he screamed the whole way. “Two solid hours,” she groans. “This,” she says, “won’t do.”
Where freshwaters and the sea meet in brackish estuaries, the current is often sluggish enough to paddle upstream for a substantial distance, cutting out difficult hikes through wet, dense brush. Rivers draw wildlife, and in this way we can move quietly. Karen has taken me up many rivers, and I’ve taken her down the Yellowstone. She hopes together we can convince Callum to enjoy the ride.
So when Ian and my husband, Doug, have a few days of work ahead of them, Karen and I head off for Koeye Camp. Here, there are broad sandy beaches, other people to help keep Callum out of trouble, and the Koeye River.
June 8, 2004