History & Culture / Politics

Grab the Canoe!


“Grab the canoe!” Russell Kirk – an epic conservative – knew in the 1950s, when he wrote “The Conservative Mind,” that Western Civilization was under assault, could be entirely lost. He knew representative democracy demands alert, engaged, morally grounded citizens, indignant about preserving their rights, keeping government limited. This election may be the real test.

In this election, what Ronald Reagan started to preserve in 1980, handed to George HW Bush to preserve in 1988, is either going to slip away, get beyond grasp, or be methodically clawed back.

What past leaders who believed in individual liberty, equality of opportunity, national security, civil society, and limited government taught was – we can lose it all by failing to use maximum.

In other words, we take for granted the world into which we were born. We forget it is not an accident, not inevitable, nor is survival. It is no more random than the guts of a pocket watch.  It survives by care, focus, attention to detail, reaching out, taking risks, making sacrifices, failing, trying again, succeeding.

Only when we decide – in our time, in the hours of peril – that full effort is needed, do we preserve our freedoms for another undefined stretch, keeping the American Dream alive and leaders honest.

Many years ago, a childhood friend became a “Master Maine Guide.” To do that requires extraordinary effort, time, commitment, and learning. It also requires unceasing vigilance about weather, wildlife, changes, threats, and how to stay alive – in adversity.

One late fall day, as he relayed, he took a canoe to a remote island in a major northern Maine river, to put out decoys. He began putting them out, one by one. He had pulled the canoe up into the brush. The day grew late. Temperatures were headed for freezing. 

Suddenly, he realized the canoe was not where he had put it. He looked out on the river, and saw it a quarter mile away, in the bear freezing river. His mid raced. No one would ever find him on the island, he would freeze. There was no way back without that canoe, he had to get it.

That was it, no more thinking needed. He stripped to underwear and swam for it. The harder he swam, the further away it seemed. He knew this was existential, get it or lose everything. His limbs got numb, breathing labored, he entertained doubt. He imagined the end, people saying how stupid he was.

He realized that, like it or not, this was the most existential moment of his life. He would either get to that canoe or die trying. He turned full effort to the task. He got closer, eventually within reach. Exhausted, he reached up to grab the canoe’s gunnel, pull it in, imagining his effort rewarded.

Instead, in a sad, terrifying turn of events, he accidentally pushed the canoe away, and – in shock – realized he was now at the end. He had to get the canoe. He dug deep and found reserves he did not think he had, again got to within reach, now focused and reached out, but could not get his hand onto the gunnel, pushed it away again.

With everything at risk, with no backup plan, canoe slipping further away, his energy ebbing, he came to a moment of last resort. This was it.  He would ever save his life by going beyond what he thought he had in reserve, get to that canoe, grab it, hold it, master it, preserve himself, or he would lose his life.

He focused, understood the stakes meant no limits, everything or nothing. Cold to his bones, involuntarily shaking, he put his all on that canoe, gained on it, gained more on it, got within reach, and threw his entire soul into raising his arm to the gunnel…and he grabbed it. He got it.

Now, holding on, the real work began. Frozen, numb, gasping, shaking, he got himself up, onto the edge, nearly flipped it, pulled his limbs over the edge one by one, and finally collapsed in it. 

Within the hour, he had paddled ashore, and learned a lesson he never forgot: Preserve with great care what you have, and what you cannot replace. Watch with care that your efforts are not in vain. And when the moment comes, if you are blessed to realize you are in it, that you must apply maximum effort to get back what you need for life, apply everything to the task, do not envision failure, only success.

He is still a Master Maine Guide, and a damn good one. But he knows more than he knew when, that terrible testing day, he nearly lost it all. We are now in that moment, with this election arguably the product of allowing ourselves to lose track of what would happen – as a Nation – if we did not protect the canoe. We are now up against it, in an existential sense. 

In short, whether you measure the drift of our society by economic distress, crime, lost national and border security, cultural decay, or the accelerating loss of core rights and moral compass – the sort our Founders, innumerable warriors, Russell Kirk, and Ronald Reagan knew mattered – we are up against it.

We are in that exhausted moment, when – in the form of regaining control of the country through this midterm election – we either win by maximum effort, or we could lose it all. That is where we are. That is why we have to commit ourselves to caring, voting, reminding others to care. This is either the beginning of getting us ashore, or when we lose the battle. So, in a phrase: “Grab the canoe!”

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2 months ago

What a great and inspiring story. As Americans we should all think about the bigger picture here. It’s not about democrats or republicans, it’s about Americans. I don’t want to be labeled anymore as a democrat or a republican. I want to be labeled as an American. I want America to be great again, not the democratic or republican party. We can make America better if we stop fighting each other over everything and start working together.

2 months ago

To address the point of this worthy article, yes we must stretch as far as we can to win this election.
I worry that some voters may believe the Repubs have it in the bag and do not have to inconvenience themselves to vote. These people do not deserve their liberty.
I worry that if the Repubs win this election, they will throw it away by finding another Paul Ryan
Rhino to hand it to. I worry that if we win this election, we will improve matters to the point where the mood swings again so that the DIms will once again get attention when they, as usual, promise
a perfect world and we , like dimwits, vote for it. We put them in only 2 years ago for no good reason at all. So we are very likely to do it again. Why is that ?

2 months ago

Joseph McCarthy was right. Blackballed by the ignorant. Crazy conspiracy theorists are sometimes right.

2 months ago

So much at stake.And RINOs ditching the American people.

2 months ago

Great point, great story!

Michael J
2 months ago

I find it interesting that dems cannot or will not recognize the consequences of their actions. Either believing they’re right, not caring or hopeful that those on the right are too lazy to react.
But when it comes to your pocket book, double digit inflation, criminal forgiveness, gender reassignment, illegal immigration, student indoctination and the killing of our unborn future have finally hit home. Democrats are no longer hiding their agenda which is on display for all to see. Everything is counter to the American way, shouldn’t this be enough to rid this vermin?

2 months ago

Republicans!!! This article is right. But now it is not grab the canoe but GET OUT THE VOTE. Poll’s don’t win an election. VOTING DOES!

Patriot Will
2 months ago

Too many people still think that our Constitutional Republic will take care of itself, and survive no matter what. They are foolishly forgetting that without we the people there is no Constitutional Republic. One would think that any American citizen would instinctively care about this country to help it flourish; however, tragically, a significant number of Americans have allowed their apathy and self-centeredness to dull their intellectual and ethical abilities to help the US existentially survive.

2 months ago
Reply to  Patriot Will

Very well said. Our republic only exists as long as the majority of the American people are willing to stand up and fight for it. It is NOT a fight that begins and ends strictly at the voting booth. It is a fight that has to be waged every single day to prevent those that hate individual freedoms and rights from substituting our freedoms and rights with unlawful and unconstitutional government edicts on what you may or may not be allowed to do on any given day. In essence it is a continual fight to preserve personal rights and freedoms versus being reduced to a mere servant of the government. That means standing up to those that seek to tear it all down and replace our constitutional republic with a socialist democracy. Sadly, you and I agree that far too many American citizens are too apathetic and lazy to stand up and fight to preserve the republic. Even if it means they are ultimately harming themselves with their own apathy.

2 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

….and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. When we stop believing and supporting this concept…

Stephen Russell
2 months ago

Truth for sure then & Now
Purge Big Tech

2 months ago

Great analogy. Stay or get involved.

2 months ago


2 months ago
Reply to  tofbs

That may have been true two decades ago but now it includes teachers at all levels, colleges, HR departments in all kinds of businesses, etc. That’s why it is so crucial — there is no simple fix, there is a *lot* to fight against. The enemy is well entrenched.

2 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Well said!

Bill on the Hill
2 months ago

Thanks RBC… A great story of will & determination, get to that canoe or die in the process of getting it back for survival’s sake…
For a bit of amusement here, Mr. Kirk in the above photo reminds of one Raymond Reddington in a fictional story that ran for ( 9 ) seasons starring none other than James Spader…
All the best RBC,
Bill… :~)

2 months ago

Bill, Thank you! I appreciate BOTH comments ,and would say … Kirk was a true individual, who obviously played the part in real life! Thank you … and maybe I should revisit that series! V/R, RBC

Dan W.
2 months ago

More of a physical resemblance to James Spader in The Blacklist than to Jack Nicolson in The Departed or to Johnny Depp in Black Mass (all three are playing takeoffs of James Bulger the South Boston gangster and FBI informant).

anna hubert
2 months ago

Great story reminds me of Kenneth Roberts

2 months ago
Reply to  anna hubert

ps – love Kenneth Roberts! Arundel, Northwest Passage, Rabble in Arms, Lively Lady, Boon Island! RBC

anna hubert
2 months ago
Reply to  RBC

Now you are talking

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