What not to bring on a canoe trip

I own a bird.  A cockatiel, to be specific.  I named him after Loki, the Norse god of mischief.  I've had him since he was 6 weeks old -- he turned 19 this year.  He's cute.  (When he's not biting me.)  He's got personality.  (A.K.A. attitude.)  He's entertaining.  (When he's not chewing up my books.) 

In short, I love him to death, but I do not recommend getting a bird as a pet.  (Something else I do not recommend: naming a pet after any god of mischief, Norse or otherwise.) 

He has, however, over the years, provided me with several blog-worthy moments (if only blogs existed 19 years ago!).  There was the time he flew out the door and landed 20 feet up a tree and couldn't figure out how to get down.  There was the time he flew out the door and disappeared for 2 weeks.  And of course, there was the time we took an overnight canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (or BWCAW, for those in the know) 19 years ago.  Because, as you can imagine, a cockatiel makes for an excellent paddling companion.  Such an excellent companion, in fact, that I already milked this story for money a few years ago with an article in Paddler Magazine; but hey, who am I to look a gift cow in the mouth?  So this time, with feeling.  And pictures.  Here goes ...

So 19 years ago, this was me:

Me.  Carryin' a canoe.

And this was Loki:

Loki.  Hangin' in a tent.

And this was Loki and me:

Loki.  Hangin' on my head.

And this was where I worked the summer after I graduated from college:

A misty morning on Hungry Jack Lake.

Hungry Jack Outfitters is a great outfitter, and I highly recommend them if you find yourself up the Gunflint Trail in the BWCAW.  I guess I had a pretty life-changing experience working there, considering my current love of canoeing and all things water (one might wonder how I ended up in the desert, but that's for a different post).  It's hard to believe that I've only been back a couple of times since then, the last time over 10 years ago.  Way too long. 

So there was Loki, there was me, and there we were, ready to explore the area a few weeks after arriving.  Dave and Nancy were very accommodating, letting me use a canoe and providing me with food and equipment.  Plus, they didn't make any snide comments about the fact I was bringing a cockatiel with me.  In retrospect, that's pretty damn accommodating, considering the comments I would've made had I had a little more perspective than my 20-some years (and now 19-years bird owner) provided me. 

Loki seemed satisfied in the bottom of the boat with some scattered seeds and a twist-tie to carry around while I figured out the finer points of the J-stroke and cross-bow draw.

Somewhere there's a twist-tie...

We made it across Hungry Jack Lake to the first portage, which is where the first complication reared its head.  How to carry a canoe, a pack, and a bird across the portage?  Since Loki was unwilling to carry anything (slacker), I tried to figure out various pack/canoe/bird, bird/pack/canoe combinations, but couldn't get anything to work except separate trips for the pack and canoe, with Loki perched on my hand each time.  I decided to ignore the "WTF?" looks from the other paddlers portaging their own gear while they watched me struggle to work my way through this glitch.  Yeah, whatev.  Nothing weird about bringing a tropical bird on a canoe trip. 

Eventually we made it to our camp on Duncan Lake, where we threw down our gear and pitched our tent like so:

Loki catching some rays.

With a few hours left until sunset, we went for a walk, read a book, listened to the wilderness ... oh, wait, that was Loki squawking, not a native bird.  Some seeds and a little beef jerky later, we were both fat, fed, happy, and ready for bed.  Or I guess I was.  What I failed to plan for was a place for Loki to sleep that night -- the box I brought for him turned out to be big enough for his body but not his tail, and he was having none of it.  So Loki's perch of choice was my head, which meant we both had a wonderful night's sleep.  Every time I rolled over he'd squawk and bite my ear, which was immensely relaxing for us both. 

After about 2 minutes and 52 seconds of sleep, we awoke refreshed and ready to start back.  For some reason my ear was swollen and throbbing -- not sure how that happened, maybe a spider bite or something.  We packed up, pushed off, and started paddling, using a slightly more coordinated J-stroke and cross-bow draw.  Since I was still trying to hone my paddling skills, I failed to notice the impending thunderstorm rolling in until the skies opened.  Needless to say, my paddling skills quickly deteriorated as I frantically tried to get us to shore to wait out the storm. 

Even in my frenzied state, I noticed Loki seemed pretty unhappy about the fact he was getting soaked in the bow of the boat, so I grabbed him and threw him under my seat in a vain effort to keep him dry.  Because he'd be safe there, out of the elements, content to wait until we got to shore and I could pitch something -- anything -- for us to cower under.  I suppose this might've worked if he didn't have remarkable climbing abilities, which, unfortunately, were well-honed because of his clipped wings.  Oh, and did I mention that my easily climbable pack was behind me in the bottom of the boat? 

I suppose I must've heard his plaintive squawk, but as I was busy trying to get us to safety, it took about 10 seconds for the sound to register.  Confused, I desperately looked under the seat, at the back of the boat, even in the bow where he had been having fun up until a few minutes ago.  Finding him nowhere, I finally looked back at the water behind me. 

Let's just say that it's a good thing most birds have hollow bones, because if Loki'd had solid bones like a loon, he'd've sunk like a rock to the bottom of the lake.  Of course, if he'd been a loon, he'd've had no trouble swimming, but that's beside the point.

Not Loki.

So there he was, floating and flapping pathetically on the surface 20 feet behind me, and there I was, with limited paddling skills and bird-owner knowledge, which somehow resulted in me throwing myself over the side of the canoe, raingear and hiking-booted bedecked, keys, wallet, and camera in my pocket (note the water spots on the above photos) and flailing back to Loki to throw him on my life jacket and swim him and everything else to shore.  I have no idea why I didn't think of paddling backwards, except, at this point in my paddling career, I must've unconsciously thought my swimming skills were far superior. 

He was soaked.  I was soaked.  He was shivering.  I was shivering.  We were both about to die of hypothermia, I was sure.  Because if there was one thing I did not know after two months as a cockatiel-owner, it was that they can be tenacious little bastards, and, given the right circumstances, are bound to live three times as long as you thought they would.  (Ahem ... I'm allowed to say this after 19 years.)

This is what a soaked cockatiel looks like.

Right, so where was I?  Oh yeah, we were both about to die, shivering, hypothermic, soaked to the skin.  But we didn't.  In fact, we made it back to the Hungry Jack dock a little while and a portage later.  Dave was even there, ready to greet us.  Once again, to his credit, he refrained from any comments about my weirdly swollen elephant ear, that I looked like a drowned rat, and ... oh yeah, that I had brought a BIRD with me on a Boundary Waters canoe trip (!).  Again, can I recommend Hungry Jack Outfitters for all your BWCAW trip needs?  Seriously folks, they're worth it. 

Aside from the canoe-trip-with-cockatiel debacle, I finished out the rest of my summer in the Boundary Waters, including a few more solo canoe trips (sans tropical bird) to taste even more of the land-of-10,000-lakes loveliness.  What I didn't realize at the time was that my experiences there began to shape a career path that has led me to try to protect and conserve these kind of places.  Places where we can explore, make mistakes, take a first solo trip, baptize our pets, and strengthen our spirits for whatever journey may lay ahead.  In short, places that forever change us and never leave our hearts. 

Although I hear that Hungry Jack now has a no pet policy.  No pets of any kind.  Especially cockatiels.


  1. absolutely AWESOME!!!! couldn't stop laughing all through & loved the pic's to help with the story lol ty just awesome x :)

    1. Thanks, Kaza! Being a very inconsistent blogger, I appreciate hearing that! Over two years after this post, Loki is still alive and well and causing mischief, bless his little cockatiel heart... :)


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