My Ohio: View From the River

Ohio is a paddler’s paradise, but a leisurely canoe trip occasionally has its hazards.

My boyfriend and I gently floated down the Upper Cuyahoga River, our canoe oars working just to catch another current. Turtles sunning themselves on half-sunken logs stretched their necks as we glided by and then closed their eyes for another nap. Native water lilies were at their peak — white stars among round lily pad leaves.

It was a lovely and also romantic day. When we came to the bend in the river where we planned to pull our canoe up onto the bank, I looked forward to more than just a picnic lunch. I spread a red and white checkered tablecloth on the bank and we sat down under a small shady tree. I took grapes and sandwiches from the wicker basket to share and smiled my best “don’t-I-look-cute?” smile.

“What’s that noise? That hissing sound? Canoes don’t have tires — we can’t be losing air,” said my boyfriend, laughing at the image.

I don’t know why, but I looked up into the tree. I saw a million, okay, maybe a 1,000, okay, maybe five — but five for sure — long snakes dangling from branches, tongues flicking, each eyeing the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I held in my hand.

I am a confirmed nature lover, but I ran as fast as I could back to the canoe. Picnic plates went flying. I know, the snakes probably wouldn’t have hurt me, but I did learn my first boyfriend wasn’t very brave either.

Except for one other trip when I accidentally tipped a canoe and my best friend fell into the river and didn’t talk to me for days (I told her not to stand up!), canoeing Ohio’s lakes, rivers and streams has always brought me tremendous pleasure.

Rowboats are fine. But it seems you have to work too hard to get anywhere, and I always feel like I am afloat in a Titanic lifeboat. I also don’t like feeling “trapped” in a kayak. Put me in a canoe. I can slowly make my way downstream, occasionally wave to a fisherman on the riverbank or watch a heron wading for a tasty fish snack. I am perfectly happy.

Yes, I have been caught on a swollen river after a rain that was a bit dangerous. I also have experienced water levels so low I have had to portage a canoe, which is not fun. But for the most part, Ohio is blessed with a variety of wonderful canoeing opportunities for both the novice and expert canoeist from April through October.

You don’t know the Cuyahoga River if you only have seen it in some less-than-pristine urban areas. The Upper Cuyahoga River near Hiram deserves its American Heritage River and State Scenic River status. Canoe the Hocking River and sandbar rock formations and Ohio’s natural Rockbridge can be easily seen.

Paddle the Mohican River near Loudonville for family canoe adventures. Some canoeists swear the Little Miami River is the perfect spot for seclusion, peace and viewing wildlife. I love all the canoe waters of Ohio.

On family canoe trips, younger relatives now think I should just sit in a canoe wearing a broad sun hat and a life jacket and enjoy the scenery. So I usually give in and look grandmother-like floating down the river while others with muscles (and better backs) paddle away. But I bet I could still do a mean J-stroke if I ever had the chance.

This summer I have several canoe trips planned. I will enjoy dragging my fingers through the cool water as the canoe drifts along. I will marvel at the “seaweed” that gets caught on oars and be proud when grandkids point out dragonflies at play.

And when I get to that infamous bend in the river with the snake tree, I will smile to myself. What this family doesn’t know about me …

Jill Sell is an Ohio Magazine contributing editor based in Sagamore Hills.