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  • HDT Team

Canoeing & Mindfulness


Hello there! My name is Tatiana. I began working for Happy Dancing Turtle just three weeks ago. I am the new summer activities assistant in the Driftless Region, so I get to spend time planning and facilitating our Eco Camps with Nora! I am very excited about this new position and am learning new things every day. I am also grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts about one of my favorite experiences in nature: canoeing.

Tatiana & her mom, 2006

How It Began

I was around five years old the first time I picked up a paddle. My family and I had recently moved to Minnesota and my parents were eager to get my brother and I on the water to experience one of their favorite pastimes. I remember whining and squinting, as the paddle was heavy and the sun shone off the water directly into my eyes. As time went on, I became taller and stronger. I began to love the feeling of the glide across the thin surface of the lake. I could propel forward without disturbing nearly anything at all, except for maybe a few gnats.

A few short years later, my parents took us on our first trip to the Boundary Waters, near Ely, Minnesota. This first experience set the tone for the rest of my summer trips there. The feeling of being completely surrounded by wilderness was incredible. My eight-year-old self fell in love. At that age, the only thing required of me in the Boundary Waters was to be completely involved in whatever I was doing in that moment. I never knew what time or day of the week it was, or what was going to happen next.

At the end of the day, I went to bed feeling not only peaceful, but physically tired. Even in my everyday life of gymnastics and school, I wasn’t as active as I was during those camping trips. My arms and back felt fatigued from paddling, my legs almost shaking from hiking and portaging. But all of the exhaustion was felt in the best way; I finally got to lay down with fresh air gently seeping through the tent and my favorite people surrounding me, laughing and joking quietly.

The view through the tent door, 2018

Lessons from Canoeing

As I got older, I became involved in more of the planning and preparation for the trip, but the in-the-moment tasks during the trip remained the same. The slow and steady rhythm of paddling creates an environment in which I have no choice but to be mindful of my surroundings. I am very in-tune with my muscles becoming sore with each stroke, and I know it will feel good to stretch later. I begin to notice the soft sound the paddle makes when it hits the water and how the direction of the wind can change that sound.

This awareness is strongest in the Boundary Waters, but it spills over into my life at home. Whenever I see a picture of the woods, my family, or a canoe, I am reminded how powerful it can be to take time to immerse myself in the moment. Through my experiences in the canoe, I have learned how to be mindful: to listen, watch, smell, and feel the world around me. The part that requires practice is remembering to take a step back, in the middle of my daily routine, to allow myself to do this in the midst of the busyness I’ve created.



Additional blogs/resources related to canoeing and mindfulness:

Health benefits of canoeing and kayaking:

Boundary Waters Canoe Area – Gear and Information:

Minnesota DNR Water Trails Guide:

Sportsman’s All-Outdoor Atlas & Field Guides:


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