Learning Ahead: Boating Season

Season of Boating

The water is warmer and the ponds, lakes, and rivers are often swelling with water from summer thunderstorms. Whether it’s in a kayak or a canoe, paddling on the open water offers a unique perspective to witness wildlife, get exercise, and recreate outdoors.

Building watercrafts to traverse water is an ancient practice. In the America’s, there are many examples of indigenous canoes that allows for water travel across rivers and lakes. Often, these watercraft were built by hand from bark, animal skins, and logs and utilized for travel and trade. Compare the craft of these crafts with modern canoes today which are often built out of fiberglass by machines.

While kayaks seem to have originated in Greenland and utilized by people indigenous to Northern, cold climates, the canoe was built and used throughout the world by different cultures and peoples. Canoes were built as open tops and still keep this feature today whereas kayaks originated in the Arctic as closed top boats to prevent the icy water from getting into the boat, usually by stretching animal skins over the top.  Canoes: A Natural History in North America by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims is an excellent literary choice for learning more about the history of canoeing.

With a historic appreciation of canoes and kayaks, there are many unique waterways in Western Massachusetts to take these crafts out to explore and connect with our local landscape. If you don’t have a boat for paddling, check out your local outdoor outfitter for boat rentals. Additionally, many campgrounds open for day use offer boat rentals for paddling adventures. 

  • Tully Lake Campground, The Trustees & Army Corps of Engineers – Royalston, MA
  • DAR State Forest, Department of Conservation & Recreation – Goshen, MA
  • Mount Tom State Reservation, Department of Conservation & Recreation – Holyoke, MA
  • Pittsfield State Forest, Department of Conservation & Recreation – Pittsfield, MA
  • Bartholomew’s Cobble, The Trustees – Sheffield, MA
  • Zoar Outdoor Adventure – Charlemont, MA

In addition to literature and primary source experiences, canoeing can also be explored through art. Featured at the Harvard Art Museum, Winslow Homer’s painting, “Canoe in Rapids” (1897) is a watercolor painting showing two men crossing rapids in a canoe. The New England artist chooses to show the two canoers from behind the boat and places them in the center of the painting with the surrounding landscape of trees meeting in the center at the horizon. The composition of the painting creates a tunneled or v-shaped perspective: the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the center where the two canoers are paddling. Additionally, the painting features many summit-like formations: the waves in the water are angular with sharp points, as is the canoe, the trees, and the formation of the landscape as it converges into the center of the painting.

Interested in seeing more of Winslow Homer’s works and his seascapes? The Clark, a local museum in Williamstown, MA, features beautiful examples of Winslow Homer’s work in their permanent collection.


Think about this:

  • Has the shape and form of a canoe changed over the centuries? What other objects do we use that have not changed their form and function over time. Why?
  • Why do you think Winslow Homer chooses to paint the canoers from that particular perspective? What does it accomplish?
  • What type of wildlife or new perspectives of the natural world do you think paddling offers that differ from hiking on land?

Download our July/August edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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