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Okay, I am not an expert on Zen, or anything Buddhist, or even Asian, really. Let’s get that straight. This is just something a girl said to me on one of our early canoe trips when I was explaining the best way for me to paddle, “Is that the Zen of paddling, Donna?” It has stuck with me for almost 16 years.

So here’s how I interpret the Zen of paddling a canoe. My decision at the very beginning of all of this canoeing with my soulmate was to paddle as excellently as possible, to make every stroke count. You are going to have to do it millions of times, might as well do it right from the beginning. So there’s a fair amount of concentration to develop form while you are learning, but that’s the same with so many things. Especially in sports; tennis and golf come to mind. Repetitive motion, with mastery of technique the difference between a champion and a novice.

My personal goal in paddling is to be as quiet as possible, to slice the water with each dip of the paddle with efficient, powerful stealth. What I always tell our volunteers at every quick pre-cleanup canoeing tutorial is to think of an Olympic diver slicing into the water without a splash, and emulate that. Don’t thrash the water as if you are beating egg whites to make into meringue. Don’t keep clobbering the top edges of the canoe, either.

I love to sneak up on wildlife, first of all. I also love not wasting energy. I especially don’t want to hurt myself, and miss out on future canoeing adventures. I really hate to see people deprive themselves of fun in the future by not getting the hang of smooth, efficient paddling. Canoeing is such a marvelous thing to do that I hate to see people in pain because of it.

Remember, it’s just not as easy as it looks. Few things are, when you do them really well. So be kind to yourself, allow yourself to learn. Canoeing is one of the few sports, though, that has the power to actually kill you, because you are deliberately placing yourself in harm’s way: rough weather, crazy people on jetskis, drunks in powerboats, alligators, killer whales…

When paddling, put yourself into a contemplative state, with the repetition of each stroke as soothing and yet revitalizing as a Buddhist chant. You also have to be sure to choose the right paddle, but that’s not our concern just now. Seek perfection in each stroke, in placement of the paddle. Feel the breath in your body, feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your face, the strength in your muscles. Be totally present, be in the moment.

Drink plenty of water and use sunblock, wear a good personal flotation device, wear sunglasses so you can see beneath the surface. Be proud of yourself when you return to the dock. Be blissful. Now just make sure you keep doing it. Like meditation, it’s called a practice for a reason. Let me know about your adventures, okay? Remember, you can learn more about canoeing on our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org.

Happy paddling!

Donna

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Silly me, thought the second blog would be easier but it seems to be trickier. Now you know some basic information on Wildlife Research Team. Where do we go from here? I am not ready to get into the story of Dr. Tom just yet. There’s a lot to tell and it has to feel right. He sure did have a lot of interesting ideas about WRT though, back at the beginning, when he was dreaming it up.

Let’s start. then, with our canoes. We do have a lot of them; sort of like potato chips, hard to stop once you start. Not for you? Well, for us, then, because canoes, like cars or bikes, are not all created equal. So we have over 30 of ‘em.

Not that we had much choice with the first canoe, which Tom bought off a guy for $20 because Hurricane Andrew had knocked a big hole in its fiberglass hull, the previous year. He really wanted a canoe and that’s all he could afford. The guy should’ve given it to him for free, I think.

When Tom was a teenager, he made a lot of money doing cool things with fiberglass on cars and boats, and was a real artist with the stuff. So he fixed the hole beautifully, and painted the canoe black. At a later date, I’ll tell you about why black.

Now in my checkered artistic career I’ve had to learn a lot of media, and lettering and sign painting I picked up early on. So Tom had me design a stencil with the name “Wildlife Research Team” and then I had to paint it onto the hull of the now-black canoe. My favorite lettering paint is One-Shot, and you have to have just the right brush to make the letters come out right, nice sharp edges and corners. I happened to have a lot of leftover paint in various colors, and with Tom’s blessing, rather than waste it, used it to paint tiger stripes on our canoe.

Tom named this canoe, Do-er, and I dutifully lettered on her name. Then I thought, whew, that’s over with! Because Wildlife Research Team is a really long name to letter, especially on a curving surface. Little did I know how many canoes we’d add to our fleet!

Since that time, I’ve always favored One Shot’s peacock blue, but Tom was a freak for yellow. We experimented with different colors and those show up best on black. I’m very critical of myself when I letter in paint! But then I see how somebody else blobs on the yellow as if it’s squeezable yellow mustard on a hot dog. Oh dear. Then I realize I’m too hard on myself.

Do-er launched our naming strategy, which represents the fact that we are not only Dreamers in our Team, we are Doers. So our next canoe became Do-It; then Did-It; Dunnit, and then Duzzit, Doable, SureDo, Do-Fer, Wanna Do, Will-Do, Do More, Do Right, Done Good, It’ll Do…I know I am forgetting someone…sorry, my beauties. We can never keep up with the repainting, relettering. Our canoes work very hard and are constantly getting scratched up in their ceaseless pursuit of a better, cleaner, habitat.

Our tandem canoes are the ones named for doing; our solo canoes have a different naming policy which I’ll get into another time. All I know is, when four, or eight, or twelve or twenty of our uniquely-named black canoes paddle out on a mission, it’s an awesome sight. I get a tear in my eye, actually. Tom’s Dream, in black and yellow and peacock blue, the real deal. Doin’ it.

Do-er’s tiger stripes were long ago sanded off and painted over, and actually, Do-er herself has been retired after serving 30 years. Her fiberglass is rotting and we aren’t sure what to do with her. That canoe and I have been through some SERIOUS stuff together…material for several future blogs…oh Lord…

Please check out these sleek and hardworking beauties on our website, www.wildlife-research-team.orgBA002, especially on our Fleet page. You are most welcome to grab a paddle and join us whenever you are in South Florida, because that’s the very best way to enjoy this beautiful part of the world.

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Kicking off a blog is no easy task. I wish we could start in the middle. You know what they say about first impressions. Well, might as well launch!

Wildlife Research Team, Inc. is a nonprofit, 501©(3) environmental education organization with a unique twist: we use canoes for all of our projects and programs. Human-paddled canoes, no motors (that’s cheating!). We are located in South Florida, where there are plenty of places for us to wet our hulls.

There are thousands of places to explore Florida from a canoe, and we look forward to paddling all of them. Sometimes we may paddle in the Everglades, sometimes Biscayne Bay, maybe down in the Keys, or up north a bit in a spring-fed crystal-clear river. We also do urban canoeing, such as in the Miami River, keeping a close eye on the freighters on that busy working waterway. That’s our “Drug Boats to Tug Boats” tour.

We’ve been around since 1993. My name is Donna Kazo, and I am one of the two co-founders. In a later post, I will tell you more about the main founder, Dr. Tom Kazo, the guy with The Dream.

The canoe is a very humble vessel, very ancient. Yet for us, it does a superb job bearing some very large dreams, magnificent goals, while teaching life-changing lessons. We really enjoy changing people’s perspectives with a simple canoe excursion. We help people find adventure in their own neighborhood. We show them how wildlife habitat still exists along the shorelines and that they can have a part in saving what’s left.

My personal view, taught by experience, is that canoeing is a metaphor for Life itself. At times you may be uncomfortable in your canoe, perhaps fighting the wind and tide, wondering where the next bathroom is located, feeling a blister emerging on your hand, hoping a jetski doesn’t run you over, aggravated with yourself that you didn’t bring enough water, or other typical annoyances.

Yet! There always will be a reward if you stick with it, and simply pay attention to your surroundings. Some of our unexpected gifts have included sneaking up on an eagle wading at the river’s edge, a huge stingray surfacing and leaping twenty feet in front of our bow, or a manatee swimming right next to our canoes, close enough to touch. This is pure serendipity. Pure reward for perseverance.

What’s even better is knowing that each time Wildlife Research Team’s “trademark” black canoes are on the water, our people will leave that area a bit better than when we found it. You see, we are very widely known for our waterway and coastal cleanups. You can stow a heck of a lot of trash in a canoe which floats on just a few inches of water. We get into places where nobody else can.

It’s just who we are: our members cannot bear the thought of leaving marine debris behind. Not only is it unsightly, but frequently it’s dangerous to wildlife. We’ve extracted miles of fishing line, rope, zillions of plastic bags… you name it, we’ve pulled it out of the habitat.

Please check out our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org to learn more. I will soon be back to share more with you, and as always,

We hope to see YOU in a black canoe!

Donna

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