Tumblehome: One Woman’s Canoeing Adventures in the Divine Near Wilderness, by Brenda Missen

Ontario’s Algonquin Park, which covers an area larger than the province of Prince Edward Island, is renowned for its rugged beauty. This makes it a fitting backdrop for Brenda Missen’s Tumblehome: One Woman’s Canoeing Adventures in the Divine Near Wilderness, a book that combines canoeing lore and experience with descriptions of interior journeys on the road to self-acceptance.

Each chapter of the book is devoted to a particular canoeing adventure. For example, the first chapter, “Reconnaissance Mission,” centres around a canoe trip Missen took to Kioshkokwi Lake from July 31 to August 4, 1998. Amid the narratives about the trips themselves, Missen weaves in personal reflections and flashbacks. Photographs enliven and support the book’s content, as do Algonquin Park canoe route maps showing the geographical layout of the journeys discussed in each chapter.

“Missen’s descriptions of her wilderness experiences are authentic and sometimes even poetic…”

Most of the canoe trips were solo voyages undertaken by Missen. As she notes, traveling through the park as a woman, alone, carries its share of risk. Missen is forthright about the way fear of bear encounters played into many of these trips. Anyone who has camped out overnight and felt a thrill of apprehension in response to nocturnal woods sounds might well identify with Missen’s trepidation, and the pluck required to plunge into the wilderness on her own. But Missen’s writing is courageous too, as she shares details about the ups and downs of her relationships and her personal struggles.

Missen’s descriptions of her wilderness experiences are authentic and sometimes even poetic, as in the opening lines of the first chapter: “My paddle mines for diamonds that sparkle on the wind-riffled lake as I stroke and pry along the north shore.” She also evokes a strong sense of mood and place, as in the following description: “The morning lake is a mirror. The rocks are warm. No campsites in view. No canoes. No winds. No rains. All is still and serene.” Tumblehome captures the vibe of the wilderness: “The bush . . . isn’t a place of loneliness, or even solitude. It’s too alive, with rocks and trees, waters and winds, rains and thunder, and creatures, great and small—moose and muskrats and mosquitoes.”

Tumblehome’s descriptions of canoe trip challenges and encounters with moose, loons, ravens, and yes, even bears, make for entertaining reading. Missen’s spiritual and philosophical musings are of equal interest; the struggle to let go of expectations, and her striving to “[wake] up to the reality of what is.” Missen shares philosophies, practices, and teachings that have helped her sort things out on her own personal journey.

I’ve gone back-country canoeing on some of the same lakes as Missen, and can attest that her descriptions ring true. Her account of being caught in a thunderstorm and using a tarp for shelter by sitting down on half and pulling the other half over her head was all too familiar.

I could also identify with the Missen’s assertion that the wilderness has a lot to teach us, including how to be in the now. Canoe tripping has the potential to engender self-confidence and a sense of perspective, and Missen’s book was both a reminder and an affirmation of that fact. But you don’t need to be a canoe tripper to enjoy Tumblehome. Nature-lovers and those who have embarked on their own journeys in search of self-acceptance and meaning might find much of interest here.

Brenda Missen is a writer and editor, active outdoors person, and author of the literary thriller Tell Anna She’s Safe (2011). Her personal essays and short stories have appeared in newspapers, outdoor magazines, and anthologies. She lives in Ontario’s Madawaska Highlands with her dog, Maddy, near Algonquin Provincial Park, her “canoeing home.”

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Inanna Publications (May 17 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 350 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771338458
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771338455

Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.