Silence and Resilience: Aggie Macy, ’20, on the Art of Canoeing 

In 2014, Aggie Macy, ’20, fell in love with a particular kind of silence.

At Camp Aloha in Vermont, on beautiful Lake Morey, she found: perspective, tranquility, and empowering stillness. She found canoeing.

Aggie Macy-X3.jpg

“I love that you find this real silence,” she says. “When you are paddling with someone, you can be having this funny, deep conversation, or you can be paddling completely silently. In canoeing, there is no such thing as awkward silence. I haven’t found this complete control and complete silence anywhere else. You think about what you do and how that affects the water around you and the movement of the boat. It is indescribable.”

“It all started when I went to summer camp in 2014 for three-and-a-half weeks. It is an all-girls camp in Vermont,” she says. “My dad went to the all-boys camp when he was little, and I heard stories and fell in love with it before I ever went.”

Aggie has been completely enamored with the sport ever since—or ever before, based on the stories she had heard before getting involved with canoeing herself. 

At Camp Aloha, an all-girls camp for campers aged twelve through seventeen, they use wooden canvas canoes that are over 100 years old. The foundation has the highest number of canoes in all of North America.

At the camp, there are ranks to recognize leadership, and the past summer, Aggie earned the highest rank, the Admiral. There are many aspects involved in earning ranks, from interdepartmental projects like hiking and swimming and tripping to independent projects. 

“I led a trip to the Adirondacks for five days,” says Macy. “Eight people went.”

In this trip, Macy learned the responsibility and rush of excitement that comes with plotting, planning, and executing a trip in the wilderness. She loved leading the trip, and soon she would find a way to bring the skills and passion she learned to other aspects of her life.

Outside of camp, she began to plan an adventure in father-daughter canoe trips to places in Vermont and Maine and New York. She and her father love the stories that come with canoeing, and in telling their stories, Macy started to recognize another one of her passions converging with this one: her love of writing. 

“The fun thing about canoeing is retelling stories of adversity or things that have gone wrong. Things can be really scary in the moment, but looking back, it can be really fun to revisit,” says Macy; aside from oral storytelling, there are often the makings of great records, reports, and creative non-fiction.

“I hadn’t written about canoeing much, as it is something hard to explain,” she says. “But my dad and I actually started writing articles together for the Dublin Advocate.” In one of their recent co-authored reports, they write, “There is a feeling of excitement on the first full day of a camping trip, it’s equal parts accomplishment and anticipation of going deeper into the wild.”

That combined force of accomplishment and anticipation has become a guiding force for Macy, and, as she began to write more and more about her canoeing adventures—with beautifully candid, fast-paced details like “The river enchanted us, we were purely reactionary, ‘rock, rock right, rock left, rock ahead!’”—her friend sent a link her way that started carving a new journey, one that combined both canoeing and writing. 

“My friend sent me a link to this contest—it is a writing contest about canoeing, and I am really excited because it is open only to high school students,” says Macy. “It’s called the Ely Outfitting Teen Essay Contest. If you win, you can only go on the trip with other teens. It shows that people our age can plan an adventure without adults.”

For those who win the Ely Outfitting Teen Essay Contest, the reward is great: a fully outfitted trip to the Boundary Waters—what Macy calls “the Holy Grail of Canoeing.” The contest is open to all skill levels and results in the chance for teens to — totally independently— navigate the Boundary Waters with their friends. No adults attend, so it is perfect for motivated, independent paddlers who want to put their skills to practice.

“The outfitting company that’s offering it acknowledges that this is the first year, so this is everybody’s first go-around,” she adds.

“I am really nervous about it but really excited [about the writing contest],” says Macy. “I’ve never been on a trip without adults, and if this does happen, I will learn a lot about myself as a leader and as a person.”

“My dad and I have always wanted to paddle the Boundary Waters together,” adds Macy. “My parents have been on a trip there; I want to go to the places they’ve paddled and then share my stories about my own trip there. I would like to go with four people total and schedule time to have an ambitious day but also have time to paddle and explore and soak it all in.”

Macy is glad that the contest is open to teens of all skill levels; she is excited that others may get the chance to find the patience, confidence, courage, and reflection that canoeing teaches.

“I think many people get really intimidated when they get in a boat when it is tippy or your paddle isn’t doing what you want,” she says. “The more time you spend in a boat, the more ‘boat sense’ you get. You can’t be intimidated when you don’t get it easily. Getting out on the water and feeling all of the elements—wind, rain, river rapids—it all takes time, and you have to accept that.”

What has she enjoyed learning the most?

“Learning strokes,” she says. “When people have taught me a certain stroke, it hasn’t worked exactly as they told me. I adopt it as my own. It makes me think about learning and receiving information differently. Understanding that people might interpret what we tell them differently.”

And, just as one interest can lead to a more holistic exploration of the topic at hand, Macy has also begun learning about the structure of a canoe in an ambitious new project: “I am building my own canoe this year, which is really exciting.”

Aggie's canoe

Aggie's canoe

“Going into it, I had very little woodworking skill,” Macy says. “I have learned so much. Learning from a mistake—thinking, ‘oh, I messed up, how can I fix it?’ That is really important. In and outside of canoeing or woodworking.”

The building project began as “just a spur of the moment thing,” she says.

“My mom said, ‘wouldn’t it be so neat if you built a canoe?’ I started researching and found this place in Bristol, New Hampshire that sells kits, and all of the sudden I was going and picking up lumber,” she smiles.

For Macy, canoeing has been a sport, an art, bridge between passions, a storytelling outlet, a gateway into learning more about herself as a learner, thinker, and builder. If there is one thing she has learned through the process of pursuing her canoe-related projects, it is “dream big.”

“As cheesy as that sounds, it’s true,” says Macy. “There’s so much you can do that you first only dream about.”

Rachael Jennings