Charting A Course

By Ron Ciancutti

As my dad walked me down to the river, the morning sun peeked over his shoulder and flickered through the trees. I was about 5 years old. Mom was waiting at the water’s edge, holding a small raft made of pieces of wood that had been lashed together. They embraced me, placed me on the raft, and handed me a paddle, just the right size for my age and strength. I set off, and when I looked back, they were still there, waving. When I turned back again, they were gone. There was never a specific incident I can point to that prepared me to navigate life, but I knew I had the strength of my parents' love.


The Guppy Pond
As the days passed, I felt even more confident as my skills increased. When I glanced at the shore, Dad was there, arms folded across his chest, nodding, indicating my progress was good and my path was true.

Veering Off Course
However, when I was sailing at night, the way was not so clear. My skills were continuously being challenged.

There were other boats in the water now alongside mine, and my peers were not faring so well. Some tried to take on waves that could not be scaled or at speeds that could not be sustained. Some simply pulled onto shore.

Their parents were helping them onto dry land, wrapping an understanding arm around their shoulders.

I righted my craft and kept steering steadily ahead. Looking up, I noticed a sail had been added and the deck of the raft was fortified and sealed.

On shore, my teachers and coaches waved, but implored me to pay attention to my route.

Righting The Ship
I cruised into a series of waterfalls. Each was challenging in its own way--some more than others. Once or twice the boat capsized, but I stayed with her, turned her right-side up, and climbed back on.

The raft never veered too far from my charted course, but it was also a time for experimenting. The shore was filled with former bosses, girls I’d met and readily forgot, and friends who had stayed true over the years.

My mom was walking along, with a knowing smile and a constant presence of security. I could see her apprehension in letting me go completely, but she knew she had to if I was ever going to take on more treacherous waters in the future.

The river took a bend, and I saw that another sail had been added. Now the boat was skimming along at quite a clip. My folks were a blur as my boat flew past them; my course was steady and strong.

In the ensuing part of my journey, I continued to navigate some rather difficult challenges.  But when I looked at the shore, no one was there--not my folks, friends, relatives, or acquaintances.

I was clearly on my own, relying only on what I knew, what I’d experienced, what I trusted.

Crystal-Clear Waters
Eventually, I encountered a series of rapids. Left and right my paddle flew as the waters quickened and rose. This was not a time to think, only to react, to trust the knowledge I’d accumulated and apply it on the fly.

Just when I thought I couldn’t go any faster, the boat directed itself into a tight, rushing chamber of water, launching me airborne into the vast ocean.

Upon landing, I rested for a minute, feeling a sense of serenity, and calm. Various shores were within sight, but which should I seek?

On the left were farm houses and vast fields that went on forever. On the right, a city was clearly in view, with all of the excitement and lights of a bustling experience. I chose neither and paddled on.

A short time later, I realized it wasn’t only the trip that intrigued me; I had come to enjoy the vessel also.

The next time I looked, the boat was ship-shape, trimmed with many sails and teak woods; it was handsome and strong. When I pulled into a dock near a small fishing village, my wife and children clambered aboard.

As we set sail, a feeling of harmony could be seen on all of our faces. On the horizon came another boat that passed quite closely to mine. Drawing along the port side, my parents waved to me and disappeared into the setting sun.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at