Chaume, France. October 20, 2013. Rivers are often too swift, drop through hills too quickly, shift sandbars, hurl logs, and are too liable to drought and flood to encourage reliable commerce. Canals changed all that. Here on the Loire Lateral Canal we skirt the Loire River sometimes close, sometimes several kilometers away. We navigate along level waterways for 3, 4 or 5 kilometers until the next lock, and even then the drop is moderate.

Canal Lateral Loire, north of Decize, France. October 20, 2013. We pointed our canal boat north and were sipping coffee as we made the only ripples on the still silent canal. The rain clouds hung low on the east, curtaining off the sun and casting our canal, lined by tall oak, willow and locust, into a glomming of grays, browns and silver. We were alone without another boat or person in sight. Suddenly there were competing ripples ahead in mid-canal, ruffling the smooth waters. “A duck,” I predicted….