Sept 7, Burntroot morning, gray skies with occasional blue promises.
A half hour ago, there was enough sun to walk about camp bare bottomed, allowing my body to bathe in the cool, drying air after having taken a much needed bowl bath. I also hung my wet things out to dry in that promise – mostly items from my day pack, which went along on yesterday’s explorations and got soaked through in the drenched afternoon. That canvas daypack is just not working for me on this trip. Perhaps we have not tripped in so many days of consistent rain in quite a while….
We took off in the canoe after breakfast to explore the lake south and west of camp, tracing its deeply cut shoreline of bays and coves. Numerous islands populate its more shallow waters there. Paddling south, we past a small island with half of its trees felled, laid bare by gale or gust, and around a larger one scarcely separated from the mainland by a strip of just-passable water,
Turning into the large bay, we set our sights on a spot where the map indicated there was once a depot farm here. Scraped into the thin rocky soil of this place, the farm was worked here in order to fuel the men who would fell the great white pines with their axes and saws.
Landing the canoe and climbing out onto the land there, we found the farm fields were being reclaimed by goldenrod and snapdragons, thistle and raspberry bushes, and crumbling stone foundation walls sprouting trees standing 30 feet tall. I tripped over the rusted remains of farm implements and tools — shovel heads, chains, pails –and almost stepped into a patty of bear scat. Climbing the open slope to the top of the rise, I imagined taking in that view through the notch at the entrance to the bay into the wider lake beyond while tending my garden there, and I felt something tender for this place.
Back in the canoe, circumnavigating the bay, we paddled past the remains of another decomposing ‘alligator’. Following the shoreline, we harvested a bit of firewood, sawing from the sundried limbs of old dead cedars, which were downed at the water’s edge. After loading a few of the bleached limbs into the canoe, we continued making our way out of the bay, passing more islands, as Don began trolling for trout.
We stopped for lunch along the way, at the large island, which we had noticed across the water from our campsite and where we’d spotted several canoes had landed on its long stretch of sandy beach for the night. Those paddlers had moved on early this morning and so the island was now unoccupied. Just as we pulled in, that changeable sky of the morning decided to pull its heavy blanket of clouds overhead and soon it was raining in earnest. So, we took our lunch under the cover of some low slung cedar branches, framing the view of the lake.
The long narrow island, which was almost cut in two save for a narrow strip of sand connecting its two halves, contained 2 campsites with a wild soggy land dotted with fallen trees, hillocks and mossy boulders between them. We were surprised to find the thunderboxes here were enclosed, more like a typical outhouse, and we supposed it was because the campsites were easily wandered into from the other, which would make for some startled and potentially embarrassed, bare-bottomed campers, indeed!
As we sat, waiting for the rain to subside, an older couple paddled slowly past, obviously eyeing the campsite. They’d spotted our canoe on the other side and were trying to decide if we were camped there. We stood and called to them that we were just making a lunch stop, which they were quite pleased to hear, as evidently this island has been a favorite of theirs for many years. They’ve been coming for 35 years, they said, since their twin sons were young lads. After paddling around to the back side of the island, we greeted them from our canoe, which we’d launched by then, and shared a few stories of Algonquin trips with this couple from Massachusetts.
By now, the rains had once again passed, the blue of the sky peeking out in widening gaps between departing clouds, then almost clearing completely, and we were feeling energized by the feel of the sun on our faces and food in our bellies. We decided to paddle up the lake, agreeing to stay on the water for another hour, paddling a half an hour north and then turning back. It was 2:45 by then and that would get us back in camp before 4.
No sooner had we headed north into the wider expanse of the now windy lake, Don trolling again, than he hooked a large lake trout, reeling it up for a long time until it was directly beneath the canoe. We were both pretty excited, but just that quickly, as Don reached forward to hand me the net, inadvertently easing up on the line’s tension, the trout slipped from the hook and was gone.
We were both quite disappointed, as we’d really enjoyed the trout we’d eaten for dinner back on Catfish Lake, and my tummy especially was ready for something solid and salty and fresh. I was having a bit of tummy trouble, having to run quite a few times today (not an uncommon problem for me) which I suspected was from eating a few too many nuts, at least that is what I hoped that it was.
On again, off again, seemed to be the theme of the afternoon! for now it was sprinkling rain on us once again, although the sky was still bright in places! That excited me too, somehow— perhaps it was the energy in the air, or the unpredictable surprises that it promised. On the lookout for what I felt was a certain rainbow, we paddled and trolled, heading toward a small campsite on a point on the western shoreline that I wanted to check out. Just as we were nearing the landing, a rumble of thunder, which seemed to be just over the lip of land to our west, filled the air.
Glad to be near the shore rather than in the center of this large lake, we landed the canoe in a small sheltered cove around the side of the campsite and climbed out onto the land, just as a second thunderclap sounded overhead. Making our way around and away from the point with its tall trees, we noted that the campsite itself was really quite tiny and evidently unused. I couldn’t even identify where I might pitch our small tent there.
In the shelter of the cove, I crouched down low to the ground, my head on my knees, just as the storm driven rain began to pelt. Within moments that pelting was hail- marble sized- flailing our shoulders. It was then that I broke into a laugh. It was hailing on us! And it was Cold! What a wildly unpredictable day!
Soon enough, the storm passed, and after emptying the canoe of the inches of rain it seemed to have collected in its wake, we set off for camp, rounding the northern islands before turning south toward home. Curious, we’d spotted what appeared to be, from the distance, a great fallen tree stretched out between them, with its broken off knobby knees lining its length, but as we began to paddle towards it, we soon understood that it was a rocky shoal, lined with dozens of cormorants, which all at once took off at our approach.
Headed south, with Don trolling again, we came around the point, now deserted, where we had once hoped to make camp, and got out of the boat to give it a look, deciding that, as things had turned out, we’d landed upon one of the nicest campsites on the lake after all. The dark waters and wild sky continued to fill me with awe — light and dark, water and sky, sun and rain, wind and calm–how to explain that feeling of wild vibrancy and utter peace all at once? Coming back to our island with that play of light captivating me, I tried to capture its beauty, in vain, with my camera.
A family of mergansers crossing the choppy water, near our camp, reflected my joy on the water. And then we were home, on solid ground, tackling the evening chores. (that hour long promise had turned into 3 and it was just after 6, by now) The dry, bleached firewood we’d gathered before lunch was quite soaked, and Don worked at splitting some of it, while I took care of water and food. Again, there was dish washing and the hanging of gear to dry.
The moon is now casting a shimmer over the water, but still, that fabulous sky is changing its mind. Just a moment ago a gray cover spread over us, spritzing mist upon our shoulders. I have finished sipping my fennel tea, so soothing to my tummy, and the fire is beginning to die. The air has grown quite chilly.
These days have been so full, in such a good way, but I feel as if I have such little time to write because of that. I barely have enough time to jot down these notes of what we DID each day that there is no time to explore how it FEELS– to honor the beauties both seen and felt– to express how terribly intimate it all feels here– with Don and with this place. I suppose these things will just have to be remembered/cherished in my heart.