impromptu summer

Intro

I drove north a few days later than I’d hoped, due to an unexpected medical test, and so my time was short. My initial plan had been to visit with my dear friend, accompany her on an overnight or two during her days off from the lodge, then accept her offer to use her place as a base for my own exploring — including perhaps a short solo trip, some day hiking, or just drinking in some much needed rest.

As fate would have it, some friends of mine from my hometown also decided to visit the lodge and park during the time I would be there, which neither of us realized would be smack in the middle of a holiday weekend. So, when I looked to book myself a few days in the park for that impromptu solo I’d hoped for?… I found all of the nearby lakes booked solid. At the time my friends had booked, they had grabbed one of the few remaining permits and generously invited me to join them.


We had paddled together for 6 hours the day before in nearby Conroy Marsh-me in my solo canoe, them in their tandem, and our friend in her kayak- and I was bushed, thinking I’d sleep in the next morning, read a bit, begin going through my gear for a trip perhaps the beginning of next week. But as I looked at the timing of that with my need to drive home on Wednesday, it soon made sense to get my self ‘in gear’ and join them. At first, I thought to decline, not wanting to infringe on their private time, and really wanting some time alone myself, but their offer was genuine, the lodge was bustling, and my need for some quiet time real.

They had a permit for a small lake, Oram, with just 2 campsites and only one permit available, so we knew we’d be out of the way. At the end of a canoe trail, with no other portages in or out, there’s no reason to pass through Oram lake unless you’re making it a destination. I thought perhaps I might take the second campsite and accommodate both of our needs for privacy that way.

I’d not paddled my solo boat since last season and I was feeling a little rusty at first, until I settled into my own rhythm and remembered her ways, how she responds to the angle of my paddle next to her hull, where she likes to carry the weight of her load.

Day 1

The paddle today was short. Just a few kilometers around the bend from the access point and we were at the mucky, log littered, uncleared entrance to the 495 meter portage. With an overall uphill ascent of just 20 meters, it rolled up and down enough that I was still huffing under the 50 pounds or so that I carried in the heat of mid day. My Keene hiking sandal had been torn from my foot in the muck at the beginning of the trail and i’d had to secure the sole to my foot with duct tape (later I discovered that ball bungees worked better. I’ll repair it with gorilla glue later tonight). The second pass across with the repaired shoe and my lighter canoe on my shoulders was much easier.

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I’ve landed upon the second site, around the corner from my friends, and facing south into a pleasant enough view, with some notches into the marsh, lined by spire-ing spruce. I really have quite a bit of privacy here… I could swim naked from the sandy beach at my feet, where turtle was sunbathing earlier, and not be seen at all, though the deerflies are enough to dissuade me from that for now. I am grateful that my friends extended this invitation to me, allowing me to come, somewhat supported, yet allowing me to also be alone. Here, I can give myself permission to be quiet – not feeling either self-conscious or responsible or getting caught up in care-taking.

I really do belong here, just as I am.

It is evening and I am tucked inside my bug net, draped from my tarp, though I notice there are blackflies swirling about and climbing the inside walls. Right now they are all buzz and no bite. Time will tell.

The sun is just kissing the tips of the trees on the western ridge to my right. Hmm, I am disoriented a bit as I had expected the sunset view to be in my face from here. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will reposition the tarp, but not this evening. I am ready, more than ready, to be still. Besides, I expect the mosquitos to wake up for the night any moment and I’d rather not be out there with them.

As the sun dips behind the ridgetop the temperatures markedly drop. I likely will retire quite soon, as I am weary from yesterday’s long paddle and today’s carry and camp set up.

A beaver thwacks her tail… again. She did so earlier this evening as a paddled down into the boggy bay at the end of the lake, where she was out with her partner munching on lily pads by the glare of the late day sun. Two otters were also out for an evening paddle, curious about me in my red canoe, raising their long necks for a look, then hissing before diving to rise once again on the opposite bank. How long they held their breaths. A lone loon dove into those tannic waters as well, as I glided by in my boat as gently as possible so as not to disturb their dark depths. Now the water smooths in those great sweeping curves that often appear near dusk. Soon it may quiet to glass.
I have been such a grumpy pants. I am hoping my time here will quiet my spirit, restore my soul by these still waters.

Bullfrogs begin to croak from the bay, swainson sings from the woods, and red squirrels continue to scold and to chase as the sky pinks in the notch. Perhaps I shall stay awake to watch it develop.

Perhaps not.

Day 2

Morning, tucked inside the screen netting, and inside my bug jacket, which I’ve decided is markedly better than the head net, which just makes me itch and sweat pulled tight next to my neck as it is.

It was a wild night. I feel as if I didn’t sleep at all. Retiring early (the sky still held onto the light) I laid awake for some time, first getting comfortable in my body, then watching the trees dance overhead. I’d pulled back the fly completely, rolled it up at the head of the tent with a rock to weight it down, to let in the air. Later, when I rose sometime @ 1am or so to go to the bathroom, about a dozen or so mosquitoes darted in to join me. After disposing of them, I laid back again, listening for a long while to the wind in the treetops above me. It sounded oceanic in its rising and rushing, like tides crashing and receding. Closing my eyes, I allowed it’s healing sound to wash over me.

Soon, I heard drips. At first I thought they were needles dropping from the pines, but a splash convinced me it actually was rain, so I rose to pull the fly over the top of the tent roof, still leaving the sides wide open for air. Shortly, however, the lightning began to flash in the distance, and those high winds dropped down from those treetops to the surface of the earth where I lay in my tent. As the storm approached and came closer, the windgusts grew strong and tugged at the sides of my tent, pulling the stakes from the duff and flapping the tarp. I was glad to be lying inside, my body weight holding her fast to the earth. She shook mightily in the gale, but she held on.

The winds were still blowing in earnest when dawn broke, continuing to bellow until 10 o’clock or so, when all at once they stilled, the water calmed, and a gray blanket descended upon what had appeared to be a clearing, blue sky. The quiet waters invite me out for a paddle, though the sky portends rain. I’d go out if I thought it would hold. Time will tell.

Red squirrel chases and chatters and scolds me, each time seeming surprised and affronted by my presence. Thrush whistles her trilling melody. Songbirds of some sort run through their entire repertoire. Insects descend (or rise) in full force with the abatement of the winds. My morning rain jacket is replaced by a bug jacket.

My friends paddled over to check on me this morning. The visit was sweet. After they left, I made some rearrangements of camp (I moved the tarp and its billowing screen). I am beginning to feel myself settle. More than physically, I am quieting in other ways too. This spring has been full, and my early summer mind has been abuzz like these insects around me.

My tummy tells me it is noon.

Evening

At the water’s edge, awaiting the sunset (though I don’t know for how long as the blackflies are swarming again).

Still at last.

The day continued to be blustery, save the short spell just after lunch, when I took that paddle around the circumference of the lake, after which I stripped and took a brief soapless dunk in the water to cool off and remove the residue of dirt, sweat, and insect repellent from my skin (I wonder what that insect repellent does to the water??) It was hot out there!

I crawled naked into the tent for a bit after that to rest, tired from last night’s lack of sleep. Soon as my head hit the pillow, it seemed, another thunderstorm rolled through, dumping a fair amount of rain as it passed. So, I was up to pull the fly over the tent once again. I finally did rest, rising at 4:30 to prepare my dinner and paddle across the lake to join my friends for the evening meal. These evening visits with them are welcome and sweet.

After dish washing, but before returning to camp, I paddled again to the south end of the lake, where once again the beavers were out for a water lily snack. I didn’t stay long to watch, for I was ready to be back in my camp for the night.

It’s really too bad the evenings are so unbearable for sitting out with the insect barrage. Inside this bug jacket, the perspiration rolls down my nose, my neck, my cleavage, my back. I think I shall move up the hill to catch a breeze.

Day 3.

Quiet morning.

I slept deeply and restoratively last night, waking this morning with an audible sigh at the luxury of it all. The near-full moon shone down upon me as she made her way across the summer sky, softened beneath its haze of humidity. Though I sensed her presence, I saw her just twice, first as she broke free from the eastern horizon and then again, midsky as I also rose — for a bathroom break.

It was sheer pleasure (pun intended) to be protected from the insects by the tent’s screen, while having the fly pulled back fully to gaze up into those towering red pines overhead. I was reminded of the gift of screening during that mid-night bathroom ‘run’, when those mosquitoes lay in wait for my exit.

This morning, however, it is delightful to sit here in the shade, on this slight rise over the water’s edge, my back against the pine, a breeze softening the heat. Back in the bush at the box, away from this breeze, the mosquitos this morning were brutal, but here they are non-existent. Morning birdsong and the bullfrog’s last ditch call for a mate are my only companions.

This south facing hillside is carpeted by blueberry plants, their unripe fruits soaking the afternoon suns. Yesterday, I found 2 ripe ones, full of early summer flavor. The spring has been kind to them.

Such a perfect summer morning is this.

Later morning.

I have just risen from my book to do some camp chores – washing up breakfast dishes, filtering water, putting things in order, brushing teeth and hair, etc. The water has been beckoning for some time, but my goal was the chapter’s end and by the time that turn of the page came, my friends had paddled over for their morning water-gathering and check in. They commented how very hot the morning already was, and I realized how fortunate I am to have landed upon this site with its breeze-siphoning slope on the north side of this bay, where the sun doesn’t reach until after noon. So, I decided to appreciate that shade a while longer, lingering there with my book until noon.

After the sun finally hit me, I rose to explore just a bit, moving back into the woods behind the small bay. My footfall stirred the insects to rise and swarm and I was bothered and bitten more in that 20 minute foray than I had been all morning. I came upon some wild iris blooming in the dried up end of the bay, where it was swampy behind the logjam. I would take my camera back for a photograph, but its not worth the swarm. I’ll keep the image of them in my mind.

Back at the campsite, I took some time to comb through those blueberry plants, gathering a quarter cup or so, enough to bake into a bannock, which I intend to make for my dinner, along with some jerky and cheese. I have brought more food than I need – I could stay another two days before running out.

Now I have moved around to the west side of my site to eat lunch. The horseflies are all worked up into a frenzy around me and I have gone for my sticky hat tape to see if i might encourage them to land there rather than on my shoulders, which are feeling quite prickly enough. Already I have trapped 6 of the buggers and my shoulders are quite relieved.

A breeze rises up from the water, again cooling the hot air up here. As I sit, it continues to pick up, encouraging the resident horsefly population to move on.

Relief.

Evening.

Needing to move my body, I took the canoe out after lunch to encircle the lake once again and to see who might be out and about on the water. As I’d expected, however, nobody but me was out in the heat of the day and by the time I got back I was spent by it. So, I took the plunge and went for a full-fledged swim. How glorious it was (as my friends had assured me it would be as I’d paddled past their skinny-dipping bodies) I spent a half hour swimming out for a distance, then lying back and letting the lapping waves wash me back to shore.

After dinner with my friends, I again paddled those lower reaches of the lake, where again the beavers were out for their evening snacks and again they thwacked their annoyance at my interruption of their evening delight. Back in camp, the air grew so still and so close that I felt as if I could dunk myself all over again in those cooling waters, except with the sun just beginning to set, I feared the mosquitoes would have been lying in wait as I emerged. As it was, until I closed up camp for the night, the horseflies were swarming so that I literally dove into my tent to escape them. I launched an attack with my paperback book on the 8 that jettisoned themselves in here with me and have been reading from inside its blood streaked cover since then. (read more about that here)

My back is weary now. And so I shall lie back to sleep.

Day 4. Back at the lodge.

We left the lake at 9 to walk back across the mosquito infested portage trail over blowdown and past stagnant inland pools. Leaving my bug jacket in my pack (thinking i’d be too hot in it), I walked that trail the first time across in record pace ( at least for me!)

The paddling was far too brief until we were back at our cars in the dusty lot. I do hope to take a long paddle tomorrow on this long, beautiful lake where I am lucky enough to have both shelter and friends. There are 3 beaver lodges down the lake that I have promised to visit before I head home.

For now, the breeze has picked up so that my sundress is not content to stay tucked beneath my legs as I sit at the edge of the water here in this Muskoka chair. The sensation on my skin is pure delight, as my shower washed hair is being blown naturally dry. The book in my hands fills me with wonder. With the wind and these words on the page, I am carried away…

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and we shall paddle – part 11

May 24, 2018 Day 11, 3 miles paddled, 1 mile portaged

Early morning, in the tent.

The silence of the night is broken by the rising of the sun. Even before it knocks on the horizon, the loons announce its coming, the reverberations of their calls encircling my sleep and coaxing me to wake. After opening that door, the day is ushered in by the subtle stirring of the songbirds on the mainland, the crack of dawn admitting the orange glow of sky outside my tent. A whoosh of wingbeats passes overhead, flapping fast. The loon perhaps.

A raven alights on its pinetree perch to practice his morning vocalizations, running through his repertoire of scolding squawks, cackling chatter, hollow hoots and brazen babble. For half of an hour I listen to his gibberish, breaking into a giggles of my own, from time to time, at his shameless jargon.

The closing sunset that we’d requested to be written into this trip’s script did not cast itself upon the stage last evening. Still, we sat close to one another in our granite mezzanine as the dark curtain fell upon the day.

This morning as that curtain lifts, my heart is heavy. I think perhaps the tears will hold this time, but they betray my sadness as I haul the gear down the hill to our waiting boat. I realize that these feelings would not rise in me if I did not love so wholly. Loving is not something that I want to end, so I accept this melancholy also, pushing off from shore into the mirror of the morning.

Accepting it is time to go, I realize I am but a visitor in this place. Woodpecker, red squirrel, bird of song. Loon, beaver, moose. Turtle, snake, merganser. Otter, dragonfly, and nymph. These waters are yours. This land your home. And though I long to somehow live as you do- naturally, quietly, simply – I cannot. Though I long to inhabit your world more fully, to live every day this fully, present and inhabited THIS way, I do not belong here.

The mirror of this morning lingers long. Out on the water, fallen trees, with spindled branches hanging from their graying trunks, overhang the edges of the lake. Their reflections make them look like giant alligators opening their mouths wide. A loggerhead with a fresh growth of grass atop his head looks like a walrus with a beard in its reflections. The shoreline casts her graceful silhouette upon the waters.

In two-and-one-half hours I am standing in the hot sun of the parking lot, after walking one last time to the water’s edge for the last load of our gear, taking one last lingering look at the island standing silent and alone. I take a moment to receive the blessing of this place upon me. The goodness I have had the opportunity here to taste. This time alone with Don, undistracted- by technology or committee, obligations and relationships, phone-calls, passersby. None of these are present to escape into while we are here. We are simply present to each other, to this place, and to her fauna and her flora.

Though I longed to keep that other world at bay, I turned on my phone to get directions for an art store, to which we’d been recommended. How quickly civilization pushed its way into that opening, my phone lighting up with messages and texts, emails and then checking in on things at home. The beauty of the earth outside my window rushed by, unseen, my attention drawn away from my lover in the seat beside me.

Of course, these other relationships are important to me too, persons that I care for deeply and that also are a blessing. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can attend to them with the same regard by which I gaze upon the flowers at my feet along the portage trail, the intricacies of the mosses, the shape of a leaf. No less delightful are the intricate details of a human relationship, I suppose. It’s just this feeling of being swept away by them- away from my self- this feeling of ‘beyond my control’ to keep this cracking open of the door to take a peek inside from crashing open to the wild party that is going on in there. The inability then to close it gently.

On the porch at Hay Lake Lodge, I gaze down the long notch into Birch Creek, then around the sweep of the lake to the south. The briskness of the air, the hot tea that I drink, keep me here inside my body, though my heart is elsewhere, out there on the water. The tea, by way of contrast, reminds me of the way the water tasted that last morning upon Daisy Lake.

By contrast, the way life tastes out there.

Driving home, bittersweet departure. This longing to stay, to remain at home in this place where my heart yearns to be; that tug to return to family and friends back home. Even the drive fills my eyes with the contrast. Dark spires of spruce. Bright greens of maple and birch.

The sweep of the road curves before me, each rise and fall taking me farther- and closer- to these places that my heart calls home.

 

 

and we shall paddle – part 10

Day 10, May 23, 2018, 5.5 miles paddled, 3 miles portaged

Daisy Lake, Island

_DSF3365-2We left camp on Misty lake at 7:45 this morning, and almost immediately were paddling the marshy inlet, today swollen with waters that made of the more typical skinny-trail+through-grasses, a wide shallow pool. We heard the Petawawa before we saw it, her waters rushing over boulders as she emptied herself into the bay. The river splits here at its mouth, like a forked tongue, around a small mount of earth. We have seen those dual forks parched and panting in late summer.

By 8 oclock, we were walking the portage from Misty to Little Misty, which was more uphill than I’d recalled it being. (that seems to be a repeated observation on this trip). Still we were across the 935 meters in 25 minutes, muck maneuvers and all. (Well, one time across, that is. We double portage so that made the portage time for that trail 75 minutes in total)  Approaching the end of the portage, balancing on those final catwalk beams, it was so good to see the familiar intertwined roots of cedar and the sentinel rock in the water, which mark the entrance to Little Misty._DSF3366

In no time at all, we were across Little Misty and into the narrowing, meandering Petawawa river. Again, the male mergansers, occasionally with mates, more often in bachelor pads, seemed to flush around every bend. Sometimes the same fellow would lift, only to land just around the corner, then do it all over again. We must’ve been such a nagging annoyance for him, like when I brush away a fly only to have it land over and over again. Once there were four males hanging closeby one female. I like to think that they were a clutch still clinging to one another, but perhaps she had her pick of the litter, a sort of reverse harem, which would be alright if those rascals would actually stick around to help with the raising of the chicks.

We paddled up behind a pair of Canada geese, one of whom had a significantly shorter neck than the other. Unlike the mergansers, they didn’t seem concerned at all about sharing the passage with us. Paddling alongside us for a short time, we were so close I could almost feel the bristle of their black bottlebrush necks.

Each of the portage trails along the Petawawa begins at a pool formed by a small waterfall, today in full springtime flow. Again, I find myself appreciating the chance to see these beloved waters in various seasons over these years, donning the different clothes that they wear for each one. In some seasons these rushing torrents are mere trickles; these dried tussocks, now pushing green sprouts, are swaying seed stalks; these wide open ponds are crowded with lily and pickerel and frogs; those beaver lodges- barely heaps of mud in these swollen rivers- are twice their size by late summer’s reconstruction.
_DSF3383Don dropped the bailer somewhere along the 450m portage that passes alongside a boulder ridden section of the river. Discovering it was missing as we were loading the boat on the other side, he went back. While the delay cost us 15 minutes or so, it gave me an opportunity to
_DSF3376take my camera for a stroll, and I was grateful for that break in the day. As I brushed by, young />balsam firs released their fragrance into my open palms, their scent clinging to me as if I could carry something forward for them- a message or a memory. Inhaling their scent on my hands now is like breathing in Christmas.

Only occasionally today were those black fly hatchlings beginning to swarm about – near those rushing waters at each of the 3 portage trails and again as we paddled that first large bay at the east end of Daisy Lake, where the Petawawa settles into her arm. They hover but don’t yet bite, and we feel fortunate to be here just on the cusp of their spring awakening!

Six hours from when we began our day’s paddle, we landed here. Choosing to end this journey at a place that has sentimental memories for the two of us, we have made camp on the south facing site of the island, where we ended our last 10 day journey through these bodies of water in the autumn of 2015. Today, we had our pick of the 7 campsites on this lake, and though I had vied for the site on the western shore where we stopped for lunch this afternoon, the emotional tone of that last night 3 years ago lingered in our hearts, winning them over.

lunch with a view

Yet, on the first day of that trip 3 years ago, we also had camped on the site upon which we stopped for lunch today, and while we had the pleasure of a moose walking through camp that autumn evening, then splashing about in the marshy bay while we ate dinner; and while that site has a sandy beach for landing and for swimming; and while there is ample woodland habitat behind it for exploring; and while there are beaver runs alongside it that make evening swim-bys most likely; and while it boasts picturesque views to the north and the south; and while I was charmed by the striped fingerlings that darted in and around the rocks as we lunched there today, we had remembered the simple sunset, the comfort of granite backrests, and the bittersweet farewells of this one.

We’ve seen enough moose, have had plenty of exploration and stimulation, now is the time for simply being quiet, for adding nothing more, for gathering up the pieces of this trip’s goodness and storing them away in our hearts.

There is something appealing in this view, with the sweep of  land and the curve of the water beckoning my dreams to wander around that bend. My spirit is as soothed by its open endedness as my body is comforted by the support of this granite backrest. Close to the edge of the water, yet tucked beneath the sun-filtering shelter of cedar and pine, I watch the reflection of sunlight dancing on the undersides of these boughs.

I noted several piles of mooseberries on this island after we arrived, as we were setting up camp and gathering sticks for our evening cook fire. Either the moose swam across after the ice went out or walked across beforehand. Cows are known to give birth to their calves on islands such as these, for the protection they offer from predators during that vulnerable time. I like the thought of this being a safe place for birthing.

For now,, I shall rest my back and my head on this welcoming stone, let this breeze tender my skin, listen to the wind high in the pines over my head, watch the bands of rippling water play across the surface of the lake…. and be blessed.algonquin-2015-fall-065.jpg

and we shall paddle – part 9

Day 9, May 22, 2018

in which I realize how becoming intimate with the landscape of lakes over the days, seasons, and years helps me to also become intimate with the subtle and not so subtle changes in me. What a perfect mirror are these waters

6 miles paddled, 1 mile portaged. 4 miles evening paddle.

Misty Lake, Rocky Point 1:30 pm

The day dawned to satin waters, into which we dipped our blades as silently as possible, paddling the channel between the islands while making our way towards the day’s first portage. Unloading our boat at that portage, we took one last glance over those waters, as the loons offered their parting wails and a crane, flying above, rattled her own farewell.

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The trail to Timberwolf Lake was narrow, as if cut through a forest of wildflowers. Trillium, trout lily, dutchman’s breeches, violets (blue and white), and the delicate spring beauty just opening her morning eyes, lined the woodland path. Just two days after our previous portage trek, we noted again how much more green these woods felt, with the previously miniature leaves on the maple saplings now fully open.

Paddling around the bend on Timberwolf, choosing the longer water route rather than the more direct overland passage, we passed by the site where Don and I experienced those intense overnight thunderstorms beneath aging hemlocks, and the one where Deirdre and I had taken a lunch rest one summer day and decided to stay. Into the narrowing creek we continued. How different it feels in the springtime without its adornment of water lilies and pickerel weed.

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Pulling into the boggy pond at the end of the water trail, between the graying log, which served as a makeshift dock, and the mucky shore, we unloaded our packs. Soon we were on the short 130 meter liftover around a woodland glen, where a narrow waterfall drops into a darkened pool, lined by moss laden trees. Along the trail above, we were struck by the blowdown of numerous trees, 3 large ones of which appeared to have fallen one into the other like dominoes, a testament to the power of those thunderstorms in trees rooted in shallow soil. The putin on the other end of the trail into the southeast bay of Misty Lake was much easier than the last time I’d come this way, when we’d had to load from the rocks 3 feet above the boat. Today’s water levels allowed access from the shoreline below.

Misty Lake was quiet today. I have seen the gales funnel down her length, making for a less inviting greeting, but today she was welcoming, the paddle relaxing.

The cloud cover that had blanketed the morning, now threatened to break into rain. Pulling in alongside the island, we dug our rain jackets out of our packs as the spritzing grew into a sudden shower. No sooner than we had them over our shoulders, those raindrops just as suddenly stopped.

The site we have chosen, near the west end of the lake, has an extensive shoreline of rocky prominences surrounding a sandy beach, the landing into which was a ‘breeze’
Now I sit atop one of those sloping granite ledges, the water lapping the rocks at my feet, the hypnotic rhythm of that slapping luring me to relax and let go. A light breeze from the south (the catalyst for those waves) keeps the midday warmth just on the verge of coolness.

We are again alone on the Lake.

The week has brought so many changes to the spring landscape, I feel as if I have been watching a series of time lapse photos unfolding. The hillside across the water is now fully flush with the yellow-greens of springtime. Few bare limbs remain save on trees that have perished, mostly on wet shorelines where perhaps the roots could no longer hold on nor draw nurture. We noticed several of those- large pine trees- toppled over on the islands and shorelines of McIntosh Lake as we’d paddled her western perimeter on the way home from the bog yesterday. I thought how those weathered roots will one day make sculptures for paddlers to wander by and wonder over.

The beach west of our campsite ( the sandy beach is to our east) is littered with granite bits of every hue- pinks and greens, reds and whites and blacks. Perhaps I shall go picking over them later, find that heart-shaped piece to replace the one we somehow misplaced over the past 3 difficult years.

Our time here is drawing short. Just 2 nights remain. Already, I feel the sadness in that…. though that suspicious humming sound from last night appears to have indeed been the black flies. They made their first appearance today and I am most certain I will be grateful to be saying goodbye before they say hello.

A woodpecker taps on a hollow tree somewhere far down the lake; the drumming resounds in this quiet like a wooden mallet rapping a woodblock. We passed by his territory as we paddled the narrows between the island and the mainland this morning.

Bridging that long view into the notch from which comes woodpecker’s echo, the breaking-up clouds now stack like a staircase. Their departing sputters of drips and drops tease us still. I have removed my boots and my socks, and those raindrops tickle my toes, stretched out upon this rough granite. The gentle air is tender upon my skin; my face is caressed by the breeze.

This is what happiness feels like, I think. This bathing in simple grace. This being in peace. I have been noticing something in me that I can only describe as a humbling. Perhaps it is more of a letting-go, this realization deep in my bones that I cannot know what is right, what is true. I can merely be with what is. My defense of self seems unimportant, my knowledge trivial – at best, misguided at worst. Somehow my need to prove my worth, my value, my giftedness, my intelligence, my loveability (and my ability to love), my place, to earn my belonging has dissipated like ‘salt in a weakened broth’, as the poet Naomi Shahib Nye writes. Kindness, indeed, is all that remains.

I pause to consider how I have been noting these subtle changes here in the landscape of this place that I love, from season to season, year to year, even day to day. How those same subtle shifts occur within me, unappreciated until I slow to look closer, revisit, to gaze with love upon who I once was. These lakes are indeed clear mirror for me.

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Evening, 9 pm. another 4 miles paddled.

Placid waters.

After whiling away the afternoon, reading for some time upon that rocky point, then exploring the shoreline, investigating plants- some with fresh green leaves and last season’s browned seedheads upon the same stalk, others with miniature bells lining their greening stems- and studying the star-shaped mosses and curious lichen, I wandered behind the campsite through the woods where more trout lily and trillium blossomed. Canada mayflower grows in abundance there and viburnum dots the understory. A long rock ledge, which appears to have split and dropped about 10 feet from its attachment to the land mass above, was dripping with moisture, a great moss garden being nourished on its vertical wall.

After dinner, which we took early, we paddled out onto smooth-as-silk waters whose mirrors stunningly reflected the clouds, which by now had broken into hundreds of pieces and were dotting the evening blue sky. The illusion was both magical and completely disorienting; we at times felt as if we were paddling atop a liquid sky. The grounding shoreline reflections of logs, rocks and trees were equally exquisite, filling us with wonder and delight.

Around the first bend, into a small bay, we surprised a female moose, out for her evening meal. Coming quite a bit closer to her in the canoe than I was comfortable, she too expressed her discomfort by urinating quite prolifically as we drew near. Makes me think twice about drinking the water from those bays.

Revisiting the pinecone littered campsite upon which we were stranded with D & M four years ago, we reminisced. Here was where we had pitched our tent. There was our friend’s site, where their leaking tent finally disheartened them after 7 days straight of rain. There was the log out over the water, where I’d propped myself as I wrote, the ridge where I’d carried my sleeping bag in the middle of the night to bathe in the suddenly (and temporarily) clear skies. Here, the place where we’d huddled beneath the tarp; there, the fire circle where Don had managed to get a fire going to lift the spirits of our friend.

On past my favorite island we paddled. Such a beauty! Barefaced granite studded with pine tree survivors. Their assymetrical branches hinted at the oft wind tossed waters, which for us this evening remained as silent and still as that granite.

We then paddled into the south arm of the lake, which was new territory for us to explore. Into the dead end marsh where old graying rootballs and fallen logs blocked the passage. The chorus of peepers was a riot of trills, until my paddle inadvertently knocked the gunnel and they hushed, all at once speechless.

Past portage trails that will go unexplored for this trip and seemingly wilder campsites, next to inviting habitat, we continued. That southern edge of the lake is dotted with shoals and small rocky islets, which the gulls seem to prefer. Lined up as they were, it seemed to us to be a gull condominium of sorts. It must be that this lake is well-suited for communal life, as along the far western edge of that southern arm we encountered a beaver lodge unlike any I have yet come upon. Two large lodges, connected in the middle by a passage almost as high as the lodges themselves, made for a sort of mother-in-law suite.

The vision of the lake with the sky reflected across her expanse continued to dazzle us as we came back out into the main body of the lake, making our way back to camp. All tolled we were out for 2 hours, reveling in those healing reflective waters, where we could not differentiate between heaven and earth. It was a deeply satisfying end to a perfect day.

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and we shall paddle – part 8

Day 8. May 21, 2018. 7 miles paddled, day trip.

Morning

Quiet. Hot coffee. Gulls soar in tandem ballet, one circling his partner below, inviting her to rise from her perch on the low shoal to join him. Raven scolds from the top of an island pine. Soft breeze tickles the lake’s surface to taut ripples in places, soothes it to silk ribbons in others.

Squirrel chatters. Loons quiet. Something had clearly disturbed them this morning when their echoing calls invited my early awaking. Few songbirds in the distance, back in the hardwoods, behind the hemlock and balsam that inhabit this campsite. Though there are countless young nurslings, which this morning are aglow, catching the angled rays of the morning as it breaks over the ridge behind us, there is also something about this place that feels ancient. Creating the air of the primordial are massive grandmother hemlocks and giant fallen nurse logs covered in moss, deep spongy humus and verdant vernal pools, which incubate life. Waters of birth. It seems all of life springs from these, including my own. How I have found newness of being here in this place.

Human voices from across the lake drift to my ears, soft morning conversations over the fire. Perhaps it comes from the site across from us where the paddlers, who arrived after dark last evening, settled.

Don still sleeps. Yesterday exhausted both of us; it seems perhaps him more than me. By his own admission, he got a little to aggressive with his new ankle, trying out those ‘man-steps’ in the muck, where we have previously tread more cautiously, gingerly. I hadn’t realized that they had hurt him in that way. It can be so difficult learning to live into the grace of age.

A bit of warmth is beginning to touch my nose. (My friend, M, taught me that it is as accurate a thermometer as any.) It appears that the morning may unfold into a brilliant spring day, the sky now without a cloud.

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Last evening, the sunset was subtle, but long lasting, spread across the horizon from south to northwest, as far as I could see. At first, truly golden, on the water as well, then deepening over the hour to oranges, pinks, and deep reds as the first stars began to appear overhead. Each evening the moon grows, as each evening she is higher in the sky as it darkens at dusk. It seems she was scarcely a sliver, sitting low over the horizon as we watched the sunset unfold over the waters of Big Trout lake just 4 nights ago, and now, at half moon, she shines brightly, high in the evening sky.

I hear Don stirring at last. I’ve been hoping he would soon awaken as the quiet water is so inviting a morning paddle. I still mourn the fact that I cannot woman-handle this 17 foot Souris River canoe as I could the Mad River. I miss slipping out on alone on mornings (or evenings) like this to dance with waters like these.

Good morning, Mr Loon! (he has just emerged in the water not 20 feet from my seat.) And just as quickly, he dives. A brief gift, but one that lingers long in the heart. Again, raven scolds, as if such sentiments as this are nonsense to him….. but here I go, nonetheless.

The shoals on this lake seem like mystical apparitions, materializing one moment, and seemingly gone the next. As I watched the gull take off for that dance with her mate earlier, I thought to myself how odd it was that we hadn’t noticed that sand flat yesterday (or lucky that we hadn’t run aground on it) as we’d paddled across to this site. Returning to the water’s edge just a few moments ago, I was even more baffled because not only had that shoal completely disappeared, but another had appeared much closer to shore. By now, both have vanished. Are these minor fluctuations in the water level? Temperature or light or wind related? Could the pull of that moon have an effect even here, upon this small body?

I rise now, as the morning is waiting, carry the pot to the water’s edge, scoop into the crystalline stillness. I lay a fire with these sticks, gathered from the forest floor beneath those old ones. They give forth the heat of a hundred years worth of sun-gathering for my humble fire. Soon the water will boil, as I tend, and the fire will heat the breakfast of eggs I have readied. I shall take all of these – sunlight and water and wood, eggs of birds and seeds of the coffee plant- into my body. The earth becomes me as the smoke from the fire returns to the air, to be taken up by another somewhere.

Sandhill crane bugles as she flies overhead. Morning winds begin to rise, along with her , as she rattles her way over the water, her long neck leading the way.

Afternoon

What a fantastic, unexpected surprise! Leaving camp around 10:30 this morning, we paddled our way around the southeast shoreline of the lake, exploring nooks and crannies of hidden treasure – a beaver pond tucked in behind the end of a bay; a sheer rock face topped by a stand of red pines that sang in the wind as we bobbed in our boat beneath them; the low hollow drumming of waves beating on rocks with their rhythm; a charmingly prospective campsite within view of that bay and those cliffs; but most wonderful of all, the spruce bog into which the lake narrowed.

A paddle of sensory joys, the scents of the bog were full and lush – heath and spruce and peat – and the bog plants in delicate bloom. Pink buds of bog laurel and nodding white bells of leather leaf, tamarack limbs lined with bright green buds, and beaver lodges lining the passageway, (in varying stages of construction – or deconstruction as the case might be). A mating pair of mergansers led the way for a time until we paddled too close for their comfort. The hillsides surrounding the bog suddenly awake with the pastel green of new leaves.

Now, I sit overlooking a small almost perfectly round lake, encircled by spruce bog, where we have landed for lunch. Named Ink Lake, presumably due to her dark waters resulting from the layers of peat lining her depths. The day has grown quite warm in the fullness of the midday sun, though the breezes still blow and I am certain I would still feel their chill on the shady side of this lake. The spruce surrounding this oasis are lined up and standing, their spires reaching tall for that light, like an audience surrounding a stage. Those crowding the front rows are a light shade of green (though some of these, waterlogged, are prematurely graying), the taller ones behind in deepening shades of verdancy.

The white throated sparrow has been singing her sweet song since we arrived, and again comes the harmony of pines being played by the wind. They feel the wind just seconds before I do and so hint at its coming refreshment. The softer breeze here below tempers the warmth of the sun, as the greening of spring is wafted along with it, filling my breath with its fragrance. I lay back to breathe in the goodness.

Evening,

Silken waters. Golden twilight glow. Quiet lake. The weekenders are gone and we are once again alone, save one young couple we met on the lake upon our return from the bog, as we wove through the islands toward home. The lake stills even more, as loons yodel and wail to one another across the calm water. Again, quite near to us, one surprises us with her sudden song, hidden from view as she was by the brush next to the shore. This must be her home.

Peepers have begun their evening chirping in the bay around back, along with a new sound, a humming, which we suspect may be the first of the insect hatches. The loons continue to call, and woodthrush complements their serenade with her lyrical lilt, filling the evening air with music.

The sky deepens into streaks of lavender and mauve. It is the most striking sunset yet of the this trip. Low lying clouds in the western sky capture, like a memory, the newly departed rays of the sun, which has just slipped over the edge, disappearing from view.

I ponder again those sandbars from the morning. How so like life are they. What appears to be solid ground in one moment is changed/gone in the next. Even my own being, so certain I know who I am, only to have my certainties dissolve into some new way of seeing or being. May I, like the gull, choose to accept the invitation to dance when that earth shifts in me.

I move back toward the tent for the close of day rituals, and as I begin my bedtime routine, a chorus of loon calls circles the lake. Response and echoes fill the night air. For at least 15 minutes, it goes on, at last encouraging me to pause and be still. Standing by the tent in the darkness I am enveloped in sound .

Peace is the word that comes to my heart.

 

and we shall paddle – part 7

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May 20, 2018, Day 7, 9.8 miles paddled, 1.7 miles portaged.

McIntosh Lake

We arose early this morning and, after packing the sopping tent and tarp, were on the water by 7:30. Heading north, the opposite direction we needed to be traveling, we paddled for a short distance out of our way at first, so that we could follow the shoreline as we made our way down the windy lake.

After a long day of paddling and portaging, we arrived on McIntosh Lake at 2:30 in the afternoon and basically crashed on the first site we came to, which I quickly declared to be good enough. Somehow those portage trails felt longer and harder, the pack heavier, the canoe more burdensome on my shoulders, the boat-loading more precarious, than when we walked them 3 years ago, though none of those statements are true. I suspect I am the only variable in the equation that has changed.

The waters we paddled, however, were simply exquisite. First, through the narrows into White Trout Lake we travelled, past the high cliffs where, 3 summers ago, we had watched eagles dive, sending the loons with their young into tremolos of alarm. Then, paddling west out of White Trout lake, through the skinny slot north of the island, an alpine-framed scene of stark beauty unfolded, eliciting from my breast an instinctual sigh of satisfaction. Of course, I am particularly enamored by marshes and bogs- perhaps my favorite settings in all of Algonquin are those, far preferred over the expansive sweeps of large lakes. Beyond the visual appeal, which remains elusive for me to name why it evokes such a visceral response in me, perhaps what seduces me more is the sensual richness of the habitat – the ripe fragrance of last year’s decay nurturing this season’s greening, the blush of deep scarlet in the pitcher plant’s evocative leaves, the sharp arrowpoints of young irises pointing their promise skyward, the stroke of orange across the brushtips of bog myrtle. This time of the year, I experience something womblike and primal in those dark waters – so fertile, so full of potential, so rife with life’s ripenings. Unsuitable for human habitation, there is something terribly intimate and wild about these places, something untouched and untamed, virginal perhaps, and I feel privileged to paddle those sacred waters.

Today, the marsh was easy to navigate, with the swollen waters of spring and little of the aquatic vegetation having emerged high enough to impede our passage, though we spotted the first of the lilypads breaking the water’s surface. We were often able to take a direct route where we would have been on a meandering course – around mudflats and peat mats, pickerel and lilies and sedge, not to mention beaver dams — in mid-summer. It seems that the beavers have their work cut out for them in the weeks ahead, repairing those dams and sodden lodges, but we noticed just one out and about this morning, along McIntosh Creek, in the lovely passage between the 2 portages.

We encountered quite a few more canoeists today than we have the entire trip, all of them on the portage trail between McIntosh Marsh and McIntosh creek. Of course, it is a holiday weekend here and today is Sunday, after all. For some, that portage trail is reachable within a day’s travel. I would use the term intrepid to describe those trekkers, but perhaps that says more about me than them. (there is a reason, perhaps, that I have such a fondness for turtles.) Of course, age may also have a little something to do with it! Indeed, many of the trippers we met today were younger folks than the old-time solo paddlers and father-adult son teams we’ve met thus far. Don and I had to laugh at ourselves, justifying our pace by commenting on how much they were missing in their haste, though after they had passed (leaving us in whatever the muck equivalent of dust is) we tried out their method of taking long ‘man-sized’ strides across the muck.

But, oh were the trails sloppy with muck today. One particular passage was especially vexing, with a wide pool of muck below a large fallen tree that was lying chest high across the trail. Getting under it was tricky with a pack on your back (speaking of feeling like a turtle) and your boots getting sucked off your feet. Even the youngsters in their flip-flops seemed to be stymied by it. As it was, I wound up transporting a bit of that muck on the knees of my pantlegs.

Fairly spent, I now sit gazing out over water that is sparkling in a sun that finally coaxed the clouds to depart this afternoon. That sunlight is so brilliant, those sparkles so dazzling, that I almost can’t look directly at them. The lake itself is dotted with islands, like diamonds strung out on a strand, and we have a view of four of them from the granite stoop of our camp.

Another male merganser buzzes by on his way to the bay around back. We’ve seen so very many of those handsome rapscallions this season.

The breeze has picked up, lifting the waters to lap at the shore, teasing the treetops to rustle, and caressing my face to soften. Have I mentioned how much I love this place, always changing, always offering something new- sight or sensation, scent or song- moment by moment, season upon season, year after year after blessed year.

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someone’s pooped!

and we shall paddle – part 6

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there’s a loon out there. She’s that speck in the center of the image 🙂

Day 6, May 19, 2018 , Rest and recovery day, 0 miles paddled

8:15 am, waiting for the buns to rise (my second and likely final attempt at yeast breads on canoe trips) and the rains to begin. Time will tell for both.

This morning’s wake up call was the wail of the loon just offshore from our tent. Though mournful, her full bodied voice brought a smile to my heart. Last night, while falling to sleep, I listened as the barred owl called for a mate. What more could I ask for than these– graceful bookends to deep sleep.

Today was a planned r&r (rest and relaxation) day in our schedule, which is fortunate for us as it seems it could be a soaker of a day. Of course, we have paddled in rainy conditions before, and sometimes that can actually be preferable to sitting huddled beneath a tarp, but I am happy enough to not have to pack and move camp today.

In anticipation of the rain, we have secured the tarp with its front edge just shy of the fire, its rear corner to the prevailing wind, and have a stack of wood at the ready. Though the satellite weather device indicates the rains could be quite heavy at times today, we are both noticing how we would not likely have thought so upon waking this morning. The temperatures were warmer than most mornings have been (hmm, perhaps that is a clue? cloud cover?), but the early sun seems to be breaking through. Again, time will tell whether we have been made the fool by ‘technology’. We are hoping at least it will aide us in learning to read the sky and the winds by comparing what we experience with the forecast. Now, just 10 minutes after sitting with down with my journal, I notice the sky has taken on a slightly pinkish cast on the southern horizon.

A few hours later

Now it is merely gray. Gray upon gray with only the dark outline of the far ridge to delineate the separation between water and sky. It has begun to rain in earnest, a moderate but steady rainfall, which began as a light mist around 11 am, right on the predicted schedule. Satellite weather -1 , Don and Vicki’s instincts – 0

(Also, regarding the ‘telling’ of time, as far as those cinnamon buns? — Failed Buns- 2, Vicki – 0, though we were able to eat them as unleavened bread, partaking of them on the ‘front porch’, where we watched as the heavy clouds began to billow.

The tarp is serving us well, keeping the dampness and chill at bay.

Afternoon.

Ok, it is raining buckets and buckets. We spend a lot of our time tweaking the tarp- pulling the side down, the corner up, the ridgeline lower, the peak higher – tending the fire, changing our body’s positions, but for the most part, given the inclemency, we are comfortable, warm and dry. With the fire at our feet, the tarp over our heads, and the wind blowing the smoke away from our faces, we read for a bit, play a few hands of a version of rummy, the rules of which we improvised seemingly in Don’s favor, and mostly, appreciate one another’s companionship. Occasionally the rainfall lets up and we move about camp to take in the scenery, stretching our legs and our backs. Once, during a break between showers, we took a walkabout over to Sunset Ridge for a glance over the gray, wind-tossed waters.

Evening.

As the day ended, the skies were still pouring their blessings down upon us. If I am honest, though I would’ve loved to have 11 days of paddling with no rain, I am grateful for it. Both the earth and my body require sabbaths like this. The earth desperately needs a drink and a respite from too many days of sun; as do I need days to replenish. And while this particular day may have served as renewal for my body, this entire trip serves to restore my spirit. These days in this place are like rain for my sun-parched soul.

We dined by crackling firelight beneath the tarp, the patter of rain on the tarp creating an ambience fine, with nowhere to be or to go but here. Oh, to be pampered like this every day.

After baking a bannock and cozying the morning thermos of coffee, we packed all of our gear into the packs, save the tarp and the tent, and crawled early into the tent to be lulled to sleep by that soft music of rain. No white noise machine needed here.

We hope to be on the water early in the morning.