13 days and nights in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
The first few days of our journey found us getting acquainted with and oriented to this place- the face of her landscape, the moods of her waters and winds. Not content to merely be an Algonquin Park transplanted a few hundred miles to the northwest, this place had its own personality- its own unique gifts and needs – and it took us some time to realize that and embrace her for who she was.
We met at the outfitters at 8 am, loaded our gear into and onto the truck and were soon on the deeply rutted and scree covered ‘road’ into the wilderness. Two hours later, we were unloaded at the trailhead to a 350 meter portage, which would lead to our first glimpse of the water. Exiting the woods at the other end of that trail, the winds were already blowing lustily down the lake from the North.
In our canoes at last, the tailwind at our backs we rounded the first point of land, and quickly learned how abruptly the moods of this place could change, as suddenly the waters in the lee of the land were still as glass and quiet as twilight. I could have easily stopped for the day on that invitingly peaceful point where we turned northward in our route, but we had a few more portages to put behind us before we would be ready to make camp.
The first portage we found fairly readily. Again, we were still getting oriented and grounded in this place ( I don’t know what the equivalent term for getting oneself ‘grounded’ in the water might be… anchored??…not quite right as we were in constant movement), not only learning to read the face of the landscape, but also the map. That first portage ended at a small stream, which was quite low this late in the summer, especially with this season’s lack of rain. The edges of that dry boulder strewn streambed were softened with joe-pye, aster, and the white fluffed seedheads of spent summer blossoms.
The next hours had us in and out of the boat as we alternately paddled, then portaged around, the creek. The last portage emptied into a shallow pool, separated from the main body of the lake by a boulder bed and a grassy shoal. Carrying the boats across the boulder field was precarious and our friend decided it was better to paddle the empty boat across the pool, to then load on the other side of the shoal. The same boulders that lay exposed on the earth were, of course, in the bed of that pool, and, standing knee high in the water then stepping wide over the boulders, she slipped on a water-slickened rock as she climbed into the canoe, tipping the stern end of empty boat, which immediately filled with water. From the rocky bank, I plunged up to my thighs and tried as best I could to ‘save’ her, but she was soon sprawled out in the water and all I could do was grab the stern and hold tight as she righted herself.
After one more 100 meter portage, we were on much bigger water, making our way down the long blustery lake and looking for a place to make camp for the night. It was already after 4 and we were all fairly spent, so we landed upon the first point of land we came to, a jutting granite peninsula that had been marked by the outfitter as being a good potential campsite.
We had caught our first glimpse of her terrain, the low ridges lining her shores inhabited by the dark spires of Black Spruce and the twisted tops of the gnarly survivor, Jack Pine. This late August day, they were also highlighted by the bright yellows of early changing birches and aspen, whose lollipop-like tops poked themselves above the treeline on the tops of the ridges. Her exposed granite surfaces, coated in lichen and bleached, crunchy caribou ‘moss’ offered a sharp contrast to her inland woods, where this close-to-the-surface shield of rock was softened by the spongy green carpet of the true mosses.
After pitching our tents and setting up camp for the night, we were able to climb down to the leeward side of the point onto the gravel beach to get out of the wind for our supper of pasta with meat sauce. Not long afterwards, the setting sun beseeched us to climb back up to the top of the granite ledge to bid our goodnights to the day. Soon enough, we were asleep in our tents, our first impressions of this place carried into the landscape of our dreams.
The second day found us paddling on quiet morning waters down the length of Killburn Lake, around her southern point of land and north again the same distance in a deep U-shape course. The more peaceful morning paddle allowed us to focus our gaze differently, relaxing it to take in the whole picture, and granting us the opportunity to become acquainted in a way that the more intent focus of paddling in the wind the previous day had not.
Before noon we were looking for the first portage, thinking we might even make camp before lunch. However, that portage proved to be elusive. We were still learning to read both the contours of the land and the map and found ourselves poking around in the wrong bay, having followed the shoreline too far before turning into one, guessing and then second guessing. At last, our friend noticed a slight opening in the grasses at the end of the shallower-than-we-expected bay, which was indeed the entrance to the portage up and over into Middle Killburn Lake, where we hoped to make camp for the day.
Entering into a picturesque bay, the first glance of the Middle Killburn Lake was an intimate delight, but as we turned out into the main body of water, we were disappointed to note the freshly burned, browned needles of the large central island’s trees. Circling that island, we found its steep incline to be rather inaccessible and continued on our way, hoping a mainland site might be more approachable. As it turned out, we found neither the view nor the accessibility of the mainland to be inviting either, and so decided to continue on.
The portage out of Middle Killburn was up over a near vertical rock face, considerately marked by a previous trekker with a cairn – replete with a moose skull perched on its top. Unloading the canoes at that stop required heaving out of the path some limbs from a downed tree, but soon we were up over that rockface and making our way across the 180 meters or so to Upper Killburn Lake. The welcoming southern bay into which we entered the lake was a beaver’s paradise – several lodges lined the waters there before those waters tumbled over smooth rock ledges and into the creek we had just portaged around. I might have chosen to stay there in that intimate habitat, especially with the winds in the forecast, but the group wanted to look further on.
We landed instead on the north side of the lake, where our friends pitched their tent near the point of land that jutted eastward into the water- a small bay tucked behind. Don and I carried our gear higher up onto the long ridge of lichen encrusted granite, farther up the shoreline from that low lying point.
Expecting rain, we also pitched a tarp.
Overnight, the rains indeed came, along with strong gusts of wind, which whipped the surface of the lake into waves that drummed at the shoreline, flapped the tarp, and tugged at the tent. Fortunately, we had tied the tent down to heavy rocks, as the granite surface upon which it was pitched had no soil for the stakes to hold. Our friend’s tent took the brunt of the winds, however, down on the point. The rise of land between them and us had sheltered us a bit from the full force of the storm – kept us warmer and drier too.
By morning the rains had subsided, though the winds persisted gustily throughout the remainder of the day. I took some time in the morning simply tarrying, exploring more intimately the long granite ledge from point to cove, and getting acquainted with the intricacies of the plants, lichen and fungi of this land. Behind the ridge, a great ravine harbored dozens of fallen trees, which perhaps had succumbed to a previous storm, such as the one we had experienced last night.
Later that afternoon, Don and I paddled down the lake with the wind at our backs, poking our way into small bays, where the water was calm, and around the maze of small islands at the western end of the lake. Though the winds made the paddling back more intense than one might imagine a peaceful paddle to be, there is something about being out there on the water that almost instantly brings me solace. I cannot explain it completely, but my body knows it.
I am seated on a flat rock shelf on the west side of this island we have landed upon, which we all decided is shaped like a hand with a long finger pointing west. If so, I am perched on the fingernail of that finger, a nail that I imagine is often quite a bit shorter than it is today, more typically trimmed by the higher waters of a wetter season. With the waters being so low, this shelf of rock remains exposed . That same lack of rain has allowed the widespread wildfires that ravaged the northwest part of the park last month, forcing us to significantly alter our original canoe route here.
After leaving Upper Killburn yesterday, we paddled through a portion of the 200,000 acres that were burned 2 years ago. The stark beauty of that fire-ravaged landscape (awe)struck me, with the skin of the earth laid bare and exposed. In this country, her skin is bare granite. Yet, beneath the burned skeletons of trees – mostly Jack Pine (you can still identify them by their gnarled charred tops) whose tightly bound cones require the heat of that fire to open –new understory growth has begun, flush with the colors of autumn. The palette is breathtakingly exquisite. Indeed, a painter’s brush could not capture the essence of the resilience and resurrection in this place. It fills one’s eyes with reverence and awe.
As we moved from Upper Killburn to here, we also traversed 6 small portages, which were really quite easy to walk, as we’d been promised they would be, except for the tricky landings, where the loading and unloading of both persons and gear takes both some finesse and some time. We are learning that, really, one canoe needs to unload, clear out, get across the portage and get reloaded, as there is most often not room for more than one canoe to land at either end. Frequently, the landings are over the sides of rockfaces, with the bobbing canoe having nothing to land upon. One of us then needs to hold onto the boat while the other unloads it. Still, I find the trails themselves to be lovely- through old beaver meadows, across burned and rejuvenating landscapes, and around picturesque ‘obstructions’ in the waterways.
After landing here, and setting up camp, I took my camera for a walk down moss laden animal ‘trails’ and over thefallen trees of this island. From each vantage point, beauty unfolded before me.
Each day the winds seem to come from a different direction and so, with the shifting weather patterns, it rained again overnight. As before, by the time we arose, the rains had all but subsided and the sky cleared to a puffy cloud studded spectacle . The blue of the sky here is entirely indescribable, almost unbelievable. I have had to remove my glasses several times to be sure it is not the tint in them making me see ‘through blue colored glasses’. This afternoon that blue beyond blue is reflected in the blue beyond blue water so perfectly, my world could be turned upside down and I would not be able to tell which side was up. If I were to take a photograph of this, folks back home would surely assume I altered it.
Somehow, colors here are simply more vibrant – the azure of the sky in contrast with the deep greens of the spruce and pine, the pink hues of the barren granite canvas painted with the autumn vibrant flush of the understory. While taking a bucket bath after lunch today, my bare feet were caressed by the deep, spongy moss of the forest floor, so green that emeralds would disappear into its carpet.
Could it be the angle of the sun? The lack of pollution – both from light and smog?
This morning, after the rains of early morning had dwindled, we took the canoe out, exploring and fishing the channels and bays. Don caught a small pike in one of the bays, which we will fry up for dinner to go with a side of lemon couscous with pistachios and chickpeas. (It was quite delicious.)
It is quiet here. Almost too quiet. Of course, august can be a silent time, with birds and mammals resting after the vernal throes of mating-and-nesting-and-nurturing but not yet into the autumnal passions of mating-and-migrating-and-shoring up foodstores (and fat). This evening, there is an occasional loon call, the echo of which flows to our ears from the bowl shaped opening in the lake through the narrow notch to the west, where we watch for the setting sun, imagining stories in the clouds. This morning, as we sat soaking in the sunrise on the other side of the island, just after dawn, we heard the slap of a beavertail on the water, but otherwise, stillness prevails.
This has been a lovely and spacious site, and while we would be content to while away a few more days here, with these views from its front, side, and back ‘porches’, we must put a few miles behind us tomorrow.
Now I am sleepy.
Evening, Day 6
Today we paddled and portaged from Paul Lake to Aegean, where we are camped for the night next to sheer cliffs of granite on this high island campsite. The winds have been intense since we pulled in to the rocky point at just after noon and decided to land here for the day. We can get out of the gale a bit by tucking ourselves into the depression in the rock on the east side of the ridge, though the view from the west facing slope of those cliffs is so splendid, I must slip over there to be with it from time to time.
This morning, finding the passage through South Aegean was a bit tricky and we missed our turn once, following the shoreline of one of its many islands a bit too far and thinking we were somewhere on the map we were not until we tucked into the lee of the land and reoriented ourselves. But it was a minor delay and lower Aegean was enchanting with its many islands and channels to paddle around and through. Again, however, the winds prevented too much soaking in their charms.
The portage trails today were so thick with blueberries, you could reach your hand into the bush and come up with a handful of them with one swipe. Blueberry shrubs must be one of those plants well suited to the fire ecology of this place, for I have never seen them so abundant. No prepacked trail mix was necessary for energy on the trails today.
The last portage of the day was across a completely barren, granite landscape, save the skeletons of burnt trees, the ‘trail’ kindly marked by a previous traveler with small cairns and occasional tags of orange tape on those skeletons . On the other end, in the southernmost bay of Aegean Lake, a small pristine island welcomed us, its verdant invitation undefiled by the flames that had ravaged the land all about it, protected by the watery embrace of the lake like a moat around a castle. As we sat on the edge of the rockface, waiting for our friends to arrive with their last load of gear, I imagined the landscape about me lush with that forest greenery. I envisioned what a beautiful sight this must’ve once been to come upon, and I wondered at those mourners for whom this had once been the cherished view of a welcome home, and I understood that this is a landscape where grief and hope are one.
We paddled some skinny water today too. Shallow at times, we were in and out of the boat, alternately pulling and paddling. It looks like there will be more of the same tomorrow, according to the ‘seasonally shallow’ section on tomorrow’s map. The day’s travel will likely be long (but beautiful!)
My friends are starting to fret about getting to our pickup location on time, and that makes me sad to be already thinking about the trip’s end when we are HERE on this beautiful piece of earth, the wind blowing freshness, these cliffs being lit by the setting sun.
Day 7, Mexican Hat Lake
Well, it was indeed a long day…. but spectacular and spectacularly fun!
We broke camp @7:30, paddling around the back side of the island before crossing to the west , where we wound our way through some small water as we made our way north and then east to the first 2 small carries of the day into the east flowing Aegean creek. There was some lovely habitat along those channels. The second portage emptied us into a narrow slot between granite walls, which we could touch with our outstretched hands, before it opened out again into the wider lake.
We had a little trouble again finding the 525 meter portage, poking around in the wrong cove at first before trusting our first instinct at last. Sometimes too many cooks do indeed spoil the broth, as we all find ourselves doubting those instincts when questioned by the others. But when we finally found that portage, I found it to be a delightful walk through the woods. No barren landscape was this. Wet with the thunderstorm’s rain that also doused our tents overnight, the scents of the trail – balsam and another scent that I could not quite identify – filled my breath as I carried the canoe. I wondered at the bog plants in an opening at the crest of the trail – an upland wetland?
On the far side of that trail, we were greeted by picturesque cliff, a meadow stretched out at its feet. Looking back up stream, into the notch carved by it, we watched hawks hunt that meadow as we waited for our friends to arrive with their gear. Beyond the notch, high on the rise above it, we could glimpse the last of the burned landscape overlooking this wetland paradise. Resting, we also lunched there, refueled by the simple meal laid out on the bottom of the canoe, before heading off to find out what exactly ‘seasonally shallow’ might mean for us.
It turned out that the shallows were a slog fest through a mucky bog with barely a trace of water in which to float the unmanned canoe. The winding, grassy channel meant that , alternately, one of us was standing on the mucky side of the boat, trying to find purchase, stepping cautiously on tufts of what we hoped was solid enough ground, as we lined the canoe around bends in the twisting course, tossing the rope across the water to one another. Often that bit of promising ‘land’ was a floating deception and we found ourselves knee deep in the mire, occasionally falling flat on our face at its mercy. For over an hour, it commanded our bodies and our spirits. It was tough physical work (alas I have not photographs to remember this day… it will have to remain in my memory)
But oh did we laugh!! And when we at last summited that 10 foot tall beaver dam on the far end -the source of our misery, to find yet another push through the high meadow before we reached the sandy beach of the open water- we groaned.
After hauling our gear those last 30 meters or so, we were back in our canoes on the lake at last, our water bottles refilled and immediately guzzled, and several additional bottles poured over our heads. Pulling into the first sandy beach, we laid back in a mix of exhaustion and exaltation, satisfaction washing over us, as we waited for our friends to also clear that last push.
We landed for the night on the last site in this northernmost bay of Mexican Hat Lake, just a spit of sand jutting into the lake between us and the 2 short portages we will take in the morning into Glenn Lake. We will make it a leisurely morning in camp, recovering briefly, but still putting in some distance toward our destination. I intend to fully inhabit the days we have remaining, appreciate the wonders of this place we have been looking forward to visiting for so very long. We have crested the midpoint of our trip. This is night 7; only 5 left to go. How can that possibly be?
Quiet morning, fog encircles and caresses the sand bar, pink horizon gradually brightens to gold. Fish jump, disturbing the still surface of the awakening water. I think about also waking the others to cast a line. Fish for breakfast would be satisfying- especially since the fishing hasn’t yet been very productive – but I don’t wish to disturb this peace.
Beaver thwacks. Frogs leap from the shoreline, woodpecker works the deadwood, loon calls across the water, red squirrel chatters in the pine, song bird chits from the brush, raven calls. More music here at this spot than we have been graced with all trip.
I have arisen before the others, have been sitting next to the water for a least an hour. This beauty beckoning me to stillness.
Yesterday was an easy day, as we paddled from Mexican Hat Lake to the far end of Glenn Lake, leaving after a leisurely breakfast and making camp before lunch. A larger lake, I was surprised by the feeling of intimacy in Glenn Lake. At last we were paddling through lakes lined with mature woodland, and I felt my body relax somehow as my eyes soaked in the softer vista. I might’ve been tempted to linger a while—a day or two even– on one of the westernmost sites, perhaps near that large island that sentineled the bay shortly after we came into the lake- but we thought it best to get down this long west-east oriented lake while the winds were calm.
The site we found was in a protected cove, where each of us have access to a rocky shoreline for secluded views of the water. I have appreciated being able to leave the tent door unzipped most nights. The absence of bugs and warm overnight temperatures have allowed for that. I savor the opening of my eyes, greeted by views that bring me peace and the feeling of home.
I explored the rocky shoreline nearest to our tent after lunch, considered the erratic boulder that looked to be dropped off in the water near the entrance to the cove, and clambered over fallen trees that littered the shoreline farther along its stretch. After dinner, the guys went out for some fishing in the twilit stillness, catching 3 fish, which we sunk in an odorproof bag offshore for safekeeping. Fish stew would be on tomorrow’s menu!
This morning, we were up early, in order to avoid the brunt of the winds , which were predicted by the weather satellite to be bearing down upon us by this afternoon. We arrived here after just 2 hours of travel, on beautiful Optic Lake, well before noon. The fish stew is now boiling and the bannock is baking.
I am seated high over the water, a granite boulder for a backrest, with a panoramic view of this spectacular lake -now spectacled by the gusts that have indeed begun to stir the water’s surface, inspiring it to sparkle with reflected sunlight. On this rounded point of land, we are leeward to the winds, but it is quite evident watching those breaking whitecaps that they have picked up quite a bit since we landed here. I’d hoped to get back out on that shimmering water after lunch, take the canoe with Don to explore the islands that beckon from across the water, but perhaps these gusts will keep us grounded and those islands will remain a mystery. Now, dozens and dozens of puffy white clouds dot the horizon, as if also heeding a beckoning of their own.
What a varied landscape we have seen! -cliffs and grassy bogs, sweeping vistas and intimate coves, new growth and scarred earth, waterfalls (though not so flowing as I might imagine them to be in wetter seasons) and azure skies. And now this stunning view.
About me, juniper bushes grow from the lichen encrusted granite. Jack pine and spruce take their place as the giants in this land and balsam firs as the bearers of fragrance.
The others are resting, but I have no desire to sleep and so I shall breathe in this breathtaking feast laid out before me.
Later that night
Don and I did indeed take the boat out for a paddle. The winds were gusting and so we also paddled with gusto—until we rounded the corner of that jutting peninsula, which was in truth the last of the archipelago , which safeguarded a peaceful lagoon . We explored that lagoon for an hour or so, following the shoreline, then turning back to weave our way along the edges of the islands for the shelter they offered from the winds. The ride back to camp was a bumpy one, with the bow of the boat bouncing along the waves, and my arms were grateful that the distance was relatively short.
The others have now gone to bed, but the night is so beautiful, and with the physical work of these days, we have been in our tents most nights before the dark tent of the night sky’s dome draws closed. Thus, I have decided to sit vigil this evening, await the coming of mars and venus low on the horizon, the arrival of the dog star, the first faint outline of Ursa- both mother and child- and the subsequent explosion of diamonds as if from a hammer blow. The panorama of the night sky from this vantage is almost 270 degrees and I find myself feeling the excitement of a ‘bride married to amazement’ as I pace from vantage point to vantage point to drink in the starry view. The milky way has stretched her translucent veil across the midnight black crown of the sky, from horizon to horizon, shooting stars falling as if shaken loose from her mantle.
Now, I must be also off to bed. An early morning is set for tomorrow. Though we have 3 nights and 4 days remaining in our trip, our friends hope to cover a great distance tomorrow to get closer to the rendezvous location. I am not happy about leaving this place, as we will be entering fishing lodge country when we leave here, and I suspect we may encounter motor boats on those larger lakes. After these days of seclusion and solitude, that transition feels abrupt. Perhaps I have been saying goodbye then tonight…
A long grueling day it was, and I was wearing my grumpy pants on top of it. Perhaps some of my grumpiness was fatigue from the fewer hours of sleep I had gotten, and perhaps some was my irritation with the decision to paddle and portage 9 hours today, just to get closer to our pickup location. Whichever, the miles wore me out.
It was a beautiful day for traveling, not a cloud in the bluer than blue sky, no wind (though a breeze might’ve offered a welcome respite from the relentless sun). The day began on the still waters of mist laden Optic, its upper reaches dotted with great balls of foam stirred up from the squalls of the previous day. After a few short portages we found ourselves on Telescope Lake, paddling past a trio of otters, who bobbed and hissed their displeasure, like boxers in a ring, at our intrusion. Otherwise, Telescope was a rather long featureless lake.
A bush plane provided some interest, circling, then landing near the point where we turned north, seeking the portage into Embryo. We later heard it was picking up a solo paddler who was in trouble.
The lake soon narrowed into a meandering course, until around one bend in the creek, we were surprised by a 5 foot tall beaver dam blocking our passage. We shared that liftover with the first of the motorboats, which we learned from here on would be stashed at each portage trail for the convenience of fishing parties. The fisherman and his granddaughter were soon enough far ahead of us, motoring their way to the portage. At least we knew the water would be paddle-able from here on out.
A party of 4 canoes, loaded with 8 men and their gear, met us at the far end of the portage from Telescope into Embryo. We’d just gotten our lunches out of the pack when they arrived, so we packed up quickly and made our way to the first campsite we spotted around the bend, where we took our lunch instead. I could’ve stopped for the day there, and laid back for a bit to rest, but soon enough we were back on the water, paddling the wide sweeping Embryo Lake (it is shaped like its name) towards its northeastern end. The very northern end of Embryo Lake, after we got out of the main body and into the last bay behind the large island there, had some appeal. I’d have been happy to stop there for the day (I am noticing the pattern here) but we had one more 450 meter portage to pound out. That last portage was hard work, one of the worst of the trip, for me (yes, worse than the seasonal shallows, which I’d laughed my way through, a clue as to my mood) – it was narrow, I was tired, and the length of the boat on my shoulders didn’t fit around the corners. I had to muscle my way through.
By the time we reached Upper Hatchett we were all exhausted, but the first potential campsite we landed upon was deemed unsatisfactory, so we set our sights across the lake on a large outcropping of granite that was visible from the opposite shore. It turned out to be an ‘island’ of granite, little more than a gull roost, but it looked like home for the night. The vegetative part of the island was mostly blowdown or marsh, through which we hauled our gear up from the water. Somehow, we managed to squeeze our two tents, cozily, side by side in a low mossy clearing and, after cutting back some of the blowdown, I was able to zip my vestibule shut. Expecting a storm, we erected a tarp under which to cook and, later, stash our gear.
Needing some time alone, I waded across the small marsh separating the two halves of the island and, climbing on all fours, scaled up the face of the granite to the other side, where the massive pink granite body of the island stretched its arm, invitingly into the sea and the view to the west of the sun setting amidst the building clouds. A circle of stones atop the ledge indicated that others had made this site home, a port in the storm or a beloved isolated haven. The pink of the granite soothed me, inviting me once again to look for beauty.
I do not want to hurry my way out of here. We have waited so long to come. I want to BE here. Fully present. Alive. Appreciative. In Love. Perhaps this is a lesson for life, too. See the goodness around you.
Later, I convinced Don to climb with me back to that perch as the sun faded. Reluctant at first, he joined me, and we sat as lovers do, taking solace and comfort in one another and in the presence of Beauty.
That mossy depression served us well as the predawn thunderstorms descended upon us. (We are realizing that each time it has rained on us, it has been in the wee hours of the morning while we are sheltered by our tents. How fortunate is that?) Lingering then in our tents a bit longer than usual as we waited out the last of those showers, we slept in.
After breakfast, which we ate perched on the rise above the tents, we set off again, this time for Douglass Lake. After last night’s rains, the portages were soggy and the footing tricky, particularly on the second one where the trail was more like a boulder laden streambed. Indeed that portage emptied out into the lake where the stream emptied its water into it. From the end of that portage there was a direct trail to a campsite in that first quiet bay, but we didn’t realize that at the time and set off into the lake proper to search for our temporary home.
We would be staying on this campsite for 2 nights so we decided to take some time to choose well, getting out of the boat to check out the first possibility before continuing our search. We paddled about halfway down the length of the large lake to a point where a deep cove was separated in two by a jutting sandbar (perhaps an island), before turning back to settle upon the first site. By then the wind, which had made the paddle down the lake a ‘breeze’ was blowing hard in our faces and we paddled fiercely against it and the waves.
The site we have chosen borders a shallow bay, with grasses gracing the current. The end of the bay looks like prime habitat and we hope that our days here will offer some wildlife viewing. Several trees have fallen to offer seating and footrests on the leeward side facing the bay, and the rocky point down below offers a longer viewpoint if you don’t mind the cold breezes. Across the water, the aspen and/or birch that have filled in what appears to be an abandoned beaver pond are aglow with autumn gold
I have learned that those long views soothe my body and soul as much as my eyes. More important to me than a level tent pad or a convenient place for a cook fire are these views of the water and the graceful curves of the landscape that embrace it- islands and intimate coves, ridgelines and notches. Tucked into my perch, safely at the edge of both the water and woods, I can see far, as if into the mystery, inviting me to gaze wider, and deeper, perhaps. I wonder if my friends think I am merely being antisocial or introverted when I leave their protected perches to come away like this, but I know it is more than that. Something speaks to my soul out here. Here, I am witness to something unnameable.
Later, the evening sky from that rocky point was ablaze, painted a brilliant fuchsia by the setting of the sun. Now the night begins to drape its cloak, Mars and Venus lifting the edges to peek beneath the folds. The night air is chill, but my heart is full.
While the hope was for calm waters, in order to spend our last day in camp leisurely trolling the shoreline for fish, the weather had other plans. Still, after breakfast, Don and I set out for the opposite shoreline, where we could see the waters were calmer, sheltered from the wind by the uplifted wing of the land. And so we explored, while Don cast his line, in and around the coves and rounded knobs of the shoreline, tracing her curves with our canoe. We disembarked once or twice- to check out the abandoned beaver pond/now a meadow, to explore a point of land, to use the ‘bathroom’, to inspect the campsite at the end of that portage trail (which was littered with fresh moosetracks and scat). Leisurely we paddled, enjoying one another’s company as much as we did the paddling, laughing easily with one another, remembering how much we like being together. I found myself softly singing, as I often do out here. Sometime after 1, we returned to camp for lunch. I can’t recall how the rest of the afternoon was spent, as the morning was such a delight that perhaps it has overshadowed that memory.
The evening is brisk. I expect mist on the water in the morning. That would be a lovely goodbye.
Our last day here in the park. We had sent a satellite message asking for our pick up time to be a bit later, as there was some concern about making the 10:30 time. And so, the fact that I made a wrong turn at one point in the maze of high grasses through which we were paddling was a non-anxious moment of simply turning back when I realized my mistake. Another good life lesson.
We were on the water by 7:30, and at the far end of the lake where the waters narrowed by 8, paddling those mists for which I had yearned. Soon we were paddling through a rock garden, getting in and out of the boat to make passage. Later, we noted on an alternate map that there was a 30 meter portage around that section which was not on our map. Still, we made our way without much delay and soon were paddling a narrow passage through a meadow of high grasses laced with heavy morning dew. At places, in the shadows, those grasses appeared to be tipped with frost, but perhaps it was the play of the morning light on the meadow. Whichever was the case, it was an enchanted morning, and I was not disappointed to spend a few more minutes under its spell when I made that wrong turn.
The last portage of the trip had us walking a wide, flat sandy 525 meter path. We were outside of the park proper by now and this trail was obviously maintained by another group… perhaps the fishing lodges. Across our last lake of the trip, we paddled past a large island, then landed on the opposite shore, where a short uphill trail took us to a gravel parking pad where the outfitter would meet us in an hour or so.
Not wanting to leave the water’s edge, we walked back down with our lunches to wait for them to arrive.