Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Canoeing in Canada

I love the outdoors, especially the wilderness, and as a child I was
very lucky to be raised in a family that enjoyed an outdoors
lifestyle. We lived in the Appalachia of New Jersey, and merely taking
a short walk outside granted access to less than travelled wilderness.
However; one of the best places to experience the wilderness is
Canada. Canada has some of the most beautiful wild country, and I have
been lucky enough to see some of its more spectacular wonders. The
forest carpeted mountains, and glacier hewn bedrock valleys have
produced a wild variety of sights to see. The royal and provincial
parks of Canada are some of the best places to experience the northern
wilderness untouched.

If Canada is one of the best places to experience the northern
wilderness, then canoeing through the various systems of finger-lakes
is perhaps the best way to be there. My family including my aunts,
uncles and cousins would travel each summer to one of the provincial
parks in Quebec , Ontario or other province and be dropped by sea
plane into the middle of a lake somewhere near nowhere at all. After
off loading our canoes and camping gear, we’d paddle away from the
plane and make our own way through the lake system for the next two
weeks. We always brought a topological map with us to help find our
way and also to record where we have been. The only food we took with
us fit into a small wooden box made backpack of condiments, herbs,
spices and a few boxes of Red River hot cereal for breakfast.
Otherwise, we were completely and utterly on our own and only ate what
we managed to find or catch on our own. If someone got hurt, there was
no way out until the plane returned to pick us up where it dropped us
off. Soon after being dropped off, we looked for a suitable camp site
on the map. These parts were bear country, so a suitable place was
usually on an island big enough for room to pitch up to ten or twelve
largish tents and to provide enough privacy for bathing and other
requirements nature demands from us.

Each morning we would select a new site for the next evening. Then we
would pack up our gear; load up the canoes, clear the area of debris.
After hopping in the canoe, we would start paddling out into the lake,
and find our way along to the next site. Often the next site was in
another lake, and the only way to get there was by portage. A portage
is when you pick up your canoe and carry it over land to get to the
next waterway. Sometime a portage is just a few feet, but other times
you can carry the canoe for a couple miles or more. One time when
taking the canoe out of the water, I slipped and fell. My elbow
cracked against the bedrock with canoe fully in hand. Although I
didn’t break my arm, it swelled up pretty badly and I was unable to do
any serious work for the rest of the trip. Even when you don’t have to
portage, sometimes you can paddle ten or fifteen miles or more to the
next site. Either way, you are getting some serious exercise.

Setting up camp was a chore. Uncle Bob, the patron of the camping
trips, would get the fire started; some of us would pitch the tents
while the rest of us went fishing to catch dinner. We quietly spread
out across the lake in our canoes, and since there were quite a few of
us, someone almost always caught a walleye or northern pike for
dinner. Sometimes you caught some lake trout or sun fish which we
saved for tomorrow’s breakfast. Later if you were lucky you had some
free time to explore. Sometimes I would just hop in a canoe and paddle
gently around the lake edges, or maybe I would get lucky and find a
patch of wintergreen or wild blueberries. Score! A handful of fresh
blueberries to add to our already awesome Red River cereal is
amazingly good fortune. Maybe you just went swimming and cooled off
with the leeches if you didn’t mind them. No matter what, I always
found something to do.

Just before evening, we quickly retired to our tents because there is
an alarm that goes off as the sun starts to dip in the sky. A steady
hum grows steadily louder, and the skies darken. It’s the mosquitoes.
I don’t mean mosquitoes like you have even seen around here. I mean
hoards. Millions upon millions of biting, poking, itchy little insects
rise out of the wet ground cover and lake edges and take to the skies
in search of you. They know where you are, and they want you. You
either were in your tent, or were hovering in the smoke of the fire.
No other place was safe. As the sun was setting, you could see their
shadows gathering by the hundreds on the outside of your tent. That
marked the end of each evening.

Mornings are a much cheerier affair. Other than having to wake up at
all in the morning, which is never much fun for me, you are greeting
by a mist covered lake and the call of the loons. It is hard to
describe the pleasantly spooky, eerie and alluring call of the loons
that carries clear across the surface of the lakes. It sounds like a
long warbling sort of owl hoot, a description that does it no justice.
The call of the loon is so alluring, that there are recordings you can
buy to listen to in dark solitude. We made hot Red River cereal,
hopefully with blueberries picked the previous afternoon, and
sometimes we had some lake trout too if we had caught any. We sat
fireside and lakeside and ate while mystified by the call of the birds
or maybe we even sighted a bear, moose or caribou. Eventually though
and every day for two weeks, the lazy morning was over, and it was
time to plot the next stage of our voyage, and break camp. Then
finally, and with reluctance, we had to go home.

I fondly remember each and every day spent on those canoe trips. Maybe
now the days blur together, but I remember everything in detail. The
maps have been framed and are hanging on our walls. After I cracked my
elbow, I later found that I had broken a chip off in my elbow. I still
have that chip today, and I know exactly which rock did that to me. I
still love my Red River cereal. Perhaps it’s just the memories, or
maybe it’s really is just good, but either way makes no difference to
me. There are lots of very lazy pleasant moments as well as tough
times when camping in the deep wilderness. It’s rough and often hard
work, but it’s worth every single moment when you get to see things
that most of civilization has forgotten. I haven’t forgotten because I
have been there, and I remember.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone, so deal with any mispelling, grammatical errors or strangly out of place words caused by mis-autocorrection.

1 comment:

Arrhidaeus said...

I love it, especially the mosquitoes part! It's funny how immediately after trips like that, you tend to forget about all of the unpleasant things, like being eaten alive by bugs, and are left with only memories of the enjoyable parts (that is, until someone reminds you of the mosquitoes, but you're so far removed at that point that you can even fondly remember them).