apparitions of longing

wraith

Sunday morning, Sept 20, Hay Lake Lodge

Our last morning in Canada. Today we make the drive home. The skies cleared overnight and I woke to the morning star in the east facing window. The sun has now risen to the degree where just a subtle hint of color – peach and gold – remain on the horizon toward which now the fog rolls.

It always seems to me, on mornings like this, as if the fog is hurrying to get to someplace, just around the bend, as if the other water droplets have seen something there and beckoned it come. It is horizons such as this toward which I am drawn to paddle, accepting that same invitation to come and see, as if the fog itself is whispering my longing

Killing me softly.

I suspect it is always present, though mostly unseen, this moisture filled air, this river of mist, flowing and following some unknown current that draws it. Yes, it is like that for me, the way my yearning emerges, wraithlike, like this to be seen at certain times in thin places, and beckons me to follow something unknown and unseeable just around the bend. Yet the longing is always present. Though just barely visible at times, it takes but a conducive climate or the subtlest shift, to reveal it’s pervasive ever-presence.

I imagine it would be much easier if I could name it, envision it, as if then I would know what to do with my life, in which direction at least to head. But perhaps not.

It is only when I am quiet enough to hear, in moments like this, that I can even begin to discern its shrouded whisper, and of course there is so little quiet, so few moments of peace, in my life.

A boat appears slowly, yet suddenly, from that bend around which the fog rolls. I wonder, what did it witness over there? Another boat arrives. They are fishing boats, casting lines, hoping to catch what they too cannot see, but of which they at least have some concept… its size and shape, qualities and features.

What is your shape, my longing?

I suspect that only I know where to find you, in the place I have known all along you were hiding, in the silent solitude of an away place, a starting-over place where the shape that you have longed to take can emerge from the one that is finally shed… shed in that place where no one would recognize the old shape that you wore in order to perform the role that for too long was your only definition of self.

To become wraithlike, as the mist, rolling over the water for a time, formless, almost invisible, but moving … toward something that calls, just around the bend.

Algonquin – days 13-20

Algqonquin, day 13, Sunday morning at Roxy’s

I awoke very early, on Algonquin park time, to the sound of the rain on this log home’s metal roof. Our room is quite dark still at 7 am, though only because Don pulled the darkening shades sometime during the night. The weather has turned much cooler. This morning it is raining buckets and I must admit I am glad we are snug in this pillow-laden room rather than huddled beneath a nylon tarp. The rain is supposed to pass through and leave in its wake more typical temperatures for September in this part of Ontario. Perhaps I will rethink some of the sorting out of the pack of the layers of clothing, which we pulled after the last 2 weeks’ experience. This morning, the ultra-light down jacket we eyed at the Portage Store yesterday is seeming attractive.

We visited the Portage Store yesterday as part of our drive across the park on Highway 60, something we’ve not yet experienced here. This is a more developed corridor in the park, with public campgrounds and interpretive walking trails, historic sites, cottages, summer camps and lakes with motors allowed. The Portage Store is on Canoe Lake, an historic jumping off point for the classic canoe trip circuit, which evidently can be like a super highway of canoes during the height of the season. Still, it was nothing at all like the commercialized streets of a town like Lake Placid in the middle of the Adirondacks. This was just one building with a restaurant, a gift store and an outfitter.

We enjoyed the feeling of long tradition that we experienced there — our waiter’s great-grandfather had started one of the camps on the Lake and the store clerk was one of 4 generations of family members who had worked at the Store — and we caught a glimpse of the ‘summer resort’/ tourist attraction aspect of this part of the park too. While we consumed a $50 chicken Caesar-salad-and-soup lunch from the historic restaurant , we watched the canoe livery send Grumman after Grumman into the bay with what appeared to be no instruction on how to even hold a canoe paddle. Still, it was good to see people drawn to the beauty of water and woods and sky.

Later in the afternoon, we pulled into the Logging Museum, an outdoor interactive tour that follows a walking trail, which depicts the history of logging in Algonquin. Don especially loved it. I expect some of his keen fascination came with imagining life as a man during that period of time – performing such long hours of demanding physical labor through grueling winter months, living in the tight quarters of the logging camps, or risking the dangerous work of river driver come spring thaw when tons of logs were ‘floated’ down river to waiting seaports in Ottawa – in much the same way as the stories of women’s past lives engage something in me.

We also checked in with the outfitter, making payment and arrangements for the canoe to be delivered to our planned access point on Monday morning for our friends, who will be arriving sometime this evening to join us for our second trip into the interior.

Arriving at Roxy’s hungry and expecting to have to drive again to the nearest town for dinner, we were delighted to discover that the little restaurant and lodging establishment next door had reopened. A walk through the woods on a trail opened out to their place, still in need of some repair (and had we not been given such an endorsement we likely would not have ventured in). The younger couple was enthusiastic, charming and green, embarking on a second career as they were, and for a time we were alone with them in the place, enjoying their stories and their company. Soon, however, three tables of 4 entered in succession, keeping the pair on their toes, and we were happy to see the local community supporting and embracing them.

Roxy lent me the use of her computer after dinner, to email our paddling friends with news of our trip. Before I knew it, I was writing a ‘book’. When I sit at the keyboard, I certainly enter a zone that feels timeless somehow. It is important for me to notice this difference between being immersed in the moment, which feels so intently present and deeply connective, and getting lost in the mindless distraction that the computer can also afford.

Today, we hope to explore the tiny town of Maynooth, on a walking tour of their studios and galleries, bakeries and cafes.

 

 

Day 14, Monday, September 14, Rock lake to Pen lake to Clydegale

Our first day together in the park had us leaving the put-in much later than we’d hoped. We had a great start to the day, leaving Roxy’s by 8:15 and arriving at the permit office on Rock Lake by 9 or so. Unfortunately, the canoe wasn’t delivered by the outfitter until 10:30, so we stood for some time on the dock waiting for the truck to arrive. Thus, we arrived at our campsite on Clydegale much later in the afternoon than we’d wanted, and hit both Pen and Clydegale lakes in the mid afternoon when the winds were up. That made for more stressful paddling, especially with partners who were unaccustomed to each other’s paddling strengths and styles. Thankfully, we arrived at the very last campsite, on the south side of the island, and found it unoccupied (after having passed the previous three, which were taken) I was both quite glad to have arrived and relieved that we would not have to paddle the length of the lake back up to the northern end to find a campsite.

Both portage trails we carried today (a 375m and a 275m) were up and around falls, the first one, from Rock Lake to Pen Lake, the most picturesque, with a campsite right next to the river where one could walk a trail to view and/or play in the rapids. We lingered there, exploring, photographing and taking our lunch break after getting our gear across the trail. We also chatted for a bit with 2 groups we met there, one on the way in and one on the way out, and then chose the wrong channel for circling the large island sentinel to the lake-proper and had to circle back around the itf. Still, I’d say we made good time, arriving at our campsite by 4 o’clock, given the late start, a lingering lunch, waterfall gazing, conversations, and misdirections.

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(Day 15, Tuesday, Sept 15)

Our campsite on Clydegale was quite picturesque and private, though rather quiet from a wildlife perspective as well. However, the 300 degree views from the small granite island offshore were quite phenomenal. Last evening we paddled the 10 meter channel to take our dinner there and stayed the evening, awaiting and then reveling in the stars, which have been amazing this week with the new and gradually waxing moon, so beautifully framed in the twilit sky on its evening descent. Thoroughly magiacal, we remained until nature at last called us all back to camp. By then we were quite ready for bed, so dealing with burning the leftovers back in camp was tense and frustrating for all, with ‘too many cooks’ spoiling an otherwise enchanted evening.

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Earlier in the day, we had ventured out for a day paddle, exploring the morning-still water of shorelines and bays on our way to the South Madawaska river, which we intended to follow for a day of discovery. As had been suggested, the entrance to the river was quite difficult to find, and we poked around several dead end passageways in the marsh before a heron finally showed us the way through.

Once on the river, we weaved and circled through beaver habitat, lifting over 4 or 5 small dams, many of which were old and in disrepair, a few of which may have been active. There were delightful narrow channels sprouting off the main trunk into the grasses and alders, and I peered down each one with longing. Once or twice we found ourselves having chosen the wrong trail and had to backtrack to find our way through, but finally we found ourselves on solid enough ground to stop for a lunch along the water just as the marshlands were giving way to rock walls, narrowing into the forested notch… and just as grumbling tummies and full bladders were requesting a reprieve.

There, Deirdre and I explored and climbed as high as we could, peering in hidey-holes and marveling in the clinging mosses, thick and saturated. We pondered towering trees and others whose roots seemed impossibly improbable, clinging as they were to sheer rock. The woods were thick and undisturbed here. We followed a slide, where perhaps an otter entered the water, or perhaps another creature might descend for a drink, for in the path next to the water, there were several blue gentian stalks that had been crushed underfoot.

We decided to head back to camp after lunch, rather than continuing down the river. The paddle back to camp (the afternoon winds were back) found Don and me bickering about angle and distance from shore and finally where to ‘park’ the canoe. Time for some quiet, some space, some rest… and perhaps a good cup of coffee

Deciding the coffee might not be a bad idea, I left my pack sit on the rocks where I’d settled in for a break and some quiet, checking in with Jim and Deirdre about whether they’d appreciate one too. (Don had taken his rod for his own R&R). Seated on the log, awaiting the water to boil, we settled in to some pleasant conversation while laughing over the antics of the red squirrels who nosed about for snacks and chased one another around camp. Suddenly, I thought of my pack on the rocks, still holding my bag of gorp. Sure enough, one of the rascals had broken in, chewing around my zipper to gain entry,permanently destroying it. They weren’t quite so comical after that.

Day 16, Wed, Sept 16, 6 am, Clydegale Lake

I sit watching the sun rise, painting the sky with its palette of peach, lemon yellow and pale mint green, a few of the brighter stars still apparent in the sky – orion’s belt and one super nova that I imagine must be a planet.

I am still.

It has been much more difficult to be still on this trip, where I feel ‘responsible’ somehow – for more than just such things as the route, agenda, and food, but also for such things as the comfort and contentment of the group.

I seek to simply notice this about myself this morning, to see it without judgment of the rightness or wrongness of either myself – my feelings, my actions, or reactions- the other, or about the trip itself.

A loon calls, ‘Where are you?’ Silently, my heart responds ‘Here I am’ and I thank it for its reminder to find myself here, the part of myself that beholds with Love.

The morning mist is beginning to rise around the bends that wrap either side of the far shoreline, the one we paddled yesterday morning when the water was yet still. The sun is beginning to ever-so-slightly raise the temperature of the earth and her waters. I know this not by my senses, for I feel no change on my skin, but by deduction, my mind

understands from whence the fog arrives. The mind can be a good place to start.

A few less stars are now visible.

A frog kerplops.

A treefrog chirps.

Something nearer by squawks.

The reflection of the planet wavers in the grasses and pickerel at the water’s edge.

A woman grows weary, irritable, frustrated, annoyed.

A man longs to be accepted and respected, to be himself and just to fit in.

She feels disempowered, second-guessed, diminished.

He worries that he is not doing enough, being enough, good enough, fears that others are not pleased.

She longs for quiet and slow paces, to be alone and just to fit in.

We are a ragtag lovable group, as lovable as the colors of the morning sky that seem to have deepened since last I looked up from this page.

A duck quacks somewhere across the water.

A raven lifts from the top of the ridge.

May I continue to watch the day unfold with such gentleness and mercy. May I greet each new arrival with welcome.

I thought for some time about the wisdom of rising so early when I awoke in the dark, afraid I would only make myself more cranky if I cut short my hours of sleep, wondering if the physical demands were beginning to take their toll and shortening my sleep might shorten my fuse. But this has indeed been wise, this taking a moment to be alone with myself, to be still and listen with love. Perhaps sleep is not always what one needs to refuel and relax. I have set aside my journaling/quiet time for the needs of the group, but checking in this way is likely more vital to the health of the group, or at least for my contribution to it.

I am ready to begin my day in peace.

Late afternoon. Clydegale to Pen Lake, a lovely paddle with Deirdre as my paddling partner.

We began the day on quiet water, reflective and glassy smooth. Immediately upon leaving the shoreline, Deirdre spotted a moose browsing on the opposite shore, then confirmed with her binoculars that is was a bull. By the time we paddled across, however, he had retreated into the cover of brush or woodland.

There were several black ducks in the shallows, poking their heads down, bottoms up, feeding admidst the pickerel reed there. Soon after, a family of 4 loons joined us in the widening channel. It was there that Deirdre noticed the small, dime-sized, jellyfish swimming in the waters around our canoe. What a surprise and a delight. It is so wonderful to paddle with her for the way that she pays attention.

Arriving on Pen Lake, the wind was just beginning to create ripples as we made our way north. Settling around noon on a campsite along the eastern shore about half way up the length of the lake, lunch was eaten and camp was reestablished for the next few days. Tonight, with an open view of the northern sky, we hope for another clear night, both for star-gazing and for a potential view of the northern lights. (We have heard they may be visible this week.) There are a few clouds dotting the western horizon. Perhaps they will reflect the sunset this evening. I expect that the ridge beneath them, covered as it is in deciduous trees, will be quite stunning itself in a few weeks, painted in autumn’s palette.

The water, now being blown in earnest, is lapping at the shoreline, whereas farther from shore, so many diamonds are seemingly strewn across the lake’s surface by the same interplay of wind upon water. The breeze too delights my own skin and likewise affects the alder and birch, in which I am nestled, inspiring their leaves to flutter and dance.

While it is definitely different being here with friends.. I miss the intimate connection with Don that we had on our 11 day journey, for instance, and the introvert in me finds it doubly fatiguing and almost impossible to cultivate stillness .. I do appreciate being here with Deirdre and the lens that she has to share. I wonder what it might be like to experience a trip such as this with women. The male/female power dynamics and control issues, defensiveness and communication breakdowns are definitely more pronounced on a trip such as this. Whew. I own that in myself as much as I notice it others…. at times more grace-fully than other times.

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Day 18, Friday, Sept 18

Our last morning in the park. All is packed that can be, as we wait for our friends to pack their personal gear. It is another beautiful morning, a bit cooler but still no jacket required. The sky, a bit more streaked with clouds, is an azure blue. Perhaps tonight will bring a lovely sunset. We have had no clouds to reflect its beauty this week… an interesting concept to ponder.

Our campsite on Pen was my least favorite of the trip. While the west facing site gave us a view of the setting sun, that same sun was quite intensely hot until it dipped beneath the horizon, which made sitting by the water uncomfortable until evening. The setting of the waxing moon each evening, however, was quite enchanting, its light casting a path across the water toward us that made one long to climb into a canoe and paddle across its invitation. The stars this week continued to dazzle and baffle., and we ooo-ed and ahh-ed over a dozen or more shooting stars. No northern lights though… oh well, we’ll just have to come back another time

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Yesterday (Thursday) we enjoyed an easy paddle north along the shoreline to the portage to Night Lake, a 1600 meter walk-in- the woods through mushroom and fungi laden terrain, which we traveled without gear. Along the way,we were delighted by a chipmunk seated beneath a large white mushroom, munching away on a chunk of it that he had broken off. Night Lake itself was peaceful and had the feeling of intimacy and away-ness that the larger lakes we have been on this week have not afforded. Where the portage trail came into the water, there was a marshland that appeared to be rich with life. We spotted moose tracks and otter scat and freshly gnawed alder and birch. Then there were the frogs, of course.

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We lunched there on hummus and cheese, wasa bread and carrot slaw, relaxing at the water’s edge (some of us half in and half out) until the sun again encouraged us to move back into the woods to return via the woodland trail. Back on the shore of Pen Lake, we sifted through the granite strewn beach for favorites – speckled, striped and sparkled , pinks and blacks and grays. Don found a marvelous heart-shaped stone, which he has been working on smoothing. He can be so romantic.

Deirdre and I paddled together again, which I quite enjoyed. (I hope she has too). I have been pleased with my ability to keep the canoe on course from the stern in a stiff wind and waves. Yesterday afternoon, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon sitting next to her tent on the hill overlooking the water, in the filtered light of the trees.

Our last evening together ended with laughter and stars. A good closing to a pleasant day.

Late Friday afternoon, Sept 18, Hay Lake Lodge

A morning of paddling and portaging, leaving camp at 9:30, got us to the visitor’s center, hungry and weary, at 1:30. There, we grabbed a bite to eat at the Snack Bar , and then browsed the center. I purchased several books, which I hope to read through the slow days of winter as I dream of my return to this magical place. I am already envisioning an interior trip on a small isolated lake, where I might settle in for awhile, as that feels most enticing and inviting to me at this time after 3 weeks of hard work. I have definitely learned that being responsible for a group drains me almost as much as the previous 2 weeks filled me (this is  the introvert in me).

After navigating the rock garden around the large island in the north end of Pen Lake, (well, sort of… but we did leave some paint behind for future canoeists to follow!) we came into the north bay, which was surprising appealing to me. I was particularly drawn to the campsite in the bay that heads east toward the portage to Gem Lake.

At the end of the portage from Pen to Rock Lake, we encountered a young couple on their way in, the wife on her first interior trip, and I felt excitement for them, hoping their weekend would go well enough to inspire the beginnings of a love affair with Algonquin and canoe camping for them. Of course, as is often the case, as soon as one is in the presence of other canoeists, one wants to look as if one knows what one is doing, and therefore will most certainly look foolish, and as I recall once reading on someone’s trip report ‘Our ability to pretend to be skilled while actually demonstrating our lack of skills has been honed to perfection’. As Don and I struggled to load our boat and our gear into the water in front of the young couple, I wondered how much of our increased tension throughout this week was related to this wanting to look like we knew what we were doing. Of course, clear communication (what do you mean exactly by ‘back’?) and hearing one another might be the bigger issue.

Ah humility.

Rock Lake was wind-tossed today and we stayed close to the western shoreline as we rounded the bend from the cliffs, where we thought we’d actually spotted the Petroglyphs that are supposed to be on them.

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By this time, I was indeed feeling irritable from physical fatigue, but also from what I am beginning to  identify as a lack of autonomy and self-determination. With each decision and choice discussed and/or second-guessed, and opinions about the best way to build fires/erect tents/carry canoes/lift over dams/trim the boat/paddle the wind abounding, I was feeling not only frustrated by now, but also somewhat diminished.  I think I have some knowledge and skills that I have been both studying and practicing, which I felt were not necessarily valued. So, I must balance the self-judgment I wield upon myself for being defensive and irritable with the very real possibility that I may have been responding to something that feels disempowering.

This spring, I met an older man who seemed to be ahead of his time on this one. A canoe builder by trade, he told me he realized years ago that women want to be active participants and carry their own weight.. including their own canoe… so he designs solo boats for women that fit their bodies, both for paddling and carrying, so that they can do so. I think this is what I appreciated about the freestyle canoe symposium this summer , where it was assumed that women could paddle with as much finesse and control as men.

Ah well, here I am now at Hay Lake Lodge on a warm evening, rainy but not at all unpleasant under the roof of the screened-in-porch where I sit. Things are uncomfortably quiet inside the cabin, but out here, I hear the loon call again, ‘Where are you?’ Silently, my heart responds ‘Here I am’ and I thank it again for its reminder to find myself here, the part of myself that beholds with Love. These trips are always as much about learning about myself, my inner terrain, as they are about being in the natural world. (remember #5, 6, and 7 ?) I always forget that somehow from year to year. I imagine that even, and especially, if I come here alone parts of myself will always rise to be seen, understood, and loved in a place like this where I can’t escape into distraction.

Saturday evening, Sept 19

Looking out over the dark waters of Hay Lake from the lounge at the lodge, deeply appreciating the view, the music, the fire, the quiet… inner and outer. Clouds are rolling , gray and billowy, at times still releasing showers of wind-driven rain, at times blowing over, creating whitecaps in the lake. I am content, quite at last.

This has been a good debriefing day, the tension eased in me substantially with a short amount of time this morning being still and alone. Don and I then had a conversational debriefing on the porch swing. It helps so to have a listening ear, as I sort out what is mine and what belongs to another.

We then spent the day exploring the countryside in the area by taking the studio art tour, which is happening this weekend from the east side of Maynooth, to the west side of Bancroft, up and around Baptiste and Elephant lakes, through rural farmland and country homesteads to lakeside cottages.

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The first artist’s studio at which we stopped was a woman who painted the arctic from expeditions she takes to a beloved landscape with a beloved mentor, the first of which was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip that has become an annual pilgrimage. There was something in her story that brought tears for me, something about the resonance of her inner calling/gift with something she has met outside of herself for which she feels a deep passion, a sense of purpose and an evident aliveness, to which she has dedicated her life.. (I think of Beuchner’s quote here, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” )

I must pay attention to this stirring in me around her story telling.

The second place we visited was an old log home, off the grid, atop a crest overlooking an amazing view. There was a kitchen garden and a stockpile of wood being cut for the winter here. Again came the feeling of deep longing and resonance.

It is good right here, right now, to be free of care-taking, to be free to notice the me that emerges, and the longings that have space to bubble up here, through this opening in me, to be heard.

 

 

 

 

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Algonquin – day 11

Day 11.  Daisy to Magnetawan. 5.8km travelled, 555m portage

It rained throughout the night until just before dawn, when it let up just in time for me to find my way through the dark, hemlock crowded path to the box at the top of the hill some 50 meters at least. I was not at all certain that I would find it! Returning to the campsite, I was saddened to see that our little mouse visitor had drowned in our water bucket sometime during the night.

We sat on the rocks overlooking the long view south, where departing clouds, dotting the now-blue sky, reflected wondrously in the calm morning waters. A slight convection fog trailed the water around the east side of the island where morning loons swam up the lake.

Awash with emotion, I packed up camp for the last time on this trip, surprised by the intensity with which I felt my sadness. I continued to cry during the paddle through Daisy.

I really did quite love that picturesque and welcoming site and hope to share it one day with family or friends.

Too soon we were at the dock that began the portage to the Pond, passing through the narrow, lily pad-lined channel on the way. Then, we were on the Pond itself and soon skirting our way past the small 55m portage between it and Hambone by getting out of our canoe and wading, while lining the boat over the rocky but watery-enough passage.

The morning was a beautiful one in which to end our days, with blue skies and a cool breeze. We paddled past a few campsites on Hambone, imagining future trips introducing family to the park. On one, a family was camped and they said it was the largest site in the park and a real beauty (in their opinion). The view across the lake from it was lovely too.

On to Magnetawan, where we paddled past the takeout to explore the shoreline and campsites there. Around to the southernmost campsite we traveled, to a site with a great outcrop of granite overlooking an island studded bay, where I imagined myself perched and writing… a solo trip one day? Sadly, the site itself was in poor condition, but its sense of privacy still led me to believe it could be redeemed.

All of this extra paddling made us more tired than we’d thought it would as we made our way back to the takeout, where crowds of weekenders were headed out for Ralph Bice Lake. Note to self- avoid Fridays at this access point in the future. The culture shock was intense after 11 days of silence. It hit me like a diver coming up from the deep too fast.

The same condition was present at the lodge, where we spent much of the afternoon unpacking, drying out, sorting and doing laundry to begin our preparations for next week’s trip back in to the Park.

We texted our friends some brief news of our trip , using the Wifi signal in the restaurant, and were dismayed to learn of the shooting death of a woman in our beloved hometown. More culture shock… so much pain exists in the world of humanity.

I am so very sleepy now, as is evidenced by my handwriting here. It is a boisterous crowd of weekenders here at the Lodge, drinking and partying around cabin porches and campfires. Quite a bit different than our experiences at Hay Lake Lodge. The peace of sleep will do me good.

Algonquin – day 10

Day 10, Sept 10. Little Misty to Daisy Lake. 7.5 km traveled, 585 m portage.

I kept both the tent fly and screen door tied back all through the night, though it was cold enough to make my nose icy. So worth it was the view across the water, our tent perched on the very edge of the lake. Each time I rolled over to reposition (which happens quite often in the tent) I could take in the remarkable view of the sky. Nature calls are a welcome sleep interruption on nights such as this for the invitation they offer to bathe in the sky.

Around 4 am or so, framed in my doorway, a sliver of moon rose cradling the morning star. It was hard to sleep after that, enchanted as I was by the beauty. Soon the sky began to reveal some color.. deep blue and then pink.. until the morning mist rose from the lake so thickly as to obscure it for a time.

We rose to a heavy layer of dew, as the same mist that rolled over the lake rolled over us too, our tent fly wetter than it had been the previous morning after the thunderstorms passed. Of course, they had been chased by the wind.

Last night, we read again, ‘The seven reasons why paddling makes you a better person’. I was struck by numbers 5, 6 and 7… teaching you about yourself (in pushing your limits), teaching you about your relationships (communication and interpersonal skills), and learning acceptance. After 7 or 8 days out those things become even more apparent and reveal places of learning and growth.

We built a small fire over which we cooked a breakfast of eggs, rice and beef and warmed our chilled bodies. As soon as the sun burned the fog off the lake though, the day grew quite warm and we shed many layers.

On our way from Little Misty to Daisy Lake, we paddled through my favorite section of the Petawawa river again. The piece that ends at the portage to Daisy is quite phenomenal to me. There we met an older gentleman who was headed out for a 12 day trip, 5 of which he hoped to spend in the northern bays of Big Trout Lake. That sounds like a dream trip to me and he was so laid back and relaxed about the trip, which he’s done many times, saying ‘I just take my time. I’m in no hurry’

We continued on, stopping at the first campsite we came to on Daisy Lake for lunch before moving on to explore the island campsites, which we’d not seen, the southernmost one we chose. It is a fabulous site for a family or small group, with ample tentsites, a remarkable fireplace with a natural boulder back wall and a stone slab tabletop for food prep and cleanup. Next to the water, we are seated now on the rock shelf, complete with a back rest- such a welcome luxury by this time in the trip! It is there that I sit sipping some mocha and rum, recording these events of the day.

Several large heron waded in the shallows of the Petawawa today, one of them spooked when we rounded one of the many serpentine turns, such that we caught a stunning glimpse of its stretched out wings as it leapt into flight. There was an equally large bird, though thicker in girth, that leapt into flight from the treetops when we landed here at the campsite. Indeed, today seemed to be a day for birds of all shapes and sizes, as some little fellows fluttered from the brush next to my tent door early this morning passing so close that I could have touched them, and several families of Canada geese swam in the shallows of the river as we passed.

It is time to prepare dinner, the last of our days here in the park. It is with very great sadness that our days are coming to an end.

Nightfall

Don built a lovely fire in the beautiful stone fireplace this evening, after a very light rain (which still falls) chased us up from the water’s edge into the shelter of trees. (though no tarp was needed). I read aloud from the Meditations on Nature Collecion, readings that move something aside in me, like pushing a log aside with a paddle, allowing me to move into deeper pools in myself. They give me permission somehow to feel the things that I feel. There continues to be a part of me that longs to be met by another in those deeper places within me. I experience that meeting in the persons who write these pieces of poetry, prose and essays

The rain is so gentle now on the tentroof; it reminds me again of music, the way the lapping of the water against the granite or a fallen tree can do. I want to simply lie down and be soothed by its sweet lullaby.

The logs in the fire outside the tent crackle and pop as somewhere in the distance a loon calls. How can I keep from singing on a night such as this?

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Algonquin day 9

Day 9, Sept 9. Timberwolf Lake to Little Misty Lake. 6.8km travelled, 1065 meters in portage

Significant thunderstorms prevailed throughout the night, and I found myself awake and counting the seconds between flash of light and thunder clap, suddenly quite grateful that Don was beside me. I’d gotten to thinking about those old dead and dying hemlock that encircled our camp and imagined one of them coming down in the storm.. not a completely farfetched notion as a large limb had dropped on our tarp earlier in the evening. I remembered stories of trees falling on campers tents in the night, killing them instantly.

Oh how the mind can escalate things out of proportion when tired and darkness has settled.

After the thunderstorms finally passed (Don suggests that I slept through the worst of them), the drying winds came chasing the storm. At times it was difficult to discern whether the drops hitting the tent were being shaken from overhead branches or were fresh ones from the sky. I appreciated the drum-like percussion, our tent drawn so tight, at times quite soothing.

By daybreak, I had donned my raingear and set about making breakfast. As it turned out the raingear was soon quite unnecessary. We packed up and headed out for the weedy passage between Timberwolf and the eastern bay of Misty Lake, hoping that the rainfall of the past several days may have made it more passable and wanting to avoid the 845 overland passage. I hoped for some wildlife to emerge in the rich habitat, particularly after last evening’s storm, but to no avail this morning.

At times, as in the grassy bay, it was difficult to discern where to paddle along this stretch of water, but soon we were at the shorter 135 portage to Misty, which rose up and around a small but stunning waterfall that dropped into a mirrorlike granite pool. It still amazes me that a lazy, almost stagnant body of water can suddenly become a cascading stream, and that the earth in one place changes so quickly from mucky bog, which soaks up the water like a sponge, to granite bedrock, impenetrable by it.

Misty Lake was wind-tossed, with last night’s storm system moving out and the drying winds still blowing strong, and we paddled intently northwest across the bay and into the east/west channel that passes by the large island on which we camped last fall with our friends. We remembered fondly our time with them, dinners and happy hour high on the granite ledge, the picturesque view from that ledge, the tangerine tree that was the subject of Don’s haiku, and my early morning paddle past the sentinel island and across to the facing bay where I visited the beaver lodge and the sleeping loon.

Through the marshland at the western end of the lake toward the portage we meandered. Upon reaching the portage we paused to refuel bodies for the 935 portage and reflected again on the changing Petawawa river. I poked around the boulder strewn river bed that had been so swollen and roiling last fall. Today there were mere puddles here and there amidst the tonnage. It was a quite beautiful setting for our lunch.

The 935 m felt longer than that today, especially the second time across under the canoe, and we were happy to arrive on Little Misty lake with no decisions to make about campsites, as there is only one on the lake. The site itself is quite overused, but the rocks overlooking the vista are welcoming and warm – so warm in truth that we moved to the rocks in the small protected cove on the west side of the site to get out of the sun for awhile.

I sit there now, next to Don, my beloved, who is sleeping. He is quite weary today. The wind is beginning to calm, and it promises to be a lovely evening, looking at the sky. We have both so appreciated sky-gazing on this trip, perhaps because we see so little of it back home in Mt Gretna, perhaps because its interaction/relationship with the land and the water is so remarkable here.

It is time to prepare dinner.

Evening, twilight.

The lake stilled to liquid ribbons and then to glass. We watch the fish heads shoot above the water’s surface, grasping at the insects that alight. A small mammal slides into the water on the opposite bank. The black reflections of the pickerel leaves at our feet look like elongated hearts dancing in the water. The sky changes from pink to lavender to gold as we watch the line of light the sun casts on the opposite ridge creep up the tree line.

A dragonfly swoops past my ear, saving me from one more mosquito bite, though I’ve gotten quite used to them by now. They bother me only for a minute or two after the bite. Don has gotten up to find his jacket, the first evening one has been necessary in our 9 days here. An adolescent loon emerges into the fuschia water, a silhouette in the ripples. A red squirrel chatters and a lone sparrow sings ‘oh sweet canada’.

We move to the large rock, which was so sunbathed this afternoon, on the point of the site. We have a full view of the sky from here.. north, south, east and west. The evening has grown so chilly, I go to the hardware pack for the lightweight mylar blanket and throw it over our bodies for warmth as we lie back to take in the view of the sky. Two small bodies we are, pinned to this whirling planet by gravity as it cascades through space so vast. We see an airplane catching the silvery light of the vanishing sun before the first star appears, the same star we’ve spotted each evening, directly over our heads. Soon, we are bathed in starlight on this clearest, darkest night since we have arrived in the park.

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Algonquin – day 8

Day 8, Sept 8. McIntosh Lake to Timberwolf Lake. 1.5km traveled, 450 m portage

6:30 am. Fog laden morning, which I am blessed to see due to these early morning nature calls out here in the wilds, where somehow my body knows when it is time to stir awake with the dawn and fall into sleep at twilight.

The lake continues to be so very quiet, the hum of one persistent insect is the only consistent sound, though even it seems to have moved away. The silence is punctuated occasionally by the plop of a fish, the random chirp of a tree frog, and now and then the yip of an adolescent loon out there somewhere, perhaps the one that we watched being fed small fish by its parents yesterday afternoon.

This blanket of fog seems to thicken, as islands once clearly visible across the water are now shrouded. One lone gull stands utterly still on a sliver of granite rising up in the bay.

I wish I could write more than an accounting of what I see and hear, I wish there were some way to write the way it makes me feel to sit here in the quiet on this fog-laden morn. ( now …a loon trills from somewhere across the water. now… a raven honks).

Oh, I want to be here, not to begin counting down the days (3 1/2) and I know that part of this accounting of these days, this attempt to capture this moment in words and photos, is both to deeply embed the experience in my heart and my mind, and also to be able to carry it with me.

Now the islands are completely impossible to discern on that horizon, the gray has descended so thickly. I see the head of a fish break the surface of the water nearer to me, but on second thought perhaps it was the sleek arc of an otter’s back. Soon, the sun will begin to heat the earth, her waters and lands, and the fog will rise, but for now I bask in this, wrap up in its peace.

Soon, I also will rise, make a small fire for my stick stove to heat water for rice pudding and coffee. A simple meal to nourish me.

The mother loon and her chick appear, the only spot of ‘color’ (though black and white) on this gray-bathed landscape. She feeds him a fish.

Late afternoon.

After the breakfast of rice pudding, Don and I set out for a late morning paddle on placid waters beneath a low sky. We explored the lower side of the lake, with its delightful coves, islands and inlets, which made me love this lake even more . We decided to forego the paddle down to Ink Lake, as the waterway looked low and having just paddled through marshland yesterday. In one of the southern coves of the lake, we were delighted by a family of 4 loons, who swam so close to our canoe we could’ve reached out and touched them with our paddle. At last, the adults became alarmed and trilled a warning to one another and their young, who dove immediately below the surface of the water.Upon one small granite island, atop a pine tree , we saw four heron roosting.

Paddling northwest across the middle of the lake (which we never would’ve thought would be possible just one day ago) we passed the line of islands, strung up like pearls on a strand of granite. The water itself was like fluid ribbons.

This afternoon, we decided to make tomorrow’s portaging easier and move to Timberwolf lake , a lonesome little lake with just a half dozen bereft campsites, all of which seem to see little use and none of which were very appealing. We did spot a family of otters at play in one cove and quite a few wolf tracks along the sandy beach of another site we stopped at. So, perhaps this lake is not so forlorn after all.

We settled on a campsite with a thick growth of young hemlock. Several large old ( and dying or dead) hemlock shelter the grove of new sprouts, not unlike the loons in the lake this morning. The shelter, as it turns out, was quite wonderful as it started to rain in earnest shortly after we arrived, not an unwelcome respite and replenishment for body and land. Before the rains let loose, the sky was so very heavy, the air so thick, that we are relieved (both of us, the earth and me) with the release.

I sit now, down near the water, on the stub of what was once a great limb, or perhaps a second trunk, of this great old hemlock that is shedding the water for me. The lake has grown as gray and foggy as the day began. The one bright red maple we noted with glee on the knoll across the water is no longer distinguishable at all.

Later in the evening, in the tent @8:30pm

It is raining in earnest again after a brief respite following dinner, when we tried to sit by the water for some watching of the sky, which was dark with the rainclouds that seemed to be chasing, closing the brief clearing that was granting us this after-dinner break.

Chores in camp, with the two of us beneath the tarp became a little too close for comfort, as we bumped into one another… with too much of the space perhaps being taken up by packs and barrels and firewood? Cooking was challenging as I was feeling disorganized and each time I set something down it seemed to pick up 100 hemlock needles, which in the end despite my best effort ended up in our bowls. Oh well. Particularly by this time in the trip, the combination of weariness and too much togetherness can cause our engrained co-dependent coping strategies to rear their human heads. Still, I thanked the rain for reminding me of my humanity, and my need to continue to nurture inner stillness in order to be able to remain compassionate and kind when the external becomes stressful as it did this evening.

These great old hemlocks are beckoning me to notice such stillness. I am perplexed that I almost missed them, so accustomed am I to old ones like this standing alone with an understory of spacious darkness. (as they say, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees) Yet these woods, as I’d mentioned before, are densely populated with young hemlocks, so thick they obscure what were once pathways through these woods. It seems as if the old ones are letting go, stepping aside, making space for new life to take root. I am grateful for their overarching and patient grace.

It is curious to me that I don’t feel as if I’ve gotten as quiet as I have been in the past. Of course, with the two of us here there is no real alone time, save the early morning when I rise before Don, or late night hours, when I have been too tired for reflection. In that respect, it is not unlike our at home life, still sorting out how we make space for each other to breathe deeply enough.

Don and I are quite different, and often that is a real blessing to us both. At other times it is a trial, as we each have such different ways of seeing and doing things that it can turn into misunderstanding at least and a battle of power and control at the worst (of course, a passive aggressive one at that 🙂 ) In places like this, his busy energy and helpful extroverted nature can make it difficult for me to find the quiet stillness that I need, to find the still place ‘from which the writing comes’.

This evening, I read quite a few passages about silence and solitude, that affirmed for me their goodness and value. It is not about ‘getting away from’ as much as it is a ‘moving inward/toward’ something in me that longs to be here. I must learn to honor this need in me as if it were food, water, air, as necessary for my survival, at least the survival of my spirit, my depths. I long to rediscover this one in me, this place of al-oneness, of mutual independence and one-ness.

Too sleepy for more. Tomorrow is another day.

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Algonquin – day 7

Day 7, Sept 7 – White trout through the Grassy Bay To McIntosh Lake. 12.9 km traveled, 1255 m portages

We were up before 6 and on the water before 7 for a windy, windy day. First came the quieter paddle across White Trout and pausing to fill and treat our water bottles before entering the marsh, then it was on into the alpine bog and marshland , with its quiet, remote, and beautifully rugged atmosphere. Softening the view, the marshland meadow was dotted with the cottonball seedheads of an undetermined plant that was simply striking against the darker green alpine backdrop.

Paddling for hours alone, through meandering paths in bog plants, we followed whatever current we could detect to find passage. At times we were convinced we had come to a dead end, when around an unseen corner, the pathway would pick up again. We paddled against a strong wind all day, even in smaller channels. At last, it seemed we were paddling in beaver trails and indeed soon found ourselves lifting over 4 or 5 smallish dams before reaching the portage trail to McIntosh.

The first portage of the day was a beautiful walk in the woods along McIntosh Creek, gurgling over rocks today. We crossed the creek twice on log bridges and I sighed as I passed, saying , “this is like the portage trail to heaven’. Again I noted the mushrooms and toadstools too numerous to name. There are mosses and sorrel leaves (which remind me of shamrocks) in these magical woods too, a virtual fairyland. One thing I like about being under the canoe on a portage is that one notices things underfoot or along the trail’s edge, small life such as this that would be easily missed with one’s eyes focused too far ahead.

Still, the portage was mostly uphill and by that second time across beneath the canoe, I was fairly tired. It was quite hot again, and sunny by now, probably in the upper 80’s by noon. We laughed abit about our canoe trip to the tropics. Indeed, the breeze through the tent door felt tropical again last night.

The second portage of the day dumped us out into McIntosh Lake at noon. but the mean looking water, driven across the wide lake into our faces, made for a tough paddle as we looked for a campsite. The first two at which we stopped were not very appealing at all, and by the time we disembarked at a third, we wisely decided to at least take a lunch break before making camp, with so much physical work behind us and breakfast a long time ago. I was fairly well spent.

The site that we lunched at appeared to have been recently hit by a strong storm, with so many huge blowdowns and bramble. Exploring a bit after having refueled, I noted a huge pile of bear scat and several of mooseberries. We had noted wolf tracks in the muck earlier too, next to the water at the beginning of the first portage.

We decided to head out to try to get to the western shoreline, in the lee of the land, where we could see what appeared to be a huge eddy line about 25 yards out from the land, with calm water beyond. Across the lake at last, we stopped at the first site we came to, one with large flat granite frontage that could’ve been mistaken for sand from a distance, In fact, the sandy beach we thought we’d found around the side proved to simply be the slope of the granite as it rose up from the water.

We grabbed the site, despite the boggy back yard, because we were done, and for the stargazing and drying potential the rock ledge held. Too bad the blueberries are finished for the season, for we certainly could’ve gathered bucketfuls from the bushes in the bog. Perhaps the bears enjoy that patch too, so maybe I’m glad they are not in season after all.

We both were quite hot and smelly, so we went in for a rinse and a swim. Then, I took some soap to my body with the bucket of water I’d drawn and carried back from the lake, for I discovered that the rinsing did not take care of the smell at all.

We dried our refreshed bodies, laying out on the rock in the sun and the wind, next to our rock-weighted drying clothes. Feeling fresh, we set about the camp chores of dinner prep, water-gathering, and washing the sooty coffee cups that I’d heated over a small pitchy fire in the morning, which we’d thrown in our pack after breakfast.

After dinner, some of Thomas Merton’s, ‘Rain and the Rhinocerous” and later sky watching from our fabulous 270 degree vantage point. The lake was so very quiet, and then, a lone wolf howl, quite close, then another, perhaps on the site where we’d lunched. A perfect note to end the day.

Too tired for more tonight.

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Algonquin – Day 6

Day 6, Sept 6. Day in camp

5:30 am. I have risen early, pre-dawn, and found my way to the sitting rock. The sky to the east is just beginning to brighten with a watercolor wash of pink and gray. Beneath it, the land is merely a deeper shade of gray. Both the air and the water were quite still when I arose, though now a subtle breeze ripples through them both. Perhaps a system is moving through or in.

The beaver thwacks its tail. There is curly scat on the tip of the rock this morning, confirming my suspicion about this being our friend’s stomping grounds. Two loons fly overhead, their wings creating vibrations that my ears detect as a whistle. Another loon wails, mournfully, from across the gray water.

Sometime during the night, the wind picked up, flapping the tent fly that we had pulled up and over for air when we retired for the night. The tent, up and away from the edge of the water, was quite stuffy when we crawled in, so we decided to open it up. The view of the recently revealed stars through the treetops kept me rapt in wonder for awhile.

The loons have gone into full alert now, their warning trills echoing robustly. The eagle appears again from around the bend, near the high cliffs.

Our neighbors, from the campsite just north of us, have broken camp and are on the water, their silhouettes gray upon gray.

Don is stirring awake. The air is beginning to warm and my tummy beginning to grumble. Time to put on the coffee.

oh my…. but not before a family of wolves yip and howl in the distance.

Afternoon- Atop a great granite boulder south of camp, covered in lichen and striped gray and white, pink and black, the latter bedazzled with sparkles, I am as grounded as she in a wind that blows whitecaps into the lake and my hat from my head. It continues to be so very warm, and today there is a strong gust from the southwest that feels almost tropical.

We’d set out this morning for a day of exploring. Don wanted to fish with his “Mister Champ” in the deeper water to try his hand (and his rod) at snagging one of those large lake trout that swim in the depths of larger lakes such as this, so I volunteered to paddle for him. He wanted to fish from the stern, trolling, but paddling from the bow in the wind eventually tired me out. We’d missed our window of calm water by the time he rerigged his gear and the wind had picked up into gusts that I was not strong enough from the bow position to manage.

Picking up the paddle in the stern, Don and I set a course for the peninsula campsite we’d originally hoped to occupy to check out the view. A glorious campsite, practically an island, surrounded by water – big water to the north and the west, 2 lagoon-like bodies of water to the east and the south – we both agreed it would be lovely to camp here one day. One could appreciate intimate small water habitat from one side of the peninsula and big water views from the other. Atop massive granite outcroppings, we sat for some time, watching the labor day ‘traffic’ of canoes (perhaps half a dozen), which were following the official canoe route along the opposite shoreline from Big Trout to the Grassy Bay.

Back at our campsite, after lunch, we decided to work for some time on readjusting the harness for the Billy Bag to make it more comfortable for Don’s back. Tomorrow we hope to be on the water quite early, by 6 o’clock, when the waters are calm, assuming they quiet as they typically do in those magical hours around dawn and dusk.

But now I am on this great pink and gray boulder. There stands a phenomenal pine, wrapping her legs around her, a few yards up the rise from where I now sit, solid as am I, with my own legs held fast to the surface. I think of love-making here, my legs wrapped tight for the ride, and I feel the pulse of the earth rise in me like the sap in the glorious pine. I watched a dragonfly earlier in the week try to beat her mate off her tail, repeatedly whacking her tail on the rocks and the water. He was hanging on for dear life. I wonder why she was trying to shake him?

Later.

I wound up bushwacking a bit to find a still pool in which to swim, nearby the granite boulder, where Don was now fishing. Again, donning underpants and lifevest, I entered the warm water, leaving my clothes in the care of a fallen log. In the end I didn’t venture far from the shoreline but laid back in the lilypads, holding onto a limb of the great fallen one, in order to rest in the lapping waves and not be swept away by the wind.

After some time, I crawled back to the rock, like a turtle to bask, warming and drying my skin on the sun-heated earth, flesh upon flesh.

Don and I spent some time after dinner (which we forced ourselves to eat, though we weren’t very hungry after such a lazy day but knowing we would need the energy for tomorrow’s long paddle through marshland) packing up camp for an early start. Only then, did we move to the rock ledge for a nightcap (having skipped happy hour today) for what has become our favorite part of the day, this lying back , watching the sky change.

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Algonquin – day 5

Day 5, Sept 5. Day trip to Big Trout Lake, Esther’s favorite campsite , 10 km round trip

We fell into bed at 10pm last night.

This morning, after a breakfast of pancakes over the fire, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful day – sunny blue skies with temperatures already above 70 degrees- to make our way to Esther Keyser’s favorite lake and campsite, a goal for this trip of ours. Birch Point is on Big Trout Lake, which Esther lauds in her book, Paddling My Own Canoe, as the most beautiful lake in all of Algonquin. Esther remembers with fondness both helping to create this campsite and spending many days with her growing family there.

We began our paddle delighting again in the yips and calls of young loons with their families. Their softer familial ‘conversations’ remind Don and me of puppies and when they break into a full-fledged call often their voices seem to break like an adolescent boy’s.

Not long after, we heard a different sound from them altogether, the trilling of warning and anxiety from several loons on the opposite shore. We were just coming around a bend in the lake, approaching the ‘high cliffs’, and soon we understood why the loons were in such a state of alert, for an eagle, who we surmised makes his or her nest in those cliffs, was diving repeatedly. As it flew back toward the cliffs, we thought it was carrying something off in its talons. Don reminded me that cute little baby eagles have to eat too.

The high cliffs were also not at all what I had envisioned, as I imagined them being bald and sheer, though for Algonquin they were indeed high. After some wrong turns, we found our bearings and were paddling through the narrow channel between White Trout and Big Trout Lakes. There, yet another beaver registered his dismay at our passing too close for his comfort.

Big Trout Lake is a large lake, and we saw but a small corner of it, the northwestern most bays. Picturesque, with islands and jutting peninsulas, long inlets and long views, one could get lost and/or paddle her shoreline for days. Esther’s site live up to her praises, with a protected sandy beach cove, perfect for landing and swimming, and a sheltered fireplace, in the lee of a large boulder while still offering views to the east, for community times. Surrounded on 3 sides by water, there are nooks and crannies next to the water for quiet contemplation or basking in the view. Just offshore lies a granite, tree-studded island to which one can easily wade through knee-deep lily and pickerel. We lunched atop the island, where we alternated views from the big water view to the east, then, spinning on our bottom, to the inlets and meandering shoreline to the west.

After whiling some time there (Don fished again) we paddled abit more, encircling the large island, before making our way back through the narrows and past the high cliffs to camp. By now the wind had picked up under a cumulous-dotted sky, and we worked for some time on the wide open water near the northern end of White trout where the wind had a long stretch from the southwest in which to build energy.

Back in camp, I laid back on my rock, my feet in the water again, basking on its heat like a turtle on a log. Dinner, rosemary and olive oil pasta with garlic and chicken, was voted by both of us to be the best yet. We had no trouble emptying the pot tonight.

Again, we sat on the same rock after dinner cleanup (where once again our beaver friend told us just what he thought of our sitting on his ramp) watching the water and the sky darken, after giving to us the most stunning sunset yet. An arcing sweep of vivid pink cumulous clouds, reflecting the light of the setting sun and then mirrored in the glassy still water, created a vulva shaped opening in the sky through which one might just want to be born again. For more than an hour, mostly in silence, we watched as a blanket of now-heavy clouds moved across the sky. To our west, they presented to us a thunder and lightning show (perhaps Misty Lake was receiving a storm) which we were glad to view but happy to have pass us by. As the system slowly passed over, eventually revealing to us the stars that were hidden above it, we were struck by the sudden coolness to the air.

Those clouds had indeed been blanketing us.

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Algonquin – day 4

Sept 4, day 4. Misty Lake through the Petawawa and the Grassy Bay to White Trout Lake – 15.5km traveled , 1650 m portages

Yesterday continued to be a relaxed day. I went for a swim.. in life vest and panties…though the water was nippier with the increasing cloud cover than I’d thought it would be from the earlier sundrenched (hot) rock. Don fished from the rocks, though he caught nothing but the bottom of the lake and I swam out at one point to attempt dislodging his lure from the underwater boulders, to no avail. After dinner, we lounged on those same rocks appreciating the array of colors that the sun and the clouds can create when they play with one another. As we reclined, a heron flew over our heads, squawking its crow-like call, so close we could see the sky through the separation between its back legs. trailing him in flight. A beaver swam the circumference of our point on the now-glassy water.

In the wee hours of the morning, we heard that same beaver thwacking his tail repeatedly, in annoyance or alarm, obviously disturbed by the presence of something unexpected or unwelcome. I was most certain he was upset by a bear, as some paddlers who passed by our campsite earlier in the day had mentioned they’d seen a small bear swimming across the bay near their campsite behind us. My imaginings were fed by the racket in camp of something snooping around. (It turns out the culprit was into the hardware pack, seemingly drawn to Don’s fishy smelling tackle) . Of course, I was convinced our food barrel, which I’d carried out of camp and into the woods, had been raided and we’d be unable to find it come morning light.

Oh the ingenuity.. of a mind in the dark.

An early start to our day, we were on the water before 8 for a long day of paddling and portaging. Six portages, five of which were under 200 meters, found us in and out of the boat a lot. The Petawawa River was so low at times , our paddling was more like poling through grassy and sometimes silty water, a real slog at times. Over 3 beaver dams we ‘slid’ and once my boot filled so with muck, as I sunk to my knees in it, that I was not at all certain I was going to be successful in pulling it out.

Then there was the miscue in reading the portage signs around one very large beaver dam and pond. We misunderstood the portage sign indicating the exit from water on this side of the dam, thinking the portage itself was merely to bypass the dam as we could see another portage sign just across the beaver pond, which we assumed was marking the place that we would put our boat back into the water if we took the overland trail. So..we decided to forego that portage altogether and pull ourselves over the massive pile of sticks. What we’d misunderstood was that there were 2 potential takeouts for the actual 195 meter portage itself (and if we’d thought more carefully would’ve quickly realized that the 2nd sign was not 195 meters away at all) . Soon we found ourselves in a boulder strewn, almost-dry, riverbed with no passable channel. Evidently this part of the river contains a series of rapids when the water is high, so we were fortunate that we misread the signs in low water conditions and our only mishap was a scrape or two of the bottom of the hull on some rocks. We lined the boat back to the beaver pond and were soon on the portage where we set our packs down next to some tree roots, not noticing that there were ground bees’ hives in those roots. Luckily Don was only stung once on the wrist as he reached for his pack.

Still, it was a magical paddle. The Petawawa was teeming with frogs, perched on the mat of grasses bent over in the slow current with just their eyes popping up above the surface. Most of them seemed unconcerned at our passing and would sit perfectly still unless the canoe actually brushed up against them. On the first portage trail of the day, a young marten, as curious about us as we were about him, posed for a few moments on the limb of a pine next to the trail, cocking his head and scratching his ear, until I reached for my camera and he scampered off. Soon after, a ruffed grouse clucked his dismay at our passing. So many mushrooms and fungi line the paths in the late summer, as diverse, abundant and colorful as wildflowers in the spring.

Back on the Petawawa, we witnessed a family of 4 otters out for morning swim, and followed a family of geese for some time. Heron fished the banks, flushing often at our arrival around the bend, and Don tried his hand too, throwing in a line at several of the pools at the bottoms of what in higher water would be rapids or falls. Our lunch break was enjoyed at one such pool.

At last, we arrived at the Grassy Bay, which was not at all what I’d expected. I had imagined a narrow meandering channel cutting through the high grasses, but in reality it was more like a very shallow , boggy lake with a slow labyrinthine current that one had to be attentive to follow. It felt quite remote and I was struck by the raw beauty and seeming wildness of it. On one of the mudflats, we noted several black cormorant drying their wings alongside one lone white gull, rather like the ugly duckling of the group, so mismatched was he. Again, we were enchanted by the utter quiet.

Following strategically placed signs, often appearing just when we were certain we’d missed a turn, we soon found ourselves back on open water as we entered the southern end of White Trout Lake. This end felt very alpinish to me with its shoreline of slender spires. I hope to explore that shoreline abit more tomorrow, but it was getting to be quite late in the afternoon by the time we arrived so we headed directly across the water to the peninsula campsite I’d earmarked. As we paddled closer, I noted movement on the land there, and sure enough a small party was out gathering wood , so then we spent quite abit more time searching out a site we’d want to call home for the next few days. I had to chuckle at our decision making process here, doubly hindered by our water weariness (we were getting hangry) , remembering a funny flowsheet at which I’d once sniggered on choosing the ‘perfect’ campsite.

We settled at last on this beauty, where the tent overlooks the water through a wide gap in sheltering trees. We have more than a 180 degree view from this rock upon which I now sit, relaxing after setting up camp and having dinner. Already an otter and a beaver have swum past, the latter coming within 20 feet of us before thwacking his tail in dismay at our presence. I think we may be seated on his exit ramp.

The stars are the best they’ve yet been, as the moon is not only waning but rising later each evening, creating a window of darkness for us to gaze through. We have slept with the tent fly thrown open each night and tonight will be no exception. Perhaps we will remove it altogether.

I may just be a convert for early September trips.

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