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The pace and scope of my work has increased steadily over the past few weeks as I attempt to develop the velocity necessary to escape the gravitational pull of home and office and make my way to Temagami for the summer. 38 years of seasonal migration have done nothing to diminish the excitement of heading North. Last weekend I helped a 10 year old neighbor coming to Langskib for the first time sort through his gear and make sure he had everything he needed. Experience has taught me that you generally need way less than you think but the things you need most you mustn’t forget. Raingear, fleece, wool socks, boots, knife, compass; those are still the must haves for me. Packing with my young friend brought back memories of my own youth and increased my anticipation for the trip North.
As the departure date approaches I find it more and more difficult to focus on anything not directly related to heading North. More and more frequently I find myself wandering away from my desk to sharpen my axe, check the batteries in my headlamp or gaze at the map on my office wall and think about some of the new places I might visit this summer as well as the familiar ground I’ll cover. I’ve always wondered about the Belcher Islands.
Being well beyond school age, I don’t have to complete final exams but it still feels like that until time is up. I get up from my desk and walk out, leaving the world of papers to be satisfied or not with what I have done. I am free.
The first few miles cover familiar ground, I drive North through the Champlain Valley and say good bye to the mountains which figure so prominently in my winter escapades. Lyon Mountain is last, and then it’s farmland down into the Saint Lawrence River Valley. I go through the Akwasasne Reserve which straddles the Saint Lawrence and the border of Canada and the USA. After a short wait and a few questions I am welcomed back to the country of my birth, another milestone passed. By my reckoning I am now one third of the way to Temagami. I stop at Tim Horton’s to celebrate.
A couple more hours and I am making my way through Ottawa, the Nations Capital. Commuters in traffic gaze at my pick-up loaded with gear, towing a boat. They are spinning the wheel day after day while I am destined for adventure. The congestion peaks and then starts to gradually diminish. Soon, the divided highway ends and the scenery improves. I pass familiar landmarks which bring back memories of events from years passed and friends who shared the adventures.
Deep River, I spent a couple days sleeping in the firehouse here when I was 18. I reckon this to be two thirds of the way to Temagami. From the parking lot of Tim Horton’s a snowmobile trail provide an opportunity for my dog and I to stretch our legs and take in the smells of the boreal forest.
The tiny community of Stonecliff is next. This is where we pick up our Dumoine river trips for the shuttle back to Temagami. I spent 3 days here in the l980’s waiting for Phil Riddiford and his section to make their way down the river. I get fuel at Yates General Store even though we could make North Bay. I like to think I’m spending my money where it counts.
At Mattawa, I turn West for the final leg to North Bay. We parallel the Mattawa River but never see it. At Trout Lake La Vase Portages connect Trout Lake and Lake Nippissing. A crucial link between watersheds in days before roads when canoes where the only way to go. I imagine Voyageurs humping bundles of furs and birch bark canoes through parking lots and across the Trans Canada Highway.
Turning North on highway 11, we climb Thibeault Hill out of North Bay through a glorious Maple forest. Although road weary, like a horse who smells the barn, I am energized for this last leg as the forest goes back to spruce, pine and fir. We gain altitude and the landmarks are more frequent. Tilden Lake, Marten River, Hornet Lake and finally we round the bend and the clear blue waters of Temagami appear.
We load the boat and head up lake. The boat is alive, it moves through the water with a familiar, reassuring rhythm. It feels good. Some years, it is dark by the time I get to this last leg and a million stars light the way. Once, the Northern Lights put on an awesome display that took my breath away. I stop the boat in the middle of the lake and take in the quiet beauty. It feels like I never left.
Over the next few weeks old friends and new will arrive on the Island after their own journey and we’ll immerse ourselves in the work of preparing for the start of camp. There will be much sweat and laughter. I am so grateful for this land, these people and this work. We are truly blessed.