Day 9 (cont’d): ‘Where ya to?’ ‘Montreal.’ ‘That’s where I’m goin’.’ So went our first meeting with Mike, on the outskirts of Edmonton. Mike, a grizzled gent with an aww-shucks charm — all ‘Fer sher’ and ‘Oh yah, eh?’ — is, as it turns out, also paddling to Montreal (that makes no fewer than four such trips on the water this summer). He’s raising money for his hometown (Atikokan, ON) youth centre, in the company of his trusty dog Spitz (a talkative chap). Mike’s evidently tough-as-nails — in fact, he’s a former boxer — and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the coming months.
Day 10: Ian, a retired forestry worker w/ a quiet kindness and a light praire teakettle whistle to his voice, gives us the greenlight to set up camp on a patch of his land along the river. He joins us for Pascal’s 60th (60th) birthday feast, incl. spaghetti, asparagus, parmesan, wine, whiskey, carrot cake, etc. etc. A lovely evening, not least for Ian’s warm company.
Day 11 till present: We have the wind at our backs for all of one our, during which we hoist the makeshift sail. Then the wind turns. It’s been against us, to varying degrees of severity, ever since. We’re windbound (on a river) for a day, but quickly shift our schedule around to accomodate night and evening paddles when the water’s dead-still. We leave in the dusk’s winelight and are guided through the night only by the lamplight buzz of the moon overhead and the blue-green Northern Lights sifting across the sky port-side. As morning breaks, our arms (and minds) rubbery with exhaustion, a gauze of mist hangs over the water while the first sliver of morning hugs the east hills.
Also: the trees have at last begun to shake off their deciduous diffidence, and have burst a verdant glow.
* * *
Shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald, fawn,
The earth’s whole amplitude and Nature’s multiform power consign’d for once to colors;
The light, the general air possess’d by them–colors till now unknown,
No limit, confine–not the Western sky alone–the high meridian– North, South, all,
Pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows to the last.
— Walt Whitman, ‘Prairie Sunset’
* * *
Day 22: Our feet are permanently caked in filth. Muddiest campsite imaginable. I shan’t soon forget the image of Njal, giggling uncontrollably ‘neath the weight of a massive gearbag, drenched head-to-toe in mud.
Day 23: On Victoria Day, winter’s last gasp (as astutely predicted by Mike). We raise a mug of java to the Queen, then promptly retreat to the tent.
Days 24 & 25: I suspect this ground’s been well-trodden already on this blog. A gong-show of a 48-hr period. In case the following wasn’t covered: with that Superstore cheesecake we purchased in P.A., we each consumed approx. 300% of our recommended daily fat intake in the span of about 24 hrs. YES. Also, we made a dangerous discovery in P.A., as a result of which PB&J lunches may never be the same: Nutella.
* * *
I thought of the clear light
On your hands and on the wood
In a church
— Rheostatics (again?!)
* * *
Day 32: Saskatchewan has been good to us. Tremendously welcoming, genial people (we’ve been spoiled w/ pickup trucks thus far on portages), and the weather (all head-winds aside) has been near-perfect. Last night, to the sound of whipporwills and just before the crack of June, we entered Manitoba, where we’ll spend the next month or so. We’d been forewarned about The Pas being a potentially rowdy place (w/ such warnings sometimes couched in slightly, ahem, racist terms). Thus far, however, we’ve been greeted by a great many curious passers-by (incl. the mayor), and The Pas is, as it turns out, just about the most lovely little town we’ve seen yet. We’ve picked up our first food-drop (from the local RCMP detachment), and it’s something like 27 degrees out, so I best get back on (or in) the water.