[I’m only about a month and a half late getting this last post up… Sorry!]
Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.
– Henry David Thoreau
* * *
But then, even Thoreau could only hang around Walden Pond for so long before he was drawn back down the road to Concord. The bell of civilization can’t be unrung. Walden was no exercise in back-to-nature isolationism, no antimodern escape from the city. Instead: a simple experiment in self-sufficiency and reflection, in living more simply and deliberately; “to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms” and, cleansed of all things inessential, to return to town with renewed spirit and enriched imagination, light of step and glad of heart, etc.
The temperature drops further and faster each night, the maples flanking the Ottawa River have begun to flicker, the wildlife has grown ever more quiet, and we are losing daylight fast. With the seasons by all accounts turning, we are for the final stretch propelled to Montreal at a remarkable pace.
* * *
Canada is a canoe route.
– A.R.M. Lower
* * *
You can cross this country by canoe. Who knows how many have done it before, and no doubt many more will do it again. Hell, no fewer than five (five!) plucky expeditions took up the task this summer (“the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson…” —Whitman). It’s bloody preposterous—as are a great many things worth doing, I suppose—but shit: you can cross Canada by canoe.
And Canada—shimmering, shivering with an unquiet, sacred beauty that reveals itself in myriad scenes of such varied kind and character—assuredly makes for an unlikely slab of geography. But there’s a thread of water (and, oh, the odd portage) by which it hangs together, however precariously (and this country, in George Grant’s words, “has always seemed like a rather rickety, precarious endeavour”; or, as per Robertson Davies: not a country you love, but one you worry about).
And there are people—warm, generous, welcoming, giving, loving people—hanging onto that thread of water (some hanging on, in these uncertain times, for dear life; they are invariably the most generous of all). And if you, Dear Reader, should one day find yourself paddling across Canada and you’re looking to make good time, do not speak to these people. They have food and drink and stories and secrets and jokes and memories and joys and regrets and sorrows and dreams and time to share. They will only slow you down.
* * *
In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.
– Michel Foucault
* * *
Oh, and Trudeau—though often wrong—was right: canoeing “purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other travel.” There is no pleasure quite like that which comes from a day on the water, and there is truly no other way to see Canada. No other way to ride the tumbling, silvered haystacks of the North Sask’s Devil’s Elbow or to touch the hushed, pristine wilderness of Quetico, to know the twilight stillness of Gitche Gumee or to slip through the glaciated corridors of the French River’s Old Voyageur Channel. As the paddling proverb goes: If there’s a place, canoe there.
* * *
I remember a napkin. A beer-soaked, pen-scrawled napkin. (I could be forgiven for remembering little else, given our equally beer-soaked brains…) Hugo shouting over the din of Dundas West’s Village Idiot Pub that if anyone were prepared to commit themselves to the (batshit-crazy) proposition he and Dana’d dreamed up, now was the time and here was the place and sign your name to this napkin already. I’m reasonably sure no one expected the damp, incoherently inscribed scrap to so much as survive the night, let alone be admissible in court. But some refused to sign it, so there must have been some unspoken sense that it carried a certain amount of weight, that we weren’t just kidding around. In any case, I signed it. I signed it and I laughed and I wondered what the hell I was getting myself into and I laughed again and I ordered another pint. I wasn’t sure how I felt about signing it then. In fact: not sure how I feel about it now. Grateful? Yeah, mostly that. Grateful.
* * *
by Douglas LePan
What of this fabulous country
Now that we have it reduced to a few hot hours
And sun-burn on our backs?
On this south side the countles archipelagoes,
The slipway where titans sent splashing the last great glaciers;
And then up to the foot of the blue pole star
The pinelands whose limits seem distant as Thule,
The millions of lakes once cached and forgotten,
The clearings enamelled with blueberries, rank silence about them;
And skies that roll all day with cloud-chimeras
To baffle the eye with portents and unwritten myths,
The flames of sunset, the lions of gold and gules.
Into this reservoir we dipped and pulled out lakes and rivers,
We strung them together and made our circuit.
Now what shall be our word as we return,
What word of this curious country?
It is good,
It is a good stock to own though it seldom pays dividends.
There are holes here and there for a gold-mine or a hydro-plant.
But the tartan of river and rock spreads undisturbed,
The plaid of a land with little desire to buy or sell.
The dawning light skirls out its independence;
At noon the brazen trumpets slash the air;
Night falls, the gulls scream sharp defiance;
Let whoever comes to tame this land, beware!
Can you put a bit to the lunging wind?
Can you hold wild horses by the hair?
Then have no hope to harness the energy here,
It gallops along the wind away.
But here are crooked nerves made straight,
The fracture cured no doctor could correct.
The hand and mind, reknit, stand whole for work;
The fable proves no cul-de-sac.
Now from the maze we circle back;
The map suggested a wealth of cloudy escapes;
That was a dream, we have converted the dream to act.
And what we now expect is not simplicity,
No steady brezze, or any surprise,
Orchids along the portage, white water, crimson leaves.
Content, we face again the complex task.
And yet the marvels we have seen remain.
We think of the eagles, of the fawns at the river bend,
The storms, the sudden sun, the clouds sheered downwards.
O so to move! With such immaculate decision!
O proudly as waterfalls curling like cumulus!