There is a vow of silence taken by the boys of Kalevi skauts upon returning from a kanuuretk (canoe trip): What happens on the trip stays on the trip. However, upon completing Kalev’s most recent trip, I was asked to write about it.
After much deliberation and many sleepless nights, I have decided to make the moral compromise and break the silence. You, the public, have a right to know what went on, and after all, sunlight heals all wounds. In doing so, I must protect the identity of those involved, at least in part. I will keep their anonymity by using First-Nation-inspired pseudonyms.
Our plan was to enter Algonquin provincial park from the North-West, outfitted with canoes, paddles and personal floatation devices (PFD) by a yelling man and his biting dog. We were a convoy of eight canoes, each numbered and marked with letters N.W.O, Northern Wilderness Outfitters or “never wear orange.” We entered the park by way of a winding river, in the early afternoon, carrying us with no visible urgency. Yawning Bear (YB) and Silent Cicada (SC), juhid (leaders), acted as the head of the snake while Dreaming Lion (DL) and I, also juhid, rattled from behind. In between lay six canoe-vertebrae ranging from wake-makers to constant break-takers. DL and I did our best to counsel those learning-long, deep, vertical strokes-but we were glad to reach the first portage point.
We walked three portages, a hop, skip and jump from each other; short rivers, ponds and marshes separating them. Some of the younger boys had trouble getting the fibre glass canoes over their heads-rest it on its side, lift it slightly keeping the stern on the ground, get your hands on both edges, position your self under the first beam bend your legs and lift-but they still kept pace with the rest of the pack.
After our third portage we entered North Tea Lake headed South East with the wind at our backs. With YB in the stern SC, sitting in the bow, used his hammock as a sail, reaching around ten kilometers per hour, no paddling, according to Cicada’s GPS. Some of the boys made sails as well, reaching more modest thrust levels. Late afternoon we arrived at our first campsite, equipped with a kitchen, a counter really, and two beaches. Our immediate concern as a group was food. Because we did not have a microwave we focused our efforts on collecting firewood.
Some of the younger skauts needed guidance in their divine work, one called Golden Hare and his overseeing accomplice (this was not a unionized labour force) attempted to saw a large fallen tree in half. I explained to them that is would take forever to do and also that half a tree was not appropriate for firewood, sawing off branches would be best. They acknowledged my advice politely and continued with efforts because they were “almost through.”
Such consultation brought me great thirst, and so I dipped my canteen in a vat of “purple drink.” By the time I finished drinking my sweet drink, dinner was ready: three types of sausage, instant stuffing and peas. Everyone ate it like their favourite meal. Golden Hare ate three or four extra servings of stuffing, something he would become notorious for.
Around the fire that night, debates raged on about the validity of baseball as a sport, post-modernism and finally the meaning of the universe. And if one took the time to look up above, the Milky Way was coming hard at us.
Breakfast was bacon and eggs giving us a boost towards our day’s journey. We broke camp after breakfast, collecting all of our waste and materials. Weary of our rear-guard position DL and I took the lead and navigation duties. Now leaving North Tea Lake, destination Biggar Lake. We had a mix of sun and clouds and the wind was at our back, again. The make-shift sails went up, again.
A ways into Biggar Lake, DL and I took in the expansive green landscape surrounding us on all sides and noticed the way the shadows from the cloud blanketing the rolling hills, conveyed their immense size. DL talked of building a hilltop house and we both noted how great the air smelled. Orange signs peeked out from the lush lake border telling us where the other campsites were hidden.
We reached our second campsite sometime in the afternoon, DL and I arrived first, followed closely by Flying Moon (FM) and Smiling Elk (SE). There was always a race for prime tent space between those who landed first, setting the tone for the next day, depending on who had to sleep with a root in their back. Construction began on a massive sail-kite, the project headed by Lion, much time and effort was spent seeking the perfect branches and tying the the perfect lash. I made a disemboweling wooden sword with a stick I found at my feet. The sail-kite never flew though, suffering from the same symptoms as the airplane called “Spruce Goose,” weight.
At one point Playing Chipmunk entered a fit of laughter when he was pushed repeatedly off his log seat and unable to lift himself back up.
When up in Algonquin, separated, for the most part, from civil society, it feels, surprisingly, quite home-like and familiar being on good shield land; pines, maples, jutting gray rock and deep glacial lakes. Things campers know so well.
That night, bellies full, after some hot chocolate, the boys sat around the fire talking amongst themselves, only their silhouettes visible. We the leaders sat nearby on a tarp speaking too. In these technology depraved conditions we were forced to communicate directly with each other, to tell stories, be each others entertainment and above all listen. The fire acted as a buffer allowing for us to behave in ways we wouldn’t other wise; to dance, yell, sing and act insane for the sake of our own sanity. Fire breathes intimacy.
Each night we packed all our food and garbage into yellow and green dry sacs, water-tight bags, and put them in a canoe to be anchored off shore at a depth of six feet or more, so the bears couldn’t get it. Sometime in the night I awoke to one of the boys, called Joking Otter, claiming a little too convincingly, the he had seen a bear down by the water. He garnered a response from SM, one of mocking inquiry. He quieted down afterwards. Still, there was a moment where I asked my self “Do I have to get up and face a bear in my underwear?”
As per usual YB was up early the next morning. SM heard YB moving about from his tent and in describing one action gave the man his name, “ you yawn like a bear yells.” We paddled six hours that day, against the wind. When we arrived at the campsite we were lobster red. Like always we were hungry and like always, we needed to make a fire. The boys moved slowly in their wood gathering until Yawning Bear made the hollow threat “no food.” We had a wood surplus after that. Kraft dinner with hot dogs was followed by mud fights and canoe battles in the shallow of our cove. Dinner, fire, sleep.
We woke to grey skies and a strong headwind. We felt a storm brewing so we packed up fast, eager to leave. The mood was light and we sang and pounded our paddle horizontally against our canoes, practicing intimidation techniques to use on other tribes. First it spit, then it showered and finally it poured. The lake surface was rough with droplet impacts, sounding akin to a distant highway. Then we saw it, the lightning. Nothing too intense, just sheet, and it wasn’t very close. But we were in the middle of a lake. Dreaming Lion and I started a sprint to the shore, encouraging others to follow, trying to instill a sense of urgency with both our voices and our actions.
Lightning flashed again, this time over our heads, the clap keeping time with the light. If there was any doubt in the boy’s minds as to whether the situation was serious before, they knew now. The one time invalid canoeists were now streaking across the water driven by the mortal incentive. We gathered at the side of the lake and huddled. Yawning Bear yelled. We were to stay close to the side of the lake, move quickly and get off the water if the storm became more violent. After some island-shore hop scotch, we neared our portage wet but not cooked.
On one of our three returning portages, we dragged our canoes up the “impossible river” instead of going around. Relegated to the back and rain free by the time we reached the snaking river, DL and I decided we would create a race, only informing the others of it as we passed them. Needless to say, we won.
When we arrived at the outfitters there was no time to relish the godly feat we had just completed. We were immediately ordered by our bus driver to get our things on the bus and change out of our wet clothing on the bus too, or he would be late for his next pick-up, big deal.
Dry clothing on, we wolfed down some left over food, cookies and granola bars, and all fell asleep, dreaming of the steak dinners waiting for us.
Adolescent boys camping (3)