The car pulled to the shoulder and the car behind us pulled in too. My grandfather opened the car door and stepped out to greet a stag that was calmly standing by the side of the road. He had ignored our sudden arrival and seemed to welcome visitors.
At the time I was eleven. My family, everyone from my younger brother to my maternal grandparents were beginning a vacation. Dad’s new Chevrolet, a pinky-beige, 1958 Biscayne, pulled Grandpa’s boat, and the old Studebaker, pulled the turquoise and white, 20 foot house trailer that my grandfather had built over the winter. It was my first visit to Algonquin Park, an iconic piece of wilderness north of the hustle and bustle of Toronto, the 401 and the Great Lakes. It has come to be the invisible dividing line between the north and the south in the province of Ontario, Canada.
Earlier that morning we had headed east on Highway 60, the main road that runs more or less, east-west through the Park. As I sat in the back seat, I saw the pristine lakes, campers with red canoes and friendly grazing deer as we whisked by. At Lake of Two Rivers we found our assigned campsite, set up the tent, positioned the trailer and hung an old green tarp over the picnic table. There was no signing up on line months in advance. My Dad just asked at the gate and was given a site number.
Mom and my grandmother put together supper while, the rest of us headed off to find wood for the camp fire. The fire wood was free. We found it stacked across the highway from the campground to the right of the ice house. I remember the sawdust covered blocks of ice that seemed to be returning to the earth as I stood there. It was July. It was hot. A half hour later, we tromped towards our fire pit with arm loads of kindling and one rather large Jack Pine log carried by Dad and my brother, Terry. Grandpa’s theory was to get the blaze going and then just keep shoving the log into the pit. It seemed easier somehow.
I have no idea what we had for supper that night, but I am sure it was belly warming and came with two desserts. This latter feature was a standard at my grandparents’ house. It seems it was a throwback to the days when Grandpa worked the farm on the 13th in Brock Township and the thrashers had to be fed hearty meals. Whatever the reason, I can’t say that I ever objected. Besides, the mosquitoes and blackflys seemed to be getting their fare share.
After supper, we donned long pants and found our sweaters before slathering on another layer of bug spray. On mass we headed over to the amphitheatre where the Park Rangers regaled us with stories of the wild and we watched ” Black Spruce Bog” and the story of the “ Yellow Bellied Sapsucker” on the outdoor screen. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the numbers flash on the screen as the film counted down to the main attraction. It all made a lasting impression.
All of this happened upwards of sixty years ago. I can’t say for sure, but I believe that this early introduction to the Canadian wilderness along with other family camping experiences were the foundation for many of my life journeys. The sound of the Whippoorwill, the sight of loons, the slap of a beaver tail, I stood in awe of those things then and still do.
The sirens of the wild called my name once again, a few weeks back. A good friend from my photography club was planning on joining a three day paddle and moose shoot in early June in Algonquin. Would I be interested? While the notion percolated in my head, I scrounged around in the bottom of my clothes closet for my camping gear. How can something the size of a backpack or a sleeping bag fail to be obvious? I persevered eventually surfacing with the essentials, including school bus yellow dry bags and my trusty thermarest. I unrolled it, waited and laid down. Humm…..not really a feather bed. This camping thing was all coming back.
Before the week was over, I had signed on with Voyageur Quest (www.voyageurquest.com) for an adventure into Craig Lake on the northwestern side of Algonquin Provincial Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to get the quintessential photo of a moose that I had been yearning for. You know the one … a moose with a full rack strung with a bunch of dripping lily pads that hang down to its knees as it stands at the edge of a pond slurping some tender morsel out of the swamp waters.
There were several weeks between signing up and going and I had packed and unpacked for days. My spare bedroom was a wreck. One would think I was going to be away in the wilderness for weeks, maybe even months. In the end, I convinced myself that I needed it all. It might be hot. It might be cold. It could rain. It might be hot enough to swim. Who knew? And of course there was appropriate supplies of pain relievers, sunscreens, mosquito repellents, and prescription medications not to mention my creature comforts like a polar sleeping bag and and small pillow. As I starred at the pile, it seemed a lot larger than ones I recalled from my earlier canoe trips. Maybe I have just lost the knack of packing? Or maybe it was just that I didn’t need, extra glasses, batteries for hearing aids etc, etc., back then. This was also my first canoe trip with all my SLR camera gear so tack on another twenty pounds of essential stuff.
Departure day arrived. It was a Saturday afternoon. I put the last of my bags in the back of the car and prayed that a canoe could bear the weight of all my gear. It crossed my mind that I would have to ask for a freighter canoe, like the ones used by the fur traders. You can find a picture of one in any Canadian history book. They were the secret to how the west was won in Canada….but I digress.
I closed the trunk, locked the door of the house and headed north.