Choppy Waters (Part 2)


The Keewatin Cap

Third Week

Choppy slept outside under the night sky as usual and was already up at seven when Redbeard had a pee. He was looking like he was ready to go. Ever since the visit to Keewatin – his alma mater – he had been full of get-up-and-go but Redbeard, who was still sleepy, went back to sleep until nine. Even Schopenhauer was still tired and stayed in the tent sleeping at his side.

The fire Choppy started at seven was out by the time they had awakened for the day. But the pot of tea was heated nicely by the coals.

Exploring the campsite Choppy and Schopenhauer discovered they were on an island with to other campsites connected by trails.

“Old Indian camp,” he said. “These trails are old.” They went to all of them after they had drank tea and coffee and had a morning smoke. Choppy was enthusiastic at the great rhythm they had had last night and wanted to press on over the portage at Sharp Rock Inlet to the gateway of Diamond Lake, and then down Diamond aiming for the small portage into Lady Evelyn Lake. If they could sustain a good pace they might be able to reach the main body of the lake by nightfall. It was a tall order but Redbeard, as Choppy was finding out, was not the kind of man who was likely to say no, so a paddle and portage from Temagami to Lady Evelyn Provincial Park was in the cards.

As they packed camp the beaver came back, stopped in front of the rock shore, looked at them for a moment and then slapped its tail against the flat surface as it dove into the water and disappeared.

“Did you see a lot of the beaver last night?” Choppy shook his head.

“Only heard them working.” So he did sleep under the stars then.

“Probably doing their chores.”

On the water with the sun overhead, they left camp at noon and were only ten minutes on the lake before the portage. Redbeard could see Diamond Lake down the portage trail at the end of the inlet. At first he thought it would be an easy portage because he could see the water on the other side but after the first load he was thankful they didn’t attempt it last night. It was an old channel that had been closed because of an old logging road so the terrain was all sharp rock. Jumping from jagged rock to jagged rock with 150 pounds on his back in the middle of night over two football fields’ worth of footwork would have been foolish. But they did the portage in three loads each and had a pipe on an old broken-down dock on Diamond Lake, dangling their feet in the water.

“If the wind holds we should be able to cross it.”

Using a tumpline with the heaviest pack was new to Redbeard, but it proved effective in the doing. The leather strap around the forehead took most of the weight because it was too heavy for the shoulders only. Leaning slightly forward, some of the weight could be shifted more that eased the stress of the leather against his hairline. If the trail had been smooth, the Sharp Rock portage would have been easier; jumping between the sharp rocks with the gear on his back was the challenge.

Still there was no wind, with occasional light breezes from the north, so their speed was constant. They entered Diamond Lake down a narrow southeastern part, past many beaver lodges that lined the rocky shores. On the starboard side they paddled past a long oasis of birch trees that stretched for as far as the eye could see. And since Redbeard favored birch the most of all trees, he kept his eyes gazing on end rows of the white tree. In his birch-tree fervor he could sense a similarity between birch and palm trees – distant cousins perhaps. Regardless, it was a place he wanted to stay in. Diamond Lake was different from the majestic Temagami, smaller but very friendly shores that seemed to promise a labyrinth of old Native hunting trails.

They stopped for a pipe beside another beaver lodge.

“According to my map, the portage is at the end of this bay.”

“Many chains?”

“Say it‘s 12 chains, or 240 feet. We’ll see when we get there. The water’s high this year.”

Back on the water they followed the sounds of loons north where they reached a very narrow part where the water hit rocks and fell into Lady Evelyn Lake.

“Do you think we can make it?” Redbeard didn’t know what he was thinking. The bottleneck was about 15 feet across and there were rocks that ran right along the neck. They edged closer and then Choppy stood up in the stern and paddled like he was a guide in a Venice canal.

“Ease up.” Redbeard stopped paddling and steered them to the smooth rock at the side. “Let’s get out and see what the deal is.”

They pulled the canoe partially onto the rock and surveyed the narrows. Choppy went right out onto some of the exposed rocks and put his hands on his hips, and Redbeard started to laugh. The dog was drawn into the shallow waters but was caught in the swift current and was nearly swooped down into Lady Evelyn. Schopenhauer made it to shore and shook off the water.

“She’s a pretty durable doggie that one,” said Choppy. Durable indeed.

“I think I can take it,” Choppy surmised. “Easier with one.” Redbeard nodded and was ready to witness the tipping and destruction of the vessel. Choppy pulled out and paddled Venetian style standing up. When the bow caught the swift current it pulled him around and he lost his balance. He jumped out of the canoe instead of taking the entire load with him, and landed on his feet. He grabbed hold of the gunnels at the stern and guided it to the right side of the narrows and then at the last second re-angled the canoe as it was swept down the once great waterfall. Choppy followed it over to the rocks and into the deep eddies, guiding it calmly to the worn smooth Canadian Shield.

“Nice one.”

“That just saved about an hour’s worth of portaging 20 feet.” He wiped his forehead and then wrung out his shorts.

“What do you call that kind of portage?”

“That’s a lift-over.”

“Well it was something. Well done.” They sat on the rock and had a pipe before dipping their toes in Lady Evelyn Lake.

“Before the dam this was a waterfall with a 20-foot drop.”

“Come this way with Keewatin?”

“Yeah, but never when it’s been this high.”

“So you’re never executed a lift-over here before?” He thought for a moment.

“No, I don’t believe I have, not here.” He wasn’t sure what it was that crossed Choppy’s face just then, but the frown that had narrowed his brow since their recent Keewatin visit seemed to relax.

He smoked his pipe and began singing some old canoeing song.

Out on the water, Lady Evelyn was dramatic. The shorelines were high with mature trees that seemed to come at you from every angle. It was a maze of small islands hemmed in by two very high shores. With his arms and legs waning in strength, and with the size of the surrounding trees, the canoe felt for Redbeard like it was moving slowly. Sluggishly. Choppy became disoriented and took a wrong turn that took them into a neat swampy area where there were several Kingfishers diving for fish. Back on track they paddled north along the long narrows to where finally they found a campsite.

“I don’t like this one. Let’s go to the one at the end of the island.” When they reached the site at the northern tip of the island it was worth the extra effort. It was an island designed to be a campsite by the Gitchee Manitou Himself.

Redbeard had come to know many of Choppy Waters’ idiosyncrasies during the trip but he had never felt alarm – until now. Prevalent today was a new insistence to preserve every grain of food at whatever the cost. Redbeard had noticed this thriftiness before but now it was becoming more pronounced. It was a hoarding instinct that was manifesting itself. Redbeard had hardly had two meals a day for two weeks and he was growing lean, but the hunger brought more assertiveness from Redbeard. He was becoming ravenous, and needed more than just a few handfuls of trail mix for sustenance, which seemed like it was now kept under lock and key. In a way, Redbeard’s food was at ransom in the wanegan that was controlled by Choppy Waters with an iron hand.

He could see the wear the trip was having on Choppy. His meager intake of food and his non-stop smoking of his rolled cigarettes from his tobacco tin had had a rather remarkable effect on him. The lines in his face had dried like the bark on a tree wrinkling under the sun. His hands shook more than they had when they had started the journey, and his coughing fits hit him more frequently. And because he had insisted on sleeping outside without his tent, he hadn’t been getting the same quality sleep as Redbeard, who had been sleeping deeply, safely protected in his two-man tent. He even had a mesh window on his ceiling so he could stare at the stars at night but without the sand flies and no-see-ums that kept Choppy waking up throughout the night. The miles on the water and the hardships to his body, including the pain of his ‘canoe shoulder’ all conspired to slow him down. Yet he pressed on at the cost to his flesh and mental balance. The man seemed to live on spices alone and he didn’t get enough good protein in his body.

He was rotting away from the inside.

He remembered Charlie Boyle was student at university who never did his readings and yet was always able to get an ‘A’ on his term papers. He would spend nights at the long table in Wallace Hall into the wee hours of the morning with a thermos of coffee, who never got lost in the half-dozen books spread out and marked up in front of him that had nothing to do with his courses. The young Charlie Boyle was a man who participated in everything from the varsity rugby team to the theatre group. It was only when they were outfitting in Temagami that he learned that Choppy had never graduated with his degree. Redbeard on the other hand, despite his unassuming ways, had graduated from philosophy and gone on to take a master’s degree and publish. But Redbeard had done the schoolwork and had studied the footnotes, put in his time and made his time at university count.

Ironically, in the wilderness on a canoe, what Redbeard learned from those endless hours of reading philosophy at university were still with him, here, in the sound of the water and the overwhelming sense of balance in nature. Redbeard could attune himself to nature and become centered by recalling the wisdom he learned as an undergraduate. Choppy didn’t have that mental apparatus. The titanic, unmovable intellectual foundational was not there. He had not put in the effort to foster and fortify. So in its place was the martial music of Keewatin, its ceremonies in front of the stone chimney and the stage and the hard-won wisdom of his trips to Hudson’s Bay. An ancient education, instruction from weathered men who had seen life from the front row – real explorers in the tradition of les voyageurs of the New World. The problem was that this wasn’t the Hudson’s Bay; it was a summer vacation in Temagami. Yet it was becoming dangerous. At the beginning of the trip Choppy was 160 pounds, ten pounds underweight. He said he hadn’t been eating well since his divorce with Gina. Redbeard weighed in at 190 pounds, 15 pounds overweight. Now, at the nineteenth day mark of the trip Choppy had lost maybe ten pounds and Redbeard had easily dropped 15 pounds.

Choppy even had earned a new crease beside his mouth but his eyes still burned with the intensity of the sun.

Now two days after Keewatin, Choppy was wearing a green Keewatin cap that looked new.

“Ah, Keewatin,” Redbeard said, pointing at his cap.

“Yeah, I just took it out of my bag. Thought I’d wear it.” It was strange because before they left while they were outfitting at John’s, Choppy had spread every item he had on the grass to begin packing the wanegan, but he hadn’t seen this new Keewatin cap. Chances were that Choppy had found it at the camp and assumed ownership of it. But, to Redbeard, there was something unholy about it. How could he wear stolen goods, especially since they had been trespassing? Redbeard thought the firewood was enough, but they could have been charged with theft, particularly since Choppy had been declared persona non grata at Keewatin for life and stripped of his membership.

If they had been caught with the cap, Redbeard could have been charged with theft since they were there together.

Choppy’s name hung in shame after the debacle in 2001 when he abandoned his group for a bag of weed. His life seemed full of these fissures. Even his wedding to his wife Gina shared the same flaw. They went to city hall to marry but couldn’t find two witnesses as it was near closing time. They pronounced themselves married after knowing each other for 11 days and went out to celebrate. They maintained the lie of being a married couple for six years until she finally left him, leaving him shattered, and him leaving her with an immense credit card debt.

He understood and appreciated that his return to Keewatin was an attempt to have closure with the camp and the authorities. He figured Choppy was hoping the director was there attending to last-minute details about the closing of the camp for winter so he could ask forgiveness. There had to be closure with the camp before he could move on. The trauma was perhaps more profound and personal than Redbeard had realized, but how could there be true peace and honor when a theft like this occurred?

How pure was the man?

The question now for Redbeard was how far would this man go? What would he do to maximize his time in the bush at the expense of his health and to Redbeard’s health? And Schopenhauer’s?

How strong was his passion for the canoeing life and how sincere was his disdain of returning to his city life?

“It looks like we have lots of food to last us,” said Redbeard, knowing Choppy was thinking about the food situation.

“We’re going to be tight. The reunion is in two weeks and it lasts four days and there will be a trip after that to return to Temagami, and we may have to outfit other boats paddling back with us.”

“Outfit other boats?” Redbeard opened the trail mix and ate a handful, his stomach pinned to his backbone, rumbling.

“So that’s three more weeks.”

“Three weeks!” He remembered when Choppy had first said: ‘It would be nice if we could make it to the blockade reunion on the 17th. Then it was ‘Let’s go to Wakimika Lake for the reunion but we don’t have to stay for four days.’ Now their two-week mid-August canoe trip was going to be extending their food supply into October? Redbeard became aware of how far he and Schopenhauer were from civilization at that moment.


The Vibe of the Wild

Third Week

Camped out on Lady Evelyn Lake with Maple Mountain on the horizon two-day paddle away, they were closing in on Bobby Too Good’s camp at the foot of the mountain. A group of over 40 loons casually paddled by their campsite, their dark heads against the pure white neck made for a memorable sight. A loon call truly is a beautiful experience during the quiet nights, especially when there was another loon call way down the chain of lakes. Redbeard was in the heart of the communication network of loons as they called each other from across the waters throughout the water spider of Lake Temagami. This country was dominated by loons. They swam and dove among groups of a dozen or more and communicate through short and long loon calls. Lying on his sleeping mat he could always hear a distant loon that seemed to come from beyond the horizon.

Choppy stripped naked and – ever the woodsman – dove off the rock into the lake causing the group of loons to begin a ripple of alarmist noises.

But just as quickly faded away when he climbed out of the water.

Choppy was in a foul mood all day so there wasn’t much talking. And there wasn’t much paddling on Choppy’s part either.

Redbeard tried to satisfy his hunger with a cheese sandwich he ate with Choppy Waters on the rock peninsula drinking tea and coffee all day discussing a night paddle. Redbeard and Schopenhauer explored the old Indian trails that reached far down the shores through the forest that held a smorgasbord of wildlife. This was moose country but with Schopenhauer with him, he felt safe. There were deer and foxes, porcupines and raccoons, and the countless smaller mammals that shuffled in the underbrush. The sun was hot despite the cool breeze that kept the bugs away so that the wilderness was theirs to explore. Small spruce pushed upwards from under the dominant white pines and patches of red pine that emitted their perfume scent giving the oxygen-rich air allure. Redbeard followed Schopenhauer. Tree roots crisscrossed the pine needle, foot-wide trail through the broken pieces of wood and scattered pinecones. Past the birch and jack pine and Maple and being brushed by new cedars, Schopenhauer bounced up the rock moving over the bright green moss that felt like a carpet.

Back at the campsite, Choppy had collected all the available firewood as per his guiding instinct and training told him to do. It made Redbeard wonder about the martial discipline taught at Keewatin – the West Point of canoeing schools. It was good to push for excellence but not at the cost of the more subtle aspects of living in nature. Choppy would collect firewood and then lie down whereas Redbeard almost immediately explored, always with a glint in his eye. He took the trails down as far as they would go, check the suitability of different spots to pitch the tent and then value its position relative to the sunset. Choppy would assess a site based on the fire pit and protection from the wind. The fire was everything to Choppy, but for Redbeard it was of secondary importance. He had the mobile propane stove to heat water or fry eggs. One could say he wasn’t as old school as Choppy in his methods.

And he put that down to the old school training he received and taught at Camp Keewatin.

Choppy had been canoeing in Temagami for over 30 years, but during that period the hole in the ozone layer had grown and with it the harmful UV rays. Choppy however, in his stubborn way, had refused to adapt to the now burning effects of the sun. During the last several weeks Choppy had paddled in his shorts and hat, exposing a large amount of skin to the sun. And to hydrate, instead of water he drank coffee. His face wrinkled in dehydration and his cheeks sunken against the bone. His lips were cracked and chapped so Redbeard offered is bubble gum-flavored Chapstick but he said his lips were all right.

In bringing Schopenhauer on the canoe trip there was only one rule for Choppy: don’t feed the dog. Choppy had immediately taken to Schopenhauer, and for days was feeding her in Temagami – something a dog owner would never do to another dog without the permission of its master. He had already asked Choppy to stop feeding her before they had left Temagami.

“It’s the only rule I have,” he had said to his old university friend. He agreed not to but for the next week or so Schopenhauer was still sitting at his arm waiting for food. Redbeard put out the dog food and she wouldn’t touch it. When asked if he was feeding the dog last week he said he wasn’t. A few days later, when Schopenhauer had started to eat again he thanked Choppy for not feeding her, and the very next moment he took the pot of pasta and gave it to her right in front of him. Redbeard took it as a momentary mistake and laughed instead of calling him on it. Then again last night he went to bed and Choppy who always slept close to the fire, stayed with the food. Since Redbeard was the only one feeding her, he knew she would be starving this morning. Sure enough, when he went to eat the leftovers for breakfast, they were gone.

“Did you feed the dog the leftovers last night?” Choppy was on his back on his beloved wool blankets.


“Strange because she hasn’t eaten her dog food.”

“Did you put out the kibbles?”


“Maybe the squirrels ate it.” Redbeard didn’t bother replying because he always poured the dog food back into the bag to prevent squirrels from ransacking.

It irked Redbeard that something so simple was not adhered to and then lied about. How can one have trust with such a man?

Just before they were about to push off, Redbeard tore open a new bag of trail mix. With no coffee or breakfast, he was starving. He filled Choppy’s cup with some but instead of taking five minutes to eat it he brought it into the canoe. The first pipe was a long one across open waters and Choppy Waters didn’t paddle. Every ten or so feeble half strokes he would leave his paddle dangling in the water, slowing the boat, eating the trail mix. He thought it may go on for a few minutes but it went on for the entire pipe. The canoe felt sluggish in the water, driven only by Redbeard’s paddle. Even when he had two hands on the paddle there was no effort. Choppy had mentioned that he didn’t care for Lady Evelyn because of the unpredictability of the winds here, but Redbeard figured it had something to do with his trip here with Gina. Perhaps it was conjuring up memories.

Redbeard, stoic and unruffled, kept paddling and soon Choppy had a rhythm albeit with a weak pull. Choppy Waters stayed with the half volley, spending his time steering because Redbeard was more than 80 percent of the power. The first pipe was tough over the open waters, going slowly and out of rhythm. Once they reached the first island and had a pipe, they could see the north point of the south section of the lake where they would go west down the narrows towards Hobart Lake near Maple Mountain. The cold tea and the smoke spurred Redbeard to get off the big waters for the easier narrows, sheltered from the winds. Even Choppy picked it up, likely also feeling the exposure to a sudden north wind devil.

There were a few old cottages in the lake built before the lake was declared a provincial park, so it explained how Bobby Too Good could have a cabin in a provincial park. But they all appeared to be vacant and there was no boat traffic except for a few fishermen from Mowat’s Landing.

They reached the northern point and turned the corner, now away from the temperamental open waters of Lady Evelyn, and moved west along the narrowing channel. There was an island in the middle of the narrows with perfectly flat rock angled at about ten degrees. It was symmetrical looking so Redbeard proposed a pipe. They pulled over on the north side of the island and had a smoke.

“There, someone left something,” said Choppy. He motioned towards the shore where canoes departed from.

“I see it.”

“You want to expand your wardrobe? No?” Redbeard was going to say no but the last jibe made him say yes.

“Sure, I’m in.” They drew in the canoe and Redbeard swung the bow around right to the smooth rock where the piece of clothing was. He reached out with his paddle and scooped the textile on the second attempt. It was a new pullover with a hood made of high-tech warm material.

“Whaddya know, it fits.”

“The world is an open free shop.”

They kept moving west down the glasslike surface past the narrowing corridor of forests, until they hit an elbow. A shallow crossing, they began to see dead trees along the shoreline reminiscent of Cross Lake. However, there was no trimming of the moustache today. The silence and Choppy’s elementary effort were enough for Redbeard to know not to suggest it.

Once the elbow was taken, the water narrowed significantly. On the east side a chain of rock islands spread south for a mile or more, flat with clusters of small trees, all a lighter shade of rock with moss and lichen. It was a dramatic sight, the old, defiant rock, little slivers that were each big enough to be a campsite. On Redbeard’s map it said there were seven campsites in the one island chain. Redbeard wanted to stop but they kept moving. With the only sounds other than Choppy’s splashing, lazy paddling, was Redbeard’s murmuring to his dog, who was showing signs of anxiety beside the dramatic rock.

They hit a river that became very shallow.

“I don’t know if we can get though here,” he said.

“It was an old Indian portage route, but after the dam was built the water may be high enough to get through,” replied Choppy. Immediately Redbeard saw the rocks and grass in the water below them, and then lily pads.

“It’s getting shallow.” The sun reflected off the water’s surface so Redbeard couldn’t clearly see what was coming, but to the port side he could see the bottom only six inches under them. Then, there was a bump. The grinding of the sharp rock tore the red paint off the bottom of the canoe. Redbeard pushed them off. They paddled gently and almost sideways through the shallows, bumping off rocks and skimming over fallen trees. Redbeard glanced down and saw the bottom four inches down.

“It’s really shallow, man.” He spotted an oncoming rock and did the reverse draw to save injury to the bow. Choppy only grunted. Redbeard started to laugh. Why not paddle another ten minutes and go around the island and save the canoe? For Redbeard it was a no-brainer but it was Choppy’s instinct to go for it to the end.

Choppy was standing up in the stern Venetian style, guiding the boat with a bird’s eye view. Another serious hit shook the canoe and then pushed it to the side. Choppy’s weight nearly followed it over the side. Redbeard leaned to the starboard for a second or two, righted it, and then used his paddle and momentum and pushed them off the rock.

“It’s not looking good up here,” he finally had to say.

“Yeah, it looks too shallow. Let’s turn around.”

Going back was just as hairy. Twice Redbeard was able to dodge two dangerous rocks, saving the canoe from worse damage.

They went around the island and through a shallow neck with rocks and came out on Sucker Gut Lake. It was different here. The trees were more numerous and with Maple Mountain so close in the west, it felt small and barren. Marshes and grasses dotted some of the bays and the forest edged to the lip of the water. They came to an island between the two parts of Sucker Gut Lake where there was a rocky narrow and a small campsite on the island.

There they had a pipe.

“We go down the creek to near Hobart Lake. Keep your eyes open for a campsite and a cabin.”

At the campsite nestled in the northeast corner of the lake at the foot of Maple Mountain, Choppy camped out on the rock by the canoe beside the water so he could hear and see in the waning sun and watch the Canada Geese flying south in huge formations over the water. That was when Choppy mentioned casually that the reunion was not taking place until September 21st and that he hoped the food would last until a week after that. When he said it a creeping sensation went down Redbeard’s spine. The man was mad.

He went on talking as if Redbeard hadn’t noticed the lie.

“It was my understanding that the reunion was on the 17th?”

“No, it’s the 21st.” For the first time he honestly felt Choppy’s lying was a threat to his safety. And to Schopenhauer’s. The forest was his make believe world and his paradise. He didn’t want to return to the city. Choppy intended on remaining up here until he was half-starved and sick. Their two-week trip was now going to be over six weeks.

Redbeard had just eaten a Chinese, readymade noodle soup, peanut butter on ten crackers and a handful of trail mix, but had just paddled 20km on the water. Something was out of whack. This was an unsustainable situation. And the danger signs were now clear to him.

“You can always fly back,” said Choppy, as if reading his thoughts. “From the reunion. Lots of people will be flying out. There might be space.”

“I’m not going to fly out,” he replied. “My car is in Temagami.” A man who tells lies can never be sure footed. Or trusted. Or relied on. This was the fundamental difference between them. And something in Redbeard’s heart changed. Choppy was no longer a canoe companion. Since they were four day’s paddling away from civilization, he was now a possible threat to his life. The sun had buried itself in Redbeard’s heart; he spoke in the tone of fire. His voice was strong like the giiwedin – the north wind – cool as ice that magnified the sun to make fire.

“Okay then,” was all Redbeard could say. He feared provoking this unstable and unpredictable man.

Choppy Waters poked the fire at his feet. His skin was like brown leather, like a well-used saddle hide, with creases like a seasoned baseball mitt. When he spoke he looked out to the water with his arm outstretched from under his Black Watch tartan Pendleton shirt, holding a rolled cigarette, fingers stained with nicotine. He was wearing his pilfered Keewatin cap. Perhaps something came out when that cap was on; perhaps a dormant panther awakened and his sharpened instincts enlivened and the chief struggle within him became how long could he stay in the wilderness and feed off the vibe of the wild, with the loons and the beavers and the Kingfishers. Even today, at the sight of his beloved Kingfishers, he was unable to pull his weight in the canoe – a breach of rowing etiquette if there ever was one.

Choppy had a locker at a steam bath to go back to but Redbeard had a home, a girlfriend and bills to return to. And he had a new tenant moving into to his rental property that had to be dealt with, such as getting the deposit and giving the tenant their keys. He had already been out for a month rather than the planned two weeks, but something in Redbeard – something stubborn like Scotland – wanted to play Choppy’s game, take his irrationality as rational, and keep in line with the challenge to see how far it would go.

How far could Choppy push him?

“Let’s look for Bobby Too Good’s cabin tomorrow and climb the mountain while we’re here,” said Choppy. The squawking of Canadian Geese captured Choppy’s attention as another massive swarm flew in a long arrow, a thousand birds long on both lines. They all followed the first bird south.

“Feels like the north winds are coming,” he said.

“Winter is coming. The geese are telling us that,” said Choppy. “Not in five days from now, but today. Maybe some bad weather two days hence.” He tipped his Keewatin cap and spat in the water.

“I’m hoping someone at the reunion can re-outfit us a bit more so we have more supplies.”

“I guess we’re going to have to wait and see.”

Redbeard patted his canine companion Schopenhauer as she lay beside him at the campfire, the chill in the air now crisp and demanding. Then he shivered, the dog now asleep warm beside the fire. He needed another layer of clothing – perhaps the new hoody he found on the island today?

“I’m going to sit here and watch the ducks,” Choppy said when Redbeard was leaving to his tent for the night, choosing not to wake the dog. The summer was ending and the mortal winter winds were afoot.


Place Where the Soul Spirit Dwells
Fourth Week

In the morning Choppy was still there. He was again in a foul mood. Redbeard filled his cup with last night’s tea from the cold teapot and sat down beside him on the rock. The water was perfectly still.

“Get any firewood last night?” He had heard Choppy slip out under the moonlight some night during the night when he was in his tent. He had heard him scrounging along the shoreline.


“Yeah, last night. Didn’t you go out for some firewood?”

“No, I just went out for a paddle.” It was then that it dawned on Redbeard.

“You didn’t take my dog did you?” He couldn’t have.

“Yes, Schopenhauer came along.”

“What? You took my dog out in the canoe last night?”


“No, please don’t take my dog anywhere without my permission.”


“Because I prefer that you don’t. She’s my dog. She’s part of my family. You wouldn’t take someone’s child out on a night canoe ride at night would you? No, don’t take my dog without me knowing.”


“I would prefer if you would not take my dog. Is that clear?” Choppy stood up with his coffee cup in one hand and raised his other hand high in the air.

“Yes sir!” He stormed back to the fire pit.

“In fact, stay away from my dog.” There was a pause.

Yes sir!” Redbeard was still sore about the lies and half-truths that were exposed last night. His promise – his word – was rice paper. This dishonesty bothered Redbeard but it also bothered Choppy, who was somehow trying to put the blame of the lie on him.

“All right, thank you.” He sipped his tea and felt better. Choppy had been feeding the dog, man handling her and generally being overly affectionate to Schopenhauer. He was treating her as his dog. All dog owners knew that there was a fine line between being polite and affectionate to a friend’s dog, and being downright lovey-dovey, as if trying to lure the dog away from its master, or to drive a wedge between them. This offside, as Redbeard saw it, had been going on since the first day in Temagami. He thought it would be good for Choppy to have a friend and an outlet to be silly with to help heal him of his afflictions, but he had pushed it too far out of bounds for too long. Calling him on it was necessary, like a referee calling a penalty. It felt right. Redbeard had, after almost a month on the water, removed the thorn in his paw. He felt immediately better as he patted Schopenhauer, who seemed sheepish.

“Yes sir!” Choppy stewed by the unlit fire.

“Yes, you can call me sir.” He smiled at the playfulness in his voice.

“What’s your problem?”

“What’s your problem, man?” Redbeard’s voice was stronger. He had chosen to be happy-go-lucky but being lied to, being toyed with out on the water, and the offside with the dog made him realize he had to speak up or be at risk of more of this disrespectful hierarchical behavior. He had to challenge his alpha male role in the group of two. Choppy was really dropping the ball and being cavalier about it. Redbeard wasn’t impressed; Choppy was acting like an 11 year old kid. His maturity had never evolved, so Redbeard would now regard him like a child. A man-baby.

“Is this some sort of challenge?” Choppy’s voice was ugly. Red flag danger. Choppy was capable of evil. And he was at Choppy’s mercy being so far in the bush and far away from the police and good people.

“Relax man, everything’s groovy. Just wanted to say my piece about the dog.” He must have picked Schopenhauer up and placed her in his canoe. Bastard.

Choppy hopped up on the rock beside Redbeard as he was sipping his tea, and faced him square on. Choppy wanted to make a big thing out of it but Redbeard didn’t take the bait because he was painfully aware of the danger he was in.

“Take it easy Archimedes.” Hearing that word quieted Choppy. He knew he wasn’t going to get a rise out of Redbeard. So they left for the mountain with Choppy quiet and pouting, but not Redbeard. He had the ability to phase out the turbulence and enjoy his surroundings. He loved the paddle. Beside the camp was a creek that was grassy, leaving only a narrow gap for canoes and kayaks. He could see the soft bottom and pancake rocks. The air was thick with life: frogs, insects, beavers, otters, turtles, water spiders and more. From the bow he did a quick draw stroke to save a collision with a boulder an inch below the surface. Around a corner and past a beaver lodge, they skimmed over the branches of a fallen tree until they came to a beaver dam. Choppy hit two or three hard strokes and landed right on top of it, leaving Redbeard to leap out on the dam and usher the canoe over. Then he hopped in the middle of the canoe and walked down to the bow to resume paddling. The beaver dam was ineffective so the water levels were the same but the sticks and branches still obstructed the river road. But the next beaver dam they hit was a construction that worked. The water level in Tupper Lake was two feet higher. For this one they only kissed the dam, enough for Redbeard to step onto the dam, pull the canoe up and over, and then walk across the top of the beaver dam and hop in the canoe.

Tupper Lake was eerie. Almost every corner was grassy and the water murky but the mountain was gigantic. The fire tower at the top of the mountain looked too far to walk to, with a large forest between the lake and the top of the massive rock face. Water lilies and long grass slowed them. It was quiet. Choppy wouldn’t talk. He was in a snit.

When they found the trail up Maple Mountain, there was another canoe pulled up on land. The place seemed so far removed from anywhere that it was a surprise for Redbeard.

“Ah, another canoe.” Choppy didn’t say a word for the entire hour and a half climb. All efforts and questions were ignored by Choppy. He took his snits very seriously. An Olympic snit – childlike and determined. It wasn’t until they reached the top that his tense face changed.

The view really was breathtaking. Lakes and forest and sky as far as the eye could see with no signs of mankind whatsoever. The local Temagami call it Ghost Mountain; it is a place to have a vision quest. Young men used it to fast and seek their totem spirits on this summit.

Once replenished with water, Redbeard found Choppy climbing the fire tower. He was halfway up.

“Nice one. You’re about halfway.” At first Redbeard didn’t even consider climbing the 100 feet up a flimsy metal tower on top of the world’s oldest 2000-foot mountain of pure granite, but after a smoke and some tea, he threw caution to the wind and rose to Choppy’s unsaid challenge. He gripped the metal rungs and started climbing, telling Schopenhauer to stay.

Redbeard prided himself on having very few fears, but the most severe of his fears was of heights. Focusing on his hands on the steel girders, he lifted one foot at a time, keeping the same repetition of movement like paddling. Slowly, Redbeard ascended the ladder in the gusting winds until he reached the wooden box at the pinnacle. Like a dog house perched on top of a long metal stick.

“I can’t believe you made it,” said Choppy, now out of his pout. “You’re conquering your fears. Right on. Here, this is for you.” He poured some hot coffee with cinnamon from his thermos. It tasted like a song on his tongue, as he reached for something to hold onto.

Redbeard didn’t see an ‘Archie Belaney’ carved into the wood up in the tower since it was built in 1931, but the feeling that he was up here to scout and to get a bird’s eye view, he could feel. It had a history this mountaintop. Like Machu Pichu, it was the apex of the world’s oldest mountain range, some two billion years old. The Anishinabek call it Chee-bay-shing, or the ‘place where the soul spirit dwells.’ From the summit one could see the lakes that fed Georgian Bay, Hudson’s Bay and the mighty St. Lawrence River. It was its own continental divide of Ontario and perhaps the world’s oldest rock.

Maple Mountain embraced the sky with cold dignity. They could see the lakes and the connecting tissue that weaved through the green forests and worn mountain ridges, and the labyrinth of river roads that made Temagami one of the canoeing capitals of the world. Nothing manmade could be seen as far as the eye could see. So vast was this expanse of land, so far away from any roads or towns, it was its own separate world interlinked with waterways and old portage trails in use for thousands of years, with campsites worn with history. Redbeard could sense the spirits that loomed over the expanse of trees, and even sense the lives lost in the Temagami waters over the centuries. A murder of crows encircled something below the ridge, flying around squawking at an animal about to be eaten, then an osprey appeared and scattered the crows away from the ridge. The southern tip of the rocky edge jutted out like a peninsula rising above a sea of pine growth, like a place of offering and sacrifice, a rock-worn pew to kneel before the power of the sun.


The Golden Staircase

Fourth Week

The European wonders why the Native Americans lived the way they did in the forests balanced with nature, but it was only when the European lived in the Canadian forests can they began to understand why.

There was so much abundance here, food and fuel, and the raw materials for tools and abodes. There were fewer people living in North America than in Europe, so with less people and such natural abundance, there was very little need to build refrigerators or cars or airplanes. They had their own answers to the challenges of such a life immersed in the wilderness. They had ground willow bark for pain, which became aspirin to the world. They had tobacco, which is now in all corners of the world. They had canoes and toboggans and snowshoes; they had moccasins and deerskin leggings and leather shirts; they had bows and arrows and tomahawks and war clubs; they had sweat lodges and council of chiefs and longhouses; and they had humor and morality and deep spiritual beliefs. Their knowledge of plants and wild game was encyclopedic in comparison with the average European. Their physical fitness, born from their active way of life, enhanced their lives, freeing them from injury and disease, and freeing the mind for music and painting and crafts. There were numerous descriptions of the Natives that the Europeans encountered when reaching the shores of North America as physically superior to the white man – their height and strength and ruddy complexion contrasted sharply with the weak and sickly Europeans. With so much wild game to hunt all around them and life-giving plants, there was no reason for agriculture. They were like the Vikings of the New World: hardy, self-sufficient, self-reliant doers, who had the abilities to hunt, make war, sing and survive. Both valued bravery in battle and an afterlife among their brethren and family. Both had a distinct style through their dress and weaponry and vessel, but both were deadly serious about survival, protecting their family and conducting trade. Huron traders used to canoe 12000km from Trois Rivieres east of Montreal to Midland in Georgian Bay in 30 days. That’s an average of 30km a day including the portages and trade goods they had bartered with the French for furs. With their exploits as high caliber as the Vikings, only by living in the environment of the Anishinabek could the European have some idea of the peace and tranquility that went hand and hand with the way they lived. And Grey Owl was the classic example of this. He had seen the magic of this life balanced in nature and he had adopted it as his own. That was the message that was lost when people today spoke of Grey Owl.

They only remember his lie.

These were Redbeard’s thoughts on the way back from the mountain.

They cruised around the small Tupper Lake and found a cabin at the mouth of the creek just south of the campsite, but the cabin was closed.

Back at the campsite Choppy sat beside the food and smoked. He was quiet again. Redbeard sat quietly and tried to ignore his hunger, his stomach sticking to his backbone. But it was around this time that Redbeard realized that Choppy, who had spoken of his ‘condition’ and ‘disorder’ numerous times, was likely unaware of his own increasing insanity. His hoarding of the food and insistence they remain in the wild as long as they could, scared him because reason had left his mind. There in the dark corner of Hobart Lake, Redbeard was caught with this schizoid man four or five days from civilization. After climbing the mountain all day and the paddling, Redbeard managed to extract a Chinese noodle soup and some trail mix. He began to fear for his health due to the lack of protein and calories but chose to endure the hunger in fear of upsetting Choppy and being stranded days from the nearest road or telephone. He wanted to make it back to Temagami without rocking the boat.

He had no idea Choppy’s illness would worsen during his self-imposed starvation and being outside all day in the hot sun.

Redbeard brought up his need to get to a telephone before the 15th.

“Let’s go south to the waterfalls first,” replied Choppy. “We’ll get there before the 21st.” The dire importance of his business call didn’t appear to register on Choppy’s mind. So instead of going to Alex’s on Obabika Lake to make the call they were now traveling south towards a waterfall way off course.

And this piece was accompanied by two long portages.

“You’ll like the Golden Staircase,” Choppy Waters assured him. “There’s a great campsite.” Redbeard was always open to seeing something majestic in nature so he agreed on the route south to Chris Willis Lake through a very long, narrow and shallow creek. It was mostly all grass but for the canoeing passage, at some points as narrow as 12 feet. There were no rocks – only grass and fallen logs. His paddle blade was virtually horizontal in the water because of the six inches of water. Several times Redbeard wanted to say they weren’t going to make it but somehow they maneuvered past the logs and the patches of earth that winked at the surface and rubbed against their underbelly. Redbeard was busy at the bow with Schopenhauer watching it all sitting between his legs. Several quick draws to both wings were required but they managed to sneak through the few kilometers of the grassy creek. Then, right at the end of the creek, they hit a log and lodged on it. They both pushed off with their paddles but at one point the vessel was at a tipping angle. They held it and then delicately pushed off the log into Chris Willis Lake.

There was a party of five fishing on the lake. As a fly-in fishing lake, they had three boats and a cabin and the entire lake to themselves where northern pike were biting. They watched one of them real in a huge fish as he was talking to Choppy and Redbeard when they passed in the middle of the lake.

“This one’s giving a fight,” said the fisherman reeling in the fish. They stopped paddling once level with the boat and saw the pike that had to be two feet in length.

“This is my first fish,” he said smiling at them in the canoe.

“Nice one,” said Redbeard. The fisherman nodded and instead of pulling up the fish into the boat he pulled the fish back and forth in front of him, allowing the fish to break free and swim to freedom.

The look on the fisherman’s face was terrible to see.

“I don’t have a net,” he said, trying to hide his disappointment.

“Ah, well, we’ll tell the boys down the lake that you caught one,” said Choppy.

“Okay. Tell them I caught a two-footer.” Choppy laughed and they started paddling south for the portage to the North Channel of Lady Evelyn River. A vertical rock face lined the west shore across from the fishermen’s cabin, all part of the package deal including the fly-in. But it was the end of the lake that was the gem. Eskers stuck out like fingers from the south shore with prehistoric skin in the form of mosses and lichens and crooked jack pines. The rock was as old as rock could be.

“Let’s stop for a pipe,’ he suggested.

“Just as I was thinking.” Choppy steered them to a soft docking above the slippery rock. Just then the other fishing party came over in their boat with rods in the water.

“Your buddy caught one up there,” said Redbeard. “About a two-footer.”

“But it got away,” added Choppy.

 “No he didn’t,” one of them said.

“We’re witnesses.”

“Nothing’s biting here.” They both looked dejected. “Been out long?”

“About three or four weeks. Wait, what day is it?” The fishermen chuckled.

“What day is it? That’s funny!” These guys looked like bankers from New York.

“What is it? Monday?”

It’s Thursday.” Both were still laughing under their breath. There’s Choppy with his emaciated face hidden by a brown and white beard, nearly bald, standing on an esker in cut-off shorts and sunglasses behind a packed canoe. And then there was Redbeard in his straw cowboy hat and his prescription sunglasses and his ripped army shorts and Birkenstocks with a border collie beside him. They looked haggard but were as fit and cut as a man could be.

They were both having a smoke.

“You know where the portage is?”

“No, I’ve been here once before. I can’t remember.”

“It’s to the left, beside an old rusted boat.”

The fishermen left and Redbeard and Choppy hit the portage. It took three loads hauling a total of 350 pounds each nearly half a kilometer up steep inclines and over sharp rocks. Taking one of the heaviest packs on his last load using the tump line, Redbeard discovered firsthand the physical toughness required to execute a full portage totaling three kilometers over every type of terrain. At the end of the portage trail were big rocks so it was with great effort for Redbeard to find his footing and place the tumped, double-bag load. His neck had strained enough and his skull had flexed enough.

A long portage over dicey terrain was not a desirable thing.

Once on the North Channel of Lady Evelyn River, the entire scene changed. The shores were steep and the water narrow with twists and turns until they could hear a waterfall. They docked their canoe and only took a day pack in case someone was there. Even with the daypacks on, the portage trail was all rock climbing up to the waterfall. They walked almost a kilometer to reach the falls. Immediately he could see why Choppy wanted to come here. It was a loud waterfall with lots of rocks and various arms along the top. The water collected in a long narrow pond of the smoothest rock Redbeard had ever seen, worn smooth by falling water over millennia. The campsite had a natural veranda, one with a bed of pine needles and one of green grass. Just because Redbeard needed to make a phone call, Choppy wasn’t going to interrupt his vacation.

Even with the longer and more excruciating portage, the falls were, in their own way, special.

The falls were loud and let off a misty spray that nourished the lush foliage around it. The old Precambrian rock was slowly and constantly berated from the falling waters, taking a hit each day, wearing away the edges to make it like a bathtub at its base. A long narrow esker split the downstream river to another set of falls and on it went to Lady Evelyn Lake to the Montreal River and finally to the Ottawa River where it flowed into the St. Lawrence River and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. It all started here. A private place, good for a couple to spend a night in the mist of sound, splashing water filling your dreams and old Indian trails to explore.

As an attraction for canoers in the region, it was very likely Grey Owl slept here with his wife.

The Golden Staircase carried its roar to the moose living in the woods that had a drinking hole nearby. It was a balm for the spirit, a washing and cleansing of the fetter that collected in the corners of the soul. Purged into a sluice of smooth bedrock, the Ojibwa Water God cleaned and purified, letting the debris fall away into the cleansing waters. The sluice was separated by a long thin esker, the first of a dozen that followed the shore in the middle of the river. Even at the elbow the esker turned. The rocks, the jack pines, the lichen and moss were old. Everything is ancient. Archaic. It was a Hobbit’s world where there was always a path to take and where the water led to different adventures. Everything around the corner was and still, covered in a green hue, branches grey and dead for years, undergrowth fresh and bursting forth with hope. Heraclitus walked big up here. No two trails were the same. Magical Eden. How few had been here to experience this unspoiled place of frozen beauty.

Deep in thought, Redbeard looked at the falls mesmerized. The falling waters and the mist had made him lightheaded.


Scar Tissue

Fourth Week

Choppy, playing the guide for the trip, decided they would stay at the waterfall for the day. Disgruntled at the idea of adding another day to their three-day trip just to reach a telephone, Redbeard went for a walk alone with Schopenhauer. He had three days to get to a phone to make his call. By taking this extra day they were cutting it to the last minute.

Redbeard and Schopenhauer went upstream, above the waterfall and away from Choppy Waters. The trail was steep and rocky but he climbed with grace in his Birkenstock Arizona sandals and a small bag over his shoulder. To portage this with a hundred-pound tumped pack was ludicrous, unless there was a driving cause. They could go upstream and then down the next lake over, but that would take a few extra days and be very tough with all their gear.

The two of them found a rock patio beside a large cedar tree at the tip of the falls out of the mist and with only half the splashing sound. Below the falls where the camp lay, it was tough to hear what the other said. He couldn’t understand a word of what Choppy said at the campsite last night. The sound of the water splashing the rocks was more a lullaby for an exhausted canoer, now paddling in the bush for a month. Sleeping at the falls felt like he was in a cocoon – safe beside the wall of rock and the half-mile portage to get there. So many of the campsites were profoundly quiet, but this one had the roar of Niagara Falls that sounded like rustling poplar trees in a high wind – a wind that wasn’t there.

It was an isolated old place with mature spruce sticking above the cedars and white pines and tamarack, skinny like pointed spears and mostly dried and grey, except for the very tip. There were rapids before the waterfall with too many rocks to get a canoe through, and narrow – ten feet wide at its narrowest – as if put there by God to keep only the truly dedicated through. And it was a bit spooky around the shores. This was old Indian territory; not many white men over the centuries had climbed this north channel of Lady Evelyn River. Portaging skills – and muster – were most definitely required.

Redbeard had smuggled out a bag of trail mix from the cache pack last night and was now devouring it by the handful. The protein from it would sustain him for the next few days. The meager sandwiches and tea were leaving his body ravaged. Redbeard’s waistline had shrunk five notches in his belt and was now on the last one. He had probably dropped 15 to 20 pounds but had strengthened his upper body and stomach from the several hundreds of miles they had canoed. The alcohol intake had been virtually non-existent for weeks so his beer gut had disappeared. But he knew that losing too much too soon was hazardous, especially when camping on Canadian Shield rock during cold nights exposed to the elements. One needed the nutrition from food to ward off illness and exhaustion; without it one’s engine was in danger. And that was exactly what was happening during the last portage: there was nothing left but fumes left in the tank. Redbeard had been fortunate to have completed the last load from the canoe stashed below the portage trail.

Temagami was a world unto itself nestled deep in the true Canadian wilderness untainted by industry and the hand of man. The movement to stop logging was a force that had produced results up here. The Kapaskasing clear cut would soon reach Temagami’s shores that approached from the northwest but would be considered a ‘soft clear cut,’ meaning they had to leave the immature trees for 30 years before returning to the same land. To preserve the untouched splendor of its natural beauty was the goal of the ‘soft cut’ while maintaining its self-sufficient ecosystem. But it was more than that to the diehards like Choppy Waters. The spirits here spoke to him, like the wind whistling through the pine needles and the shuffling in the woods, and the sounds of the water splashing against the cold rock and in the flapping of the beaver’s tail – all for him a clear sign of communication from the animal spirits that permeate deeply in this land. The trapping Grey Owl hadn’t caused extinction of the beaver in these parts; Redbeard had lost track of how many beaver lodges he’d seen, and they had crossed over a half-dozen beaver dams on the canoe. But it was the intimacy he had with the wildlife in their natural habitat that created a participation in the ‘powerful play’ of life, with the loons and the beavers and the Kingfishers and the turtles sunning themselves on the rock by the shore in the crystalline waters leading the charge. Canoeing in Temagami was a personal experience, a direct journey inside the wild that could only be achieved through effort, sweat and canoeing. For the most part it could not be described with words. History whispered between the pines along an old Native portage trails that had been in continuous use among the Anishinabek for more than 5000 years. There was both insurmountable joy and pained hardship, accomplishment and death in the old campsites and sacred cliffs of this part of the Canadian forests. It was a living thing, and those otters and fowl had shared that history in their antecedents, as did the People of the Deep Waters on Bear Island and all over Temagami. When the fire was lit, ancestral grandfather spirits gravitated to the orange flame like a portal, dancing with the flame looking back at you knowing if you are just or not, and whether you respect Mother Earth – treating her as you would like others to treat you. The urgency of life was awakened and the necessities were whittled down leaving the raw qualia of experience.

Back at camp, he could see Choppy again hadn’t slept many hours last night, choosing to sleep on the grass in front of the Golden Staircase.

“Hardly slept a wink,” he said. “I don’t know why.” He looked tired and dazed, and he kept that dazed look all day. At dinnertime he was listless and doing head-bobs. He couldn’t focus despite his Olympic efforts. It didn’t bode well for departure tomorrow. It looked like he was losing his wind – and perhaps his will.

“The falls didn’t keep you up last night?”

“No, in fact it lulled me to sleep right off the bat,” Redbeard replied, his cheeks ruddy and tanned, new wrinkles formed around his eyes.

“It didn’t bother you?” He blinked and rubbed his eyes, and reached for his coffee cup with shaking hands.

“No, good vibe here. Lots of history. Were you thinking about Gina? About the last time you were here?” Choppy stroked his chin briskly.

“No, well yeah. I can’t help think about her here. This was our spot. But no, not especially.” The palsy returned when he drank more from his thermos.

“Get some closure…”

“I have closure, for the most part. But yeah, here would be good place to do that.”

“Heal.” Choppy suddenly lied down on his Hudson’s Bay blanket.

“Mmm.” He lay there under the sun for the next four hours while Redbeard and Schopenhauer went fishing, though, despite a good lure, didn’t catch any in the shallow waters.

As he fished he thought more about Choppy. He reckoned that Choppy Waters had been using Redbeard as a helper and catalyst to return to Temagami and to heal from his divorce from Gina all along. It was his idea to go to the waterfall and then take a day to think things through. He wanted to go to these places he and Gina had visited when they had been here nearly ten years ago. Choppy all along had planned to drop off Redbeard and Schopenhauer after two weeks and attend the reunion without him. That was why he had purchased so many supplies – to make it to the end of September. Redbeard had been scheduled back at work on August 21st after a two-week canoe trip in Temagami, but Choppy had postponed the trip for a week, and then two. That’s when Redbeard had a romantic rendezvous with Charlotte in French River and squeezed in some canoeing. Redbeard lost his job over it but it was only about a month’s worth of work and the canoe trip in Temagami with the canoeing master Choppy Waters on his home turf of Grey Owl country had become a must-seize opportunity that was not to be missed. And since he now had the pure block of time he needed for a memorable journey, he said yes to the full trip, a month long if need be.

“Let’s explore the lakes,” he had said. “I’m in” he had replied.

At this point Redbeard had only heard secondhand stories of his old university friend’s strange behavior since graduating from university through mutual friends. He had heard stories of bad business dealings and arrests for drug possession to camping in parks in Toronto to living in a steam bathhouse in the seedy area downtown, but he had dismissed it as Choppy Waters’ eccentricity and hyperbole. He had always been a little nutty, but that’s one of the reasons why he thought Choppy was interesting. Besides, they would be visiting in Choppy’s favorite milieu. But Choppy’s fundamental allegiance to his own agenda and his inability to play it straight was leading to what he now had to call a breakdown. Holding the food hostage after the longest pulls was behavior Redbeard could not have foreseen. The notion of Choppy not pulling his own weight for a day or two – or ten – of touch paddling through dangerous waters would have defied logic before they left. He would have thought Choppy would have been at the forefront of the paddling through the hard stuff because that was the marrow of the trip – the why and the how of canoeing. But now he was putting Redbeard’s real estate career in jeopardy over getting to a telephone was the one that required action on his part. He had just purchased a duplex and had speak to his lawyer about the mortgage and confirm the new tenant. The man, he had come to learn, could not be trusted, and would continue to break promises and tell half-truths until the final return to Temagami village.

But he needed Choppy to return to civilization. He could not paddle with his dog back on his own with all the gear. Nor could he piss this man off and run the risk of being abandoned.

Redbeard didn’t know the exact word – schizoid? – for Choppy’s condition, but it could be characterized by extreme mood swings, following a routine obsessively, lying, immaturity, and obsessive spending of money when he had it. His extreme body odor too had something to do with his illness, as did with the way he dressed – as if it was done to shock others. His ups and downs had Redbeard thinking Choppy was bipolar. The manic phases followed by long periods of despair without speaking, was plain for him to see during their trip. He also wasn’t sure if it was physiological or emotional. His dramatic split from Gina and ripping apart of his heart – because he truly loved her – suggested emotional healing was required. Choppy still visited her once a week despite the fact she had been in a relationship with another man for four years. Perhaps he still harbored hope for reconciliation and maybe that was why his emotional body was wrecked and mangled and was thus still injured. He talked about Gina a lot and sometimes verbally told himself to shut up because he didn’t think Redbeard wanted to hear it, but every time Redbeard had insisted he talk to get it out so he could move along the path to healing.

The two portages it took to get to the waterfall were not for Redbeard but for Choppy, to be there on the same patch of grass to relive those romantic moments with his ex-wife, were monumental and necessary. This trip was his attempt to heal his heart with the love of his life. One simply could not flourish with a broken heart.

Redbeard had underestimated Choppy’s love for Gina and his subsequent devastation. He was now a victim of the ramifications of the break up. Choppy’s injury had affected his ability to enjoy and perform the art of canoe tripping. He had always figured he could help Choppy Waters excise his emotional turbulence and have closure with his past, so that his level-headedness would return. It took two to paddle a canoe, and the idea of being left stranded four days from civilization was too much even to consider. But he did consider it now as a possibility. Redbeard had seen Choppy’s madness in his eyes. Maybe he was too far-gone to retrieve himself back to the world of rational men. There was hope this time for healing, but it could also backfire, instead turning him angrier and bitterer. Things were precarious for Redbeard. Choppy could go either way.


Change of Route

Fourth Week

The roar of the Golden Staircase waterfall was still roaring in the misty morning when Redbeard and Schopenhauer stepped out of the tent. Choppy was already up and packing.

“Had a good sleep last night,” he said, sounding chipper.

“Good dreams?”

“Yes. There were a bunch of young girls and they all had moustaches. It was a bit strange. Some sort of game show.” He shook his head.

“Was Gina in it?”

“Yes, she was there, watching. She was one of the judges.”


“Who knows?”

“Was she wanting what she gave up seven years ago?”

Exactly.” He nodded and went back to packing up the gear. Redbeard followed suit and soon they portaged back to their canoe and were in a heavy sweat before they stepped into the boat.

Down the North Channel they paddled to the next set of falls where another portage was required.

“Frank’s Falls. Wonder what the original Ojibwa name is? I mean ‘Frank’s Falls’ has no meaning.”

“Wish I knew. Check the map.” Redbeard did that but there was no name given for the falls.

They had planned to move up the North Channel to Willow Island Lake and then do two half-kilometer portages over to the south end of Lady Evelyn Lake and then down Diamond Lake, retracing some of their steps, but at least they would be back in the south, only a day or two from the closest telephone and close to the location of the Temagami reunion. They paddled swiftly, well-rested after the day off at the Golden Staircase Falls, and nipped over to the channel of Willow Island Lake where they again cruised swiftly after taking a pipe.

So in tune were they now that they were moving a mile every ten minutes, crossing the open waters of Willow Island Lake without hardly a word. Redbeard’s paddling technique was honed and his upper body strengthened from 30 days in the bush. Soon another pipe was in order so they stopped on a peninsula and had a bite to eat.

‘You know, we’re close to the portage – down there past the next point on the left, but we have another choice,” said Choppy. “We could keep going south here and hit the long portage straight to Diamond.” Redbeard knew it was a very long portage, but the other portage looked longer on the map. But right now he just wanted to continue paddling. This gliding atop the surface was what it was all about!

“How long is the portage to Diamond?”

“It’s long. The portage is down this ancient gorge where the water used to connect with Diamond Lake.”

“How long?” They had just passed the spot to take the portage.

“I think it’s 188 chains.”

“And what is that in feet or meters?”

“It’s four kilometers.”

“Wait, the portage is four kilometers long?”

“Yep, one way. So each load would be eight kilometers. Three loads each, it adds up, but it could save some time.” The idea of carrying 800 pounds over 24 kilometers of hilly, uneven rock did not sound inviting. He looked over his shoulder at the entrance to the shorter portage.

“Two and a half loads, that’s, what? Over 20 kilometers of carrying heavy loads?”

“It’s a museum back in time in there. Famous long portage, old and one that the hard-core boys do.” He knew his last words were said to entice.

“We’re paddling fast today.” Choppy moved his arm around, wincing in pain from his ‘canoe shoulder.’

“You’re stronger and can carry the heaviest packs now.” It was true. His shirt was off in the hot sun and his upper body had reformed and fortified, but climbing sharp rocks for 20km with a hundred pounds on your back was different than going for a 20km hike.

“What if we can’t get through? I’m assuming it’s not used a lot because it’s so long.”

“It’s used.”

“But what if it’s overgrown or too boggy and we simply are unable to get through to Diamond?”

“The only way to know is to go.” He was confident and appeared serious. They smoked a pipe and studied their luggage.

“Do you think we could do it in three loads?”

“You know what we should do, we should repack some of the bags to make them heavier so we have less loose stuff to worry about.” Redbeard thought it a good idea since there was more space in the food bags. So they emptied the canoe, repacked the big bags and counted them, dividing each into a load. Each bag was now heavier.

“We could get there before sundown and take a load and return to the campsite at the mouth of the trail.” There was no campsite at the other end according to the map.

“Sneak in one load and recce the portage piece,” said Redbeard.

“We could do the other two loads tomorrow. Make a day of it. And then get to the west end of Diamond Lake where there’s an old cabin. You have to see it.”

Despite the mileage they had put in paddling on the water, Redbeard’s left hand was tender and still establishing calluses where the wood bit. Blisters were only a day away. Besides, he had been pulling most of the weight in the canoe that his hand was actually bruised. Surprisingly, Redbeard found himself considering the portage.

“A trip back in time you say?” The poet in him was indeed enticed.

“It’s all old gorge where the water used to rush through. The rock face there is wild.” Choppy’s enthusiasm was back, and that seemed more important than going against his navigational advice. Maybe a challenging portage was what Choppy needed to satisfy his urge for spice, whether on the water or carrying a canoe on his shoulders through the woods.

“The old timers call it ‘the two-and-a-half miler.’” When he said that he knew that Grey Owl must have taken this path in the past.

“It would be a feather in your cap at the reunion,” said Redbeard. “‘Oh, Choppy Waters, what have you been doing? Canoeing much?’ ‘Yes, actually. Just did a month around Temagami, north and south, and took on the two-and-a-half miler portage from the South Channel of Lady Evelyn River to Diamond.’ You’ll arrive in style with some recent mileage.” Choppy enjoyed that.

 “Might be tight squeezing in a load tonight,” he said. “Maybe a full day hit tomorrow. It’s nearly five and we’re two pipes away.”

“Maybe, but it would be an accomplishment if we did it.” Again, there was that unstated challenge.

“Okay then, let’s get going.”

Back on the water they resumed their swift pace, skimming atop the surface on calm waters past the open waters of Willow Island Lake. They came to the turn off to their planned route.

“Well, what do you think?”

“Let’s keep going,” replied Redbeard. And down they went, through the narrows at the end of Willow Island Lake and into the South Channel. The rock walls made the cruising sexy down to the elbow where the river turned west, facing the setting sun. But they faced two setting suns: the sun in the sky and the sun shining off the water. Momentarily blinded, Redbeard paddled topless deeper into the channel, quiet and daunting, once a fast river but now slightly flooded and slow. There was no shade going due west at the most southern end of the South Channel. They passed some choice sites to camp but determined it wise to camp at the crappy campsite at the mouth of the two-and-a-half miler. And sure enough, as Choppy said, it was a small, crappy campsite, but the trail had allure, as if it were a path into the center of the earth.


The Two-and-a-Half Miler

Fourth Week

Redbeard awoke early, eager to get the portage going but Choppy again was in bad spirits. His slouched shoulders, extreme body odor and his slow movements bespoke pain in both body and mind. Redbeard poured himself last night’s cold tea.

“There’s still tea in the kettle,” he said to Choppy. Redbeard thought it might be another episode of his illness. Instead of tea, he went up to Schopenhauer and began patting her behind a tree. He casually glanced over and he was patting her haunches. He had told Choppy that Schopenhauer was going into heat and let her be. But yesterday, when the dog ran ahead and met Choppy at the canoe, Redbeard saw him feeding her pepperoni. He didn’t say anything then because he was afraid he would become upset and not want to continue south, but he knew why the dog hadn’t touched her dog food. But there, just behind the trees, Choppy was bending down and being downright inappropriate with his dog. It was embarrassing.

“Umm, you may be being a little over affectionate, don’t you think?” Choppy was scratching her ass with some gusto.

“What? I can’t pat her?” It was such an obvious offside, Redbeard didn’t want to put it into words.

Then Choppy Waters walked back to his tent, sat on a fallen log and smoked. Redbeard sipped his tea and began packing up. As usual in the morning, when they’re packing up their tent, they don’t say much, instead focusing on the journey at hand. When his tent was packed, Redbeard packed his big army knapsack and tied it up. He was ready to get an early start on the 24 kilometers that lay before him.

“That one’s done,” he said. Choppy was smoking and staring at the water. He wasn’t ready to go. Redbeard was soon all packed up and ready but Choppy was still pouting at the edge of the campsite.

“I think I’m going to go ahead.” There was no reply. So he and Schopenhauer started down the trail.

“You should clean the pots!” yelled Choppy. Redbeard stopped on the trail.


“It’s not nice to leave the dishes!”

“Ah, I was thinking we could eat that spaghetti after the first load, so no need for the dishes yet.” If Choppy wanted to be in a snit then he would let him be in a snit. He was going to conquer this portage without being hampered by Choppy’s fragile mental state. He resumed his way through the first and easiest phase of the two-and-a-half miler.

Down the well-worn trail of soil and moss between the tall pines and ragged spruce, some undergrowth obstructed the trail but otherwise the first of the four phases of the portage wasn’t difficult. The bent straps of the army knapsack dug into his shoulders, more so because of the other 50-pound knapsack hanging from his right shoulder. Redbeard was also carrying the bag of firewood in his left hand.

“Not as difficult as the one to the falls, is it?” he said to Schopenhauer. Then he hit the muddy area. Deep, soft puddles of black muck marred the trail. There were some side trails to walk around the mud but mostly Redbeard had to walk right through it. The tricky thing he learned quickly was the sharp, uneven rocks that lay hidden. When the hard rubber sole of his boot snagged an edge of a rock on a steep angle, it could be painful and dangerous because the second step came so fast. And if the second step was uneven, then the third step determined whether you fell over or not.

Without a lot of rain over the last three weeks of summer, the mud was passable, especially as the muckier it became, the more side-trail detours there were. At the end of the second phase of the portage, it was dangerous: hopping from rock to rock over deep black peaty mud. Once he had negotiated that he stepped onto four birch trunks and rolled over the final leap to the high bedrock, into the third phase of the portage.

Redbeard then climbed the steep hill of rock and pine needles over tree roots and awkward rock spacing to a mellow part of the trail. Here he switched the pack to the left shoulder and left the 50-pounder on his back. Climbing higher and at an angle, he passed through an ancient forest of sky-kissing white pines with massive trunks. It became narrow at a bend that took him to a boggy marsh, and the beginning of the final phase to the water’s edge.

Redbeard had never portaged in a bog before so he wisely followed the faint tracks of other portagers, but his first step into it took his foot down ten inches. It was watery under the peat moss and grass. Each step had to be on safe ground. The sweat dripped off his eyebrows and his shirt was soaked with sweat but he could see the lake. That’s when he became careless. He took a shorter path over some peat bog and sank up to his kneecaps followed by a quick second step. The momentum with the hundred pounds on his back hurled him forward. Then he stood up and began to sink. He leaned back, flung the firewood and knapsack behind him and then removed the stiff World War Two knapsack. Still, he was sinking. He grabbed grass behind him and lifted his left foot upwards but the suction wouldn’t allow him to lift his foot. The water and mud seeped into his boots, he tried again and then his right foot but he was stuck. He leaned back and pulled at his left boot with his hands yanking the heel up to break the suction. It came higher but his fingertips slipped off the top of the slippery leather boot because of the mud. He wiped his hands, took a good grip and pulled high enough that air snuck in under the heel. Another few pulls and his left foot was out, which only deepened his right foot. He tried the same technique but it was so deep it took a half-dozen tries to finally break free.

Redbeard started to laugh.

“Bloody quicksand!” Schopenhauer was there wagging her tail, interested in the proceedings. He just sat on the warm grass and breathed hard trying to see the humor of the occasion.

“I wonder how many have died stuck in a bog,” he said to Schopenhauer. She looked at him curiously.

Covered in mud, he slogged the packs onto his back and gently stepped through the sinking mush below his feet back towards the safety of terra firma, then hopped from log to rock and rock to rock to avoid the black muck. When he reached the bedrock at its mouth, he started to hurry causing his wet feet to slip. The final hundred meters were perhaps the toughest. Through encroaching foliage, small rocks at awkward upward angles were interspersed too tight to manage well, but the step to the second stone was a bit too far. Stubbing his toe, he lunged forward but was able to make it to the open rock on the shore where there was a docking area and fire pit.

“Made it little puppy dog,” he said, looking at his watch. It had taken them an hour and a half. They relaxed for 20 minutes and drank water from Diamond Lake before they returned for the second load.

On the way back Choppy was sitting off the trail in the rocky hill section having a smoke. His two packs were on the trail.

“Oh! Choppy! I didn’t see you.” He stared at Redbeard with venom in his eyes and said nothing.

“How’s it going?” Still, no answer so they kept going north. Then, about a kilometer down the trail, Redbeard saw their canoe leaning against two trees.

“Ah, that looks like our canoe,” he said to his dog. Just then he heard someone behind him. It was Choppy Waters.

“Oh man!” Redbeard was startled. “I didn’t hear you.” Choppy only stared at the canoe, so Redbeard and Schopenhauer kept going. Past the boggy area, he was close to the campsite when he heard footsteps behind him.

“Choppy!” The same angry look was in his eyes, so the three of them arrived at camp together.

“Do you want some of this spaghetti?” Instead of answering like a normal person, he gave Redbeard the thumbs up. Redbeard laughed. “Okay.” He served himself and could hardly eat it because of the heavy salmon sauce, a Choppy favorite. He hated the taste of salmon. He gave most of it to his dog. Choppy took his portion so Redbeard washed the pots and placed them beside the wanegan so Choppy could pack it his preferred and special way.

Choppy had left him the heavy 180-pound load as the last one. No problem, he thought, I can take each bag separately, and so he untied the tumpline and took Choppy’s big green pack on his shoulders.

“Could you tie the tumpline on this bag for me?” Again the blazing eyes of the sun were silent so Redbeard and his dog left for their second load.

After reaching Diamond Lake again, he doubled back for his last load, finding Choppy on the way sitting and smoking beside the canoe.

“I would recommend taking the left route down there in the bog.” The silent treatment continued so off he and his dog went. At the campsite Choppy hadn’t tied the tumpline so he was forced to carry both bags: one bag on his back and the other held in his arms.

“This last one is going to be murder,” he said. Schopenhauer wagged her tail. Off they went for the last load, arriving just ahead of Choppy Waters.

Sitting near each other on Diamond Lake, Choppy stared mutely at the water. After all the work, Redbeard could only grab some trail mix at the end of the day. Choppy smoked and then it occurred to Redbeard that Choppy wasn’t just sulking about being caught with the dog; he was going through marijuana withdrawal. That was the reason for the madness in his eyes. He had been smoking weed for so long that the physiological dependency was substantial. A slight inkling of fear hit Redbeard upon remembering that Choppy had once been institutionalized for marijuana addiction. He hadn’t been clear about the incident that had precipitated his parents and Gina forcing him into drug rehab for a month. The unpredictability of Choppy’s behavior, and the look he had in his eye like he was about to snap, was beginning to make Redbeard very uncomfortable. The simple truth was that Redbeard didn’t know how to handle another’s mental instability.

Perhaps it would have been easier of Redbeard didn’t care for his friend, but he did. Genuinely. He had always respected him and had considered him a kindred spirit. Choppy had been a very instrumental figure in his life. During his senior year at university, as a fellow philosophy student, it had been Choppy Waters who had given him a Hermann Hesse novel to read. Narcissus and Goldmund changed Redbeard’s path in life, and had inspired him to choose an authentic life. For this reason alone Charlie Boyle always had importance to his life. He was the one who gave him that book that showed him the Goldmund way. But if he were to be completely honest, the two of them didn’t know each other that well since then. They had kept in touch through a mutual friend and had always talked of a canoe trip in Temagami. It had taken 20 years to materialize, but finally it had. But it also had its risks: Redbeard had heard of his brushes with the law, his sleeping in city parks by choice, his divorce and his stint in rehab, so to suddenly throw themselves together for over a month in the deep bush with strenuous portages and severe food rationing and unaddressed drug addiction, was potentially a deadly situation. If there was an eruption, Redbeard and Schopenhauer could be in dire straits and abandoned. Choppy had already been arrested once by the police for abandoning his canoe group; he had put the lives of the teenage kids in danger. No that he was out of his marijuana supply, which he always said he used to manage his mental illness, would he abandon Redbeard? Only time would tell.



Fifth Week

Choppy was now talking but was flat on his back on the bedrock peninsula.

“My back. That portage wrecked me.” He groaned in pain as Redbeard sipped tea and smoked a cigarette, squinting into the sun. Redbeard was being very careful not to cause his friend to react badly, using finesse and grace.

“Yes, that was quite a piece. Serial empirical data.”

“I think I pinched my sciatic nerve. I just-“ He stopped and gingerly stretched. “I just have to lie here for a little while. The portage really took a lot out of me.” He let him be and began to pack. He came out later where Choppy was still prone on his back. He thought he may have just the thing. He pulled out the last of his own stash of marijuana and rolled a joint.

“This is the last of it,” he said.

“Cheers,” he replied. In a moment the old Choppy was back, talking of past exploits and gawking at the hundreds of Canada Geese flying south overhead. Soon they were packed and were off down the lake to the narrows where they undertook another portage. It proved very difficult over boulders and tight passageways. It was only half a kilometer but Redbeard had to work hard to get through it in one piece. The 100-pound pack had a momentum that was dangerous when his footing still wasn’t firm. Nonetheless, at the other end was Pencil Lake – a small lake with no creeks: just a large pond surrounded by 100-foot-high rock faces.

The paddle to the next portage was three minutes.

“This one should be easier,” said Choppy, favoring his bad hip.

“Hope so. That last one was harsh.” The second half-kilometer portage was straight forward, and put them on the northern tip of Wakimika Lake. They paddled through the narrows until they reached a very thin bottleneck. It was there where the sandy beach was and where the arrests at the blockade 20 years ago took place.

“I wonder if anyone is at this campsite?” They both stopped paddling, hoping to hear voices. Redbeard heard a voice.

“I heard someone,“ he said. “It was a woman.” They coasted through a ten-foot wide channel to the open waters when a voice from the campsite said: “Choppy?”

A woman had recognized him from the unique Templeton plaid he always wore.


“No, Tory.”

“Tory!” They turned their canoe and headed for the shore of the beach. A man walked down from the tent towards the vessel.

“Choppy Waters!”

“Constantine! Kway. Kway. What are the chances?” It was the guide he had been with when he had been arrested at Camp Keewatin years ago.

They rolled up on shore and stepped onto the beach. Constantine and his girlfriend Tory were happy to see an old face and invited them to stay at their campsite on the beach. It was after dinner when they learned the site of the reunion had been moved.

“They changed it. The reunion is at Alex’s place.” They looked at each other.

“Lucky we bumped into you,” they both said, laughing.

“We’re on our way there now because he has to make a telephone call.”

“An important call.”

“Well there are already some people there,” said Constantine.

“It was a last-minute change,” said Tory. “You’ve been out in the forest too long.” After dinner they sat around the campfire. Redbeard recalled Choppy saying that Constantine was one of his best friends, so it was strange when Constantine asked how many years it had been since they had last spoken.

There was no mention of the incident involving the canoe trip gone awry.

Each partnership has spent the day paddling hard so the socializing around the campfire wasn’t full of beer and singing and whatnot. It was more a direct exchange of canoeing information. They were most interested in the ‘two-and-a-half miler they had conquered, Constantine knowing the rigors involved. He was a big man with reddish-blonde hair, arms like tree trunks, and a face stained with a canoer’s life – wrinkles enlivened when he smiled and laughed. Tory was quiet and strong, just like her husband. She took a liking to Schopenhauer who knew she was a fellow female. Aware that there was an unspoken history between the two protagonists of the region, Redbeard focused on eating as much as he could from the food they had available, a hunger he had seldom experienced ever before. They shared some of their wine but it only served to make him sleepy, soon retiring for the night, enjoying the sounds of the water striking the shallow sandy beach they were on.

In the morning they woke early and left the beautiful beach for Wakimika River, but on the way Choppy suggested they stop on an island that was said to have petroglyphs. The wind devils were back on the open waters on Wakimika, so Choppy went way out into the choppiest waters in the middle of the lake where the white caps splashed over the gunnels and soaked Redbeard and Schopenhauer. Sensing immediate danger, the dog sought refuge by putting her head on his lap. This made his robust paddling more difficult. Constantine, also an ex-Keewatin guide, paddled with Tory along the shoreline, straight for the island, where there were no white caps. The couple paddled nonchalantly, looking over at their canoe way out in dangerous waters. Redbeard huffed it, stroking each giant wave, wondering when Choppy was going to tack.

They were far off course.

“Can you draw to the left,” he yelled up to Redbeard. He put the draw stroke in and turned the bow so that they were now hitting the waves at an angle, and surfing towards Constantine. The waves still pummeled them near the center of the lake. Redbeard was grinning at Choppy’s dramatic canoeing hyperbole, and when he found the other canoe again looking at them he saw wonderment and surprise on their faces.

Schopenhauer held firm and didn’t shake, taking the waves splashing onto her back in stride. She had adapted nicely to the canoeing life. He paddled strong and clean, fighting the wind with the face of his paddle, keeping it digging into the troughs until they had escaped the white caps. They were going faster than Constantine’s canoe and had thrice the weight.

They soon slipped behind the other boat and docked on the island and began looking for petroglyphs that were discovered only a few years ago in 2004. Redbeard was expecting them to be on the waterside but Constantine found the petroglyphs facing the island. There were rock carvings of a moose, a baby moose, a man running, an eagle, a turtle, a bird and perhaps a canoe and lake. They were chiseled with perhaps a diamond tip against the granite. Diamonds were common here. There was a local saying in Temagami: ‘If you find a yellow birch, dig behind it for a diamond.’

“What do you think it means?” asked Constantine, who was seeing them for the first time.

“I don’t know. I was just wondering the same thing.” He pointed in front of him. “If that man, here, running, represents a boy, and here, in front of him, if that’s a canoe and this chiseled line above it is water, then this baby moose here is his first kill, signifying his graduation to manhood. And this big moose represents the pinnacle of hunting prowess and courage, then this thing here…” He pointed at the eagle. “I think it may be an eagle or a thunderbird, signifying his graduation to the spirit world.”

“Yes, I can see that.” He took off his sunglasses. “You think this is a canoe?”

“Could be.”

“Or it could be part of the decay of the bedrock.”

“But it has the same pounded marks, as if it was done by the same hand as the others.”

“Yes.” Choppy and Tory sat side by side on the rock as Redbeard and Constantine studied possible meanings of the petroglyphs.

“And what about this one here?” He pointed at the image above the running man.

“Could be a turtle, or a well hung man.” They shared a laugh and said their good-byes and went separate ways.

Choppy again chose to paddle as far as possible into the white caps so that Redbeard assumed the mouth of the river was on the south shore rather than the east shore. Choppy Water’s steered the canoe and once again the waves threatened to tip the vessel. Redbeard dug in for his and his dog’s life, and paddled hard to overcome the resistance.

“The mouth of the river is on the south shore?”

“No, it’s to the left. I’m taking the waves at an angle.“ It was the same thing as before. But suddenly Choppy steered east, letting the west wind push them to shore. He could have avoided all the dramatics and risks if he had surfed it in earlier. Aware that now the weed was gone and Choppy was going through withdrawal, he was again extra careful when they interacted.

Redbeard was finally able to enjoy the waves pushing them to the east shore to the tiny mouth of the Wakimika River. Reaching the calm, narrow river was like entering a new world. The wind disappeared and a ten-foot wide stream strewn with fallen trees and beaver lodges and deadheads wound through a dense, lush jungle of cedars and pine and scraggly spruce. Grass and bushes hung over the water’s edge and the water was still and soupy, and littered with water spiders.

Redbeard drawed and counter-drawed to avoid the debris of nature’s effuse and nudge through the overgrown foliage.

“There must be moose in here.”

“Yes, and bears,” said Choppy. Drinking holes and animal footprints in the mud spoke of a rich wildlife population, like Africa early last century.

The Wakimika River meandered through like a river-road maze, all heading east. Birds flew out to the water from the mud shores and dragonflies followed them, wondering what kind of animal they were. Then they hit a beaver dam. It was constructed between an old bridge that had been taken down.

“They blew the bridge but the beaver built it back,” said Choppy.

“Look at the difference in water levels.”

“We might be able to get over.”

“Let’s take a closer look.” They paddled right up to the edge.

“We’re going to go over,” said Redbeard, alarmed.

“No we won’t.” They bumped into the wood and mud dam. “We can do a lift-over if we both do it, but we need to let Schopenhauer out of the boat first.” They paddled to the shore and she jumped off, then they stepped onto the beaver dam and swung the stern back and the bow forward. Slowly they lifted it over the wood sticks until the tipping point when it plunged five feet. The bow bounced off the water and the canoe flew down the chute of sticks. Choppy Waters held on and slid over the dam, losing his footing and raising a hand high in the air. His feet slid but he was able to land on some sticks and keep hold of the canoe with one hand. Amazing physical strength and coordination. Truly a master.

“Trooper,” said Redbeard, who traversed along the mud and slippery piles of wood sticks along the top of the dam, and stepped into the canoe with his dog on the other side.

Down the river they soon reached a large pond surrounded by high golden grass, secluded and safe, where they had a much-needed pipe. Farther down river the meandering waterway widened and became grassier as they approached Obabika Lake. Suddenly they entered a field of long green reeds growing out of the water opening up to a far rocky shore and deep blue water. They had reached Obabika Lake. Just around the corner they landed on Alex’s beach. Redbeard had made it back to within reach of civilization.

And within reach of his phone call.

Choppy approached the house as Redbeard tied up Schopenhauer to a tree, knowing some Natives didn’t like dogs off-leash. He could see Choppy speaking to Alex through the window.

Redbeard immediately felt respect for Alex. He had character on his face. With a full head of hair back in a ponytail under a black Mountie hat, he looked like a chief. His face, as if chiseled by the local diamond, had the lines of experience that bespoke of a substantial history.

Redbeard could tell that Alex regarded Choppy not with respect but with an amused suspicion, as if in possession of his half-truths and the discord he had sown over the last eight years. It was as if Alex Mathias could see the demons in the man, especially at his home and on his own land. Alex was kind enough, inviting them both into his home. Choppy caught upon the last eight years he had missed and learned many things, but many names Redbeard had heard Choppy speak of in unpleasant terms, would be at Alex’s place for the reunion in the next day or so. He gave Choppy and Redbeard permission to camp for the night on his beach but that they should go to the neighboring campsite to make sure no one goes there who isn’t part of the reunion. But to Redbeard, he could see Choppy’s subtle reaction, realizing that he was not going to be among those invited to stay on Alex’s property. Too many past wrongs had sullied the waters between them and wrecked any trust any rational person could have for him. Even when he met Alex, the head of the Masabi clan and custodian of the Masabi land, Choppy didn’t even offer him tobacco. The first thing Redbeard did was nod respectfully as he shook his hand and then offered him one of his very last cigarettes.

It did not go unnoticed.

“Hap Wilson wrote a book,” he said to Choppy. Hap was his ex-business partner. Alex handed a book to Choppy pointing at his portrait in headdress that took the whole page.

“That’s a beautiful portrait,” he said truthfully. Alex looked at him in the eye.

“It’s painting that he got into the book.” Alex Mathias was decked out in eagle headdress and full regalia looking timeless and majestic.

“It’s a classic,” he said looking at the powerful eyes under the heavy eyebrows. “And timeless.” He nodded and then handed the open page to Choppy. He only glanced at it and began flipping the pages and removed his black Mountie hat.

“A few years back.” Choppy studied the cover. His eyes narrowed.

“That’s me!” He pointed at the canoe on the river where a huge forest fire raged. “That’s me there.” But rather than excitement there was a cold edge to his voice. Redbeard sensed it and looked at Alex. He sensed it too.

“You’re in the stern?” asked Redbeard to deflect.

“Yes! Of course.” He held it out as if it were his portrait, hoping for some praise. “It was on our Hudson’s Bay trip.” Choppy shook his head at the memory. “The fire. It was so hot.” Choppy Waters had completely forgotten about Alex Mathias’ portrait as he handed the book back to Alex, closed. In the silence that followed, the game show on the television could be heard.

Schopenhauer was barking on the beach.

“Your dog?”

“Yes. She’s tied up. I hope that’s okay.”

“What kind of dog is it?”

“Border collie,” he answered. “And she’s in heat.” Alex laughed from the gut.

“She’s come to the right place. All males here and only one cut.” Alex and Redbeard laughed and readjusted their hats at the same time, and then both looked at Choppy who wasn’t laughing. The dog barked again.

“I should go check on her.” Alex nodded and he left. Choppy and Alex needed their own time together. They had to talk business.

Schopenhauer was wild. Jumping and all tied up in her leash, panting with a wild look on her face. Perhaps some separation anxiety, her one eye was ablaze at the potent whiff of six huskies. She pawed him in fright and arousal, reassured Redbeard was back. Schopenhauer was affected by the spirits here. The beach was a couple hundred meters long, big enough with clear water protected from the prevailing winds by a peninsula. Surrounded by pines and huge birch trees, the log cabin was winterized with a woodstove and second floor loft. A smaller cabin was close by and a third was being built for his pregnant daughter. The four big dogs were kept away from the log cabin by the entrance of the road. An old black husky named Cujo, was the sole guard of Alex’s log cabin, slow in his movements but still a force with a keen eye. And then there was Bud, who was the only one off a leash – the smart one, gentle and careful and observant. It was Bud who approached Schopenhauer, slowly and fairly. She growled and then snarled at Bud, who nimbly withdrew from her. Schopenhauer was frantic.

Redbeard calmed her down and returned to the log cabin. They had had their talk. Choppy’s cheeks were flushed. Just then some friends of Alex’s dropped by. The dogs barked at the arrival of the vehicles.

“Friends,” he said, getting up.

“I’m hungry bud,” said Choppy. “I think we’re going to put on some vittles and pitch camp.” They went outside and they all chatted for a while until Choppy and Redbeard set up their tents and the very end of the sand beach. But before Redbeard really got started, he took some papers from his waterproof kit and went back to the cabin.

“Want to use the phone now?”

“Yes, please, if I can.” He put down his beer and took Redbeard inside.

“It takes a second for the number to go through, but it works.”

“Thanks Alex.” He typed in the number, found out the good news and was more than satisfied. The real estate deal was finally done. And furthermore, the lawyer would take care of handing the keys to the new tenant.

“Back on the beach Redbeard enjoyed his relief and savored his elation but his buzz was wrecked a little because Choppy had become silent again.

“So how many nights are we staying here?” Redbeard was surveying a spot south of the fire pit.

“One night.”

“One night?”

“Tomorrow we’re going to the campsite where the ceremony takes place about half a pipe away to make sure others won’t camp on it before people begin to arrive.”

“Didn’t Alex say something about helping him with firewood?”

“No, he’s going to do that so we need to go to the site.” Choppy was intense and still flushed. Redbeard thought about dinner as he pitched his tent, but when it came to cooking, Choppy said he wasn’t hungry. That was when he realized Choppy was sliding into another downward funk.

They had been talking about having a big stew with rice thrown in and all sorts of other things. “Well, I’m going to have a soup.” He licked his lips. “Er, do you want to split it?” It was dark.

“Okay.” So that’s how Redbeard had half a soup for dinner, his first substantial meal in a fortnight.



Fifth Week

There were powerful spirits in play here on Obabika Lake. The native presence and their history were etched into the bedrock. The winds were active in the corridor of water, tickling the birch leaves and the poplars that lined the beach. Alex’s malamutes barked throughout the night, with one of the dogs losing his barking voice by morning. Could they sense bad energy? Could they sense an unworthy interloper hampered by past mistakes with a heart of lies?

Choppy and Redbeard hung out during the day, chopped wood and built a picnic table instead of going to the campsite. Redbeard was able to meet the early birds who also pitched tents on the beach, though he still remained at the very end of the stretch of sand. Redbeard felt apart from it all; he was a third wheel but that didn’t stop him from meeting some interesting and hardcore dudes. There was Bill from West Virginia, who was a Vietnam vet; Bryan who was a canoe outfitter in Woodstock; Dave from Wasaga Beach who bought and sold rare coins; and Ed, who had a PhD in chemistry and had just finished mapping some of remote areas in northeast of Ontario near James Bay. They all shared one thing in common: a passion for canoeing.

They were staying at Alex’s for the Changing of the Seasons ceremony that was once an annual Native ceremony of Alex’s Ojibwa ancestors that he had restarted seven years ago. It had grown into something important. Preparations for the ceremony kept them busy. Choppy wanted to get into Alex’s good books so he labored over the firewood and tried to keep busy making himself valuable – and visible. His aim was to be invited to stay and work on the new cabin that was to be built before the snow expected next month. Choppy Waters was now speaking of living here at Alex’s for a further month. He made sure Alex heard him when he spoke of his desire to help with the cabin but the invitation did not materialize. It only caused Choppy to redouble his efforts and to play the conscientious helper in front of all the guests, but it only lasted a few hours and he was soon drinking someone else’s beer and smoking someone else’s smokes.

In the morning, Choppy Waters was a sight gently walking down the beach with a somewhat rigid stride clutching toilet paper.

It wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day that Choppy Waters snapped. Redbeard has expected it since he was without his marijuana, which he used as his medication to help with his moods. He knew Choppy was on a knife’s edge. And the week-long ceremony was a powder keg because most of those attending knew Choppy and his dubious, immoral and uncool exploits. They admired his skills but not his character. But did they know of his underlying mental illness? Regardless, Alex had just asked him to leave for the island a half pipe away across the water that morning, so he had stamped back to his tent fuming.

“So what’s happening with the camp?”

“We have to break camp.” He could hear it in his voice. It was Redbeard who was going to be the target of his anger. “If you want to order anything, the time is now.” Some of the guys were going to drive into town and get supplies, namely beer. He thought for a moment.

“Nah, we have enough food to get back. I think I’m all right.”

“You don’t want anything?”

“No. Nothing.” He stood there thinking.

“Is that money still available? Can I borrow ten bucks?”

“Sure,” he answered. He glared at Redbeard as if he had said ‘no.’ Just then Alex came onto the beach and strode up to Choppy.

“Why haven’t you left already?” said Alex, clearly upset at Choppy’s guile. “What’s wrong with you? You said you were going to help out but you sit on your ass. You don’t do anything. I asked you to leave yesterday. You sit around. I see you. You think I’m stupid?” Choppy got off his ass and was livid. He bowed his head to the chief and packed the remainder of the gear in the canoe. Alex stormed off with Bill, who looked at Choppy now as if he had crossed a line. He wasn’t welcome anymore, and Redbeard didn’t blame him. For some reason Choppy thought he could just waltz into Alex’s life again and interrupt a reunion with Alex’s personal friends before everyone arrived the next day. This was his blind spot – an inability to see clearly, clouded judgment born of impaired vision due to internal pain. His hoarding nature manifested itself by sponging off others, just as he had Redbeard. He drank beer that wasn’t his, which had been brought up for Alex. A blatant offside. Redbeard desperately wanted to quench his raging thirst with a cold beer but had purposely abstained from asking for that exact reason: not to offend the host. Etiquette. He knew Alex liked his beer and that it was a rare commodity in the bush, so out of respect he went without. But Choppy drank Alex’s beer, watched Alex work, came across as everyone’s buddy yet he had only met many of these accomplished paddlers, and then went into Alex’s dining room uninvited and stayed until the end, not giving the old friends their privacy to carouse. Redbeard had been invited inside by Dave to view some photos and promptly left when John, the hired hand, left, giving the drinking friends their own space.

Choppy had over-stayed his welcome, which was unannounced after eight years of silence.

Poor form all around from Choppy.

Adding to it was the fact that Alex had become very close with Hap Wilson, Choppy’s old business partner, who had been burned by Choppy’s inherent dishonesty. Fundamentally Choppy Waters was afflicted with a subjective guile that inevitably affected others because when there is dishonesty with the self, there can only be discord with others. Choppy Waters existed on shifting ground, like a water spider on choppy waters: it defined his universe and world view. And people, once bitten by dishonesty, are very slow to forget. Alex had not forgotten. He remembered the rotten apple at its core. Despite the obvious charm, he knew what he was up to, just like Redbeard knew what he was doing with Schopenhauer. Until Choppy acknowledged this aspect of himself, he could only remain fractured. And a gooey figure.

To someone as objective as Redbeard, it was fascinating to witness.

Over at the campsite across the lake from Alex’s cabin, he sat quietly with his head down not talking. He looked deflated and even embarrassed by being called on his offside by Alex, and Redbeard could only hope that he was becoming aware of his own shortcomings. He expected the pouting to continue for the day so he and Schopenhauer went on a long hike up the mountain to Spirit Rock. It was the only way to let him be alone in his own space and pout. The eleven-year-old boy was back. And all his medicine was gone.


Changing of the Seasons

Fifth Week

People began to arrive at the campsite throughout the day. Redbeard and Choppy helped build the sweat lodge with thin, live birch branches and twine. It was a pleasant change to have people around. Choppy was quiet again but enjoyed the distractions of keeping the fire and doing some camp tasks. He put on a brave face despite his down mood under the new moon energy.

Alex approached Redbeard to say he would give him a spirit name during the ceremony, a surprise since he didn’t ask him directly. Redbeard had only asked if he had ever given anyone a spirit name, which he had answered affirmatively. He said to ask him about it after three days. He figured that Alex had had a dream or vision or insightful thought into his spirit and thus had an idea of what his spirit was already. This was a good thing.

Very good.

“Great,” he said, surprised. Alex was much friendlier now, having had some time to process things. He was a smart man and knew he was caught in the middle of something that had been festering for years. Redbeard had no idea what to think, but he felt centered and clear-headed – and most of strong. And he found tremendous strength from his very well-behaved dog Schopenhauer. Everyone loved her. And she loved all the attention. Lots of smiling and tail-wagging. She kept looking at Redbeard full of glee.

The camp looked good for more arrivals expected tomorrow. Other than the select group of Alex’s friends, there were now six here at the campsite: Choppy, Redbeard, Lawrence Mills the retired international banker and canoeing enthusiast, and Mel the architect with his two daughters. His nickname was Otter because of his long neck.

The weather had turned cold, but this had been expected. The cool winter weather and high winds ushered in the new season and the end of the year. Redbeard was able to break free to hike up to Spirit Rock where vision quests and fasts took place. It took him and Schopenhauer an hour to climb but it was worth it. The rock face and boulders with the hidden lake seemed like it was from another world. Truly it was a dreamer’s rock – ideal for vision quests.

The first truly laidback, social day, despite the hunger in his belly, was the day before the actual ceremony around the sacred fire. Everyone was happy to be here, everyone except Choppy who felt left out. Choppy continued to pout throughout the day, which was noticed by most of the big players, such as Alex, Lawrence and Mel. By the end of the day there were over 30 people at Alex’s, most of whom were friends and acquaintances of Choppy’s. Clearly it must have been very tough on the guy watching all his old fellow canoers and camp friends sitting around the sacred fire on Alex’s land a half pipe away while he camped at the campsite across the lake. To make matters worse, he had run out of cigarettes. Running out of weed was one thing but no nicotine spelled trouble. He was in a bad way. To deal with it he ate. All the best food he devoured without the knowledge of Redbeard: the beef jerky, the trail mix, the raisons were all decimated by his hunger. He wolfed them down in anger, breaking his martial fast and betraying the unwritten agreement between them to forego hunger in order to maximize their time in the wild.

But his temperament – his sullen gait – was more noticeable today, which left people suspicious of him. How can he be angry during such a time of celebration in such a place of beauty? It was Redbeard, and not Choppy, who was invited to the wedding at Alex’s. But he wasn’t sure how he was going to get there without Choppy. But ticked off and hungry as he was, Redbeard’s heart felt for the guy. How awful and humiliating was this for him? Really. Each eruption of laughter across the lake was regarded as spiteful ridicule of old Charlie Boyle – reckless and ruthless, seeping with cunning and guile. Not to be trusted. Only to be admired from afar.

Redbeard tried to put it out of his mind because never had he ever seen such a group of doers. Joined by the common denominator of adventure, there appeared accomplished canoeists from Ontario and Quebec that all saw a cause to fight for. Here, at Alex’s, were men and women of action who knew the hardships of portaging and the ache of mileage in the face of prevailing winds. All had endured in some degree to be there, and these diehards who had shown their mettle in an understated way only witnessed by themselves and the eye of God. The only thing they carried with them now was demonstrative in their gait of unsung accomplishment. All knew the little things that were required to even show up. He could see it in their weathered faces – and hear it in their laughter. The guttural balls-to-Monty raucous that emitted from their bellies was of a cadence that only true outdoorsmen know. Beards, frayed edges and scratched canoes gathered on the tent-covered beachfront of Alex’s. How many Hemingways could one expect at one gathering in the middle of the canoeing capital of the world?

Redbeard, who was an understated adventurer himself of many years unsung, never thought he would ever be in a group of fellow solo-adventurers, sitting on a beach around a campfire cooled by the southwest wind, connected and warmed by others who had also canoed the river roads of Temagami, portaged its connecting tissue and seen its petroglyphs. But it was all revolved around one man: the man who acted instead of talked: Alex Mathias. He, being the most understated of them all, commanded the most respect. He was the central point from whence all revolved. He exemplified that understated look of experience and true character that attracted the best of the lot – men who had canoed across Canada; men who go out into the wilderness to rediscover old Nastawagan trails to cut new portages; and men who cut new paths to help map areas of Canadian forests hither not mapped before.

They were pathfinders, and innovators.

These few solo men and women broke new ground by thinking outside the box.

These were the people who encircled the sacred fire, nonchalantly and modestly letting slip out their common belief that there was magic up here where the loons live – that the loon and the beaver and the otter are part of a community here that accepted these intrepid travelers just as a sailor is part of the community of the sea and its fish. After all canoers were essentially sailors: navigating by sexton and the night sky, following the North Star knowing they can never truly be lost. But the people here had more than tools; they had the proven instincts of les courier be bois because they lived that life and knew what it took to live and travel on the canoe.



Sixth Week

The ceremony went well and most of the people there spent time in the sweat lodge and really got involved in it. Each was respectful of the Native drumming and the ceremony that took place to thank the Great Spirit for the fruits of summer and to ask for protection for the hardships of winter, with the promise of a new season poised to come into being after the end of winter. Redbeard did not understand the Ojibwa words Alex said as he held the burning sage above each person’s head to cleanse the negative energies from their person to usher in this new era. Regardless of whether the warm season had brought harvest or not, each had survived and was now ending the year by washing away any negativity or bad energy. It was a cleansing ceremony and a new beginning.

There were quite a number of people who left the day after the ceremony, perhaps only interested in the ceremony itself, or maybe had other things to do such as return to work. But for Redbeard he was completely immersed in the scene, digging the vibe of these modern-day explorers who had arthritic hands and portage knees, tendonitis and hardened blisters. He had been accepted by them for his sunburn and new lines around his eyes from his six weeks in the bush, svelte and tanned and showing all the signs of being a fellow doer. He had been admitted into the small, exclusive clique that was closed to all soft-skinned, flabby ass talkers who only knew posturing and broken promises.

He spoke the language of action.

He had become accustomed to the hunger and was content to be with his dog and soak in canoeing culture in this surreal landscape of sandy beaches, bare granite and the smell of freshwater.

Choppy too had downshifted and had moved on from his pouting, turning a page and trying to get along with his lost friends from the past, but when one of the guys smoked a joint with him, things took a turn for the worse. When it was passed around, Choppy indulged. That’s when the personality change happened. The insanity – the queer voice, the high-strung laugh, the jittery smile, the fervent effort to always talk – this insane man blustered his way to overstay his welcome at Alex’s and insisted that he be the last to leave. He even adamantly remained after Alex had left. Redbeard lingered and loitered, patiently waiting for Choppy to pack up so they could leave for Temagami and end their six-weeks in the woods. To ensure he was the very last person at Alex’s, he flirted with Alex’s pregnant daughter. And for Redbeard, it was painfully embarrassing to witness. Some of the last men there had noticed too. They sympathized with Redbeard’s plight, shaking their heads behind Choppy Waters’ back.

Choppy had nothing to return to, but Redbeard did.

Now Choppy, in his mania, was making an effort to inherit Alex’s land.

Natasha was flattered. She was only 21 and Choppy was 44. He even squatted in front of her so that his head was inches from her bosom in an obvious move to create sexual tension. She blushed but unbelievably showed interest. He was shameless. Alex would never allow any union with Choppy because he knew his was a false man.

On the beach, after the handyman John left the property, he sat close beside her with his legs spread open. The giggling on his part revealed a giddiness – a sparkling insanity – that spilled over into nervous ticks and non-stop talking. He tried to lure her through a smoky baritone whisper. Crass and cunning, he only sought to get on her good side to ensure he would be invited to return the following year. He was shameless, but it was brought on by this strange chemical reaction he had with marijuana.

When finally confronted by Redbeard, Choppy blurted out that he was not feeling well and that he would stay the night.

“I’m not going to stay here if Alex isn’t here,” said Redbeard. “It’s just not right.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“If you’re not feeling well sit in the bow and I’ll paddle. We can go to the first campsite if you want. It’s close by – maybe a pipe or two.” It was late afternoon.

“No. But go on then. Take the canoe if you want.” Redbeard realized immediately that this was what he wanted more than anything. He could paddle back to Temagami on his own with Schopenhauer. Choppy could get a lift with Alex when he returned. There was road access to Alex’s. They could meet in Temagami.

“That’s not a bad idea. I can leave you some food.” Redbeard didn’t even bother asking him if it was okay. It was the only way he could stop the physical decay of his body and the mental anguish caused by Choppy’s ups and downs.

It had been 40 days and 40 nights in the bush.

And so it was that Redbeard paddled alone in the canoe across Obabika Lake to the portage where he took five loads over the kilometer trail. He moved along the meandering river until it opened up into Temagami Lake at the tip of the Northwest Arm. The sun set quickly but he was able to find a campsite just after dark where he slept with Schopenhauer for the night. He was for the first time at peace. Not bickering. No empty stomach. Just him and his dog.

When he awoke in the morning he drank his tea and could not move past an inner debate: should he return to Alex’s to see if Choppy wanted to paddle back with him. It seemed a shame to separate so near to the end. He could probably reach Temagami in one day if he really paddled, but for some reason this felt like a hollow ending to the trip. He knew in his gut he would return for his companion. It was just the way he was.

But he decided to leave half the gear at the campsite, slightly hidden in the brush just in case someone else camped there though he and Choppy were literally the very last of the season’s canoers still on the water.

So he and Schopenhauer paddled back to Alex’s sand beach, hugging the shoreline to avoid the direct wind. The beach was deserted and he doubted Choppy was still there so he yelled for him: “Choppy! Chop chop!” Schopenhauer seemed to know they were looking for the third member of the pack and ran up to the house, causing the husky to bark. Just as he was about to call for his dog, Choppy stepped out onto the beach, his gear on his back.

“You did, didn’t you? You came back. I swear, I thought you would.” He smiled and seemed genuinely happy to see him. Something about what he said comforted him – as if his old friend truly knew the core of his character.

“You ready padre?”

“I am indeed my brother!” And that was it. They packed up and assumed their positions: Choppy in the stern and Redbeard and Schopenhauer in the bow and pushed off across Lake Obabika to the portage where they both sat exhausted on the rock, eating the very last scraps of food in their wanagan. For the portage they only had their packs and the canoe on their shoulders. Schopenhauer walked beside them wagging her tail. Then when they settled once again into the canoe they paddled along the small river that fed into the western belly of Lake Temagami at the beginning of the Northwest Arm.

Once at the campsite, Redbeard immediately felt a heavy sadness because he knew it would be their final night camping. So much had happened and there was so much to celebrate, but each of them – including Schopenhauer – were exhausted. Limbs were weary and blisters had hardened and with the drastic calorie deficiency in their diet, they didn’t have the gumption to party. Neither of them had the words. Flat and falling into a food coma eating the soured and somewhat moldy leftovers at the bottom of the barrel, there was too much that would be left unsaid, and for Redbeard that was all right. They both knew what they had accomplished.

They could reminisce when they met at the pub in the years to come.

Lulled and somewhat drugged by the orange flame of the ancient fire, Redbeard and Schopenhauer fell asleep where they were beside the fire, until Redbeard got up and fell down asleep in his tent, gravity finally winning the battle. He fell into a deep sleep. His sleep was heavy but dreams soon took over, until he saw a vivid image of Schopenhauer looking at him in the eyes, her face smiling, her soul emitting pure joy. She looked at him deeply, earnestly, as if she was telling him she loved him like no other, and that she was truly happy. The image was so striking that Redbeard woke up. Eyes wide open, he was alarmed. He immediately felt something was wrong. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, so he went out to the burnt out campfire but Schopenhauer wasn’t there.

Nor was Choppy.

He walked to the water’s edge and it dawned on his that Choppy might have taken his dog again out in the canoe. Sleepy but alarmed, he couldn’t understand the powerful image of Schopenhauer he had just seen in his dream. Her face was so clear.

Judging from the moonlight, it was somewhere in the middle of the night, several hours since he laid down.

“Choppy!” he yelled out to the water. He listened. Then he heard a splash.

“I’m here,” he said, rather close to the shore, down where there was a sheer rock face.

“What are you- Do you have the dog?”

“I did have her,” he replied. “But she jumped out of the canoe when there was a rustling in the woods near the tent. She swam back to the island.”

Redbeard squinted in the darkness but could hardly see anything, so he retrieved his flashlight from his tent and looked for his dog.

“Schopenhauer, come!” He looked all around the camp, and then into the woods but he could hardly get through the underbrush.

“Where did she land?”

“That’s what I’m doing out here right now: I’m trying to figure out where she landed.” That was when something in his stomach dropped. His nerves turned to shards of glass on fire, melting into his core and burning something white hot deep down.

“You fuck!”

“She swam to the shore and I heard her whimpering and then she stopped. I paddled over there to the rock face but couldn’t find her.”

A terrible new reality was descending all around him, the scent of death and finality all around him crushing his thinking abilities.

“Schopenhauer!” he yelled loudly. “Schopenhauer! Come!” Nothing. Not a sound. If she was within 500 meters she would have heard it. He stopped moving and listened for sounds of a canine moving through the underbrush.


What have you done?”

Again no sounds from the forest.

So he walked into the water and moved slowly towards the rock face, looking closely at the surface of the water.

For a floating dog.

The adrenaline that coursed through his veins muted the cold water, his senses alert and keen to find anything in the water. The time ticked by with each passing second hammering home the truth that his beloved companion was dead.


But he had just seen her face smiling at him.

She was so happy.

He stopped and let his ears do the work, trying to locate her through sound in the darkness.


He kept moving closer to the vertical rock face, the water now up to his shoulders. He couldn’t hear her but he could smell bear shit.

Once one has smelled the potent odor of bear shit, one can never not know what it was again.

“Bear shit,” he said to Choppy.

“Oh man, that’s what it was. She heard a bear. And she jumped out to protect you. But-.” He couldn’t say it. Neither of them could say it. It was too gross for words.

She drowned!

But she was just in his dream, so happy. What-. Then he knew. He figured out what it was. She had come to him in his dream when she had suffocated in the water. She had come to him in the afterlife. She had come to tell him that she loved him and that she was okay. She was so full of joy. She was smiling! Her lips were full and black and her little bottom teeth could be seen as she smiled. Her eyes full of love. How could this have happened?

How could she have come into his dreams just at that moment?

He couldn’t walk anymore in the water because of the depth. And he was shivering. He returned to the camp and stood there wordless and motionless, trying to think what he could do. Choppy landed in the canoe sheepish, hunched over, guilt-ridden. But for some reason Redbeard didn’t yell at him. He was now obsessed with how she had come to him as he slept. In the afterlife.

Where was she?

He wondered how long she had struggled, how long she had clawed at the rock trying to save him from the bear.

“Why-“ he said but stopped. He couldn’t berate Choppy Waters. He was a flawed, needy man who hadn’t intended for the dog to jump out of the canoe. His anger turned to sadness in an instant, tears stinging his eyes, the salt striking his senses, which made him shiver more. His torso trembled in quiet crying, his teeth clenched and his eyes still searching for his dog. The tears warmed his cheeks, and felt good in his pain – a balm that would not keep him warm. He lost himself in his shuddering chest as Choppy stood there not saying a thing, watching Redbeard cry silently and with dignity. But the image of Schopenhauer so happy and full of joy awakened something within him, momentarily brightening the darkness in his heart, a sliver of hope that squashed the rancid emotions of death.

Finally, when he opened his eyes from the salty tears he saw the horizon lightening, the new day dawning and rays of hope soon to strike, removing the dread and danger of the dark. Then the crying stopped. And again the image in his mind’s eye grew in stature and clarity, her shining face still hovering, still exuding emotion. Love. Gratitude. Joy. Reassuring him that she was safe. And that she loved him.

Something more was born in him at that moment; something profound; something life-altering. It was a moment that could not be forgotten for what it meant, to him and for the rest of his life. She had come to him upon the moment of her death as a spirit without her earthly body, proving to him that there had to be life after death. She had given him the gift of life – the gift of knowing that there was an afterlife. Redbeard didn’t know it then but this one piece of knowledge would change his life forever. It would change the way he treated people – beginning with the way he treated Choppy. It began with him forgiving his eccentric friend of his shortcomings, and for this terrible event – an accident of circumstance. This alignment of forces. This absurd combination of ingredients that produced her death – or her return to the afterlife.


Redbeard never forgot this last evening canoeing with Choppy. He was simply never able to forget these events and seeing Schopenhauer in his dreams so vividly after she had drowned. He would also never repeat the extremism both physically and mentally of that six-week canoe trip again. He would only see his buddy Choppy Waters once after their Temagami trip, before his untimely death at age 50. He was found dead under a bridge in the Humber Valley near the lakeshore in west Toronto beaten to death. It would be ruled a mugging gone wrong. It had been a violent death, his neck broken and his hands fractured. However he did not see Choppy Water’s face clearly and vividly in his dream around the time of his death, but he could still recall his smile bright and mischievous and his ruddy complexion vibrant with laugh lines. And how he dove deeply into the cold waters of Lake Temagami after each full day of paddling without fail, defying reason and dedicated to the art of the canoer’s life. He was happy that he had forgiven him for his offside with his doggie Schopenhauer, and somehow had faith that once he himself had finished his earthly walk they would once again meet, perhaps with his beloved Schopenhauer.

But seeing Schopenhauer that night illustrated the hidden power of love: by giving love you receive love, even in the afterlife. That smile; that happiness; that joy – lives on forever in an infinite moment of colorful clarity unhindered by gravity or negativity. And that was why he never bothered to ask Choppy why he took his dog out in the canoe that final night because in his heart he knew why: because he wanted love. He wanted that unconditional puppy love to heal his battered and bruised heart. He was injured and sought solace in the company of a dog with a friendly and beautiful soul. It was an act of desperation and an act of humanity rolled into one. It was one last doggie hug before he returned to the loveless concrete city. He was part of the pack of three so his offside was a minor one but that had major consequences for them both. He was satisfied he had never berated an injured man who had bared his soul in front of him for six challenging weeks in the wilds who displayed world-class canoeing skills and outdoor acumen that would belittle any urbanite and rank among the canoeing greats, such as Grey Owl himself. Choppy was a remarkable man, flawed and brilliant, wounded and brave, who pushed forth to the edge despite the chemical handicap he could not control. His achievements were somehow distinctively Canadian: understated and unusual, unheralded and done without fanfare.

And it all happened in a moment of time – a fluke of paths crossing, old university friends coming together with only a promise, and the will to create a memory.

Redbeard returned to St. Joseph’s Island, settled down with Charlotte as his wife, raised two kids and never again seemed to find the time to undertake another overnight canoe trip. Oftentimes he would reflect on the dangers and the sheer physicality of what he and Choppy did those six weeks in the autumn of 2009 – a memory that stands apart from all his others for its sheer audacity and daring.

Numerous times he was close to returning to Temagami to visit the site of Schopenhauer’s death but he never did.

They never found her body, deciding that morning that her body had been taken with the currents down into the depths of the lake. They had had a muted service on the spot where it appeared she had clawed, Redbeard speaking a few words in her honor. They paddled back all day non-stop without a word through the heart of Temagami Lake and then up the Northeast Arm all the way to the village of Temagami, a distance that had taken Choppy and Redbeard three days to cover at the beginning of their trip. Slowing to the dock at John’s, the sun had just set just as a beaver dove off a rock into the water. The two haggard canoers gathered their things and hugged each other, knowing they had just achieved something special across the Temagami spider, with its choppy waters and wind devils, its campsites and waterfalls, and it portages and ancient whisperings that rang through them with each stroke, but both were thinking of their friend Schopenhauer.

Over the years that followed Redbeard remembered her smiling face again and again, still vivid and timeless, taking a moment to relive and enjoy her happiness as she ascended into the spirit world, communicating to him that she indeed loved him – forever. And that perhaps one day, when he passes on, they will be reunited once again.