Choppy Waters

Lake Temagami

A novella by

Peter Higgins

Dedicated to the two Keewadin guides who inspired this journey:

Charlie Boyle and Temagami legend Archie Belaney

Published 2010

©Copyright MMXX

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter One – Outfitting
  2. Chapter Two – On the Water
  3. Chapter Three – Wind Devils
  4. Chapter Four – Grey Owl
  5. Chapter Five – Once Were Rapids
  6. Chapter Six – Drawn to the Wild
  7. Chapter Seven – The Canoeing Monk
  8. Chapter Eight – The Full Pull
  9. Chapter Nine – Bear Island
  10. Chapter Ten – The Night Paddle
  11. Chapter Eleven – The Keewatin Cap
  12. Chapter Twelve – The Vibe of the Wild
  13. Chapter Thirteen – Place Where the Soul Spirit Dwells
  14. Chapter Fourteen – The Golden Staircase
  15. Chapter Fifteen – Scar Tissue
  16. Chapter Sixteen – A Change of Route
  17. Chapter Seventeen – The Two-and-a-Half Miler
  18. Chapter Eighteen – Alex
  19. Chapter Nineteen – Offside
  20. Chapter Twenty – Changing of the Seasons
  21. Chapter Twenty-one – Manic
  22. Chapter Twenty-two –



            His old university friend Choppy Waters was a master canoeist who had a way with words. At the time they knew each other during university, Redbeard knew him as Charlie Boyle – the guy who was wearing shorts with Birkenstocks and wool socks well into the cold end of November – and who never seldom went to his philosophy classes but was always still able to get an ‘A’ on the term paper. But when they met to go canoeing some twenty-five years later he learned that Charlie Boyle was known as Choppy Waters: the one who preferred to paddle in robust open waters rather than in the calm waters along the shoreline. He simply thrived on the roller-coaster style of canoeing. Choppy Waters and Redbeard had talked about taking a canoe trip for 20 years, so when their paths crossed they both agreed to make it happen. But for Redbeard it was only to be a two-week trip on Lake Temagami. He couldn’t foresee that it would span 42 days and 42 nights with Choppy Waters – a man who would prove his nickname to be apt.

            Redbeard had expected the canoe trip to be like a beer commercial, with some good memories and some fun times but what he didn’t expect was an encounter with mental illness that put both his own life, and that of his dog Schopenhauer, in peril.

Having only seen Choppy Waters once or twice in the city for brief visits at parties, Redbeard had not known much of his life in Toronto over the last 20 years and the details of his recent past. He expected Choppy to be the eccentric smart dude he had been at university. He still dressed in the same odd manner and spoke in creative burst, but he didn’t see any warning signs that would have raised red flags. So they agreed to meet Temagami at Lake Temagami – the best canoeing in the world. And the same network of lakes that Choppy Waters had been a canoe guide during many years throughout his youth.

“No Russian,” was one of the first things he said to Redbeard when they met that first day late August in Temagami. They were busy piecing together all the items they had purchased for their trip, Redbeard’s border collie Schopenhauer close at his feet.

“No Russian?” he repeated, but when he said it aloud he understood: there would be no rushing during their canoe trip no matter what.

Charlie Boyle/Choppy Waters was a unique guy. He was tall and athletic and strong but without an ounce of fat – slim and limber and svelte with deeply carved cheeks that were covered with a fairly bushy beard. His hair had thinned and he was guilty of a comb-over hairdo now in his forties. But he always wore a hat to hide his hair-follicle-challenged piece. Blue eyes close together balanced an exceptionally bony and long nose that dominated his look – an architype as ancient as the man’s DNA. Hardy stock, his parents were wealthy and he had been the head prefect at one of the oldest boarding schools in Canada. But in every sense of the word he was an outdoorsman – both physically and philosophically. Seeing Choppy beside the water he could see how well he fit into his surroundings, especially in contrast to his Toronto self.

He was simply incongruous with the suit-and-tie persona of corporate Toronto. He was a canoeist through and through.

They were both unconventional to most others, both being old philosophy students who still took their philosophy seriously, especially when in the genre of Henry David Thoreau. Redbeard knew the outdoors and loved it but something in Choppy Waters was more immersed in the country – something more profound was in play. It was different up north in Temagami for Choppy. Redbeard could see it: Choppy Waters was becoming in the truest sense of the word – becoming his true self. Like a fish thirsting for water, the geomancy of Temagami stimulated with his anima: the life source of his person. At once he could see Choppy Waters was a master here at last able to ply his trade, finally home – a mournful soul full of echoes from deeds done here in the past. It was this reverent sadness that slowed the pace of time on these shores, with lakes like droplets of water cupped in Precambrian bowls.

Perhaps there was a reason why the Anishinabek here are said to have survived the last ice age. There was definitely something in Choppy Waters’ intuitive apparatus that was responding to the deep history of the North American Indian history here in Lake Temagami, as if the Red Man’s blood pulsed through his veins.

“I bought a $30 piece of cheese last month and then proceeded not to touch it until it went bad,” said Choppy. “So I chucked it. It’s a good example of my disorder.” Voice calm – an act of confession in the Church of Nature.

“What disorder?”

“That thing that’s wrong with me. Severe Personality Disorder is what they call it.” He patted Schopenhauer as he spoke. He loved Redbeard’s dog.

“Just because some cheese went bad?”

“No because I wanted to see how long it would take to go bad. It’s like me having the need to go off on an all-night panther walk every full moon. Even when my wife asked me not to go, I went anyway.” He had heard from a mutual friend of how Choppy spent days on end off in the wilderness forests in the large parks throughout Toronto, often sleeping under the stars at night or making a fire under a bridge. It was true that at times he looked like a hobo – his clothes dirty and tattered and his footwear cracked with holes, his beard wild and unkempt.

“Are you crazy then?” Attempt at being light-hearted.

“The exact term is ‘schizotypal personality disorder,’ so yeah, a bit crazy I guess.” As casual as talking about the weather.

Choppy Waters’ hands shook when he started rolling a cigarette. It was the first time Redbeard had noticed the palsy. Hands filthy and some pretty substantial body odor, Redbeard hoped the trip would help him return to the happy-go-lucky dude he had known so many years ago.

Fearful to ask more about it, Redbeard spread the map out on the dock. It was true he had heard some stories of his extreme behavior but it was all rumor so was discounted as such.

Despite the map being in Ojibwa, Choppy Waters knew the names of the routes marked on the waterways and the portages with the recorded length of each portage. This was measured by the number of chains. The Ojibwa rolled off his tongue as if a grandfather spirit was speaking.

“Obabika, Wasaksina and Tetapaga. We want to get down here in the south. We paddle from the far reach of the Northeast Arm and come through here where the pictographs are said to be.”

A red and white DeHavilland Beaver float plane was dropping gracefully from above the train station near the water in Temagami. The plane swooped down from the northeast over the Temagami Outfitters and the houseboats that lined the docks. Once over the houseboats, the pilot killed the throttle and in a light wind glided softly downwards in a swoop, just missing the surface of the water and then landing gently on its pontoons. Schopenhauer watched the plane land, her ears perked and curious. Redbeard, just like his dog, was perked and curious as to how things would unravel in this wild labyrinth of waterways with this smelly eccentric with the palsy.


On the Water

Day One

After six days of camping in the backyard of Choppy’s friend John in the village of Temagami, they were finally ready to move out. Much of the equipment that was required items were kit that Redbeard would not have thought of, such as the waterproof map case and the waterproof bag for valuables. Both proved useful on the trip. But it was the strange and absurd quantity of food that was spent by Choppy at the supermarket. Dried vegetables, flour, sugar, anchovies, cans of carnation milk, oats, etc. The list was long. It was way more than two-week’s worth of food. When Redbeard expressed that it may be too much food, Choppy Waters replied that it was better to have too much than too little. He even offered to put in more money that Redbeard since his diet was different. The problem became bag space. They bought an extra bag and Redbeard used two of his as part of a dumped grouping of bags. Only when they removed as many items of kit and clothing could, they fit everything in the canoe. They had outfitted for almost a week but Redbeard was thinking that Choppy had overdone it.

There was only three inches on either side of the gunnels. And they weren’t even in the canoe yet!

“Ummm.” Choppy suggested they go out to test the raft a bit before tomorrow’s departure

“Yeah. Let’s give it a small test paddle,” he replied. “It’s the only way we can see if it will float.” So Redbeard agreed and they went out on the water. He thought of saying something to Choppy about the high winds but he assumed he knew what he was doing and had his own plan.

The canoe was understandably low in the water so when Choppy began barking commands from the stern Redbeard at first thought it was a joke.

In this wind?

So he waited until he heard the same command again.

“Let’s turn around in a circle.”


“Yes, let’s see how many paddles it takes.” So Redbeard began pulling the canoe around in a circle in the big waters in the cross winds, waves threatening the canoe and their packs and Schopenhauer’s life. Awkwardly and dangerously they performed the stunt before turning back to the cottage.

“And that was with the dog!” he yelled, manic in the face of the wind.

Only Choppy Waters would have taken an unexperienced canoeist and restless border collie with a fully loaded 1000-pound vessel during high winds for turning exercises.

It was a sign of things to come.


They left John’s just before midday with a final load measuring a thousand pounds. Choppy became obsessed with packing in the least amount of space. They were at their maximum, which left them with barely three inches on either side of the gunnels. One serious wave from the side could have knocked them down.

Not your usual canoeing experience.

But the kit and food was to last them a month or more, until the Temagami blockade twentieth anniversary took place the first day of Fall.

Another seaplane flew overhead as Choppy Waters and Redbeard paddled out of the bay in their own independent, self-sufficient water vehicle. The canoe was low in the water and the packs were piled high, but they crossed the current for the south side of the shoreline along the Northeast Arm of Lake Temagami successfully. Schopenhauer understood her role of sitting quietly in the front of the canoe within the first half hour of canoeing, which calmed Redbeard’s anxiety about his dog. Slowly they moved southwest past Bell Island to O’Connor Island where there was a small bay.

“Let’s stop here for a pipe,” said Choppy Waters.

“A pipe? I like that.”

Choppy Waters began to speak when they were snug in a bay having a pipe.

“The Anishinabek used to measure their canoe trips by the pipe. They would stop for a pipe every hour or so, resting for five minutes, and then keep going. So if Bobby Too Good wanted to give directions, he’d say: ‘I’m about 14 pipes from the town of Temagami, northwest of Bear Island.’”

“By the pipe? That makes perfect sense to me!” Redbeard saw the logic in it, especially with a heavy load.

“They used to stop every time they saw a protected bay, dock and sit around and smoke a pipe.” Choppy had learned while he was a canoe tripper at Camp Keewatin – the same canoe camp where Archie Belaney, who was also known as Grey Owl in Canadian history, used to guide back in 1910. The camp, throughout its long history, had always recruited the best local Indian guides and had thus inherited a lot of the old ways, including the famous Keewatin campfire.

“Well, it’s a good rest and the thick tobacco leaves would give them a jolt,” said Redbeard, calming his border collie Schopenhauer that sat between his feet in the bow. The wind was still high, the waves just below white caps.

Since Choppy had never explored the southern part of the vast lake despite spending 15 years guiding canoeing trips, he insisted they do a figure eight of the lake to ensure they see it all.

After a dicey first pipe, the dog relaxed more and they began to hit their stride. It proved to be much easier than the practice day exercise yesterday doing drills in high winds, but doing militaristic Keewatin training during high winds was how Choppy did things. Redbeard was stoic enough to endure his baptism of fire and remain unruffled. And because he was unruffled, the dog was unruffled.

After the first pipe the waters calmed. Redbeard and Schopenhauer were more confident and began to enjoy the ride. The massive white pine trees towered over them near the shores, the air a magical perfumed fragrance of pine and spruce and cedar. The shore were void of cottages. The entire network of waterways were as they had been for hundreds of years, the Anishinabek careful not to have let development get out of hand. Only in a few places were there clusters of cottages where he could see some boats and the odd water skier.

They took their second pipe across from Ferguson Island. The third and fourth pipes were spent hugging the shoreline because the winds had picked up again. They remained in the canoe in inlets where the water was calm and unaffected by the winds. Schopenhauer was happy to jump out of the canoe and explore the shoreline as they smoked and studied their maps. In order for his dog to overcome her fear of being on the water, Redbeard brought some bacon treats that he would give to her when she jumped into the canoe at his feet.

It proved to be effective.

Choppy Waters wanted to stop at the mouth of the South Tetapagos River, but it was too small so they pressed on before they found an old campsite on a peninsula west of Broom Island. There was a cairn on the shore where the rock was ancient, hardened and sculpted into poses of defiance against the wear of the water. Deep holes and broken crests, the shoreline paddle was a tour of the front lines of the battle between water and rock.

Choppy Waters found beaver-cut pieces of hardwood for the fire and cooked pasta with an onion-garlic-anchovy-tomato paste sauce. After Redbeard’s first day of paddling, it tasted great. He understood why Choppy bought so many tins of anchovies.

A row of old-growth white pines encircled a stone fire pit on the Precambrian rock, and some spots where there was soil and pine needles made for some good sleeping pockets. Despite this Choppy Waters slept under the stars with no tent.

The no-see-ums came out just as the sun fell away and the next morning with the overcast skies. Old ancestor spirits stirred in the trees from past explorers and traders, and the crosswinds blowing through the trees creating a sound, like a straight instrument. It created a stirring hum of sounds slow and gradual and calming.

The narcotic effect of the winds were enough to keep them there for two nights.


Wind Devils

Day Three

The loudest sound around these parts was the roar of loons from the water. Redbeard saw evidence of beavers at work everywhere. The efforts of Grey Owl to conserve and curtail beaver trapping in these parts 80 years ago had had an impact. Pieces of beaver-chewed trunks of poplar trees were found in piles all along the shorelines. Grey Owl paddled these waters and knew these campsites. He had walked this path. The skills required then are still employed today to undertake the same trip. Everything was Precambrian shield covered with intermittent moss with some cedars sprouting from the rock as if it had hidden soil within. The land felt ancient and untouched as if it were all out of a fairytale.

The morning was calm and beautiful, the branches swaying in the lazy breeze, Choppy taking a morning dip in the crisp waters around them. Even before he had brewed his first coffee. Robust. This was his way to immerse in nature. He felt it deeply this man.

Redbeard had wondered why it had been so many years since Choppy Waters last canoe trip, so he asked him.

“About seven years ago I was still a guide at Camp Keewatin,” he said. “Until something happened. I was out on a trip with a group of ten and another guide named Constantine, and a few days after leaving Alex’s place, I decided to go back to Al’s to pick up the weed we forgot. We agreed they would camp there until I returned, but when I did finally return with the weed they had left.” He shook his head at the memory. “Constantine… Anyway, as I was canoeing to catch up with our group I hurt my leg. My pace, of course, slowed. The group arrived at the camp and they sent out a helicopter to look for me. It was a mess. They still have an expression at Camp Keewatin: ‘Don’t pull a Choppy Waters.’” It had taken him a full lifecycle to overcome that. That was the story he told to Redbeard, but it wasn’t until they bumped into Constantine during their canoe trip weeks later that the whole truth of that incident became clear.

But for Redbeard, they had come together to honour one of our most accomplished Canadians in the early twentieth century: Grey Owl: the Englishman-turned-Anishinabek Red Man. All Archie Belaney wanted to do was to play Indian in the real-life game of Cowboys and Indians. He was a man who took the step into that fantasy and did what he saw as his dream. He became a champion of conservatism, learning how to canoe from watching the beavers cross the current to the mouth of a river to its home. He saw how it used its tail as a paddle and how it surfed the waves and cut a threat into an advantage. Grey Owl was a nocturnal canoeist, preferring the night paddle with fairer weather and calmer waters.

Choppy sang his praises like Longfellow sang his praises to Hiawatha, the lord of the forests. Redbeard was amazed and comforted to learn that Choppy Waters had brought The Song of Hiawatha on three separate occasions during his 10,000 previous miles on a canoe.

“Grey Owl was a man who almost single-handedly spearheaded conservatism in Canada and particularly the beaver,” said Choppy. He shared Redbeard’s enthusiasm for Grey Owl, but unlike Redbeard, Choppy knew more about the man from his years of canoe tripping in Temagami.

“A sniper and injured during World War One, he returned to the Canadian wilderness and lived like the Red Man.”

Choppy Waters and Redbeard went into the Temagami woods to live deliberately in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and Grey Owl, a man who understood – and who could not relinquish – the timeless beauty of it all. For Redbeard to tread the Temagami waters like he was doing and to go to Bear Island where the Ojibwa lived was to honour this slandered British-born, Canadian-adopted hero. For him it was a solemn pilgrimage. He figured it was a statement that said: “We honour you Archie Belaney; your life has left impressions in the sand prints of time.”

The morning on the third day was hot and cloudy with some wind. Choppy Waters, Redbeard and Schopenhauer rested in a small enclave, protected from the wind. They had left their camp across from Broom Island and moved through the Skull Narrows where they reached the end of the Northeast Arm and were entering the body of the spider. (The bird’s eye view of Lake Temagami had the shape of a spider). To keep away from the white caps in the open waters they spotted an enclave where they rested and had a pipe, and studied whether their canoe could pass through the shallow, sandy narrows. It was too shallow to canoe so they both hopped out and pushed the vessel over some fallen logs and rocks. Technically it was their first portage. If they hadn’t had taken the shortcut they would have had to battle white caps and had a good 40 minutes more of hard paddling.

“It is a deep thirst that stirs within he who willingly goes into the face of danger,” said Choppy Waters. Redbeard wanted to suggest they dock for a few hours to let the winds die down but Choppy was all for going straight into it. They hit an onslaught of oncoming wind turning south on the main lake that would have tipped them had they not done a dramatic U-turn and ferried west to the protection of the islands. The winds were strong enough they couldn’t even control the paddle: it caught wind every stroke. Wind devils abounded but somehow Choppy Waters was able to steer them against the headwinds as Redbeard paddled with vigor. Schopenhauer kept her head below the bow, buried beneath Redbeard’s legs. The narrows between the mainland and the islands that had become a wind tunnel and the white caps threatened to tip the canoe.

Turning in that narrows was pretty hairy with a thousand pounds of baggage and a doggie. It forced them to traverse the lake to the west side that took them a few hours of white-knuckle wave crunching with more than a few waves landing over the gunnels. They found a camp on a small rocky island but the wind was too strong and the site too exposed, so they kept ferrying across the white caps.

Choppy Waters did an excellent job steering diagonally at 45 degrees off each wave through the choppy points around each outcropping from the shore. They were forced to dig in and keep their paddles working in the water. They finally reached Camp Wonikon where they took anchor and chatted with the owner. White caps and the full five o’clock winds dominated the waters. They waited half an hour talking on the dock and then did the last half hour grind around the dangerous high waters around the southern lip of Temagami Island, where the current separates and the vacuous and irregular wave patterns and the unhindered southwest winds required them to forget about their sore hands and their shoulders of fire. They focused on not tipping and getting around the point to the campsite. For a few long moments it felt as if they weren’t moving forward, but with meaningful, purposeful strokes of good technique they moved closer to their destination.

Just after the point they went to the second peninsula past the native cemetery and found a good site. Despite the wind, Choppy had a fire up and going within a half hour of them retiring from the water for the day. They were both wet from the waves splashing over the sides of the vessel, so they warmed themselves by the fire after changing into some dry clothes. It was only their best canoeing that brought them to safety on the southern tip of Temagami Island. Even around the tip the waves were still mature when they finally slammed to shore.

“A thousand pounds, seven pipes from halfway down the Northeast Arm to the southwest corner of Temagami Island on Lake Temagami,” he said Choppy, relaxing beside the orange flame. Schopenhauer was adjusting to the high jinx on the water and soon settled beside Redbeard’s side, falling asleep.

“We covered a lot of pipes today. Maybe six hours of paddling with perhaps seven pipes?”

“That sounds right.” Choppy looked purposely at Redbeard. “He who puts their life on the line, who loves life as much as me, being outfitted sufficiently is a deadly serious thing. The last 50 dollars I spent on supplies could make or break a successful trip.”

“Indeed, like the little things that, if ignored, could develop into a problem: a scrape, blister, burn, bite, sunburn, tweaked knee, stiff back. Careful maintenance along the way requires the proper tools and the right philosophy of time. Not being Russian is the starting point of such a philosophy.” Choppy Waters stared into the fire with a glazed look in his eye, and bloodshot from exhaustion, too drained to show his inner smile.

“Making time to change socks to take a dip is dictated by practicality, as the old trappers knew. Things like starting a fire with birch bark on the inside surrounded by dried cedar, or always having an ongoing collection of birch bark during the trip are secrets and tricks of the trade from les voyageurs.”

“Like our man Pierre Radisson.”

“Yep, and his mate Grosseilliers.”

“And even Étienne Brulé.”

“Our wanigan and the tump lines and the knots and the paddle strokes all descend from the earliest canoeists.”

Into the muck of nature and into the thickness of her soup, Redbeard could hear the drumbeat of her soul. Redbeard listened until his eyes could stay open no longer. They were both so exhausted at nightfall that after dinner they left the leftovers in the pot. Thinking it might be an open invitation for bears to infiltrate their camp, Redbeard let it go without a word because the pot was closer to Choppy Water’s tent.


Grey Owl

Day Four

The forests echoed with the sounds of birds and wildlife, like a jungle of pine and spruce and birch. But it was the loons that ran this lake’s audio channels. They call to each other from down the lake, hanging solo or in packs like seagulls. The leaves on the maple trees created a symphonic echo effect that make the sounds of nature linger that penetrated deeply into the ancient instincts of what it was to be a man in the wilderness.

Schopenhauer had so far adjusted well: during the rough patches on the water she was scared, especially with the water splashing over the bow, but she had learned to stay at Redbeard’s feet in the bow. She had learned the importance of hunkering down, burying her head in his crotch during the roughest spots. Only once did she stand on the gunnel, which tipped the vessel to port. Redbeard had to push her down and tell her to sit only once. She understood after that that standing on the gunnels when on choppy waters was unsafe. Otherwise the little border collie was riding well. She was blind in one eye but she had a knack for understanding what Redbeard wanted, and was a very happy canine at his side. Their partnership was born to be, each knowing each other as well as could be. He would die for her, and her for him. And this canoeing trip was another adventure for them to show their love to each other. A few times he had had to tell Choppy Waters to stop giving her so much attention because she was a dog who preferred to be at her master’s side, but he was slow to accept this truth. He looked at her like a prize or toy, not as a handicapped puppy who was desperate to protect her master at any cost. And Choppy Water’s way was foreign to her. She had only taken to him moderately, which perhaps led him to redouble his efforts to get on her good side. But she was not really interested in him other than he was part of their pack for this journey.

At each campsite she busied herself with exploring the grounds and chasing snakes away.

After the first day of 12 km down the Northeast Arm, Choppy Waters and Redbeard paddled 17km in the high winds to land on the southwest corner of Temagami Island on the third day. Since the winds had come from the southwest those 17km were coming upstream against the wind. In the morning of the fourth day, Choppy Waters explained to him after his morning dip about the local Anishinabek.

“’Temagami’ means “deep water by the shore, in Ojibwa,” he said. He explained that the lake was the hub of a web of interconnected lakes and rivers covering 10,000 square kilometers. “The local Temeeahgamaw, or ‘deep water people’ – an Ojibwa people – have been here for more than 20,000 years, which means they had survived the last flood. These mountains were so high that they were able to survive.” Choppy said that permeating throughout the forests and shoreline are over 1500kilometers of native trails that have been in use for the last 5000 years. “They call it the ‘Nastagan,’” he said.

Choppy was a bit crazy when it came to Native history of Canada. He explained how Temagami was not spared during the Iroquois rampages in the 1650s, but they were expelled nonetheless.

“It is a mixture of Ojibwa, Cree and Algonquin here, the result of the Iroquois invasions during Champlain’s time and the subsequent displacement of tribes. Before the railway came through Temagami from North Bay in 1904, the Hudson’s Bay established a trading post on the south side of Bear Island.”

Now rested and eager to get to the south of the lake to see some pictographs, they left camp for the south past Chino Island through the channel at Narrows Island where they hugged the small island shores under a burning sun. The weather spurred them to power stroke all the way past McLean Peninsula to a campsite near a portage. They sticked a total 20km down the Southwest Arm to the southern tip of McLean Peninsula.

The water was smooth compared to the previous outing. The water was so clear one could see the rocky bottom 20 feet down 60 feet away. Having such a sound sleep with Schopenhauer at his side in his tent last night helped his body heal but after the fifth pipe of the day his shoulder pain had a manifold increase. Being a writer, Redbeard had what would be called an ‘academic build,’ so the shoulder expenditure was a good thing. Dormant muscles were being called to the fore, but it felt much more fundamental than that as if the very bone structure was being manhandled. But Redbeard was enjoying the canoeing.

The rest was good for both of them during the New Moon last night.

Yesterday’s paddling had been hairy. It had been windy when they started and windy when they finished, but this morning it was hairy for another reason: the canoe was riding high and to port. It had been packed differently. Once corrected the canoe glided effortlessly atop the calm surface. Redbeard had time to enjoy his canoeing despite his shoulder discomfort. A canoeist’s life is not for everyone, but for those who love canoeing are the fortunate few who have been blessed with world-class canoe routes in Ontario, with Temagami among the very best. Canoeing was stripping down to life’s bare essentials: the hustling and hawking of the cities faded away into the crosswinds leaving your mind free and your senses calmed and open to the natural sounds that surrounded you. Days were dictated by the weather. Ones sense of danger heightens and the healthy instincts of man were reborn. You lived the Anishinabek way: closer to Mother Nature and guided by the Grandfather Spirits all around you who looked after you. Your ears adapted and began to listen for beavers flapping their tail or fish jumping. Gone were the manmade noises like engines and trucks and air conditioning and honking horns. It was a reach back in time where one could once again adapt to the natural flow of time. And with a loyal and well-trained dog at your side and you had a safe roving unit, with the dog taking security detail full time. Your ‘house’ was your tent that took five minutes to erect.

Quick erections were important when setting up camp with fading light.

Fire warmed the belly with hot food and tea, and a wool blanket and a sleeping bag warmed the body when the early morning chill hits. Your body grows lean, and the old signs of urban indulgence wane. Your face and hands bronze in the summer sun and your eyes brighten from the vitamin D. Lingering headaches soon sneak away in the night wind only noticed days later when the absence of pain has become the new state and you wonder what is missing.

Perhaps it was the pine needles in the massive white pines that grew throughout Temagami that caused the whistle in the winds. With strong winds and high rock with shorelines of trees one could enjoy a whole new sound experience. Thousands and millions of pine needles each with their vacuous sound in the wind multiplied created a crashing roar that almost overwhelmed. The pine trees stood tall, united and stronger from the winds here at the rooftop of Ontario on the oldest mountain in the world.

It was as if the wind had made the white pine and red pine bigger and more defiant, just like the rock standing defiant against the flowing waters.

But it was because of Choppy Waters that Redbeard was canoeing here. He had championed Lake Temagami and its old-growth forests for 25 years. Choppy Water was a legend in these parts, known to his fellow outdoorsmen as a risk-taker, a man passionate about his freedom. But did some find his ways risky? Not to Choppy; he regarded ‘solid pulls’ as par for the course – a black diamond run for a skier or a long par 5 with some water traps for a golfer.

For those who wanted to let up, Choppy would insist on pressing on, keeping the line and digging in for the far-off shore. Soon of course few of the relatively adventurous canoeists would hesitate a pull with Choppy. He always wanted to paddle into the headwind and reach the next camping vista as if there lay the panacea of all that irked him. But Choppy Waters knew more than what his fellow men saw of him for brewing within that stern brow and long bony nose lay a deep belief in the qualia of existence and the NOW of experience. For in Choppy lay a bottomless thirst for empirical data no matter how small. He knew he was the spiritual offspring of Plato and secure in that knowledge, and had no need to convey this to others.

His philosophical strength was founded by what he had done in his life, those countless thousands of life miles with each mile a mini-harvest of data for his empirical piggy bank. Choppy grew fatter with the honey of knowledge with each passing day, but only he was aware of this hidden wealth. To his fellow outdoorsmen, with their Kevlar canoes and fancy gear, Choppy was a simple old-school traditionalist: a rebel against his militaristic canoe training at Camp Keewatin when he was a kid. He had had the proper instruction but at the point of graduation he chose to always follow a dictum to which he had never been unfaithful: ‘don’t let school get in the way of your education.’ In both academic and outdoor education, Choppy kept moving ahead with his own innovations and insights to evolve himself as both a philosopher and adventurer. He had, due to this dictum, come up with his own brand of existence on a canoe and an original philosophy of life.

So for Choppy, his biggest problem was finding a long enough block of time to get out of the city into the thick of Nature’s bosom. Even when living in the city working full time, Choppy would pack up and walk the parks of the city, finding little nooks and crannies to build a fire and camp out. It was in his bones. Sleeping outside was normal to him; sleeping under a comforter with fluffy pillows was foreign and uncomfortable for him. Charlie Doyle had become a purist in Choppy Waters.

It had been exactly 20 years since Redbeard had seen him and yet those first principles that governed him during those days in Kingston at university still governed him today. Being self-sufficient was the most glaring characteristic one could extrapolate back then when knowing him. He was among the first to carry around a plastic coffee mug attached to his knapsack so he could save of Styrofoam cups. And he was the one who wore Birkenstocks with wool socks and shorts to class right up ‘til the first snowfall.

In fact if one were hard pressed to define such a man as Choppy Waters, it would be as a poet. He could quote long passages from Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha among countless other verses from poets with a keen passion for the outdoors. Around the campfire at the drop of a hat, Choppy could recite poetry so that it blended with the sounds of the splashing waters and blowing leaves. He had the ability – exemplified by that calmness of voice – that clothed his words in honey.

That was one of his gifts: the gift of rhyme and storytelling.

And finally, he was also a man who preferred to be understated – a man who preferred to let his actions speak for themselves. So when it happened that he became an overnight celebrity 20 years ago at a demonstration at Queen’s Park in Toronto against logging old-growth forests, he was not surprised. It had been Choppy who was the one protester who was photographed up in a tree on the front lawn of the provincial government’s headquarters at Queen’s Park with a mobile phone in his hand calling Ontario premier David Peterson who, strangely, would not pick up the telephone. He became the spokesman of the Save the Forest Campaign in Temagami when his off-the-cuff comments about the blockade caused international news and new backing for the movement, which included Gordon Lightfoot, Farley Mowat, Cowboy Junkies, Margaret Atwood and the rock band Blue Rodeo. But being a quiet man by nature, Choppy simply continued guiding canoe trips and relishing his chosen way of life. Many of his friends, including Redbeard, lost touch with him. Even those involved with the blockade couldn’t understand why Choppy – who had the national and international mantle to speak from – chose to turn his back on protesting and arrests for the unspoiled canopies of the northern bush.

Their campsite for the night turned out to be simple and clean. A small island protected it with trees appearing to grow right out of the Canadian Shield. Around the campfire they each worked at now their own self-assigned chores to prepare for the night in their tents. Once done they settled with a large mug of tea that they spiked with some whiskey.

“To be a canoer is to be rich and living in abundance,” said Choppy. “Firewood is all you need for fuel, and birch bark for lighting the fire and matches to light the birch bark.” Redbeard sat back and patted Schopenhauer under his arm. “Canoeing in Temagami is like becoming a 17th-century les voyageur: simple diet, good deerskins, able vessel, accurate maps, compass and a warm blanket.” The wind had picked up again and hit against Redbeard’s tent as if the breath of God was wearing boxing gloves.

“How many pipes did we do today? Eight?” Choppy Waters grunted.

“Maybe eight pipes, sure. Good mileage though. We’re getting in tune with each other’s stroke.” Choppy Waters had the earned wisdom to know the days not to go forth despite the allure of a challenge. He spotted the sundog in the sky and prepared the tarps over the camp for rain. He tightened ropes and clustered the food bags under the tarps and chopped the firewood. He said he didn’t much care to stop in to Camp Keewatin when they went north. Redbeard didn’t ask but he could see it had something to do with moving on and being on his own. That’s when he told Redbeard about his grandfather.

“You probably don’t know about my grandfather?”

“No,” he replied, sitting comfortably beside the fire with Schopenhauer.

“My grandfather, though well known in these parts, was a man shrouded in mystery,” said Choppy Waters, staring into the fire. “Some say he was a draft dodger and that his real surname was Schmidt. It was said he changed his name to Smith to deny his German heritage and escape the anti-German sentiment following the Great War. The truth is that Wilhelm Schmidt was one of Grey Owl’s favorite drinking companions at the Inn beside the train station in Temagami during the early years. There was a difference in ages but not in life perspective. Besides, the founders of the canoe company could drink with the best of them having grown up in the area and around the hard-working, hard-drinking miners in the Cobalt area. The two of them spent the years preceding the Great War together, right before Grey Owl was to go to war and survive as a sniper – an ability in part given to him by my grandfather.”

“Are you serious?” Redbeard was aware of his panache for hyperbole.

“From what I know through the family is that it was Grey Owl who he confided in about his conundrum about his German heritage and who, some believe, suggested the idea to Smith. But after Grey Owl returned from the war, they had both changed, especially Grey Owl. He wanted the solitude of the woods even more. He thirsted for his corner of wilderness void of the sound of bombs and the stink of the dead mixed with diesel. That was when he took off for southern Quebec with his woman and his two pet beavers and wrote his Pilgrims of the Wild. He lived off the land and was able to build his own cabin and function with his stock of foodstuffs. He could hunt freely and trap for pelts though his change of heart caused a severe problem in how he would earn an income. It was what caused him to embark on writing his book and the book tour that would make him famous and lead to his posthumous downfall. How can we dismiss such a man who lived like an Indian and was Canada’s first leader of conservationism?”

“What’s strange to think about is that he knew his crime the whole time and knew one day the truth would emerge. Imagine living with that?”

“Rightfully people felt deceived and tricked by this European in costume of an Indian. Perhaps what they did not know was the wilderness of Temagami and the characters here that had witnessed his adventures that spanned three decades. Here was this Englishman living the hard and beautiful Anishinabek life in the wild with his canoe. And he did it successfully – a man who had tested himself fit to live in the bush and learn the old ways. Archie Belaney was an accomplished man before Grey Owl was born. He had nursed the calm night waters and had explored during the full moons, earning the Spirit Name ‘He Who Moves by Night.’ Grey Owl, named by his adopted Ojibwa family on Bear Island near here, was an outdoorsman like my grandfather Wilhelm Schmidt/Bill Smith. The fundamental thrust was noble, which was to share his knowledge with the public, to raise awareness and to protect the forests and beaver from becoming extinct. He used his empirical data to emphasize the need for immediate action. The forces put into play by Radisson and Grosseilliers during the 17th-century French fur trade had to be stopped. Three hundred years of trapping had taken its toll and it took a kid from London raised by aunts to sound the alarm.”

In the silence that followed, Redbeard thought how Choppy Waters had done the same thing 50 years later at Queen’s Park up in that tree speaking to the press. Getting the message out there was the imperative; getting arrested or being labeled a fraud after you were dead was a secondary consideration. Choppy’s arrest at the demonstration led to a whole series of undesired ripples throughout his life living in the city.

“It is more likely than not that Grey Owl would mind in the slightest what others called him,” said Redbeard. “Better to curtail trapping and save the industrious beaver than being called a fraud after you’re dead.”

“And that’s what he did.” The veteran canoer leaned back in thought.

And that’s what Choppy Waters did trying to save the old-growth forest in Temagami.


Once Were Rapids

Day Five

After all the fun and games and storytelling and the whiskey spiking of late night tea, Choppy Waters and Redbeard sipped coffee in the morning as the wet winds swooped down at will, pushing the bugs away for brief spurts. It was clear to Redbeard now that Choppy Waters wanted to remove himself from the Great Debate and focus his energies to find his peace in the windswept Southwest Arm of Lake Temagami. Little schoolboys in suits and ties debating items of discussion that have been on the agenda for millennia were not his fare. Choppy had debated enough to know where it all ended up: to more debating. Talk! Talk! Keep talking all you rabble-rousers. My world is earth years away from the concrete world you inhabit! I prefer the white caps of the water to the heckling and verbal fisticuffs that mar the arena of parliament!

In point of fact it could be said that Grey Owl and Choppy Waters were spiritual brothers by proxy through Grey Owl’s pre-war drinking buddy: Bill Smith. They both had cut their teeth on the same water roads around the spider, the dark waters of the lake once struck fear into their hearts on a blustery day. White caps meant danger, but like a two-sided coin also had the lure of the thrill. To pitch a camp when you deserved it was the self-esteem that functioned as fuel for their journeys. It stirred that ancient calling forth for courage while staring in the teeth of mortal peril.

They had both learned to read the winds and the sky. The omnipresent winds from the southwest pushed the water into the middle of the spider where it hit the waters coming from the north so that the flow veered down the Northeast Arm where it was the fastest moving arm of the lake that fell into Rabbit Lake and then into the Ottawa River. They both knew the rules of the water road – that ancient way with the light step – minimalist and prepared with the right tools for the job: ax, saw, tarps, wanegan, waterproof duffle bags, a good knife. They both knew the proper kit from their years working as a guide at Camp Keewatin – the oldest canoe camp in North America. Their picture hung on the walls in the dining hall. No one knew the total number of miles Grey Owl had paddled and portaged around the most pristine of Canada’s wildernesses, perhaps the same as the tens of thousands of miles Choppy had already done by the time he was 40.

He knew he had another few tens of thousands of water miles to go to match the master Grey Owl.

            Redbeard thought and sipped his tea, watching the sun dry the dew from his tent and the squirrels leap from branch to branch. Despite having some gray in his beard, Redbeard still had the spark. Still lithe and fleet of foot, Redbeard harbored almost a mischievous passion for adventure that had perhaps brought him the gray hair early in his years, but he wore his colors with the pride of a warrior showing his battle scars. The streaks of gray down the middle of his head hung like a mane atop his silver temples and ginger-red beard. It was an adventurer’s face: the scar above the eye from a surfboard on Manhattan Beach; the scar on the hand from sliding into an old wall made of seashells and concrete in China; and the wrinkles from squinting into the sun from the mountains he had climbed in India. There was occasionally a limp that crept up on him, perhaps during the damp days. And Choppy could find him gripping and re-gripping his hands as if exercising stiff arthritic fingers. But Redbeard never once let his duty as an oarsman become docile. Each stroke had some pepper. He was a canoeist’s canoeist: someone who knew what they were doing who could hold his half of the bargain and who had the decency to leave the master in peace when it was choppy.

            Redbeard too could hear the Great Song of the Trees and the language of the water. He experienced dreams at night that contained the sound of water. Living in respect to the Anishinabek Way, he valued his dreams as visions showing the way forward and revealing hidden answers to life’s problems. Redbeard had evolved to finally be able to live on Indian Time but he was new to it; Choppy Waters had always lived on Indian Time. Ever since he was a young child he would spend the summers with his grandfather at the Temagami Canoe Company. He did all the hard work at the canoe factory. Choppy’s grandfather would allocate jobs as if he were handing out candy, but the worst for Choppy was inhaling the sawdust and the cedar glue. He regarded his own smoking habit as mild in comparison to the damage his lungs sustained from the factory’s poor air ventilation. It didn’t matter to Choppy’s grandfather who seemed unaffected, or at least less affected than the beer when it began to flow.

But there was a method to his madness as beautiful cedar canoes were sold to people who came from all over the world.

            It had only taken less than a week for Redbeard to see that when it came to dinner Choppy preferred chopping the wood and cooking a hot meal with vegetables and clean pots, but Redbeard was usually so ravenous that trail mix or a thrown together sandwich or salad usually did the trick. Choppy Waters was all about the process and ritual of making camp and breaking camp whereas Redbeard was all about time utilization. The quickest and highest yielding method proved the best solution for Redbeard – a man seasoned with his own travels in distant lands. Albeit it was different travel, one that only occasionally required an overnighter in a tent. If need be it was done in a sleeping bag under the stars.

            Up here in the north, despite being summer, it cooled down at night, which became particularly important if it rained. They both employed the same wool vests and wool sweaters and wool socks, and a penchant for tea and numerous other items, such as their pipes. They had agreed to go forth on choppy waters in an over laden canoe. They had to work together when making dinner and pitching camp. Redbeard wanted more time to soak in the beauty of the scenery than it being spent washing dishes. For Choppy it was all about performing each task as if it were on a long checklist that finally yielded a highly productive fire with required kitchenware. For Choppy Waters the beauty lay in the doing of each task, the enjoyment coming from knowing that each step was the same step that Grey Owl himself would have done. He was participating in a tradition that gave Choppy a sense of brotherhood and a bond with the traditions of canoeing, important in such a solo life he lived since his divorce. Redbeard was a minimalist so he would be happy using his little propane stove to heat soup or pasta once in a while. Trail mix, bread, cheese, boiled eggs, tuna, dill pickles, honey, peanut butter and jam: this could suffice the minimalist who lived on St Joseph’s Island in the heart of the North Shore of the Great Lakes year round. He was a man who had chopped wood for years to heat his cabin on the island and enjoyed campfires all summer in his backyard.

            “It is a job,” he said, biting into his work at breaking camp.

            It looked like Choppy didn’t have a good sleep. He had the New Moon in his eyes, as if he were reliving his early years of having a falling out with Camp Keewatin. When they were both packing up, Redbeard was deliberate in his tasks, with each step being done with maximum utility. Choppy was fractured and off-center in his execution but was again going through the hundred Keewatin steps required to have a successful morning push off.

            One pot remained unwashed.

“I’ve done all the pots and all the dishes this morning and yesterday and the day before, etcetera. I was just thinking you could do one.” Choppy was quiet for a moment while Redbeard smoked, drank tea and looked out to the water. Choppy’s pushiness – finally manifest – caused Redbeard to heat another pot of tea and then strip down and swim and wash. Only when Redbeard took the nail clippers out and gave them to Choppy did he take some time out from his hundred steps to trim his nails, which were dangerously long.

            “It was the norm for us to wake at dawn and be off by six and paddle ‘til six at night,” he said to Redbeard, who was dried and dressed beside the fire. “Because we had a place to go to and a defined number of days to get there and comeback, sometimes, when the weather was bad, we would have to hoof it back to Keewatin. I once paddled 500 miles in two days.”

            “Fair dinkum.” He sipped his tea.

            “The thing about Camp Keewatin is that they have their way of doing things. There is a set way to set up a campsite and portage. It was paddling all day.”

            “It sounds quite gung ho.”

            “It’s the way it’s been done since it started in 1893.”

            “Same way Grey Owl did it.”

            “Yup. Same as Grey Owl.”

            Choppy and Redbeard left in the early afternoon and only had to paddle a half a pipe to their first portage. A small one, which they pulled off with ease. Muscles were firmer after almost a week. The trek was a pleasant 50-metre walk along a pine needle-covered trail with an extra 60-pound piece of baggage. For Redbeard, the tumplines proved effective though he quickly understood why the Anishinabek called them “burden straps.” He felt like his head may cave in from the force of the leather straps against his forehead.

Choppy and Redbeard almost made it to Cross Lake after portaging at the neck of McLean Peninsula. From the south of the South Arm of Lake Temagami, and after a discussion they had on the water, they decided to ferry across to the string of islands to the east that would protect them from the prevailing north wind. It was a long cross, more difficult than Redbeard expected, but once they had paddled for the first hour they came to an island that gave them protection from open waters. Still the water was restless but Choppy steered the craft with the nose kept aligned with the oncoming waves from the north, so they sliced through the waves moving east but pointed northeast.

It was like paddling in molasses.

For almost the first hour, even as they reached the first island along Austin Bay, the shore remained comfortably close on the left. With their momentum they traversed an increasing number of small islands until they reached the entrance to Outlet Bay that led to Cross Lake. And as they came around the first corner, what appeared at a distance to be a thin rocky shore was a blur of small islands. All rocky and flat and small, it blended into the forest background that created an optical illusion. It was there, in that surreal corner of the world, they had a pipe in the canoe hidden by one of the smallest islands. But once they took the river road south they caught a tailwind.

Riding the current and funneled into a narrows tripled their pace.

They raced by the shoreline into the twisty narrows where they found their first campsite that was being used. Not deterred, they carried on in the fast flow with the entire shoreline flat and rockless. The three of them passed over where once were rapids. Due to the flooding from the dam the shoreline showed no rock. Instead it was a solid line of trees with front row stunted as new growth. Choppy thought the water levels had risen six feet higher here since the dam went in 50 years ago. But on a canoe going six miles per hour through a narrow bottleneck in Outlet Bay, the forest was like a jungle with foliage overflowing and touching the water all along the shore as far as they could see. When the narrowest part of the bottleneck came, the current whirled around a perfectly chiseled rock campsite still high enough to survive the extra six feet of water.

It faced due west. And with the sun starting to drop in the western sky, it had a magical quality that immediately struck Redbeard as an once-in-a-lifetime place to camp. After a discussion and consulting the map, Choppy wanted to keep going as there were supposed to be more campsites farther on. As they stood on the rock dock beside the swiftest part of the current where it took a corner at a 90-degree angle, there was still more time for paddling but it would mean bypassing this truly exceptional campsite.

“Really Choppy, it is a special place.”

“Ah, I still have some paddling left in me.”

The current led the way down river past the eerie tree-laden shores where once were rapids. The waters pushed them downwards and around corners as if a natural waterslide. After days of only paddling upstream and against the winds, they had finally caught a waterway that worked in tandem with their paddles. The deeper they journeyed into the waters of Cross Lake, the faster they traveled. Just as it began to open up they found a camp on the east side so they could enjoy the sunset.

It was small and the tents had to be pitched close together, something that bothered Redbeard – someone who liked his privacy at night while sleeping. But they mostly loitered on the shore watching the sunset or were around the campfire. Schopenhauer scouted the area as they built camp. She couldn’t stop running around, wagging her tail and giving every indication that she liked it. Choppy Waters began his ritual once again and set up camp the Keewatin way. Hunger was too fierce so a sandwich and trail mix were consumed with tea and spaghetti was put off for lunch the next day. They were both giggly after such a long paddle.

The stars were bright in the sky that were clearly reflected off the waters’ surface. In the darkness the loons let out their loudest cries that echoed down the corridors of Temagami. Compared with the previous two nights, there was absolute silence here in this corner. No winds stirred outside the main body of the lake. Unlike the other campsites, this one didn’t have a sense of history. It felt as if it had been cut out of the middle of the forest with a large pair of clippers. The small cedar trees make it feel like the shire in The Hobbit.


Drawn to the Wild

Day Six

             During the night of extreme southwest winds, Redbeard was awakened, not by Schopenhauer but by a great silence as the wind shifted to the north. The huge catcher’s mitt of giant white pines had been catching the strong winds from the southwest since before nightfall until this profound break in the roar, when the next sound was a different octave of sound. The north winds were coming, and with it winter.   The silence lasted a minute or two, until the north winds had gained the upper hand, having body-checked the summer-wind monopoly of warm winds out of the way for the year.

Since trees and thick growth surrounded their campsite, Schopenhauer spent most of the night outside running around chasing squirrels and rabbits. He could tell she was after rabbit from the noises she made from her prancing. Schopenhauer was fond of the pouncing technique when chasing rabbits. In the morning she was all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, but for Redbeard it was cold and sunless.

He could see that Choppy Waters was apprehensive about the 20th anniversary of the blockade just as it was clear he was less than enthusiastic about visiting Camp Keewatin. Choppy had his own tapes and his own unique history that ruminated through his brain up here in Temagami. There were skeletons in his closet that rattled more here because in many ways it was the scene of the crime. It was where he had abandoned a group of ten teenagers to retrieve his baggie of weed. Black mark on the camp’s reputation as the best canoeing camp in the world. But at the same time the air had begun to act as a tonic for the troubled Choppy Waters. He was beginning to regain the looseness in his shoulders and the devil-may-care recklessness that gave him charm, which could be heard in the cadence of his laughter. Getting away from the trucks and the trains and the city sounds that suffocated the vitality of the soul, he was returning to his best self.

Redbeard could see it in his paddle stroke. It was slower, more thorough with a quicker end.

The Cross Lake tour took them up the east arm of the lake. Choppy and Redbeard had decided to do the small portage at the northernmost point in the lake. The old portage the Anishinabek used to take that was marked on their old Ojibwa map of camps and portages, was grown over with vegetation. The grown-over portage must have become worse after the dam went up. The whole bay was grassy and still, with many water spiders. Due to the dam, a marsh had sprung up in front of the old Nast wan portage that bore no marks whatsoever to indicate any portages have been done in a long time. It wasn’t even worth getting closer in the grass that stuck out of the water, so they had a pipe and decided to return the way they had come but to cut across a small channel marked on Choppy’s topographical map. The risk worked and the three of them skimmed over the thousands of buried trees in the water and snuck over to the main body of Cross Lake.

The shores were walls of treed rock so big that it felt as they weren’t moving at all when in fact they were traveling at a good clip. And to spice it up the ride back, and at Redbeard’s urging, they decided to “pull a Jerry Potts” and “trim the moustache” of some of the dead trees still standing in the water along the shoreline. (Choppy Waters had told him of Jerry Potts when they were still onshore outfitting for their trip. He was Canada’s mountain man who had made a name for himself in the Wild West. The story goes that when he used to drink with his fellow barflies they would play ‘trim the moustache’ by shooting their guns so close at each other’s moustache to try to trim it).

The first tree they missed by two inches, which only made Choppy Waters more determined. The next set of trees to paddle between and trim the moustache took them over some hidden deadheads and they whacked the canoe roughly against the trunk.

“I thought you were going to steer!” Choppy yelled to him. He didn’t bother replying because he was laughing. With all the heavy luggage back at the camp, Redbeard felt fearless in the canoe. He even had more space in the bow because Schopenhauer was in the middle of the canoe. The third time they slalomed through the dead trees along the shore they hit hard again but both of them could be heard laughing under their breath.

Only the dog showed concern.

Moustache trimming was difficult. And the whole idea of it epitomized Redbeard. He was one of those men born for mischief and adventure – still a little boy with a white-streaked red beard and family yet with the same eye to maximize utility. According to Choppy, if the old Indian portage was grown over then he was sure to make it a little different on the way back. Choppy, who loved a challenge, especially involving a canoe, was simply unable to do anything but accept the challenge. Going through the trees still standing in the water was like threading a needle, enough to satisfy Redbeard, but trimming the moustache was the added flourish.

This flourish when perpetrated left more than a few scratches on the vessel.

They were a sight to the fishermen casting from their boats, and the families on the houseboats, when they paddled by, both wearing straw cowboy hats and shorts. Schopenhauer stood with her paws on the gunnels sniffing and trying to focus on the people in the other vessel with her good eye. Choppy Waters and Redbeard looked right out of the 19th century with their rhythmic paddling that never waned in its united motion. Both in their mid-forties and sporting beards, they could be mistaken for two outlaws trying to keep off the grid. It was Redbeard who, at times, wanted to tell these onlookers that Choppy Waters had Grey Owl pedigree, and that he was one of the very few who had been given a real Grey Owl education – that he never let school get in the way of his education. He was one of those fortunate few who knew what he wanted to do in life when he was young. He made the decision at age 12 to become a master outdoorsman. After that his passion grew. He nurtured his time spent hearing the old ways of Keewatin traditions and his grandfather’s stories. It was what fueled his sense of self and what gave him a sense of true worth. And it was the place where he felt the safest. He had that calling to the world that so few men get. And for him not to give it manifestation was to suffocate his person.

Like Grey Owl he was drawn to the wild.

However, Redbeard paddled past the fishermen without a word. Only the two of them knew this; only the two of them knew Choppy Waters had traveled over 10,000 miles on these waters. It was Choppy Waters who was the blue chip camper who had an answer to anything that came up. As far as Redbeard saw it, it was only the weather that could affect his designs.

To watch Choppy Waters paddle was a strange experience for Redbeard because it hardly looked like he was moving. Body still, chin up navigating at the stern, sunglasses and hat, wearing the thinnest, barest t-shirt Redbeard had ever seen anyone wear.

After they had trimmed a half-dozen moustaches, Choppy Waters spoke: “You, Redbeard, are like Storm FoolPau-Puk-Keewis – the mischief maker. Skilled was he in all games of skill and hazard.”

“Who’s this?”

“Storm Fool, you know: the merry mischief maker who dances at the wedding of Hiawatha and his bride Laughing Waters.”


“What I’m saying is that you have the spirit of the mischief maker: He who is skilled in sports and pastimes, and in merry dance of snowshoes, and in the play of quoits and ball play. You even have the prankster line of silver hair.” Earnest in his declaration. Profound in its truth as to who he was. A gift from him to Redbeard.

This man born of Grey Owl was not as young as he used to be. Sore knees and a sore shoulder inhibited his vigor in the mornings after a day or two of long paddling – old injuries caused by the overzealous requirements of guides encouraged to get the best out of their high-paying campers. Perhaps the arthritic knees carried some bitterness since they may have come from long forced hours on the water kneeling on the cedar in the old style for the benefits of these rich kids who came from the big cities in America who wanted the authentic canoeing experience. And later for the rich bankers who thirsted for real immersion in nature on the water. For Choppy who knew of the traditions, knees were never to be above the gunnels. Poor form was not tolerated. Instilled deeply with these practices, Choppy still heard the voices of his early guides telling him to keep his knees down and telling him to hurry while packing up camp.

These were the reasons for his slow morning sleep-ins after a long previous day. He would rather sleep through the whipping and emerge after lunch when the decision was his to make whether to stay or move on.

And these were things that didn’t affect Redbeard because he was a master at time utility. He could always find something to do.

Cross Lake was like nothing he had ever seen before. The dam had flooded the old waterway and left a graveyard of trees hidden beneath the surface of the water only seen by boaters through the clear waters. Even after 50 years the foliage in some parts was still visible under water.

So it was only on Cross Lake that one could trim the moustache of the trees.

They paddled beside two loons on the way back to camp. Side by side for 10 minutes, these large loons both ruffled their feather and then spread their wings in an effort to communicate. It was only when Choppy tried a loon call that they both dove under and emerged a half minute later 30 yards away. Heading back to camp in his excited state, Choppy was fearless with trimming the moustache off the water trees.

They took the rest of the day off because of the rain and cold weather. The tent proved to be dependable in the wet weather, and Schopenhauer proved compatible with tent. She considered it her safe zone. There was no campfire that evening and they each ate alone in their tents, but he was happy in his tent with Schopenhauer, hunkered down and mulling over what he had come to learn. Never had Redbeard realized why wind always played a part in nature storytelling, but now he saw from experience that wind was the most powerful force in the world while on the water. If the wind came from the north, cold weather was coming, but wind from the northwest meant good, clear skies. South winds could be the strongest during the summer months, whereas wind from the east always meant bad weather. Wind had the power to mold the water into chops and troughs, carving it up into different forms that either enhanced ones canoeing effort or deterred it. Wind could penetrate your clothing and give you a chill, or it could bite you with a well-armed blow down the neck. It could take a day from you and make that day hard, stranding any boater or water spider touched by its hand. It was a tug-of-war of winds, and in this ongoing drama lay the reading of the weather – the key to executing a good canoe travel plan.

Only from respecting the wind could insight be gained.

With a big pull planned for tomorrow taking them far north to High Rock, he hoped for favorable weather conditions. Redbeard could roll with any punches that came his way because he was in love with his girlfriend Charlotte – his long-sought-and-finally-found woman. Redbeard thought of his most recent romantic rendezvous with Charlotte at French River where they had gone canoeing. Redbeard had brought some cold beer in his knapsack and a bottle of red wine, which they drank slowly under the sun and skinny-dipped in a secluded bay. Charlotte was still flushed from the black bear they saw right before they fell asleep side-by-side, naked on the rock drying in the sun after their swim. Schopenhauer was also found asleep when they awoke, choosing rest over standing guard. As they left their special spot nestled in the forest, a train rumbled by for a full ten minutes – one of the longest trains Redbeard had ever seen. They laughed and paddled slowly along the calm river into the sunset, chatting with cottagers and following a beaver until it dipped underwater and disappeared. They were still on the water until after nightfall, giggling when they landed on the dock and laughing when Redbeard was up ended from the canoe and fell into the water. She had lifted the canoe after she had climbed out, sending Redbeard head over heels. But she made sure he was warm when they returned to the hotel room. Redbeard had Charlotte to look forward to after the trip, but for Choppy Waters, he had a lonely winter ahead of him.


The Canoeing Monk

Day Seven

He didn’t mention it to Choppy but frost had formed on Redbeard’s tent last night. And it was only September. His sleeping bag was wet so it was Schopenhauer who kept him warm putting her body against his under the wool blanket that had managed to stay mostly dry. It was his wool vest and wool sweater and Gortex jacket and long wool scarf that proved most effective in surviving the night without incident. It was the cold that descended all around him in the darkness that pinned him down all night. Even in the old darkness he could see his breath. Redbeard’s mistake was that he didn’t wear his gloves and proper winter hat rather than his loose fitting Scottish Tam. The sudden drop in temperature was severe: only two days ago he was swimming and sun tanning. It had dropped 15 degrees Celsius in two days. Last night was a damp cold that had penetrated his bones.

There were no birds singing this morning. Only the north wind rustled the tall boughs paying homage to the dormant sun.

Around the campfire for morning tea, drying out after the rain, Choppy Waters spoke just as Redbeard was pondering the words: ‘drier waters.’ The summer was now truly over and the cold axe of winter’s punch rumbled-in, itchy and restless, but moved during darkness like a thief in the night. She knows she has the trump card now that the great flame of summer was waning. The tide was moving out to the onslaught of Old Man Winter.

“I remember my grandfather speaking of a secret place he and Grey Owl went during those drinking days before the war,” said Choppy, sitting cross-legged very close to the fire. “They used to canoe there, trap and fish and drink and throw their knives at trees. And they used to have an ongoing competition as to who could throw their axe the farthest and hit a tree at the campsite.”

“A couple of characters,” he said. “So where is this place?”

“It could be anywhere northwest of Bear Island. We could head northwest of Bear Island and try to figure it out as we move north.”

“We don’t even know what we’re looking for?”

“We’ve explored the south so let’s go north and try to pick up Grey Owl’s tracks.”

“Looking for a cabin or an old birch bark canoe or something? How do we know?”

“Come to think of it, there’s someone who may know. We’ll go see him. He lives a few lakes over.” Choppy shrugged his shoulders but his eyes were wide with possibilities. “I had heard about this but never thought to ask about it. Strange.” Choppy stared at the fire in thought after a cold and wet night. He seemed impervious to the bite of the damp chill. Modern-day le voyageur.

It was a strange thing to go for an entire month canoeing and camping out in the bush with an old friend you haven’t seen since university 20 years ago. Each was thrust into each other’s lives. And each became privy to each other’s idiosyncrasies and to each other’s highs and lows, likes and dislikes, and mood swings. A fundamental normalcy of humanity soon emerged so that convention was born of instinct and manners by acceptability. Tolerances had to be raised in order to promote and protect harmony. Choppy Waters was a canoeing monk whose cathedral was the water. He was the water bishop who took his regular kit and ritual very seriously.

He was a man who asked forgiveness for disturbing the animals on his journeys.

“The water spiders had done both back legs of the Lake Temagami spider,” he said. “It’ll be a good stick from Cross Lake to High Rock right in the middle of the figure eight.”

“Time to go north. We’ll be able to see Temagami Island from there.”

After the heavy rainfall and the freezing temperatures at Cross Lake, they slowly and gently packed up their gear and loaded the canoe to return to Lake Temagami. Now with the goal of finding Grey Owl’s lost cabin as their goal, Choppy Waters and Redbeard paddled south in the north wind towards the narrows where the current was swift. The first pipe was easy because of the tailwind and for the first time in a few days it afforded them the chance to really warm up. They reached the neatly perched, cozy camp at the narrows. Redbeard was surprised to see the current slower than it was when they had paddled by days before. The north wind had changed the water movement so much that he hadn’t expected the wind and waves to be so strong.

All up Outlet Bay they battled the north wind and the waves, taking pipes under the protection of the few small islands along the shore. They stopped for a pipe halfway up Outlet Bay when Choppy steered the canoe to the right of a green buoy instead of the left. Redbeard was mid-sentence when they hit a submerged rock. The front end went up and then tilted. The first thing it did was knock Schopenhauer off the gunnels back in the boat towards Redbeard, but when it listed to port it was Choppy who seemed to lose his cool. Redbeard, a naturally detached observer, steadied the canoe with his paddle, lifted himself off his seat and pulled the vessel off the rock. He didn’t even hear what Choppy was saying because he wasn’t saying anything, only making noises with meaningless words.

Now off the hidden rock and floating freely again, Redbeard kept paddling cool as a cucumber.

“Nice one! I can’t take myself too seriously when I go to the left of a green buoy,” said Choppy. “I should really have my head examined.” Wanting to agree with him, Redbeard instead grunted and looked at his dog and smiled.

“Gooood doggie Schopenhauer.”

They had a pipe to fortify their spirits for the next stretch of water into the headwind. The waves were regular but not too big and they were able to cling to the shoreline that cut resistance of the wind by at least half. Slowly and methodically they paddled up the east shore of the South Arm up to the portage point into Portage Bay. It was here, while checking out the neighboring campsite, that Redbeard spotted a turtle.

“That looks like a turtle.” He pointed down to the shallow rocky bottom where there was a three-foot turtle. It appeared to be sunning itself under three feet of crystal clear water. “It is a turtle!” He corrected himself. “It’s massive!”

They approached slowly until it casually swam under their canoe.

The portage was barely 30 meters. Redbeard could see the water of the other shoreline in Portage Bay from the point of entry. After having a sandwich and a smoke, Choppy and Redbeard hit the hardest part of the journey so far. The north wind chopped up the water, and with no islands, they faced very unfriendly waters. The wind blasted his paddle as if it were balsa wood. Redbeard thought it wise to find a spot and have a break until the wind died down or to even pitch camp, but there were no campsites in the open bay because the rock-face shores were too steep. The water was deep and exposed. Caught in a cauldron of whitecaps, Choppy’s stroke shortened and he focused on steering the vessel so it was Redbeard who motored them upwind against the formidable north wind. Choppy, perhaps because of his old injuries or guilt at not paddling as hard and as powerful as the physically superior Redbeard, started to encourage Redbeard to paddle through the big waves.

“Power paddle through those big waves. Try to paddle hard when the big waves come.”

What was strange was he had been power paddling through the heavy waves since the first day of the journey.

“You’re doing well up there,” he said, “but try to really paddle through those big waves.” It was too rough on the water but Redbeard was just about to stop paddling and remind Choppy that he had been paddling since camp as a kid and that he lived on an island with a canoe and not in the city, but he bit his lip. It was if Choppy was becoming someone else right in front of his eyes.

“Really paddle hard through the wave.” Saliva spewed out of Choppy’s mouth as his half strokes steered the vessel. Redbeard was power paddling through the big waves in the bow but he didn’t put on a big dramatic display of grunting to make Choppy happy. Redbeard slowed his pace and looked back to watch Choppy eat out of his cup with one hand holding the cup to his mouth and the other dragging the paddle through the water.

Redbeard wasn’t anyone’s monkey.

He didn’t dance for anyone.

Redbeard merely took note of the Camp Keewatin scars of discipline coming out on dangerous waters going into the wind. Choppy had become a monster for a moment: the kind of tyrant Redbeard had dedicated his life to fight against. Choppy’s voice took on a different tone while his own paddling was still dedicated to steering the vessel. Some unpleasant, repressed memory had hurled its way back into Choppy’s mind and in the intensity of the ride came to life. Those early scars never go away.

In his favorite milieu, Choppy was losing his cool.

Redbeard ground on and kept them going forward, using his powerful arms and long paddling form to pull them through the worst of it. Many times waves crashed over the gunnels, Schopenhauer cowering at his feet as the waves soaked her and the cold wind chilled her. An hour of relentless winds, they pressed on without a word from Redbeard. He was all about content, not form. He was all about white muscle, not red muscle. He was all about action, and wanted his actions to speak for him. He knew what he did. He knew what he accomplished. And he was aware from the burning in his shoulders that he may have saved their lives.

Only after they had a pipe at Pelican Point did the wind die down and the paddling became easier. Why Choppy Waters, self-declared guide of the trip, didn’t choose to have lunch at the campsite near the portage trail is uncertain other than it fed his manic obsession with danger on the water. Redbeard could accept a spill if it happened but it would be hard to accept if it could have been prevented. If they had tipped in the winds Schopenhauer would not have made it to the shore, and that bothered him deeply. He was coming to know of Choppy Waters’ inclination for danger but was not prepared to let it become his folly as well, which was clearly a challenge on a canoe with two paddlers. The strange personality change when the wind was in full force, yelling like a mad guide determined to make his paddlers work for him, made for a spicy concoction when bad weather and Choppy Waters shook hands.

It spoke of past ghosts and perhaps past injustices that had never been righted, and this made Choppy Waters a danger to both himself and others today.

In a strange way, it was almost as if he were determined to kill Schopenhauer by his recklessness.

Now in calm winds and close to shore Redbeard was again able to enjoy the beauty all around him. The loud loon singing and the open waters here contrasted against the somewhat muted Cross Lake from where they had just come. In Cross Lake there was hardly any fowl around. It was as if the animals could sense the 50 years of death underneath the shores. It had been a casualty of environmental ignorance caused by the dam. But here, out on the open waters nearing Portage Bay at the camp near High Rock, it was alive with golden eagles and osprey flying overhead and turtles and beavers swimming under the canoe. Cross Lake seemed like the poor cousin over the ridge that had been given the short end of the straw. Perhaps it was a stink of death; not the death of animals but the death of trees with thousands still frozen in their screams, preserved underwater. It was not a sexy coastline on Cross Lake; it was an unnatural shoreline, one that perhaps had bothered them both.

“I’m cross with Cross Lake,” said Redbeard at the fire pit at High Rock.

“And I’m cross with myself as guide,” replied Choppy. “I just didn’t know what it was like.”

It was quite an admission by a man who had tripped here for nearly 30 years.

When they had landed at the High Rock campsite, Redbeard was ecstatic at its beauty. Knowing Choppy was in a disagreeable mood, Redbeard said he liked the site, to which Choppy replied: “I don’t.” There they were standing on the world’s oldest rock overlooking the heart of Lake Temagami at the beginning of the sunset after canoeing five heavy pipes. Redbeard remained quiet as he hung his sleeping bag and wool blanket on the branches of white pine to dry and they busied themselves with pitching camp. Schopenhauer simply lay there looking at him wondering why he was doing all this silliness on dangerous waters.

Soon, under the fragrant canopy of pines, the Spirit of the Wind lay dormant, only serving to keep the sounds of animals within its rooftop. Not a sound could be heard except the hum of insects, like an invisible cloak emanating sounds of flying wings of the dragonflies, mosquitoes and other species from the insect family.

Around the campfire Choppy Waters chose to dip into a wee dram of Scotch. After a few hits, he loosened up.

“Last summer a friend lent me his canoe from the Toronto Sailing Club,” said Choppy. “He said that if I could break in and steal it during the night that I could use it as long as I want, so I went before dawn and was able to sneak the 17-footer out of the boathouse unseen, and then proceeded to canoe along the waterfront and camp at the mouth of the Don River. Right downtown at Queen’s Quay area is tough to find spots, but there are some down there.” He smiled. “There are some little patches of trees here and there, where I lit a fire and slept under my wool blanket. There are some good little spots.”

“A month? Camping in downtown Toronto?”

“Wherever water could take me. I outfitted for a month with a few bags and my tools. Finding firewood was difficult, but I was able to find some.”

“Why a month?”
            “Left work, spent my last bit of money on food and supplies and took off. I had just divorced Gina so I needed to get away. I sort of lost it. I would have gone on longer but I couldn’t.”


“Well, during that month I would tie my canoe somewhere along the waterfront and walk to the Sally Ann and other thrift stores picking. I went everywhere and eventually had over 400 pounds of vintage clothing. Then I went to the Sally Ann at Jarvis and Bloor, stored my canoe and booty under the bridge there at Rosedale, but when I came back the canoe and loot was gone.”

“Someone stole your canoe? And 400 pounds of clothes?”

“And all my kit. Everything, I was left with only the shit on my back, the shoes on my feet and my go-to bag.”

“Who do you think snagged it all?”

“Kids. Who knows? But I do that sometimes: lose everything. But it’s all right because I begin picking again and find new stuff.”

“But the cost.”

“Yeah, maybe $20,000 worth of clothes.” Redbeard knew that that was how much he put down as a down payment on his house.

“After that I would hang out at those film studios down along the water and the Don and ask for food from the caterers who would be feeding the film crews. Sometimes they were dicks and maybe give me a muffin, or maybe I’d get a whole lunch.” The image of that bothered Redbeard. Here was a university graduate and head prefect of one of Canada’s most prestigious boarding schools relying on handouts wearing his tattered clothes. There was something more to the story he still didn’t know about.

“You know, I always saw you as the guy who would fly to Africa and explore some new corner of the continent, get involved in some NGO and write a book for the benefit of the world,” said Redbeard, as a reflex to what he just heard. “But I suppose canoeing around downtown Toronto on a stolen canoe, collecting clothes and camping under bridges is sort of a parallel to that – in some way.” He regretted his words, and blamed them on the whiskey he was drinking. Choppy drew sullen so he retired with Schopenhauer for the night.


The Full Pull

Second Week

Redbeard must have got through to Choppy because when he awoke in the morning Choppy was leaning against a tree still in front of the fire with a stern, pensive look on his face. Choppy had kept the fire going all night so now they were in need of both firewood and birch bark. The bottle of Scotch lay askew near his feet. Choppy suggested they canoe to Loon Lodge where they could use the telephone to call his friend Bobby Too Good to see if they could see him on Bear Island. It was agreed so once packed up they took a two-pipe paddle to the lodge and drank a four-cup bottomless coffee and made the call.

High Rock was at the junction of Portage Bay and Lake Temagami, so the snack bar at Loon Lodge was a little north in the narrows near the marina.

“I left a message saying we’d be by Bear Island tomorrow,” said Choppy. “That means we should check out High Rock lookout point on the way back. They were both in high spirits on the patio under the cloudless sky after so many coffees.

Some boaters arrived with a five-pound bass and had a five-year old hold it up as a trophy.

“Good job!” yelled Redbeard. Schopenhauer wagged her tail and appeared to smile at the boy.

“Thank you,” came the loud reply from the child. The grandparents had a hardy laugh.

They left for High Rock where they met a group of seven paddlers. They all went up to the point and watched the sunset. Of the seven they met, there was a couple with their three daughters, and their two husbands, with one daughter still single. They told them that they had lost a tent in the high winds so all seven were sleeping in one tent.


Fortunately it was their last day on a seven-day trip.

From the vantage point of High Rock, Redbeard could see for miles down the corridors of rock that was carved out of the forests that rose hundreds of feet up the steep bedrock. From the vantage point on High Rock they could see how the waterways slinked around what looked like dots of forests that brightly reflected the sun’s last rays. On the far horizon Choppy pointed out Maple Mountain: one of the highest points in Ontario.

“Right there is the watershed – or great divide – with all the waters northwest flowing into James Bay, and all waters east and south flowing to the St. Lawrence River. The water going west falls into Georgian Bay.” There was a shroud around it so close to the few low-flying clouds miles away.

Choppy pointed. “That there with the big hump on it – like a bear – is Bear Island.”

“Yes, I can see the side profile of a bear – the bear body type, as it were.”

“It’s about 40 kilometers away,” said Choppy. “Does it look far?”

“It looks…distant,” he replied indifferently. He took a deep breath and patted his dog as he studied his northern vista. “Look at the Northwest Arm.” He waved his hand in its direction.

“Steep shores,” replied Choppy. “A few days and you’ll see it.” Redbeard was itchy to begin moving north.

Back at camp Choppy was asleep and Redbeard watched Schopenhauer follow a frog on the rock, paw it half to death, try to catch it in her jaws until finally she caught it and chewed it down. She then urgently started to eat some grass, likely to rid herself of the taste of frog, and then promptly barfed it all up. He later heard that frogs emit a terrible chemical when in the throes of death that causes regurgitation. Very sheepish after that, she curled up close to Redbeard in the tent and slept.

The next morning Redbeard drank tea as he sat on the bare rock at the channel. Light wind from the southwest worked to their advantage to cross the main body of water south of the narrows. He was stronger now and his paddling technique was polished, so he reveled in the beauty of his surroundings and let the feeling of goodness and the thrill of adventure overwhelm him as the tea took hold of him, giving him the wings and optimism to hit the day with a light step.

They had planned to go to Bear Island and meet some of the Natives Choppy Waters knew so he had expected Choppy to be perhaps a bit apprehensive, given his recent history with abandoning the kids while on a canoe trip. It had been big news here with the police and the helicopter and the bad press. Redbeard was now also aware that over time during their canoe trip a situation might arise when Choppy Waters’ mental illness would become manifest.

And that day was today.

As they had agreed, they left for the southwest corner of Temagami Island but with Choppy at the helm, instead of aiming for the southwest corner he aimed about a kilometer south of the agreed-upon corner, way out in the deepest, roughest, darkest open water. Redbeard started to laugh because he sensed that this ever-present over-compensation aspect of his personality was emerging, but since it directly threatened his life and that of his loyal doggie, he finally had to speak up.

“Um, shouldn’t we be aiming for the red buoy there?” he said, when yet another wave crashed over the gunnels.

“Yes, but the current is at an angle that makes it difficult to go right to it.” He knew it was nonsense. Redbeard could see that 80 percent of the power of the canoe was coming from his stroke. Choppy, not thinking Redbeard could see him paddling in the stern, was only putting in half strokes, preferring to play the rudder man and protect his bad shoulder. For Redbeard it was clear that if they hugged the shoreline after the main crossing, the choppiness of the water would be a quarter of what it was in the middle of the lake. But Choppy insisted on paddling into the most dangerous waters on the lake with a prevailing southwest wind.

“Why don’t we move towards the shore, use that island as a buffer against the wind using the wind to our advantage – surfing the waves going north?”

“The angle.”

“But as we go north we steer gradually west.” There was silence for a moment. Redbeard started to laugh as another wave crashed in. Schopenhauer was soaked and was shaking like a leaf from fear with her head in his lap. “It’s okay Schopenhauer. It’s okay.”

Another series of big waves threatened to capsize the vessel.

“Yes, let’s move closer to shore.” The long silence that descended between them was Choppy re-adjusting himself to being called out on his hyperbolic navigation. This unnecessary risk was, for Redbeard, who was an accomplished canoeist in his own right, simply an unnecessary danger. It was true that when canoe tripping the journey was the destination because there was no destination when out paddling around a lake. And he knew that it was the art of the journey that caused Choppy Waters to – at times – push the boundaries. He wanted spice – some verve – in his paddling, even if it opened the door to danger. But for Redbeard, if they capsized he could swim to shore and he didn’t care if they lost their gear, but Schopenhauer would die. She would not be able to swim the distance to the shore.

And he knew that Choppy Waters was aware of this.

And this was what frustrated him.

Why would he want to kill his dog?

After ten minutes of paddling north, they were in safe waters and Schopenhauer stopped shaking. Redbeard, exasperated but calm, started to laugh again. It seemed to him as if Choppy had not made a mistake, rather he did it purposely to watch Redbeard sweat it out. He had shouted: “dig in that paddle!” Well, he was not Choppy’s monkey. But in this ongoing conflict of practicality over danger, there was a real danger of something going awry. Choppy Waters was becoming more and more manic so Redbeard from now on would have to keep an eye on him.

They hugged the shoreline and found a lee behind a small island where they had a pipe, gathered some firewood and both studied the long island chain that lay before them. A kilometer to the west and there were white caps.

“That’s where you were gunning for!” said Redbeard. “Choppy Waters indeed!”

“Yes, you were right,” he conceded sheepishly. “We should have hugged the shore.”

They passed on with full kit towards Bear Island Indian Reserve, protected from the serious waves along the western side of the lake by the small islands that dotted the eastern shore. They skimmed atop the water under an arched footbridge that connected two islands. The cottages were rustic and well positioned from the perspective of the water. A few times they exchanged niceties with the few cottagers beginning to pack up for the season, the autumn chill now entrenched in the air. Pretty rock shores splashed with water as the current took them swiftly past Temagami Island. There was another cross that would take them into the harbor of Bear Island.

Choppy again tacked way out into the choppy waters at great risk to the vessel instead of staying the course, slowly steering west so that the canoe could surf the waves at a slight angle when they turned towards the shore. It was definitely a fun thing to do because surfing was fun. No different than if one was in a canoe. But instead of doing this safely, Choppy chose to paddle directly into the waves at a 45-degree angle for optimal thrill. However, for Redbeard it was a pointless and unnecessary risk. Why not surf and have fun?

Getting with the flow of the water should be the Oakum’s Razor of canoeing.

But Redbeard was powerless in the canoe. It was Choppy Waters who was in charge. He couldn’t steer in the bow.

So once again Redbeard power paddled ahead, literally lifting the canoe off a wave and crashing into the trough of the next. Schopenhauer’s was at his feet, her head on his lap, shaking again. The wind devils shook the water into an angered rush that shoved the face of his paddle backwards and into the water. The farther the three of them went into a strange open-water currents, the more Redbeard ruminated about Choppy having been the victim of old Keewatin ghosts that were rattling around in his memory bank and had come to life, irked when the winds were high. Perhaps Choppy had once been whipped by an overbearing and overzealous guide that had hurt him from the physical strain and had left scar tissue. And in the strict protocols and traditions of a century-old canoe camp, if the guide didn’t like him, there would likely be group ridicule and psychological abuse that may have gone unhealed and left festering for years. This past stinging injustice may have berated his sense of peace, and could manifest itself precisely in these situations.

These thoughts kept Redbeard’s mind off the pain in his hands and knees and his shaking dog.

“Shouldn’t we be surfing the waves in? We could hit Bear Island from here.”

“I want to go out more so we can go directly with the waves. Trust me, it’s the safer way.”

“Well it’s pretty choppy, but if we merge to the west slightly we’ll hit the harbor.”

“Nah, just a little further.” Redbeard quickly looked back at Choppy Waters and he had his paddle half below the surface of the water. He knew he saw his own sub-optimum effort, while he could see that every stroke of Redbeard’s was the full pull. The imbalance was embarrassing. He didn’t look back again but he himself slowed his own paddling down a notch. Redbeard had been sailing, windsurfing and canoeing all his life; he simply couldn’t buy into this unnecessary voluntary danger seeking.

Another wave crashed over the gunnels. If Redbeard had stopped paddling they would have capsized, but he was able to turn and look at the red church on Bear Island that was now in view. And that was when Choppy turned the vessel directly for Bear Island. In a few moments the waves were behind them. Each wave slowly coughed up the canoe as it rolled under them, faster than the vessel. Even during this time of harvest, Choppy had failed in his steering. If they had taken the waves at a slight angle, the surfing canoe would have plastered huge smiles on both their faces. Instead they let the waves push them slowly into safety.

Slowly they approached Bear Island from the open water, passing in front of the main buildings and the old Catholic church to the docks and the store. With great relief Redbeard touched the wood of the dock, got out and firmly tied her up. The first thing he did was kneel down and hug Schopenhauer. She had to be very confused as to why her master kept putting her into life-threatening situations. He tried his best to calm her. Soon her shaking stopped and she was happy to be on land, eager to explore her new surroundings. Walking along the dock to the land he read a large No Dogs sign that hung from the boathouse wall.


Bear Island

Second Week

Redbeard, who hated wasting time, was waiting for Choppy Waters to make some last-minute choices to add to their pile of food, so he approached the woman who was carrying boxes of water bottles out of the backroom and into the back of a pick-up truck.

“Would you like a hand with this stuff?” he asked the woman. “I’m free labor.” He smiled at her. She seemed suspicious. “If I were you I’d say ‘yes.’” The woman looked at Redbeard making sure he still had his marbles. “I’ve been canoeing for two weeks now so my shoulders are strong. I’m sure I can carry some boxes for you without hurting myself.”

“That’s good to hear then,” she replied with an ironic grin.

“Here.” He pulled up a case of water and then put a second case on top of it and followed her to the pick-up truck.

“I’m Roxanne Oulet. I’m the chief.” Redbeard was surprised. She was his age. And a woman.

“Ah, well very happy to meet you.”

“I became chief last month. There were some legal problems with the election but we had a ruling.” She told him how the first election was rigged so there was a second election, which the old chief declared illegal, so it went to court. There would be a final election, and out of the 190 voting residents on the island, 165 voted. Roxanne had 101 votes, and the old chief had 62 with two votes spoiled. It’s currently under appeal but she was the declared winner on July 30th.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “They spent 200,000 dollars on legal fees using the band’s money and we’ve spent 100,000 dollars from money we’ve raised.” Her heavy black hair blew out of her face and her cheekbones bronzed in the sun. Her blond son ran towards Schopenhauer by the canoe on the dock where Schopenhauer was leashed to a picnic table. Her mouth was strong and her body solid with muscle, able and coordinated. Roxanne could carry a tumpline and look good doing it. For a moment Redbeard thought she was thinking the same thing about him.

Choppy approached and inquired about Bobby Too Good.

“I think he’s at his cabin up north,” she replied. “If not, he’ll be at the Changing-of-the-Seasons ceremony at Alex’s on Obabika.”

“How north is the cabin?”

“North north. I think his place is near Aninaatig Wajiw.”


“Maple Mountain. Aninaatig Wajiw.” There may have been an awkward moment there for the chief of the Temagami First Nations. It was Redbeard who pulled out his map from nowhere and immediately pointed at Maple Mountain just west of Lady Evelyn Lake.

“Yes, I see.” Redbeard grinned: he had a thing for women who read maps well. “It’s near the portaging here.” Choppy Waters leaned in.

“Up the creek there?”

“I think so, if it leads to the portage on the way to the lookout tower. It may be hard to find though because it’s just a cabin on Temagami First Nation land, probably off the water. Might be hard for you to find.”

“And it won’t be like most of the cottages you see around here,” said Choppy.

“Exactly.” The smile that crossed her face electrified Redbeard. He flushed. The wind from the lake across from the spot where the Hudson’s Bay trading post used to be two centuries ago, could not take the burn from his cheeks.

“I wonder how many pipes that would be?” Choppy stroked his beard for a moment and studied the map. “Maybe 40 or 50 pipes. Hard to say. Depends on the weather. If we have a tailwind…the water current flows to the north.”

“Pipes?” Roxanne started to laugh.

Choppy looked at Redbeard.

“Yeah, a pipe. Every hour or so, or after a hard pull, you take a break to have a smoke, just like the canoers from centuries ago. They used to measure distance roughly by the pipe.” Her laughter caused them both to laugh.

“By the pipe. That’s great. Stop and have a pipe of tobacco. Makes sense, in an Anishinabek way.”

“Yeah, I hear you. I must be part Native.”

She studied him for a moment. “You have the cheekbones but they are hard to see through all that facial hair!”

It was only a matter of time before the subject of Grey Owl came up.

“Yes, he was here. He married a girl from Bear Island. My grandmother knew her.” She looked out at the water, squinting into the western sky. “Grey Owl, you know, is not really liked by the Anishinabek, maybe like he is not liked by the whites.”

“Hmmm… Perhaps.”

“But he was here, even after the war.”

“The Guppies?” Choppy Waters had previously mentioned that a family named Guppy adopted Grey Owl here on Bear Island after his time as a sniper in Europe.

“No, they have gone too, Ancestors of Big Jerome Guppy are over on Obabika Lake area.” Choppy nodded. “So where are you staying tonight?”

“Over there.” Choppy pointed at an island across the water.

“How far is that?”

“About a tenth of a pipe,” replied Redbeard, “wouldn’t you say Choppy?”

He nodded. “About that.”

“So you’re both big canoers?” Redbeard looked at Choppy.

“Choppy went to Camp Keewatin.”

“Oh.” Roxanne was impressed but also guarded. “That’s an old camp. Grey Owl was there, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. His name is on the plaques that hang on the walls in the main hall.”

“He canoed to Hudson’s Bay.”

“Really?” She faced him.

“Down the Albany River once to Fort Albany and another down the Seal River. No portages on that one. The banks of the river were full of seals for the last two weeks of the journey.” Nodding, she turned to Redbeard.

“I started canoeing about the same time as Choppy here, learning it camp, and the family had a canoe growing up. I have one at my place on St Joseph’s Island.”

“Really?” It was Choppy who was surprised.

“I guess I never mentioned it.”

“No, you didn’t.” He shook his head and Redbeard winked at Roxanne. It was now her cheeks that were flushed. The ends of her mouth were up higher showing some laugh lines.

“A 17-footer, just like ours – an Old Town – but it’s green.” She started to laugh again.

“Been paddling together long?”

“About two weeks.”

“Ah, so then you’ve been playing guide to an accomplished canoer?” It was Redbeard’s turn to laugh.

“Well, you should be comfortable tonight. It’s a good campsite. I’ve been to many parties there. And when the fire is on we’d go out skinny dipping under the moonlight and then dry off beside the fire and fall asleep.”

“Nice one. Sounds good. A lot to be said about a good fire.”

“Yes, and speaking of fire, I need to get dinner on.”

“Ah! Well, you can come over to the campsite. I already know we’re going to have eggs tonight.” She turned back as she began her exit to her truck.

“Is that an invitation?”

“Yes. We’ll do the food and you bring the wine.” She raised her arm in the air and let out a whoop that turned into more laughter. She waved and then the chief of Temagami First Nations was gone.

With the store now closed and Roxanne gone, Redbeard took Schopenhauer for a walk through the one-loop town of Bear Island IR. The homes were small bungalows, well winterized with short driveways. The old church was on the higher part of the road so they climbed the stairs and entered through the unlocked front door. Inside it was modestly decorated, the original wood painted white. Most of the ornaments were red or brass colored so it made for a soothing ambiance. It was still conducting services and had that lived-in feeling.

“I wonder if Grey Owl ever came here?” he said to Schopenhauer, who trotted up and down the aisles and even behind the lectern. The bell in the bell tower was still operational – worked by pulling a long rope from a hole in the ceiling.

Outside they passed more homes on the shore where he found the band office. There were some woman smoking at the front door. Redbeard was in a chatty mood and they loved Schopenhauer. Talking for a while and asking if there was anything pamphlet or book about the history of Bear Island, it was only a matter of time before he brought up Grey Owl.

“It was a shame about what he did to his first wife Angelle,” said the taller woman, who was smoking another cigarette. “She was so happy to be married and took his name, as did her brother who died in the war.” Redbeard could tell they didn’t like him on Bear Island – the women at the band office didn’t have anything good to say about him. They only talked about the ramifications of his philandering and wild life.

“He lived in the wild like a savage – le savage: man of the wild.” The women laughed and Redbeard could only take a long drag from his smoke. Sure, he thought, their ancestors were living on one of the many islands on shoreline on the giant spider. Grey Owl, with a handful of others, many of them Anishinabek trappers, lived alone in the bush, living the truly wild life. Wasn’t there something noble in that? Wasn’t there something pure in his intentions?

“There was something noble in the way he lived though, don’t you think?” For a moment none of the women wanted to speak.

“Noble? Only if you call leaving your wife and child behind and going off somewhere into the world without them.” The woman finished her cigarette and started her ATV.

“You can come by the band office again tomorrow if you want, but we don’t have any local histories except those books I mentioned.” She turned the key and the engine turned on. He thanked her and left the band office and then went inland to the baseball diamond and an outdoor covered hockey rink. The high rock around it gave it a safe, cozy feeling. The road circled back to the dock where he found Choppy talking to a Native by the canoe, so he stopped at the World War One and Two memorial and scanned the thirty or forty names from the two world wars. One name he saw under the fallen in World War Two was Benjamin Belaney, same spelling as Archie’s surname.

“Curious,” he said into the wind. “Very curious.”

Down at the dock he brought it up.

“Could have been a son,” said Choppy.

“If he was here in 1910, the son would have been 29 at the start of the war.”

“Put it this way, it is very unlikely that it was his brother or a coincidence.”

“He didn’t have a brother,” said Marty the Indian. A small man with a big stomach, he had the marked face of an outdoorsman.

“Exactly,” said Choppy.

“Could have been Grey Owl’s son.”

“One of his illegitimate sons where the mother took Archie’s name,” said Marty.

“What are the chances of there being another Belaney from Bear Island?”

“And fighting in a world war.”

“Wondered what happened to him?” Redbeard wondered.

“He died.”

“What I mean is, what happened at his death. Was he killed in an act of bravery trying to save his dying comrade? Or was he killed in hand-to-hand combat behind enemy lines?”

“Who would know?”

“God. He would know.”

“Yes, he would know.” Choppy, Redbeard and Marty the Indian sat at the picnic table wondering who this Benjamin Belaney was until Redbeard remembered what the woman had just said about Grey Owl’s first wife’s brother who died in the war. He kept it to himself because Marty was now saying his piece about Grey Owl.

“One of the stories I heard from my grandmother about Grey Owl was when he was found hiding in the old barn beside the baseball field on his wedding day. They had to pry him out to get him to his own wedding. Poor Angelle, I wouldn’t be surprised if she never forgave him.” Redbeard, Marty and Choppy didn’t mention it by its proper name, but it was a large black mark against Grey Owl. It was said that he knocked up Angelle née Friday and thus had a shotgun wedding, but after he returned from the war he met and fell in love with another woman and ended up marrying her. The problem was he was still married to Angelle Belaney née Friday, who was still tucked away on Bear Island.

And the people here were not forgetful of such a disrespectful act.

Redbeard and Choppy left Bear Island for the campsite on the nearby island after Redbeard made a telephone call to Charlotte and his lawyer. He needed to call him again about the new tenants that were moving in to one of his rental units before mid-September. He told Choppy it was imperative so he promised to get Redbeard to a phone before the Temagami reunion at Alex’s on September 17th. (It was the 20th anniversary of the Temagami demonstrations in Toronto that made national headlines across Canada that Choppy wanted to go to). Redbeard didn’t mind going since it was taking place close by in Temagami. Besides, Alex was an Ojibwa chief and he wanted to meet a real Indian chief.

 At their small island campsite the sound of hammering could be heard in the distance as cottagers were hammering in their storm windows for their winter departures, but many still lingered in the Indian summer that had befallen them. No one wanted to leave without having a bit more of summer.

For Redbeard he could sense that ancient spirits hovered over this epicenter of Temagami Lake. Bear Island was blessed with grandfather spirits that watched over their new families on these rocky shores. There was magic here. There was history under these waters and totem spirits everywhere. Even the animals must sense the difference. This space was alive with sustainability forever: freshwater and fish and wildlife and fowl. And it was this ease and confidence that emanated from the land into ones center. Nature lures one into slumber, easy and safe. And in this way time was different here. Slower, more in tune with nature. Easy like a poplar branch swaying in a breeze, soft like green moss on smooth rock, and warm under the sun and in the shade.

There was equilibrium here that influenced the health of mind.

Choppy Waters took another tipple from the bottle and poured it into his tea. Redbeard smoked and stared at the fire listening. That’s when another version came out about his time at Camp Keewatin.

“When the police picked me up in the helicopter and took me to North Bay, I wouldn’t tell them my name,” said Choppy, as he sat hunched over in an exhausted stupor after taking a dip and putting on his clothes again, and had wrapped himself in his favorite Hudson’s Bay wool blanket. “I wasn’t charged with anything but I don’t think the police or Keewatin were very impressed with my behavior.” Choppy related the story of his departure from the camp after abandoning his group while out on a three-week canoe trip. When the group returned to the camp safely and his fellow guide Constantine told the story to the camp director, the police were called. The next day he was found. Belligerent with the police, Keewatin refused to deal with him so he was taken to North Bay and unceremoniously dumped. Any personal items he had at the camp were never returned. It was as though his 14 years at Camp Keewatin evaporated overnight. Abandoning your group for tobacco or drugs was not what Camp Keewatin was all about. In fact it was anathema to its principles and traditions.

“I have this, I don’t know what you call it, disorder. It’s why I’m a picker of vintage clothing. I get it from my mother. She’s a hoarder. She collects everything. So much stuff. I collect like her but I need to get rid of it all too. I have a locker at a steam house in downtown Toronto on Spadina – or bathhouse I guess you would call it. So I pick but am always trying to sell the stuff I pick. It’s hard when you find some things you want to keep yourself but I have trained myself not to be like my mother and hoard the stuff I find.” This explained why he gave Redbeard the waterproof map bag, the waterproof canoe bag, the wool blankets and the Hap Wilson Temagami book. And perhaps it explained his need to always spend his money, whether $25 on two hamburgers or $40 for a block of cheese only to watch it all go bad with mold.

Choppy told him he lived in the main room of a bathhouse with over 30 other men sleeping on cots. After his divorce from Gina he became a hard-core minimalist, almost an ascetic, who was prone to go out on long journeys around Toronto finding little treed areas where he could sleep for the night. That was the life he lived. Even more, since he didn’t have a car he was forced to carry all his pounds of vintage clothing in a large hockey bag that he tied up in a tumpline and trudged 20 miles from the clothing warehouse to the clothing stores on Queen Street via bus and subway and finally street car. He was that eccentric guy wearing tattered clothes people see on the subway carrying huge bags of clothes. He was, he hated to admit, a bum. But here in the leafy environs of Temagami he was an expert cane tripper with world-class skills yet still hindered by demons that could – on a given day – cause a life-threatening issue.


The Night Paddle

Second Week

Redbeard was sad to leave camp Grey Owl beside Bear Island. The soothing sounds of water that had come at him as he lay in his tent from three different angles merged into the current moving north. And it was this current that now pushed them along the great rock-faced corridor of the North Arm. Paddling the dark waters, Redbeard could sense the depth, mysterious and ancient, here since the beginning of time. But it was a day of friendly waters and their speed was assured by the warm southwest wind. They cruised under the hot sun down the middle of the massive lake until they veered west, reaching an island that hugged the west shoreline. The Precambrian rock face on the east rose 400 feet with relentless pines growing from the thin soil on top of the rock. The canoe-surfing was glorious up the North Arm to Keewatin.

Choppy Waters was finally able to witness how much Redbeard and Schopenhauer enjoyed the canoe-surfing atop the rolling waves on their way to Montreal River. The vessel moved swiftly but because the shoreline rock was so steep, it felt they moved like snails down a huge gorge towards the center of the earth.

“It’s like the belly of the beast in here,” said Redbeard. Loons were all over in groups fishing and diving deep into these waters, hunting in packs like ravaging Huns. Despite their speed, he felt his paddle had no pull as he was paddling through molasses.

It was an hour before they stopped for their first pipe. Protected in a small bay, Choppy collected some beaver-chewed firewood and Schopenhauer stretched her legs. Redbeard brought his knees up and stretched his lower back but remained in the canoe. The current took them briskly down the rock corridor when they crossed some big water at Camp Wabun, the offshoot camp from Camp Keewatin. Some guides broke away from Keewatin back in the nineteenth century and started their own camp five miles downriver from Keewatin.

“Impressive,” was what Redbeard said, knowing words could only fail to describe how the camp was laid out, symmetrical and charming and functional and safe from the winds. From a protected beach stretched a long dock with a tower at the end of it and a flag. The body of the camp lay partially hidden from their view along the western side of the water. They passed Stinking Island, where the Temagami fought against the Iroquois in the 1650s during the time of the great agitation of the Five Nation Iroquois. They took another pipe on an island that was thin enough to have a view of both sides only a few feet of rock above the surface. The corridor narrowed after Seal Point. This was when Choppy Waters saw Granny Island and Camp Keewatin. He became enlivened at the impending visit to the camp after nearly a decade of absence.

Neither of them knew who would be at the dock to greet them.

Camp Keewatin, on Devil’s Island, is like an oasis on an island of trees, hidden by the natural vegetation and old trees that protected the buildings from the prevailing winds. Choppy and Redbeard approached the dock that had thick wood slabs coming out of the water at 45-degrees, an effective buffer against the winter storms. It was built like a fortress in the water repelling attacks from the wind devils. They took the canoe right up to the rocky beach for a smooth stop. For Choppy, it was a step back in time to when he first came here in 1979 when he was 11 years old.

In the main lodge, over the huge stone fireplace that ran the height of the wall, was the large head of a moose flanked on either side with a huge Union Jack on the east side and a huge Star Spangled Banner on the west side. There were wooden plaques lining the weathered walls that listed the names of the campers and guides of each summer class. In the middle of the lodge were canoes stored for the winter in neat rows, covering all available floor space except for the stage and piano. More flags and banners hung from the old wooden balcony that stored dozens of stored wanegans and other equipment. There were school crests adorning the walls, with one that said Lancaster School, 1853.

The first thing Redbeard did was try to find Grey Owl’s name listed as a guide some time before the Great War. Choppy found his name listed as a guide on the Camp of 1910 plaque, where it read Archie Belaney. Also, next to it, Grey Owl appears again as a guide by the name of A. Belaney in 1911.

“Well, there’s your empirical data,” said Redbeard. “Archie Belaney, 1910, 1911. There.” History from books coming alive.

“A lot of history in here.” Redbeard surveyed the century-old meeting hall. “If these walls could speak.”

“They’d speak of times of youthful vigor before the hand of time marred their hope – once vital and urgent but later neglected and cast aside.” He glanced at Choppy but he moved on to the other corner. “What’s that?” He pointed to a long list of white names printed on blackened wood.

“That’s the Keewatin Honor Roll. My name should be up there.” Redbeard wasn’t sure if Choppy was being serious so he stickhandled his way through the 50 green canoes to get to the list of names on the far wall.

“I should be about the third piece of board up from the bottom.” Redbeard scanned the names and found his name listed as ‘Charlie Boyle.’

“Nice one Charlie. Honor roll. Hanging on the same wall as Grey Owl. Showing some solid beefcake, no?”

Outside they walked around.

“There’s no one around.”

“Maybe it’s only the caretaker here,” said Choppy, walking towards the caretaker’s residence. Redbeard couldn’t help himself: he went exploring. He found the cabins for the campers, each one with its name carved into the face of an old paddle without its arm. Each were named after a water route: Mattawa, Abitibi, Gowganda, Metachewan, Moosenee and Algonquin. Each cabin had four bunk beds and four canoes stored in each one for winter. He found the old post office and director’s office, just like they were when Grey Owl was here.

Even the director’s chair was the original antique.

He found Choppy who took him to the dining hall that had another massive moose head above its doors. Under the moose head was a long stock of driftwood with an engraving carved into it. It read: Ruler thou shall be henceforward of the Northwest Wind Keewatin.

Inside the walls were covered with pieces of arts and crafts from countless places around Canada with names of the canoers who brought back the booty to the camp.

Choppy pointed at hide stretched by strings to a large piece of wood.

“We brought that back from Hudson’s Bay in ’89. I think it was me who brought it.” On the hide was an image of polar bears and moose. All sorts of old memorabilia adorned the walls and two old cedar canoes sat on the rafter above the dining tables and benches.

Beside the dining hall there was a large wooden building that had a sign saying “Outfitting” in green. It was the largest building in the camp. Beside it was the original stone wood stove.

“I have to show you something.” Behind the stone fire pit Choppy led him and Schopenhauer along a trail to a baseball field that had a simple wooden frame as a diamond.

“There are mostly Americans that come here, and so over the years a tradition developed between the Keewatin canoers and the various Anishinabek tribes along the river system in northern Ontario. When we reach an Indian village they almost always challenge us to a game of baseball. It’s never lacrosse or soccer, because the Americans have always preferred to play baseball. Organize a game of soccer and hardly anyone will show up. Organize a baseball game and it’s a different story.”

They climbed for a minute along the trail and came to a level of grass and rock.

“This is the plateau. This is where we come to mellow out and have fires at night.” Surrounded by trees, it felt like an ancient Indian meeting place or a Celtic holy place with its five or six stone campfires interspersed around the edges of the clearing.

“Neat vibe here.”

“Highest point of Devil’s Island.” Choppy found good dried-out cedar by one of the fire pits and picked some up. Redbeard didn’t take the rest because he knew they already had more than enough firewood and didn’t feel right about taking anything from a Camp Keewatin – a shrine to everything holy about the canoer’s life – a life that lay at the heart of exploration of Canada.

They left Keewatin without seeing a soul, and paddled around Devil’s Island to the east side and then nipped around towards Kokoko Bay where they found a rock campsite facing west. It didn’t take them long to pitch the tents and get the fire going. The two water spiders were now shooting for Maple Mountain to find Bobby Too Good at his cabin near the mouth of the portage, down the creek from Lady Evelyn Lake, way to the north – perhaps 30 pipes away.

With such a long journey before them, they were slow to arise the next morning.

Stiff knees and a sore shoulder made Choppy Waters sleep under the stars under his blankets instead of pitching his tent. He only had enough energy to eat some raisons and make the fire before lying down, so Redbeard made dinner in the dark and served him an undercooked tuna melt when he was under his blankets against a tree. Choppy always insisted the bug didn’t bother him. He had to take him at his word.

After dinner all three of them fell immediately to sleep.

Redbeard and Schopenhauer were the ones who slept late the next morning. Choppy was up earlier, eager for a change of routine. Drinking tea around the fire, they couldn’t stand looking at such placid water without any ripples. It was as calm as they had seen it and a hot and cloudless day. Redbeard was a tad guilty at his long sleep so to make amends he suggested a night paddle.

“Good idea. With the full moon it’s almost a no-brainer.” Redbeard had never done a night paddle but it had been something he had wanted to for many years.

“It would be my first night paddle.”

“Let’s go to Devil’s Lookout to see our path and then leave after the sun sets.”

They both spent the next hour studying their maps. Most of the food was still unpacked from the night before so packing up the campsite didn’t take long. Most of the gear packed, they left for a ten-minute paddle south to Devil’s Point where they took the steep trail up the rock from the campsite across the water. The trail was hazardous from the beginning and remained that way until the summit, but tree roofs and well-positioned rocks made for an easier ascent near the top. Up on Devil’s Lookout Redbeard and Choppy Waters saw the river road laid out in front of them: Mother Nature’s natural road system.

“Once a robust current before the dam,” said Choppy. Now a lazy arm in this fresh water repository. The sky was already darkening but there was no wind. Even the warm temperatures held.

Back down the trail the three of them returned to the canoe and left for the cooler waters of the north. Around Ferguson Bay to the Northwest Arm, they paddled silently on the glass water, only their oars making any sound. They fell immediately in tune and picked-up momentum that, due to their weight, was easy to maintain. The trees on the shoreline slid by quickly in the moonlight. The hunting moon rose in the east and climbed over the stern, shining its light on the contours of the waters and shoreline. The stars were shining but the full moon stole their light. Not one wind devil made its presence on the water; instead the still water was like a dipping pond for the paddler. It was ideal night-paddling conditions. Redbeard, who couldn’t find his eyeglasses, took the bow without any prescription eyewear.

Schopenhauer kept leaning over the gunnels sniffing the water.

With no boats and no lights, it was like a trip back in time into the ancient quiet, only interrupted occasionally by a beaver tail splashing against the water surface. The trees were dark and the shoreline forest like a coniferous wall scented with pine and spruce. The water was calm and black and true and kept its peace, allowing the water spiders the opportunity to skim lightly atop its lazy top, hearing the sound of the water splitting against the point of the bow. That sound of white water trickled up Redbeard’s legs and caused him to make more of an effort to make his paddling virtually silent. Hearing the water against the bow became his focus for long periods of time, tilting his head slightly towards his left paddling side and listening to the trickle. He doubted Choppy could hear it as clearly as he could. And the sound lulled Schopenhauer to sleep, curling up at his feet safe and dry.

She was as relaxed as if on land. Total trust of her master.

Choppy suggested the first pipe after an hour. They simply stopped paddling and lit their smokes and stretched their legs. The quiet really deepened after the pipe. Shuffling in the underbrush somewhere in the forest made Redbeard turn his head but he couldn’t make anything out through the moonlit wall of green.

Onwards they gently paddled with three-quarter, wide-faced strokes staying shallow to ensure the craft remained high on the water, keeping it simple and compacted. The canoe moved at top speed in these conditions. They passed by the old portage route that would take them west towards Lake Obabika, and instead entered their final assault on the Diamond Lake portage. The narrows were eerie and shallow. Lily pads and seaweed indicated the shallow waters. They skimmed over rocks until they rode up on one, waking up Schopenhauer. Redbeard pushed them off and then they bumped off about a dozen or so rocks through the narrows.

Both remained quiet as the dog began to shake.

The narrows came to about 40 feet across at its narrowest, and that was where the shallows stopped. They immediately had a pipe and some hot coffee from their thermos, drifting northwest along the connecting channel. There, with the shores so close, they listened to more noises coming from the local beavers. One beavers made it known it wasn’t happy with their intrusion.

Through the narrows and around another shallow rocky patch, they picked up speed on their final push for the Sharp Rock portage to Diamond Lake. The water opened up into a big stretch of water. They glided over the water surface along the western shore passing the dark trees in the tree wall, their boughs beginning to rustle in the changing temperature. The moon shone over them now as they weaved through the three small islands and approached the end of Lake Temagami’s Northwest Arm. Even after five pipes and six hours of smooth paddling, their pace with the three-quarter, wide shallow stroke was still robust and effective.

For most of the night the loons and beavers and the sound of their Old Town fiberglass canoe skimming along the evening’s waveless calm was all that gave color to the moonlit night.

“There’s a campsite near the mouth of where the portage is according to my map,” said Choppy Waters. Redbeard didn’t need to look at his map with the flashlight; he knew where it was on the map and could see it in his mind’s eye. He looked for the campsite in front of him despite the darkness as they quietly entered another narrows, finally away from the vast openness of the long water. Soon they entered the funneling to the portage and Diamond Lake.

“You know, it may not be such a good idea to portage 200 yards on sharp rock at night with a thousand pounds of gear,” said Redbeard, hoping Choppy wouldn’t insist on an unnecessary path of danger in the moonlight.

“This portage is a pretty steep trail actually.”

“200 yards. That’s two football fields.”

The shores were more jagged in the narrows to the portage with more fallen trees and more gaps in the dark green wall. The rocks reached out but they kept in the middle and threaded the needle.

“That may be it on the left.” Choppy spotted the campsite on the south shore on a high, flat rock. Just then a beaver thwacked its tail on the starboard side, and then a moment later they both saw a giant beaver swim in front of the canoe and pause before going under and letting us have another big whack with its tail.

“That’s our welcoming.” Dry. Canadian humor.

They pulled up to section of smooth rock and docked the canoe to check the campsite out. It was just big enough to house two tents, and it happened to be right beside the beaver dam that glistened under the moonlight. Still there was no breeze, so the narrow channel was quiet. Soon Choppy started a fire. They pitched their tents and after coffee and a handful of crackers, they retired for the rest of the night. They had traveled almost 20 kilometer under the full moon.