Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Lion In Winter

Up at the crack of crow's piss last Friday and on the road with the boy almost immediately. We don't jack around. Pack light and go, up to Sudbury before noon.

We made good time.

Called Dad at the camp (he allowed his neighbour to string a line through the woods so that there is a phone in case of emergency, his one concession to civilization) and arranged to meet after a quick lunch with Mom and gathering of supplies - filled up a jerry can with gasoline, also got some beer and pork and a toothbrush for the boy, the one thing I forgot.

Down the old cordoroy road and at the landing and across the lake we went in the fourteen foot.

Last year when we did this we were in parkas, hats and gloves when we made the trip, this year a sweatshirt did the job. The sun was shining, the colours were brilliant.

Day one was a simple one. We had the boy bail out the twelve foot which was almost swamped by the rains of last week. We cleared and gathered some brush and stacked the woodpile but overall it was pretty slack. The young fellow got some reading in and I had a few beers and Dad had a couple of rums and we had some of his homemade stew for supper. Done in by the drive and the fresh air I was in bed just past nine. Unlike last year when we nearly froze to death it was positively balmy.

The second day we started off with ham and eggs and then got to the task we were there for. Our old dock at the landing had given it up and so Dad is determined to build a new one. It will be his last one, he said. Next time it rots out (twenty years) or the ice takes it then it will be someone else's problem.

I helped him put one together twenty plus years ago, one Saturday morning when I was in my early twenties and still drunk from the night before. What a nightmare that day was. Was at some girl's place at 3am and realized I had to go. Walked across the city, getting home with the sun already risen, at 6, Dad waking me at 7 to head out.

Now this time he had the cribs in place and what he needed were two twenty four foot timbers. You run those from the shore over the cribs and then you nail your boards across these and there you have your dock. He uses pine, there's nothing you can do about the ice taking away your dock but if you have pine then if it survives the ice it will last for decades.

We hop into the fourteen foot and duck into a little bay which is at the corner of our bigger one. There's a beaver lodge in there and it goes back a bit, its a bit treacherous with driftwood and enough rocks to take out your prop but we've been going there for over forty years. We used to go in as kids, all the way to the end of it and then track through the bush to a small lake about a mile or so in where we'd put our minnow traps. I'm sure the path is long gone now, its thick bush, we're talking 70s Penthouse here.

The lake is Northern Ontario shield, carved from granite hills, boulders scattered along their slopes and down into the water, left there by the retreating glaciers. Its what you would call rugged. ;) So we putted along until we saw some possibilities and then brought the boat in, nice and easy, a perfect landing as my old man always says.

It was slippery going, clambering up the hillside, amongst the red boulders, the forest floor brown with pine needles, the stand of red and white pine and balsam rising to blue skies. Dad with his chainsaw, me with the axe, the boy carrying a tape measure and work gloves.

Dad turned to me and laughed at one point and said 'We're like mountain goats up here'

My old man is 80.

You would have to see it to believe it.

We found a tree and he brought it down and I hacked the branches off of it and then we cut it to twenty four feet and then hauled it down the hill (to be fair gravity did a fair bit of the work here) and then drug it into the water and into the boat we went and tied it and towed it back to camp where we hauled it onto the shore. And then back we came again and did it a second time.

And then it was time for a beer and some homemade soup which is basically Dad's stew with a bit more water in it. He lives off of this, every day its his lunch. When he said last year that 'Everything he needs is right here' there was soup, even if there was neither heat nor light.

And so we meandered back and forth from the logs, stripping the bark off of them leisurely, to other odd jobs that were two man endeavours and then to the deck for a beer. Supper was corn on the cob and potatoes and pork chops on the barbeque and we all had our fill, the boy eating what could be described as a man sized meal for the first time, shovelling back the mountain on his plate.
And so again that night we sat upstairs, I with a beer, Dad with a Caesar. He told me about how one of his younger brothers, kicked out of high school, went to work as what they called a radio operator up in Wawa and then further north, directing air traffic was the job basically, cajoling the pilots to take him up with them, letting him fly until he got his pilot's license, working his way through Arctic milk runs until he ended his career flying jumbo jets for Air Canada.

He told me about the summer he spent prospecting in Newfoundland, about the bear that he shot when it came into his tent one morning and the massive cod that dragged him and a buddy around a cove one day when they were casting about from a canoe and about how he went into the bush with a young Inuit helper Enik Karpik, going in for weeks at a time, trying to strike it rich for a British mining concern.

He talked about playing hockey with his brothers on frozen northern lakes and running along the tops of moving trains as they chugged out of Franz, jumping off into enormous snowbanks laughing.

And he talked about times up at camp, how they bought a rundown log cabin in 1968 and how his best friend, a massive Finn named Otto Koski, proclaimed that first things first they would repair the sauna. And so they did.

Otto is gone now and so is Dad's brother Don and so too many of the friends Dad talked about on the nights we spent last weekend but for my old man there are no regrets. He misses them but he's got too much to do and too little time and so he chuckles and raises a glass and then he gets right back to it.

What a guy. Unreal.