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.


MacT's Helmet said...

Wow. Treasure those moments, Pat.

Anonymous said...

So good to see you keeping up with the blog despite the mess that is the Oilers and the NHL. Well fuck them, I just don't want to go through BDHS withdrawal!!

shepso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shepso said...

You just about brought me to tears with this story, Pat. It'll be ten years in January since my old man passed away, at far too young an age. We never quite had that sort of a connection, him not being an outdoors type, but rather a suburban Jewish kid from Winnipeg, but we definitely had a few of those moments. Sounds like you're building a few new ones of your own with the boy and passing the torch rather well.

I love those shield lakes, the camps, the majesty of the water and endless forest. My girlfriend's family are Thunder Bay Finns and I made it out to camp for the first time this summer. She had to drag me kicking and screaming back to the city. I didn't want to leave... And the first thing her dad did when he came up was indeed prep the Sauna, built some 25 years prior using wood from the surrounding forest. I could die happy out in a spot like that. Cherish the time you have left with your dad, and make sure the boy develops a love for the place at least half as deep as your own.

Adam D said...

Great story, Pat. Though, not entirely convinced the whole thing wasn't just a set up for the 70s Penthouse joke.

Erik Burgess said...

Fantastic writing again Pat.

I lost my Dad 25 years ago this year back in July when he was 56.

He left home, the Shetland Isles, at 16 and was an officer cadet at Southampton Sea School just after WWII. 17 years in the Merchant Navy leaving to emigrate to New Zealand in 1960 with my mother.

We spent many days in my youth sea fishing from rocks and boats, camping and trout fishing in New Zealand. God I miss him so much. He never got to see any of his grandchildren.

I really enjoy reading your life tales especially those involving your Mum and Dad.

If you ever get over to Scotland we need to get together for a few beers and some single malt scotch.

Take care!


Black Dog said...

Thanks very much for the kind comments everyone and for your own stories. Appreciate it. Erik, you are on!

Adam - well not so but man I was happy to slip that one in there ;)

Schitzo said...

Me and my brother were talking about treating the old man to some sort of fly-in Alaskan fishing trip. And we're discussing how long it will be before we have the disposable income to make it happen, when we realize that Dad's at an age where he may not be up for it if we wait too long.

Scay thought.

Time to see how much room is left on the credit card!

uni said...

My old man was a right bastard. Tough as nails as well, but all he taught me was to look out for myself cause he sure as hell wasn't going to. His few stories including causing bodily harm to others in a jovial manner weren't exactly heartwarming either.

You guys are clever enough to realize how fortunate you are to have the fathers you do. They all sound like quite interesting men. Pat's father seems like a rare one though, don't have the pleasure of meeting many like that these days. You should write a book about his life, then when you finally retire write one about your own. That'll be some good reading.

spOILer said...

Looking at that wonderful photo up in the fiery-leafed back country of the Canadian Shield, miles from nowhere, I can't help but think... how does handsome manage to skip a generation like that?

No offense Pat. You're by no means ugly, but look at those two gents... let's admit it, you're just not on the same level as those two playaz.

I can see why they just wanted themselves in the pic.

Black Dog said...

Thanks uni, yeah its come to mind, he's had a very interesting life, different times/

lol spOILer very good.

Not just looks but the work ethic as well.

Murat said...

I'm sure you remember Nik from our beer last Christmas, Pat. I've been waiting for the perfect post to bring him over to your blog and I think this one is it. Something about 70's bush will probably just work for him.


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