Still It Will Remain

In the distance a row of fishing shacks mark the border between field and forest. Winter will see these tiny houses scattered on the frozen bay. Until then they wait in uneasy solitude on spans of green waiting for the ice and snow. Rolls of hay are strewn haphazardly about the fields like giant building blocks left out forgotten at the end of the day. The gnats swarm the road in random clouds. Grasshoppers’ wings with white edged matador brown capes spread in the wind. Dragonflies dog my steps playing chicken with my feet.
I can see open stone sheer veiled peeking through the trees. Naked and close to the wind a millennium breath raises her breast to the surface bared granite and marble skin. The lake shore is speckled with cottages, vegetable gardens edging the gravel road. The growing season is shorter here. The leaves of the trees have already begun to change while the tomato plants hang heavy with still ripening fruit. Toads sunning on the road leap into the underbrush their long legs dangling out behind them.This is someone’s road home they travel it everyday. Do they see the rock outcrops and clouds hung from invisible cables low in the sky? Or do they just see the road home?
The path leads off into the woods. It is cool under the trees. The course is winding and uneven. Past the hanging salt blocks there is a hidden jewel, blue and sparkling in the sun. The flat plain is stabbed by thin spikes of dead trees and beaver chewed stumps. The dams describe a three corner boundary dividing the forest from the water. The soft green of lily pads gild that liquid cerulean mirror. The soft mud tells a tale of midnight visits by bears, raccoons and deer. Long thin leeches wind their black sinuous ways on unknown errands round logs and reeds. A baby blacksnake sunning on the path shies into the underbrush as it senses the vibration of passage.
The sun beats down on this secret oasis. The demise of this dream is inherent in its own nature. This small pond, choked and narrowed by the industries of nature, will in the end cease to exist. The water will fill and the forest will take root. The reeds and lily pads will give way to aspen, pine and beech. The day will come when this place exists nowhere else but in memory. Painted in broad strokes it will remain forever ageless and shining jewel-like in the northern skies of the mind’s eye.

On the Lake

Sun dappled weedy shadows ripple beneath the calm unknowing. Cold steel shining bright pierces the small cold heart. Blow flows, tail bites and he is gone. Sinking under calm waters to breath again midst the cool cover of dark weeds.

The call of the loon rises as the boat skips over the water. The languid flapping of great blue wings reaches to settle awkwardly within the heights of the jack pine. Red hawk cuts the air flying high and true over the water up above the cliffs. Shining quick silver, talon pierced, writhes on a first and final flight. Glint of silver scales stirs great blue wings to fill the sky in pursuit of that mercurial bounty.

Along the Road

Motor homes like great lumbering elephants trundle along the road passing the Magnetawan heading on to the French River that runs from Georgian Bay all the way to the uneasy waters of the Nipissing. Clouds hang low suspended from invisible cables that anchor them to the blue grey sky. The earth is raw and unsettled here. The skin of the soil barely covers the hard granite bones that strain ever upwards. Towering boulders like calcified trolls lingering too late and caught by the sun line the ribbon of asphalt that winds off in the distance. The crows are a constant companion, growing in numbers the farther north we travel.

Severn Falls sees the first inukshuk peering down from the staggering height of a giant torn apart by progress. It is one of many that will mark the miles that lie between it and our final destination. In Inuit inukshuk means “in the image of man”. The native peoples of the north have long used the inukshuk to provide guidance, hope and leadership on the frozen tundra. Traditionally the shape of each inukshuk could communicate a host of geographical information that would show a road through the wilderness. The inukshuks that line the road bear only a passing resemblance to those authentic forms. They’re more of a travel tradition for people passing through.

Years lost, back in my childhood, there are memories of these small men lining the cliffs arched against the sky welcoming us into the near north. They are formed from the little brothers of the heights they rest upon. Every year the ones that have fallen are built up again and their numbers are increased by the hands of those who have traveled before us. They call a silent greeting wishing safe passage and a remembrance of paths already walked. The most impressive can be seen perched high upon seemingly impassible ledges with no visible sign of access.

The highway narrows from four lanes to two and then finally one. A black bear, wise to the Tao of the asphalt, waits at the side of the road and crosses after we pass. The language of the road becomes divided as we near our destination. “Rue” and “chemin” replace “street” and “road” on the signs that mark dirt and gravel lanes branching off to the left and right. The largely French population is descended from the original French settlers who made their way here in the mid 17th century. Here, like most small rural communities, God is nothing to be ashamed of and churches abound. Each cemetery is marked by a large white wooden cross that towers above marble monuments lovingly maintained and festooned with wreaths and vases of flowers. The Virgin Mary gazes out from niches on lonely farmhouse lawns and ornate wrought iron crosses grace the roadsides marking the loss of loved ones to the white line horror.

The radio only plays oldies stations now. The smell of jack pines fills the air. Great expanses of shining black water ringed by reeds and juniper peek through the white birch and aspen. The crunch of gravel fades into dirt as we pass the Langstroth hives heavy with honey. Finally I can see the waters of the Nipissing. The surface mirrors the haze of the dying sun through racing clouds.

The day is gasping its last breath and darkness slowly creeps below the pines. Deep in the woods there is a swelling that rises up out of the earth cresting the still surface of the rich soil and moss. The bones of the earth are laid bare. Speckled with lichen, scrub and rusty pine needles, a grey pink smooth mound lolls on the surface. A huge whale’s belly round, soft and hard, naked and exposed, it is still warm from the heat of the day. I lay in the embrace of those granite bones while the cries of crows echo under the restless sky.