May 28 2015
Tendrils of mist rose from the swift water, joining and parting like swirling dancers. Their numbers increased from minute to minute, until the river was all but hidden behind an undulating gray wall. Somewhere up ahead was the gravel bar marking the place where I’d make my camp for the night. But where was it? I could see nothing that looked familiar. Then a fluke of wind pushed the curtain of mist to one side. And there it was: Jack’s Point. I drew the pack canoe’s bow upriver and ferried toward it.
Years had passed since I last stopped here. Decades, in fact. But as the tendrils of mist twined around me, past and present became one. You can go home again, I thought. The bow of the canoe scraped against the bar. I threw a leg over the gunwale and staggered upright, leaning heavily on my paddle in lieu of a wading staff. Even here in the shallows, the current made its presence felt. It tugged gently at my ankles, urging me onward. But I was resolved to stay the night. So I freed the painter from its loop on the bow deck and sloshed ashore, pulling the little canoe behind me.
The journey that brought me to this point had not been an easy one. I’d struggled for miles against the flow of a powerful river, then plodded more weary miles carrying boat and baggage over a height of land, only to lose myself for hours in an unmapped maze of new beaver flows — the headwaters of the lively stream that carried me here. What looked easy on the map had proven to be a test of both muscle and mettle. The day now drawing to a close began long before sunrise, and I’d been on the river more than 13 hours. I was soaked, hungry, and exhausted. But none of these things mattered. I’d come home.
I emptied the canoe and made the painter fast to a solitary gray birch. After that, I scrambled inland, pushing my way through a tangle of spruce until I broke free and found myself standing in a birch wood. Years ago this had been a brushy glade. Before that, it was a logging town. Now pines were growing tall among the birch.
And there it was, just as I remembered it: a blackened fire ring, fashioned from cobbles quarried in the riverbed. Someone — I wondered who — had cleared a circle of ground around the stones, and a rusty wire grill lay nearby. I looked for a level spot to pitch my tent. I found it, and immediately set about making myself at home. I brushed needles and leaves away from the old hearth, gathered several armfuls of downed limbs, and lit a fire. Before long, a pot of pea soup bubbled on the grate, and not long after that, I went to bed. I slept well.
Morning came — a clear, still morning. Once again, I kindled a fire in the ring and made preparations to boil a pot of coffee. On this trip, I was making coffee like Grandad had made it: throwing a handful of coarse‑ground beans into freshly boiling water. The resulting brew was bitter, strong, and silty. Grandad wouldn’t drink it any other way. And as I drank my first cup of the day, I couldn’t get over the feeling that he was watching me. I often felt this way when I was in the woods, and I always hoped Grandad approved of what he saw. Today was no exception.
I’d just refilled my cup when I heard soft footfalls behind me.… Read more…
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