Saturday, August 26, 2006

An Ode to Time and Faces

A gray hair, a wrinkle, no lipstick,
I speak with the accents of my grandmothers
crossing an ocean to replace their church,
to replace their rain for snow,
green for white.
Nothing can be as barren as hopelessness.
I wore the mantle of youth's
arrogance telling me I can do it all.
I did nothing.
The weight of the bottle's liquid
changes my hair to remembered red:
my age no longer holds its copper.
Don't cluck your tongue
and tilt your chin down
for my years often are a burden;
my mortality whispering
like the clocks I want to turn
ten minutes back.

Julie, your practicality a halo,
your momentary rages are inspired reminders
that sometimes everything won't be OK
and it's OK to leave
the umbrellas down as the storm passes.
Our boots soaking, the lilacs
withering in our hands,
the wine on the table nurtures our words
and this is how I pictured my life to be
from across the hall in my pyjamas.

Adam, your stability a shield
against this sadness and I let you go
in this hopelessness I never thought
I'd feel. Our memories
wrapped up in hand knit afghans
in a room in a cottage by the Atlantic,
Irish tea and biscuits and your laughter.
If we could have stayed frozen in
that moment, we would have been happy forever.

Matt, your words a buoy
pushing me to experiment with the
language we share when I want
to be lazy and trust the world will open
and I'll float without effort,
without Jamie coaxing out the accents
of my grandmothers
who speak to us from centuries across oceans.

And Sam, your presence a pillar
you won't humbly acknowledge and
I trust you all the more for your humility
and knowing you would laugh if I told you
your heritage intimidates me gloriously, that
your association with tradition and rebellion,
your lack of walls,
edits my fears and inspires my instincts.

How do I think age a burden? I am
compelled to push you all away and draw
a line between stanzas to keep it all separate,
to not recognize the seasons binding us.
I call in accents, foreign, to
my grandfather's steady presence in my
night time, a beacon in his old age that
grows in the blood. My grandmothers
whisper my story that birthed them. And you
can hope to hear their voices on the morning tide,
the sunshine far and rolling.

The Crusader Has Come Home

Armoured on this chilly starfilled rooftop
the traffic below the walls dodges hoped for
plans and final details of a love stopped;
signs in the darkness too plain to ignore.

Knowing he sleeps twenty minutes away
peaceful as a child in his own warmth, I
miss his steady snoring beside me; stay
wrapped in orange surrounded by moonlight.

I heard everything but became mute;
lost my voice in all directions awry.
Heat from silent constellations reroutes
the fear of being alone in these skies.

Removing the metal, waiting and brave;
the arrow aims north with myself to save.

Breathe in and Gone

I was a mess on your floor last night.
My clothes a flat shell of myself, not
even dignified enough for a snaking
metaphor. Shirt melted to belted jeans
to socks halfway between (a conduit to)
denim and boots.

A police chalk artist could not have
outlined this demise so well.

I knew then there is more to me
than this. I knew all
you saw was the mouth above the
floored t-shirt, the breasts
once propping it
lifelike, my skin another shell
you had as little interest in as
the vestments peeled and discarded,
so much potato and apple rind. But
content with the outerness, any

juicy inner sinking teeth nutrient rich
blood and guts and dreams and screams
you turned from and
gave your face to the wall.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Romantic Portage, 11-13 August 2006, Algonquin Park

The Route: via Entry Point 3
Day 1: Magnetawan Lake - 135m - Hambone Lake - 55m -'pond'- 420m - Daisy Lake - Petawawa River - 135m -(along Petawawa)- 450m -(along Petawawa)- 805m - 'pond' - 140m - Moccasin Lake - 440m - Bandit Lake - 540m - Wenona Lake, the first campsite
Day 2: Wenona Lake - 540m - Bandit Lake - 440m - Moccasin Lake - 185m - Juan Lake - 450m - Jubilee Lake - 550m - Sawyer Lake - 310m - Rain Lake - 1200m - Casey Lake, the second campsite
Day 3: Casey Lake - 1185m - Daisy Lake - 420m -'pond'- 55m - Hambone Lake - 135m - Magnetawan Lake

The Voyagers: Hassan and I
We had arrived home late Monday night from our weekend in Algonquin with the gang, and the two of us loaded up the Jeep and headed North again on Friday morning for what I have dubbed The Romantic Portage. We left Toronto late, around 9a.m., since I had to show Hassan's Dad our photos from the previous weekend, and because we slept in, cursing ourselves for having drunk a little too much in the pub the night before (but it was fun...!!) En route we HAD to stop at Bass Pro Shops for fishing rod, licence, lightweight fleece for me (lucky, too, cuz the nights were much chillier this weekend than last), and a very pretty rosewood-handled knife - for slicing salami, not slitting deers' trachias.

We arrived in Kearney, just north of Huntsville, around 1:30, and since we didn't have a route reserved upon arrival, we set that up at the Ranger's Office. Up the dirt road to the Magnetawan Entry Point and we were in the water about an hour later.

Our first day was amazing and difficult: five hours of canoeing/portaging to Wenona Lake, predominately via the Petawawa River. Many of the portage entry points were muddy but the walks through the forest were incredible and at the end of the trek we were always rewarded with something gorgeous --
like a small waterfall or a family of ducks that allowed us to follow them or a friendly, fearless frog welcoming us to the next stretch of water. Along the Petawawa I saw my first moose in the wild: there were two (either a cow and calf or two cows); we could hear them in the forest, and could make out their massive bodies between the trees but they were hidden enough that photos weren't possible. We floated, hushed in the canoe, happy to be in their majestic presence.

Wenona was gorgeous. We were on the only campsite on this lake, and despite setting up camp as the sun set and my grumpiness from hunger and nicotine jonesin', it was easy to feel at ease here. The moon rose like a forest fire over the trees as we ate our boil-in-a-bag chick pea curry (did I mention I will never eat buillon and noodles again?). Loons sang mournfully and no bugs flew. Mubwayaka and I,
Wenona, rested here, thanking the Great Spirit that we will return to the lake that I have chosen as my Algonquin name in three weeks' time.

Day 2's route was the same as day 1, as far as effort and distance were concerned but we had more time to do it. At the end of our first portage between Wenona and Bandit, I turned around and, to my surprise, Hassan was not right behind me with the canoe. He arrived a few minutes later, and I asked him if he 'felt something' along the route. He hadn't just then as I had - a definite sense that someone was directly behind me, carrying something heavy (like a canoe...) - but the night before he had heard whispers and assumed that it was me saying 'hi' to a passing portager; this would have been strange, anyway, since we were the only people on this trail, and no one had passed him first since he had gone ahead of me, for once. As our last portage the night before, and thinking, perhaps, the aforementioned grumpiness was my problem, I had dismissed the whispers and feelings of being followed as a I sped along with my 70lb pack in anticipation of stopping for the night. I also remember thinking great, I can't even escape from ghosts in the wilderness. But, first thing in the morning with a good night's rest and a full belly on my side, and still the feeling of being followed (although the whispers were quieter and more distant), it was a relief that I wasn't completely alone with these sensations of not being alone.

At the end of Moccasin Lake, three otters popped up to say 'hi' and check us out. A huge turtle floated in front of the canoe at the portage exit into Juan Lake, where we were only allowed to speak Spanish, but this didn't last since we met a family of four Anglo humans - both kids under 10 - doing the same route as we were but taking a week to do it instead of two days. We leap-frogged them during the next 24 hours between Bandit Lake (we had passed them en route to Wenona the night before) and Casey - our destination today. Casey has 3 campsites, we landed on the last unoccupied one with plenty of time to relax, swim (great swimming in both lakes we camped at) and eat awesome pasta.

Wildlife seen during this trip: moose, Great Blue herons, otters, ducks a turtle, lotsa fearless frogs
(one actually swam up and posed for me as I crouched for water at Wenona's edge), loons, ducks, one very indignant crow on Daisy Lake, the most beautiful leech I've ever seen: green on the top, orange on the bottom, a casual dude resembling an underwater leaf in the wind who pretended to not be interested in us at all.

I have also, in the past two weekends, become fascinated by mushrooms -

they grew everywhere,an interesting aspect of an already incredible landscape, and I now want to learn more about them.
There were very few bugs on this trip, the only mosquitos were the few we encountered on the longer, inland portages, and even they were sluggish; it's so satisfying to flatten the little bastards as they land on your shoulders, and such a relief to not deal with them especially after last weekend's battle in the hammock. And! we're quite sure there was a bear in our camp on Casey, checking things out after we had gone to bed. To top it off, Hassan woke in the middle of the night hearing a growly breath and a large shadow outside the tent caught his his eyes and ears adjusted he realized that the shadow was the canoe's in the moonlight, and the heavy breathing was just me. Of course, Hassan is the only person I know who would realize this only after he had started to unzip the tent in an attempt to get a closer look...

Brave Hassan
of the North!

On the way home we leapfrogged a landcruiser with two girls and a guy in it, waving each time we passed each other along Highway 11. As we hit traffic south of Orillia we decided to stop in Barrie for food and brew and pulled up alongside the cruiser to ask them to join us. It turns out we had met the dude on Friday at the Ranger's office on our way in; he was on his way to a folk music festival just outside Kearney. Kismet? I think so. Bryson and April, originally from Cape Breton but now based in Toronto, and Tessa, an Australian singer/writer who participated in the festival, joined us at Jack Astor's just off the Molson Park exit, for steak and draft. The perfect end to a perfect weekend. The drive home to Toronto was pretty chilly in the Jeep - no doors and only a canoe for a roof - but it was cozy under the blanket and we bundled up under our rain gear to cut the wind; the MP3 kept us occupied finding just the right music.

Was it romantic? Oh, yes.
Would I do it again? Oh, yes.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Algonquin, August Long Weekend 2006

The Route: via Entry Point 17
Day 1 -- Farm Lake - 730 m portage - Bridle Lake, the first campsite
Day 2 -- Bridle Lake - 1600 m portage - Shirley Lake - 1050 m portage - Crotch Lake -
500 m portage - Oram Lake, the second campsite
Day 3 -- Oram Lake - 500 m portage - Crotch Lake, then around the corner to Entry Point
17...which is now Exit Point 17

The Voyageurs: Liz and Mike, Caroline and Carlos, Liz, Hassan and Tanya

This is a weekend of balancing: two people (or three) in a canoe; two people in a hammock; a pack on a back across muddy or sandy or hilly or rocky terrain; the amount of food for the amount of people; the amount of work with the reward of rest. Everyone works together seamlessly: no one feels left out, no ego exerts exclusive dominance. Hassan is recognized as the expert because of his recent and continuous experience in this arena, but Mike is also well-versed in out-tripping. For those of us new to this or being re-introduced, we are eager to learn and pitch in.

For my first time portaging/canoeing and 'real' camping since my teens, this is a relaxed trek with a relaxed group of people. Our common denominator is Hassan; I had met everyone before but only within the last couple of months (since Hassan and I started dating); Carlos is a new face for me, having arrived the week before from Seville, Spain, to visit Caroline, his girlfriend.

Another aspect of this balancing is between Hassan and myself. It's a new relationship in an extreme environment where one must depend on others: we're learning to balance each other's temperaments, to play our weaknesses off our strengths, to listen and accept suggestions, to apologize when we're wrong. And we laugh. We laugh often.

'Civilization' is a dirty word here. We avoid talk of work, of the city, and absorb in the short time we're here the beauty and serenity of the trees, the water, the wind which blows to keep us from shore, or rocks us to sleep in the hammock. The loons' mournful songs are a balm; the ducks are silently thanked as we float wordlessly past them on Farm Lake. Curious hares make Liz and I jump on our log sofa around the fire; any twig snapping could be a bear, and we hope for and fear this possibility.

On this trip we have: an English Prince
an Arabian Knight
a King of Spain
a WaterWizard
a Medic of the Highest Order
a Druish Princess
a Celtic Warrior/Scribe

We swim in rapids, on Day 2; Mike, Hassan and I brave the stronger water just past an ancient, man-made dam used originally as a log chute. The portages are challenging but not impossible. Our final portage of Day 2 is only 500 m - we anticipate the short trek after the length of the other two. Upon arrival at the end of the day paddling against strong winds the portage was short, and all uphill. And lush. And quiet. We have time for relaxation, even after Hassan and I spend about 2 hours setting up the tarp against the threat of rain. Hanging the BearBag is a nocturnal adventure: giggles from the three intrepid hangers - Mike, Liz, and Hassan - keep the rest of us laughing at the campfire until I'm called in to salvage the operation.

The first half of the night is windy, so windy that it rocks Hassan and I to sleep in the hammock. The wind dies, the rain starts, and if we hadn't hung our cocoon on an angle where we slide to the bottom, we still would be comfortable. The rain stops. The mosquitoes assemble their armies. We watch the sun rise amidst slapping and swearing. The light is perfect for BW shots; the mist rises from Oram Lake; Hassan starts a wetwood fire. The boys saw off a chunk of the log serving as this site's sofa and promptly place it on the flames. A chunk of Hassan's eye is bitten by an irate wasp, whose home was being hewn for yet more fuel.

Living in such close proximity with people can either bring them closer together or push them further apart. I feel closer to these people I had met briefly in urban social settings. Perhaps it's chemistry, or common goals and interests, or a certain elan that determines this. Perhaps it's the magic of the forest, the mystery in the lakes. Perhaps it's simply that in this atmosphere I feel most myself, and my automatic trust in the goodness of human nature is rewarded without question by those around me.