Sunday, August 27, 2006

An Unexpected Treat During the latter part of my first summer on the farm, I was surprised one morning, after loading the milk for delivery, by the appearance of Dad in his old Buick with a boat in tow. The type of boat he had with him is known as a Grand Laker and is a square sterned canoe designed and constructed specifically to ply the large lakes in Maine. These boats, as can be seen in the top photo, are considerably larger than a normal canoe, and the squared-off stern allows an outboard motor to be mounted as in the middle photo. The middle and bottom photos are of the actual lake where we were, unbeknownst to me, about to spend a glorious week together. The middle photo shows a canoe beyond the island visible in the far distance in the bottom photo. The bottom photo shows the narrow mouth of the lake behind the dam where boats are put into the lake. I don't know the exact size of the lake, but it has enough open area that waves of a yard(meter) or more in height aren't rare on windy days. It's precisely for that reason the Grand Laker canoe was developed, as it easily tackles the worst waves and winds the lakes in the area serve up. It also has a shallow draft that enables it to be maneuvered up the shallowest of the streams that feed the lakes. As I ran to greet Dad, my aunt called to me from the pantry doorway. Looking back, I could see she had uncle R's old army surplus duffle bag with her. Seems they had all planned this trip secretly to surprise me, and my aunt had the duffle bag packed and ready to go with enough clothing to last me several days. I was still confused as to what was going on until Dad called to me from the car window to get my things and not to forget my fishing gear. I numbly obeyed and, as I finished piling it all into the car's trunk and the boat, My aunt beckoned me to her one last time and handed me a paper bag filled with fresh bread, rolls, and homemade doughnuts. Running back to the passenger side door, I clambered happily into the huge old vehicle and inquired as to where we were going. I had it in mind that we were headed down the road the six miles or so to the boat landing of the lake where F and R had their cottage. When Dad turned in the yard and entered the highway going in the opposite direction my curiosity grew. Dad urged me to just sit and enjoy the ride and said I'd see where we were headed shortly. I did as instructed, but my puzzlement grew as we passed first by the road to town and the river landing, then several more roads leading to the lakes with which I was familiar. When we passed the road to the lake with the last of the cottages I knew to belong to relatives, pure confusion set in. Finally, Dad turned off on a road that was to be travelled by me almost daily in my teen year summers. At the end of the road is a small settlement and several sporting lodges, along with a public boat landing on the biggest lake in the area. I'd never been there before and at first look I thought it rather funny that we'd come fifty miles or so to enter onto what appeared to be a rather small lake. What I soon realized, was that I was seeing only the narrow strip of water that led to a vast lake, that in turn was connected directly to several more large bodies of water. This narrow bit of water is pictured above, and above it the canoist is at the beginning of the larger area of water. Dad stopped at the boat ramp and we got out to load all our gear into the canoe before putting it into the water. He then undid the canoe's tie-down straps and backed the trailer into the lake, allowing me to wade in and guide it back to the shore beside the ramp so we could safely enter the vessel. After pushing off and paddling out a short way, Dad lowered the outboard motor into the water, pumped the gas bulb on the tank several times, and with a quick pull on the starter cord the motor roared to life. Dad made sure we each had on life vests and then pointed the bow toward the lake that was his goal. I was still under the impression we were going for a one or two night camping trip and that my duffle held R's army surplus tent. As we motored onto the large portion of the lake, the canoe was suddenly subjected to a stiff wind and waves larger than any I'd ever seen on a lake before. They looked more like the waves we saw on the salt water in the Bay of Funday when we went to buy fresh fish on the piers, twenty-five or thirty miles south of the farm. Dad wasn't concerned however, which allowed me to finally relax some and enjoy being on the lake. Our final destination was to prove to be the cottage of one of Dad's co-workers that was ten or more miles up the lake and accessable only by water in summer, and by crossing the lake ice in winter. It was this remoteness that had attracted Dad to the cottage when he'd gone ice fishing with his friend the previous winter, and had stayed at the cottage for several days. As it turned out, this helped create one of the best memories I have of that distant time. As we neared the cottage, Dad slowed the canoe and, when he saw it was shallow enough to be safe, instructed me to enter the water and "pull us ashore" as he put it. This was easily done and Dad exited the craft onto the beach and proceeded to pull it up onto the land. After we'd unloaded most of the gear, Dad removed the motor and carried it and the gas tank up onto the porch where there was a crude stand on which to store both. The two of us then pulled the boat completely onto the logs, placed in a row like railroad ties parallel to the water, that served to protect the painted canvass bottom from the rough, rocky beach. I was still awestruck by this turn of events and had a head full of questions, but, knowing Dad, I patiently waited for him to explain things as I knew he would eventually. We entered the camp and Dad told me to unpack my things on the lower of the two bunks in an opening opposite what appeared to be a crude kitchen area. When I had done so, he unpacked his old army duffle onto the top bunk. We then put the items neatly into the four drawers of an old bureau at the foot of the bunks. It was at that time Dad surprised me by pulling several bottles of my favorite soda, Moxie, from his second duffle, followed by jars of homemade jam, a can of coffee, and a large jar of popcorn. He also had several cans of potatos and vegetables for our meals. It was about then I noticed there was no ice box nor ice to fill it, also no electricity of course, so I asked him how we were to cool things like the soda. He led me out of the back door and into the trees a short way to a small, but fairly deep spring that he said was our "refridgerator" for the next week. A week!! I couldn't believe what I'd heard and my head was still reeling as Dad went back to the camp carrying the fishing net he'd retrieved from a tree beside the spring. Back in the cottage he piled the soda bottles, a jar of cream, and a jar filled with home churned butter on the net, tied it into a pouch, and carried it to the spring. Once there, he unwound a rope I'd not noticed from the tree that had held the net and, after tying on the filled net, lowered it into the spring until it rested some ten feet or so down on the bottom. He then led me back to the camp and off into the woods in the opposite direction of the spring until we came upon what was obviously an outhouse. Saying there was only one more thing to show me, we went back to the camp and around to the large rocks down the beach a few hundred feet or so. Following his lead and clambering onto the rocks, I saw what was clearly a compost pile with the peelings of an orange still identifiable on top. Beside it was a small shovel which Dad grabbed, along with one of the many empty cans there, and started digging in the composted matter for fishing worms. Once we'd secured enough worms to keep us from digging more for a bit, we returned to the camp and collected our fishing rods and a small leather pouch with extra hooks and other necessities. Dad set out along the beach, explaining that we'd find a stream in which to fish before long. He was right, and we headed inland up the stream in search of our evening meal. This proved to be easily obtained, as within the space of an hour we had caught several large brook trout and were headed back to the camp. By this time it was early evening and the light in the cottage was becoming dim as we carried in our cleaned fish dinner. As we lit the kerosene lanterns and kindled the fire in the pot-bellied wood stove, it slowly sank into my mind that this was really happening, and that it was going to last a full week before the grind of daily life retook control of our schedules. The next few days were filled with swimming, hiking, fishing from the boat and in the nearby streams, and best of all, evenings alone with Dad. During those quiet evenings, listening to the cries of loons and owls, we popped popcorn in a wire basket, ate fresh fish, and talked about anything and everything. As it turned out, this was to be the first of four such trips, along with an additional two in winter for ice fishing. I think it was these trips when I came to really know the quiet man who was my Dad, and to appreciate the time spent alone with nature. We'd pass hours together withous saying a word, just enjoying the beautiful surroundings and each other's company. That, is the memory I have when I think of Dad, and it's as fresh today as it was then. Take care until next time.

5 comments:

Mies said...

Now that is a nice memory, Mike. I could almost hear the call of the Loon. Sounds like a beautiful, remote area. A good place for a Dad to form a strong bond and share life lessons with his Son.
The most worthwhile and beautiful places are the ones the hardest to get to.
I don't think I have seen a canoe like that one before. Interesting how it could withstand waves and wind and yet navigate shallow streams. Reminds me of a drift boat only with a motor. Keep going with the memories and thanks again...

Mar said...

Well, I'm sorry, but Mies has just expressed what was in my mind, and in much better words than what I had prepared in my head, so... thank you, Mike, for such a nice description and keep telling us when you can,pal! ;-D

Patricia said...

Reading this installment was like having a mini-vacation, Mike. People who have a peaceful place lke that to get away from everyday life are very lucky. Some people search all their lives for one and never find it, and some, like you, were lucky enough find it in your childhood.
I have one, a place on a muntaintop, and I need to go back from time to time, it restores my ragged soul, always, just to be there.
And if I can't really go, I can go in my mind, and that helps too.
I know the value of places like that...thanks for the memory, of both yours and mine.

Sarah said...

well,I know this well Mike.I have your same appreciation of the things around me as you learned.I also learned it by the lakes & woods with people that meant so much to me.I also have a great love of Moxie.My husbands Aunt used to bring it down from massacusettes for me.I am the only one in the family who likes it & you can't get it here only in NEw England. Oh I love it!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting photos.