Thursday, May 1, 2008

When I'm Calling You-oo-oo-oo-oo

When I was a kid, we spent several summers in a research camp about an hour and a half outside Kenora, Ontario. It was really remote –no TV, one faint radio station, and accessible only by a deeply rutted logging road that was very narrow and treacherous. A few brief TRUE ANECDOTES from my time up north:

1)The camp director was a musher – he kept sled dogs. The lead dog, Ajax, was gorgeous and strong; just about the definition of alpha dog. One year when I was up in the winter I complimented the director on his warm-looking mittens. He held up one furry mitt and said, “Ajax is still working hard for me!”

2) One summer there was a pounding on the door of our cabin and one of the researchers was yelling, “We’re evacuating – the fire’s too close!” There had been a fire miles away that seemed under control, but apparently things had changed and now all 200 people in the camp had to get on buses. We were told we could take only what we could hold in our laps. And get on the bus in 5 minutes. My brother and I raced through the cabin grabbing everything we could find, stuffing pillowcases. My dad was in the lab and my mom was trying to get sensible things, like our paperwork to get back over the border with biological samples, snacks, sleeping bags. After much fighting about was TRULY necessary, we got out to the bus. We all sat in packed buses, scared, for about 20 minutes then the walkie squawked that we should return to our cabins, but be ready in case it happens again. It didn’t, but my brother and I kept our special things by the door just in case. When we came back the next summer, it was like driving across a foreign planet; what was towering pines and lush undergrowth had become an otherworldly charred landscape as far as the eye could see.

3) I took a semester of in high school and went with my dad to Canada on his sabbatical. One by one, the students and researchers left the camp as winter approached until finally it was just me and my father for weeks at a time, the only people in a hundred mile radius. I read a lot during the day, devouring Dostoevsky like candy. I was by myself most of the time, with my dad working and me wandering an abandoned research camp most of the day. It was very “Shining” but without the freaky redrum parts. I learned to embrace the long empty days. Even now, when the world is too much with me, I crave the silence and solitude I had so long ago.

4) My dad’s a limnologist – he studies lakes. Part of this study involves getting water samples at weird times of day. One winter night we bundled up in snowsuits and bunny boots and headed out for a midnight sampling. We pushed the boat into a still lake and made our way to the center of the water. I sat there, silent in the dark, intermittently fogging my goggles with my warm breath. As I looked around, I saw the most amazing sight. From horizon to horizon, the midnight sky was filled with stars, more stars than I had ever seen. The surface of the lake reflected the scene above and for a moment I had the sensation of floating in star-filled inky black sphere. It still gives me goosebumps.

Life is funny, eh Lone Reader? Moments from decades ago can still nourish us, but we can’t find our damn keys that we just set down. Sigh. Peace out, man.

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