Jony and I both had been missing Keji.
I had taken him a couple times when he was a kid, back when we lived in Tatamagouche. We’d drive down on a Friday, paddle around the big lake all weekend, camp on one of the islands Saturday night.
There was no end to the exploring – around the endless islands, swimming at the countless beaches, picnicking on boulders in the middle of the lake. We spent whole hot days searching for and testing out the best jumping rocks.
I remember camping on Ritchie Island, site 13 and watching Jony and his best friend Anthony roll our canoe and swamp it and roll it again for hours. When the sun went down behind Ell Island and the beans were beyond done and cold again, I had to swim out and drag the canoe in before I could get them to call it a day.
The evenings were all stars and smores. For those who don’t know, smore comes from “Can I have s’more please?” The recipe is perfectly simple. Roast a marshmallow, put the marshmallow and a square of chocolate between two graham crackers. Enjoy.
At campsite 15 on Big Muise Island, I experienced one my funniest Keji memories.
Big Muise is big, over a kilometer long, and lonely with just the one campsite. Jony and Anthony were trying to tell me, that because we were on an island, we didn’t need to haul our food bag up into a tree.
We reread the pamphlet “You are in bear country” and cleared up that little misconception. Not long after, we followed a beaten path over the island to a jumping rock and I smugly pointed out a big pile of bear scat. My point was made and the boys agreed we would haul up food that night before going to bed.
After lunch I wanted to do some paddling and the boys didn’t. I took a quick spin round Minard, enjoying the empty boat and a half-hour of solitude.
As I came back to our camp, I saw four little legs and four bare feet dangling from the old pine tree that leans out horizontally over the sand beach.
The boys had convinced themselves they heard a bear and had climbed up there for safety. I really shouldn’t have laughed so hard.
Perhaps my fondest memory is from when I was 15, paddling across Frozen Ocean before dawn.
I used to go every summer with the canoe club in Windsor, the Pisiquid Aquatic Club. We always did Big Dam - Frozen Ocean, a beginner’s backcountry canoe route. Simple and straightforward enough you’d have to work real hard to get lost; but long enough and removed enough to give you that deep in the woods, surrounded by nothing but nature feeling.
There were a dozen of us on this one trip. At 15 I was the biggest (not the oldest) kid in the club and my friends and I did most of the heavy work on that trip.
Like carrying the canoes. Pisiquid had two styles of recreational canoes: sleek Grummans and stable Springboks. The Grummans were great for going places, the Springboks better for fishing somewhere and not moving much.
Andrew and I took “our” Grumman over the first portage and went back to help with the other canoes. By the time we finished lugging stuff, everyone else was floating away from the dock, including two older ladies in “our” Grumman.
We paddled that Springbok all day, losing every sprint and challenge along the way. The ladies never raced, they just plodded along and our egotistical adolescent minds couldn’t understand why they needed a faster canoe.
As luck would have it, our group split up to camp. The ladies in “our” Grumman were at site seven and we were across Frozen Ocean at eight. Around the campfire that night, hopped up on smores, Andrew and I made plans to paddle over in the dark and grab our canoe. Arty our leader wouldn’t let us on the lake at night but he said we could go in the morning. He figured we’d sleep in.
I don’t know if we slept at all and by five, with the first brightening under the horizon we slipped the sluggish Springbok into the water.
We did the “Indian stroke” the whole trip over. The stroke is also known as the Canadian or underwater stroke. Instead of taking the paddle out of the water, you only turn it sideways and slide it forward through the water. No drops, no splash. Handy for sneaking up on wildlife. Or for stealing a canoe.
The crucial moment was landing on the beach. Andrew’s feet hitting the sand as he jumped ahead of the canoe sounded like a cannon blast to our ears, but no one roused from the tents.
We traded for our Grumman and were gone.
By this time the dawn was colouring the sky. A strange deep purple. I’ll never forget the joy of it all. Standing on the stern seat as I paddled and bobbed the canoe, a king in a flowing purple robe, surveying my own personal frozen ocean.
We were a little disappointed the ladies never mentioned the switch at all.
My recent trip with Jony lacked that sort of drama. Ours was a flawless trip. No wind or waves, but miles and miles of picture perfect reflections.
The panorama of coloured leaves and twisty stillwaters drew us forward.
We did the 26 km loop in less than two days of hard paddling. We both like to knock off the kilometers, like to exert ourselves. Like the feeling of worked and weary muscles.
It was great to just be with my son. Life is simple out there. Paddle and eat. Nap on a sunny beach. Paddle and swim. Make camp, make a fire. Smores. Sleep. Repeat.
It was a flawless trip I said. Did I mention we borrowed the judge’s old canoe? She saw a fair amount of salt water in her day. Before we’d even started the first portage, Jony and I had to repair a thwart with wire where the rivets had rusted out. Still she held together and kept us afloat. I’m honestly quite grateful to that old canoe for enabling this latest father-son excursion.
And you know what I just realized? The judge’s old canoe is a Sprinkbok. A big, flat-bottomed, sluggish Springbok.
Being grateful is a matter of perspective. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.