Camping in Canuckistan


A lot can be said for solitude.

Or maybe I should call it solitwo. My wife and I just spent a week “alone together” at the most remote campsite I could find in Gatineau Park, Quebec. We pitched our tent at the edge of a gorgeous little lake under a mix of hardwoods and pines, and we just came back to reality a few hours ago when we had to strap the canoe back onto the wall of our tiny garage and put all our stuff away.

Summer’s end. The end of summer is a strange time, like the USA between the election and the inauguration.  It isn’t really summer anymore—even though the official date for transition has not yet arrived—and it doesn’t seem like autumn despite the chill in the air. Especially when it’s raining, which it was for most of our time in the woods, nature is like a song in a minor key. The mournful sigh of the wind in the trees and the slap of the waves on the rocks at the lakeshore; the violent crash of thunder in the night and the chatter of chipmunks at daybreak—it’s all a sort of sonic grey. The leaves are still too soft to rattle and too green to dazzle. The air is too chilly to brave in a t-shirt, but not cold enough to enable one to see one’s breath. Even so, at a tidy camp at the edge of a lake, all alone, it is bliss.

Common Loons. These majestic northern birds with their distinctive spots and pointed bills are the bagpipes of bird-dom. One either loves them or hates them—there’s not a lot of middle ground. Their call sounds a bit like Benny Goodman coughing into his clarinet. Out on the lake in the dark they sound eerie and forlorn, and some people have told me that loons give them the creeps. We love them. Though we didn’t sit around in Atlanta and fret about not hearing loons in the South as we did on the lakes by our house in Nova Scotia, the first time we heard them again our reaction was, “Wow—did I ever miss the loons!” We said a similar thing on Canada Day when the men in skirts fired up the bagpipes…

Hot dogs. I’m generally not a hot dog lover. In fact, I’m not sure why we eat them at all. Were it not for the fact that they are stuffed into a sock made of who-knows-what, these finely ground bits of otherwise inedible animal matter would not make it to a single table in the civilized world. I don’t dislike hot dogs, mind you—unless I find them cut up in little plugs and trying to pass themselves off as real meat hidden in the baked beans or, worse yet, in macaroni—I’m ambivalent. I can’t remember the last time I actually asked for them. But when my wife suggested we bring hot dogs on the camping trip, I was effusive in my enthusiasm. Because as is the case with other dishes one eschews at home, in the wild, hot dogs are different. Properly scorched and blistered at the end of a whittled stick, then nestled in a soft bun slathered with whole grain mustard and topped off with big chunks of raw onion and a haymow of sauerkraut, a hot dog placed in the middle of a 20-year-old plastic McDonalds plate that refuses to break, right there next to the baked beans, becomes a stately thing—elegant, almost, like Olivier at centre stage or The Great One taking the puck across the blue line. The hot dog in this state is a culinary treasure, something you would gladly serve to a guest if there were one around. Unless he happened to be your cardiologist—or anyone’s cardiologist, for that matter.

Buying wood. Buying wood in Canada is akin to buying sand in the United Arab Emirates. But buy it we did, just so we could have a campfire at night and take the chill off in the morning. The wood police say that because of a species of insect that is eating all the ash trees in the Ottawa Valley, they have outlawed bringing one’s own firewood into Gatineau. But I wonder. At $8 for a .75 ft3 bag of split maple and birch, that bug may be around for some time. To put it into perspective, that amount of wood is good for six hotdogs, a dozen or so roasted marshmallows and four medium-length short stories read aloud. We calculated that it’s considerably cheaper to heat our house in the city for one day than it is to have a campfire for three hours. Then, to top it off, we bought ice. Think of it—buying ice in the Great White North, at three bucks a bag. It’s cheaper to run the fridge here in Ottawa than to keep 2 litres of milk from going bad in the back of the SUV.

I guess that’s the price of solitwo

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7 thoughts on “Camping in Canuckistan”

  1. Rob, your perspective and your particular brand of wit and wisdom always cause me to see things in a new and refreshing way. “Nature is like a song in a minor key…” That one hit me hard, and it made me think how often life is often a song in a minor key: beautiful, complicated, not everything perfectly in place as one might hope, waiting to be resolved.

    Thanks for sharing, challenging, provoking us into thinking a little deeper, enjoying life more fully, and laughing along the way. You’re loved and appreciated.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Tracy. We all wait for that resolution, don’t we? I suppose it’s the dissonance in the world, even more than the minor keys, that I really long to have done with. (Rom 8.20-25) Personally, I’m a lover of minor keys, and really enjoy some of your gut- wrenchingly beautiful Spanish songs written in them. But a steady diet of a minor key could be discouraging!

  2. Dad, I LOVED this post! You have the best sense of humor and I really enjoyed perusing your blog tonight. Hey, if I can’t get into the VBPD, maybe I can move to Quebec and become a part of the wood police! 🙂 Love you!
    Seth

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