The last canoeing of the year

'How about we take the canoe for a last spin, before we carry it up?" Sam looked at me expectantly. Outside, the clouds were flung over the mountains like a dirty old blanket, giving the illusion of a much flatter landscape.

‘How about we take the canoe for a last spin, before we carry it up?” Sam looked at me expectantly.

Outside, the clouds were flung over the mountains like a dirty old blanket, giving the illusion of a much flatter landscape. This might as well be northern Saskatchewan or Ontario on a grey, washed-out November day. I looked at the thermometer: -7 degrees. All in all, not the kind of scene that kindles a wild desire to go canoeing in my heart.

“Oh come on, don’t be such a couch potato. Last chance to go out on the water for the next six months,” Sam urged. I gave in with a sigh. If it wasn’t for Sam, I would probably grow roots on the cozy spot on the sofa, right next to the stove.

Decked out in Yukon winter paddling duds (threadbare fleece pants, glued and taped winter gum boots, dog-hairy sweater and windbreaker, toque, gloves and PFD), we trudged through the snow down to the water. Why was it that weekend warriors had all the fancy gear, I wondered, and the rest of us made do with worn out clothes, underpowered snowmobiles, aluminum nutshells with wimpy motors – and battered old canoes. Poor old thing, it looked decidedly out of season, if not out of place, the scratched up fibreglass hull dusted with snow.

Gingerly, we carried it over the ice-slick rocks and put it down in the shallow, sluggish looking water. I clambered into the boat, awkward with my heavy boots, then Sam gave a slight push and climbed in too. Pulling on the paddles with winter-gloved hands, we slowly made our way along the snowy, drab-looking shore. Muted in dark spruce green, the rockier hillsides sparsely haired with skeletal poplars and willows, the forest stood in silence as we paddled by.

We glided past the new beaver lodge that had already looked abandoned in late summer and seemed in worse repair now. Old chewed-off branches floated around what was one more half-finished building of the North. Oh, I could relate: all the dreams and plans for that perfect house wrecked in collision with reality.

As we carried on, the sun managed to slip a flood of golden yellow light underneath the sombre clouds through a valley to the south. Blindingly, luxuriantly it spilled in sparkles across the water, just one wide solid beam of it. Wherever it touched, the snow glowed, the trees basked, the canoeists smiled. “Should have brought the sunglasses,” Sam muttered.

Briefly, the idea of a winter canoe trip popped into my head. It would be different, for sure, kind of fun. Then again, maybe not so much fun I conceded as we passed out of the sun-drenched spot and grey November settled on us again. Such a hangover month that makes you pay for all the excesses of fall.

Here was the spot where in the summer, Sam had found the torn remains of a young black bear. No hint of it could be seen anymore, not from the water anyway. Up ahead was the bay where the yearling moose calf had stood in early June, forlorn and insecure, kicked off by her mother who had a new calf to look after.

Like beads on a rosary, each spot reminded us of another summer story, remembered only by the initiated, of meaning only to the believer. In contrast, the snow gave up the secrets of the shoreline easily, old gossip that it is.

Here rabbits had run back and forth, their trails blatant like a road map on Google Earth, crisscrossed by the dots and streaks of ermine and marten paws. Further on, the imprint of spread wings, round lynx tracks and a pile of moose nuggets, half hidden in the snow. We slipped by in secret, leaving no mark of our passing, past the blueberry patch and the lichen-stained cliff, the orange splotches shouting defiance against the encompassing grey.

Eventually, we circled back home, to wait out that transition period, until all the water is locked away and ice stretches from shore to shore. The canoe went into hibernation behind the shed where no moose hoof could punch a hole through it and I resumed my sipping of tea by the wood stove. From outside the windows, northern Saskatchewan looked sullenly back at me, but I wasn’t fooled by the gloom anymore.

“You know, that was a really good idea,” I said to Sam.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who

lives at the headwaters of the

Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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