The single portage
For Stacy, my favorite canoe-tripping partner
We single portage the canoe through the Northern Ontario woods,
stepping our heavy hiking boots over rocks,
some the size of pebbles, others are boulders.
It’s a technique we’ve perfected over the years:
drag the canoe off the lake,
dry off our feet with the pack-towel,
put on wool socks and hiking boots,
packs hefted onto our backs,
one person on each side of the canoe and lift.
Our other possessions are clipped to our packs with carabiners:
water container, Blue Loo, dry pack, wet Tevas.
The paddles stay in the boat or sometimes we each carry our own.
We stop to rest briefly, setting down the Kevlar beast as gently as we can,
still, it often thuds against the ground, scraping on a rock or two.
I might spot a small brown toad making his own journey through the thick Canadian forest.
The break is short, only a few moments. The misquotes are too heavy in the air.
Every inch of exposed flesh is sprayed with DEET but the misquotes still linger
close, sniffing out any skin that may have something to offer.
I can’t swat at them when I’m carrying the canoe and so
I’m left trusting the cancerous chemical to do its job.
The first time we single portaged the canoe the trail was over 2,000 meters.
It’s quiet on the trail. Occasionally you hear the snap
of a tree branch or the rustle of a small animal.
I’m always looking around for black bears –
I’ve read too many stories of attacks along the portage trail.
Or maybe that paranoia exists only in my mind.
Before we crafted the single portage we would double (or rather, one and half) portage.
I walked alone through the woods, pack on my back and various gear in my hands.
I would sing bad pop songs as loud as I could
just to let the bears know I was there, give them time to scale a tree.
Walking alone through the Northern Ontario forest is a cliche I can’t craft into poetry:
peaceful, reflective, meditative.
I’ve also never felt more lonely and isolated and scared.
I know you think I’m crazy, but
This is paradise.
Not in this moment, of course, when I’m tripping over rocks
or sloshing through muck and swamp.
Only later when I’m sitting outside my little bungalow
in Central Pennsylvania, allowing myself to be devoured by the super-ego.
Sometimes if I listen closely, I can hear Northern Ontario.
It’s the sound of wind whipping through pine trees.
There just happens to be a few around my house.
It’s different from the rustle of leaves you might hear from a maple or an oak.
Instead it’s a soft vibration the pine needles make, each tuft of needles rubbing up against the other.
The song is gentle, but it sends electric currents through me.
If I close my eyes, I’m in a place that few in this world even know exists.
Far away from here.
May 6, 2014