Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008 across Algonquin Park and down to Gananoque

We camped in Mackey last night, on the shores of the Ottawa River. Mostly though we were at the side of a two lane highway, at the base of a hill where the heavy trucks applied their “jake” or engine brakes to scrub speed before the upcoming turn. This is not quite the same as a train whistle, but comes close. For the first night in two weeks we opt for an electrical hook-up and use that to watch a recorded movie on the computer. For a few hours we are transported to Bruges in Belgium, and forget the highway and the forest, and the growing sack of dirty laundry beneath the back bench seat.

Town after town we tick off our way east through what is now countless road construction projects – each with a flagman and a wait at the side of the road. The road skirts most towns and leaves us in the scrub pine and road side ponds of these north woods. There are stretches of road here where the land is completely flat – like Oklahoma filled with a semi-active corn or bean farms. Then the land begins to roll and we are in woodland again. Where we see it, the corn is shoulder high and seems ready for harvest. The first hay crop is in, and baled, and fields are green again with a second growth.

The large patches of Sumac have begun to turn color ahead of the rest of the trees and their tell-tale red fruiting part brings me back to memories of my youth, toiling what seemed then like whole weekends on my parents property, where their vision involved eradicating the scraggly stands of sumacs and blackberry brambles and replacing them with majestic oaks and pine. I imagined myself then, with hatchet and bow saw in hand a rugged woodsman, clearing land for a settlement – or a prospector in Alaska clearing land for a cabin. Now, strolling their land, the vision has been accomplished with the under story a flourish of wildflowers, cultivated fern patches and the sky blotted our by large hardwood trees maturing – their plantings and supportive poles of 40 years ago thin wispy memories lingering in the shade. The thick trunks and wide spacing would allow any number of large owls free room to fly and hunt.

At last we see the road we are seeking, and turning off the eastward heading route 17 as soon as it enters the outer reaches of Ottawa suburbs, we turn south on 29, then scenic 15 which will ultimately lead us to the Saint Lawrence River and our island stopping place for this leg of our journey. We have not driven south at all on this drive, and the sun directly in the large windshield makes the jeans I wear feel like double thermal underwear. Time to break out the shorts.

The road takes us right through Smith Falls, an old mill town that has retained much of its earlier charm. There are row after row of thin red brick houses, the church and town buildings hewed from large blocks of grey limestone. Its not until we reach the outskirts of town that he sprawl, chain big box stores and franchises cling to the roadway, like a parasitic fish attached to an elegant whale – Mark Morris Tires, Dairy Queen, Canadian Tire. But here in Canada, even these franchises make an effort to appeal beyond what gets delivered in the 18 wheeler from the supplier – there are bunches of colorful flowers in baskets by the roadway, and a pleasantly mowed front yard by the curb.

But now, the sun is setting over the river. We've stopped and done a few loads of laundry on Charles Street at the laundromat with the east Indian women sitting quietly behind he counter, celebrated the end of our drive at the DQ, picked up boat keys at the marina and coaxed the boat out of its shallow slip on the main land and puttered across the main channel to Pumpkin Island. As expected, we find the island quiet, and undisturbed. Our memories intact and matching the magic and peace of the place. No sooner do we get the duffel bags out of the boat, as we've slipped into swim suits and jumped in for a long luxurious swim. The water is cold, but not unpleasant, and we stroke comfortably for the point, on our backs, staring up at the underside of the overhanging branches in the trees by the shore. The setting sun is sparkling off the water, into the trees , then back down to us as we swim. There are only ducks calling and my breath to listen to as I float and swim, and think of all the water that has floated past this point since I was here last. Time, like the river keeps moving, and I make a silent commitment not to let as much time float by before I return here again - making that plan - not 10 minutes into this visit. Remember it this time.

Fourteen days of travel and we've covered 3,800 miles. From Oakland, to Washington to Southern British Columbia, back to Glacier, then across the northern frontier of the country and threading through the great lakes to the southern edge of Ontario, along the Ottawa River and finally to this spot astride the Saint Lawrence River. Far too many miles for one stretch. Now it's time to slow down and steep in the beauty, solitude, and camaraderie that is Pumpkin Island.

Lunch stop along the Mississipi River in Ontario

Five arch stone bridge across the Mississippi in Ontario - the sign claims this is the only bridge of its kind in North America - 5 arches - all stone

The Mississippi again - just upstream of the bridge.

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