Sunday, September 4, 2011

Journey to Fort William Part 2: Oiseau Rock

Journey to Fort William Part 2
Oiseau Rock

If you journey upstream on the Ottawa River from the Factor's House in Pat's circa 1985 motorboat (and almost certainly in any other boat) you will see on the leftern shore Camp Petawawa, a bastion and training ground for the Canadian military. There, for the most part, beach gives way to forest which is demarcated by white signs strung as evenly as pearls along its entire length up to the Chalk River Nuclear power facility, also known as Iso-dope Central. The signs, I'm given to believe, read something along the lines of HALT OR WE WILL BLAST YOU INTO THE NEXT CENTURY YOU MISERABLE TERRORIST.  Within sight of the Chalk River facility, kitty corner to each other as it were, on a great bend of the river, is the Oiseau Rock.

This motherfrakker of sheer rock-face rises well over three hundred feet straight up from the river's edge. Naturally aboriginals, couriers de bois, lumbermen and contemporary goofballs have done their best to mark it up with one form of graffitti or another. Fortunately, no matter what century one is in, one can only reach/climb so high on a sheer rock wall so the vast majority is untouched. The other bonus is that there is a bay around the corner from Oiseau Rock where one can dock one's boat and climb hundreds of feet up to a lookout and a small, sacred lake. As we approached said bay we found an array of expensive, high-hulled boats, anchored bow-out in a line of damn-near military precision. On the shore, beach umbrellas were also neatly deployed. Under these, a polyglot assortment of (dare we call them?) Boat People were not-so-neatly sprawled, splayed and displayed in sundry positions of repose. None showed the slightest inclination to visit, let alone assail, the ascending trail that was our objective. Apparently climbing out of and into those big boats and pouring a few Labour Day cocktails was enough exercise for those worthies. With mild sniffs of contempt through one nostril and envy through the other, led by the Sharonator and her two artificial hips, we began our kilometre-long climb.

Fortunately, as part of my rigorous training for Old Boys Basketball, I had been rising early and pushing myself for up to seven or eight minutes on our treadmill, walking at speeds that were threatening to approach briskness. Therefore I was able to handle the first fifty or sixty feet with aplomb. The other three thousand were somewhat more of a challenge. However, as the Sharonator is half bionic woman and Pat is ancient enough to remember the ice house back at 'The Fort' where chunks of ice cut from the river and insulated by hay would provide summer cooling for the kitchen 'icebox', lagging behind was not an option. Instead I would forge ahead and when ready to spit up a lung, pretend to wait so the others could catch their breaths.

We arrived at the summit and there, as advertised, was a small, pristine lake, as still and as unspoiled as it must have been in the ancient times when the Algonkians came to worship this meeting of sky, earth and water. Then again, the Algonkians probably didn't have to deal with the fact that there was only one picnic table which had already been commandeered by a group consisting of four or five children, several women, and an indeterminate number of heavily muscled and tattooed men drinking Coors Lite beer. This is not to mention their pet, the drooling, slack jawed, slobbering Bull Mastiff hound that made all manner of obscene noises as he swam snuffling the water's surface while chasing thrown sticks.

Half dead from heat prostration and exhaustion and overwhelmed by the solemnity of our location,  there was only one thing to be done: we went and jumped in the lake. The Sharonator and I swam far out, away from the gabbling throng, and imagined the Oiseau, the great winged spirit of the place lived somewhere crystalline, deep beneath the placid, reflective surface of the water. One day he would rise up, wings spread, like some kind of Lochness dragon and redeem all things with ferocious compassion. Then we went ashore and ate some fruit strips and chocolate pretzels. Fish, (how did they get way up here we wondered) some laden with eggs in their tails, lined up in front the shore where Marina sat. The Mastiff dispersed them before they had a chance to roll out their yoga mats. When we made our descent to the beach a young boy, still in diapers and running on delighted toes, dipped his tiny hands in the river to wash them. They wriggled on his wrists like fish as he ran back to his mother to eat his lunch. We returned to the Factor's House to eat ours.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Journey to Fort William

Journey to Fort William

I am here on the porch of The Factor's House, built in 1846 by The Hudson's Bay Company as a trading post. We are some one hundred miles north of Ottawa (known in those days as Bytown), on an accessible point of the splendid Ottawa River. Here the river appears to be about a mile wide. Only the gentle downstream march of the wavelets crinkling its surface tells one that we are not on the shore of an expansive freshwater lake. It is easy to imagine a flotilla of canoes, laden with furs appearing from behind one of the islands. Their birch bark hulls would scrape onto the sandy beach less than a stone's throw from where I sit. Teepees would be pitched on the grounds behind me. Whiskey, traded for furs would be imbibed. Perhaps the drumming and dancing and bonfires would continue long into the night.

The Sharonator, Marina and Charlie are now down on the Rock beside the beach where the canoes (I imagine) landed. They are drinking coffee (except for Charlie who is a cat, a surprising cat but not one who as far as I know has a cuppa morning java) and yakking and giggling as women will after a hard night of fur trading and firelight whiskey. The Sharonator, along with Pat her husband, are our very dear friends who have been enticing us to make the three and one half hour journey up here for quite some time. Time well spent it turns out as I enjoy a modest hangover, the plashing wavelets and the hummingbirds which dart and hover around the feeders hanging behind the screens to my immediate left. Beyond them, amidst the pine, spruce and birch trees spaced out along the river blue jays raucously go about their morning business. Now Marina is doing Qi Gong by the river and the blue jays go quiet as she is joined by Sharon and Charlie too.