We just got back from a visit in Northern Ontario where we had a much enjoyed taste of winter with my brother Dave in Elliot Lake. We got to go snowshoeing through the woods and across the lake to have a winter picnic complete with campfire and toasted sandwiches with a cup of bush tea to warm us as we sat on a log in the sunshine. We did get to see a wolf but not while we were on our hike. He passed by Dave’s building where it backs on the bush at the edge of town while we watched through the living room window. We were snowshoeing on that same trail but saw no sign of him other than his prints in the snow. There is something wonderfully peaceful about the silence of the snowy wilderness on a cold, still morning. Even the swamps are beautiful in their carpet of white. It’s one of the things I miss, living in the south. It brings back a whole landscape of happy memories.
I thought about that on the long drive home. Memories are such a gift, treasures to be brought out and enjoyed over and over again. Sometimes I like to capture my favorites on paper so they can be shared.
When we passed the sign for Black Creek just north of the turn-off for Highway 17 I was reminded of another one. It’s a 50 year old memory now and back in 1993 I wrote it down. I thought I’d share it here.
“The Cabin on Turtle Lake”
Dad built the cabin in a lonely spot close to the eastern shore of Turtle Lake. To reach it we travel up Black Creek by canoe, crossing eight beaver dams in the process. The trip takes hours and we mark the distance by the number of times we clamber out of the canoe to negotiate those barriers of interwoven sticks and mud. When the count reaches eight we begin to watch for the trees to thin out and allow us our first glimpse of the lake.
Turtle Lake is long and narrow, with a rocky shoreline that in places rises up like the walls of some ancient fortress. At its eastern end, where the cabin sits in a clearing on the banks of the creek, the land slopes down more gently and the birch and poplar trees give way to tall grass and bulrushes. The swish of our paddles sounds loud in the stillness as we push through the reeds to land. The trail from the shore to the clearing in the trees is carpeted with autumn golds and the clean smell of wet leaves and distant pines is like a tonic.
The clearing is dominated by the squat shape of the cabin. Its rough walls of pine logs rise only five feet from the ground. They are topped by a peaked log roof covered with black paper that smells of tar when the sun warms it. A length of old blackened stove pipe sticks up from one corner at a jaunty angle. The low door is made of smooth unfinished boards that have weathered to a dull grey. It has hinges made of old tire rubber and sports the only window in the place. That tiny square of smudged glass and the rusty latch look almost out of place here. A squirrel chatters a welcome from the woodpile stacked neatly along one side of the building. Two makeshift sawhorses of crossed poles stand ready with an uncut log resting securely in the notch formed by their upthrust arms. The ground below is littered with sawdust and wood chips.
The dim interior of the cabin smells musty after the fresh air outside. The odours of pine gum, old wood smoke and lamp oil envelope us as we step over the threshold onto the hard packed dirt floor. There is only one room. In the corner stands the stove, made of an old oil drum propped up on bricks. Two sets of bunk beds line the side walls. Actually, they are just frames made of rough cut poles and strung with chicken wire and padded with a thick layer of canvas, but they look inviting after a long day. The only other furniture is a small sturdy table sitting opposite the stove with a box of kindling under it. There is a shelf on the wall above it that holds the oil lamp and an old, faded tin snuff box that we keep matches in. A chipped and battered enamel cup also sits there. It holds the wilted remnants of a handful of wild flowers that once provided a spot of colour to the otherwise drab room. The cup fits my hand like an old friend as I lift it from the dusty shelf and carry it out into the late afternoon sun. Leaves is what we want this time, I think to myself. Orange and yellow and gold.