After my first trip (alone) to our fishing camp in Canada this past summer (2004) I wasn’t sure I’d get to do it again before 2005. I guess my account of that trip (see the articles “Heaven In An Alder Swamp 1,2, & 3) engendered some excitement in wife Linda’s memory chips. She decided to endure the pains of her maladies without benefit of medical and chiropractic help and just go. Well, sort of … Her chiropractor/therapist insisted I take lessons in “muscle stripping,” so I could administer therapy while off in the deep woods. Besides, Linda would have an impressive array of painkiller pills to keep arthritis, spinal bone spurs, migraines and fibro-myalgia at bay.
With this somewhat dubious support system in reserve, we made arrangements for a sitter for our four Jack Russell Terriers. I loaded the pickup truck with all the “necessities” I could think of, including my outboard motor, an assortment of “gotta have” fishing and camping equipment and tools including a disassembled solar water heater I wanted to set up on the trailer roof. We took a deep breath and three days and fifteen hundred miles later we pulled into the space in front of the trailer.
If you read my articles on “Heaven In An Alder Swamp,” you are well aware of my battles with vermin the first trip. I thought I had closed all the mouse holes, but alas, the little boogers are smarter than your average American tourist, at least smarter than me. However, this time they didn’t have five years to accumulate litter, so in short order I had it cleaned up and habitable again, and spent a couple of hours narrowing their access options even further with the sheet metal and screws I brought. I hope that does the trick, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Well, at least we didn’t have any midnight visitors of the small furry kind during this stay.
Everything looked much the same as it had when I left it three months earlier, except that a summer’s growth of weeds, grass and sprouts had “haired” over the open spaces a bit. The sun was lower in the sky and shadows were a bit more dominant of the scenery. The mosquitoes were, uncharacteristically for early September, still very prevalent, though my dragonfly friends were scarce. Apparently they had already mostly gone on to their big life-cycle in the sky for the year. When the mosquitoes started doing their thing I really did miss those thousands of winged assassins coming to the rescue.
I rented a fifteen-foot boat from the neighboring resort and Linda and I fished together in cloudy weather. The meds she takes make her allergic to bright sun. I had brought a number of books to read, but unfortunately, she got wind of that and absconded with them to the outdoor screen arbor we set up. A lawn chair, her exercise balls, weights, and the books occupied her time in this sanctuary from the mosquitoes while I went about my camp chores and sometimes when I was out fishing alone.
The bone spur caused Linda’s arm to hurt, particularly at night. Sometimes her meds seemed ineffectual. Due to the short chiropractic training I’d had, I was able to strip (squeeze) the muscles of her arm in a special manner. It seemed to drive the pain out to an extent, so our preparations for this eventuality paid off.
A couple of the books she became absorbed in were “Theo’s Ghost” by Regina Pounds and “Cemetery Island” by Ed Koskro. Theo’s Ghost was apparently a delight for her. She said that the setting for Cemetery Island was much like our camp area. She wouldn’t put the book down, but I often noticed her peering into the dark woods about the trailer. Some nights we roasted marshmallows at a campfire outside and away from the trailer. That environment really made her jumpy. I think it would have been criminal to come up behind her and say, “Boo!” so I never did, though it crossed my evil mind a couple of times.
One morning there was an edge to her voice as she awakened me. She was up looking out the north window. “There’s something out there. I heard a noise.”
I got up and began looking out the windows to the east and west. I didn’t see anything.
Again she insisted, “I don’t see anything, but I know I heard a weird noise like, bump, bump, bump.”
I looked out the south end of the trailer. “Well, maybe if you look at the corner of the screen arbor you’ll see what was making the noise.” Standing there with his head cocked toward our voices was an adult black bear. It wasn’t as large as the one that had awakened me by shaking the trailer on my earlier trip, but it was still a sizeable bear. It continued checking our camp out until I started smacking the trailer wall with the flat of my hand and yelling. It turned and shuffled off into the woods.
A check of the area determined that one of the full plastic five-gallon gasoline cans had been bitten through and rolled around, dumping a large part of its contents before coming to rest in an upright position. The bump, bump, bump Linda heard was the bear playing soccer with the gas container. There is no way that bear didn’t smell the gasoline before he bit the can and I’m sure after he punctured it he had to get gasoline in his mouth. If you’ve ever accidentally done that when siphoning gasoline you know how awful it tastes. It is also toxic and people have died from getting it into their lungs. On the occasions when I did get it in my mouth I hocked and spit for an hour afterward.
I had some concerns over the health of the animal until later when I related the event to Ken, my neighbor at the resort. He said that bears commonly attack gasoline containers left outside. He had learned to keep his locked in a shed at night. As far as their health was concerned, they apparently suffer no ill effects from drinking a little gasoline. They occasionally even get into anti-freeze without coming to harm. I don’t know exactly how he knows it doesn’t harm them, but he has been living among these creatures a long time. Perhaps he would know.
As I mentioned before, I had trucked a solar water heater to camp. It was actually just some 2” x 6” boards that I formed into a four by six foot rectangle. It had plywood closing the bottom and a pair of junked storm windows for a top. Inside, I had cobbled together a layer of two-inch foam insulation. Into this box I put a liner of heavy black plastic sheet and had an entry port for a filler hose and exit port for an output hose. As I was assembling it on the roof of the trailer, Linda came outside, saying she wouldn’t stay in there with me bending the roof in like that. I knew it was “iffy” so thereafter I tried to keep my weight over the structural members. My calculations indicated that filled with water the heater would weigh about three hundred pounds. Spread over twenty-four square feet, that shouldn’t be a problem.
This device is really a neat idea that I got from a solar energy book and it should work. Actually it did — to an extent. I got the hoses in place and rigged a twelve-volt battery to a pump, filling the box with filtered water from the well at the bottom of the hill. The weather was cool, but by the time my last motel shower had completely faded, the water, according to the test on the back of my hand, was “warm.” I set up an outdoor shower using cedar bark sheets for floor mats and an old shower curtain strung on a wire to shield from view of the driveway just in case someone drove up while it was in use.
Between the mosquitoes finding that my naked body was a smorgasbord and the less than optimal temperature of the water, I didn’t do any singing in the shower, unless “ooh,” “eeeaaah,” and “ouch” qualify as singing.
I had made my plans for placing the solar water heater in mid-June, when the trailer was receiving quite a bit of sunshine. The problem is that in early September, even though the weather is still comfortable at that latitude, the trees were shading the trailer roof most of the day. There just wasn’t enough heat getting through to do the job. After the ill-fated shower I made plans to build a four-post tower in a sunny location next year, and put the heater on top.
We ran low on supplies after the first week and had to drive approximately forty miles of rock and dirt road to the pavement, then another sixty miles to town. We spent the day shopping and dining (great buys in Canada due to the favorable exchange rate) and headed back late in the day. As we drove through the night I thought about Tami Ryan’s comment about how there is a plethora of signs warning drivers to beware of moose on the roads, especially at night. She was highly amused, saying that in spite of all the signs, she never saw a single moose.
I had chuckled at her observations, remembering another rather misleading set of signs along the Canadian roads — “BUMP.” Bone-jarring bumps are a regular occurrence on some of Canada’s roads, but when you see a sign that says “BUMP,” with its arrow pointing to a supposed offending surface blemish, you can generally expect to find a smooth spot in the road. I figured it was Canada’s DOT equivalent making an unfunny joke. But believe me, those warning signs about MOOSE DANGER are no joke. Many lives and much property have been wrecked in collisions with the big long-legged creatures. Their height puts their thousand pound bodies right into the windshield if you hit one at speed.
Anyway, it was well after dark before we reached the rock and dirt road. About ten miles from our camp we rounded a sharp bend to find two young, but very large, bull moose fighting in the road. They broke apart and ran down the road in front of us. I followed along about thirty or forty feet behind. One, whose antlers were probably thirty-two inches across, was limping. Apparently he had been getting the worst of the fight from his opponent who was slightly larger and had thirty-six inch antlers. If you are wondering how I am so certain of the size of their antlers, it will be clear in a moment.
After about a hundred yards the limping bull veered off the road and we never saw him again. The larger one, however, continued trotting in front of us. I sped up to within fifteen feet of him, before thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t crowd him. He could turn and do a lot of damage to the truck if he was of such a mind. I backed off a bit. He did stop once, but sounding the horn jump-started him again. I lowered the headlight beams to give him a chance to see better and break away from the road, but he seemed unconcerned, just trotted along with certain parts of his anatomy swinging side to side in rhythm with his stride.
And that’s the way we went down the road, us wondering at each open area if he would turn off, then wondering if he would tire of this game and charge us. This went on for an honest two miles or more before he finally veered off the road into a field of brush. It was an interesting experience for Linda and I. We got an up close and personal look at these magnificent animals, though it was mostly from a rear perspective. I can definitely appreciate the potential for major damage from impact with one. I also have to think that had an outside observer been in position to see this event, it would have been uproariously funny — a bull moose pulling a pickup truck through the night for miles.
Linda and I consider ourselves accomplished walleye fishermen. We have caught many on past trips. I caught several earlier in the summer. But we caught zero walleyes this trip. Perhaps it was the time of year. Perhaps we didn’t concentrate on it enough. In the process of trying for them we caught numerous northern pike, some of which we released, some we ate, and some we brought home for Linda to make into her delicious fish chowder. I got a few more improvements made to the camp. We enjoyed the wildlife and the gorgeous scenery. Linda’s medical problems were kept mostly under control. I bought a boat the last day we were there and turned it upside down on the dock to ride out the winter. With a little paint and elbow grease it will be ready for duty soon after we get back next spring or summer. Then we’ll see just how smart those darn walleyes are.
© 2004 R. Leland Waldrip