It was nobody’s ideal site, entirely rough. We had to dig through the duff to mineral soil to make a firepit, and we had seedlings and ferns to clear from the tent spaces. But there was room for five or six tents with a spot for a kitchen. We felt we had something to show the others.
We found firewood, with the bark off, cut to length by our totem, the Beaver. They don’t stack it, but you can't have everything. There was a set of bear tracks. Ravens called. And the frilly webbed feet of geese had made imprints in the mud near the landing. But the moose had been there the most often. The place was clearly the moose highway to the streamside. We had to avoid the Moose’s Restrooms, for instance.
Supper was my A.c.s. and Justin’s brook trout, two cans of pears. We had a permit for Pistol Green, but this place had never been a warden service campsite. Thus was born the Outlaw Camping Association. Our Logo:
Upstream in the morning! We went to bed, a moose passed through the campsite, and I heard mice. Then it rained, inevitably, in the night, giving us lovely mist in the morning. Home fries, pancakes, and off into the cool misty stream. We all lay damp towels and clothes over the tops of our loads, hoping to have the sun of the new day dry some of them.
The pictures are static, and don't convey it. The sky moves all the time, the trees slide into new visual arrangements with each push of the paddle, the water itself moves.
We had the moving water around us for hours every day, and a campfire at night. The mental or emotional life on one of these trips is what sets them apart, and much of it is the motion of fluids: sky and clouds, water, fire. It may be hypnotic, even.
Nothing was still, and the closer you look, the more detail there is. I'm no expert. I'm kind of a patron of the natural; I don't know that much about it, but I know what I like.
Once we turned up Nicatous Stream at Pistol Green we were exploring country new to us all. The stream changed character every mile or two, fast clear water over a shallow gravel bed through wild meadows (Pistol Green), tight meanders around maple groves (with moose), broad slow channels though wide marshes, steep rapids twisting down a narrow valley and quiet dead waters bordered by deep spruce and cedar forest. It is the single most beautiful stream I have been on.
The morning mist held through our passage of the lower stream, with its narrow undercut banks, big boulders and fallen trees. Overhanging trees shaded the deep fastwater, and the rocks and logs provided eddies and cover. Trouty it was, and twisty. Justin was slavering to fish in every bend.
A flatter gradient followed. The stream became shallower and far broader.
Trees receded into the distance leaving us open marsh with the sun slanting down on us, and also up at us off the surface like a reflector oven. But even here, we saw trout, despite the lack of shade. The carpet of yellow-green underwater leaves, like long ribbons, gave them shade and shelter. And they would have tangled any motor. Our six Canada geese appeared here again.
The stream comes to the marsh down over the shoulder of a hill. At the beginning of the steeper section was a rocky zone with a sandy bottom. The tea color was gone. It acquired that in the marshes, evidently, because it was much clearer now. It rushed through too fast to paddle comfortably against. The time had come to step out and just pull the canoes along. We stopped to eat and to swim. The sandy bottom and fast clear water gushing between the rocks were a fine swimming spot. Justin fished it.
Looking up the stream from Sandy Bottom Swimming Hole.
The first bend after Sandy Bottom was the beginning of the steeper part. Before very long it was bony rapids. We spent some hours walking upstream over the rocks, pushing the canoes along.
Our AMC guide book said much of this was class II and III rapids, in the spring. It recommended a "pleasant picnic spot' at a place called Idiot Dog Falls.
The rocky gorge continued, it said, upstream of those falls for a good mile and a half. Though tight, the pleasant spot had room for all our tents. When we got home, I had t-shirts made for everyone. The Outlaw Camping Association logo on the back, commemorating the permit-free fires at the Moose's Highway camp, and "Idiot Dog Falls" across the front. You can't have a place name much cooler than Idiot Dog Falls.
After bacon and pancakes we did our laundry in the Power Rinse at the upper ledge drop. The flow had worn smooth the granite and the drop had scoured out a rounded depression below the lip. It was like a bathtub-- a granite jacuzzi, in the rapids. Sit in it and endless gallons of water swirled around you and rushed by. The lower ledge was more like a rough waterslide.
Layover days always mean good food. Mark baked a pan of brownies in the Dutch oven. Being outdoors and travelling burns a lot of calories. We ate much more than we would have in town, and fat is always yummy.
Monday: We hashed bacon and potatoes with eggs and rolled them up in a wrap to eat out of hand, and struck camp early and efficiently. More joyous effort up the gorge, more gorgeous resting spots with waxwings in the trees and wildflowers on the sweet brink of laughing streams, eating chocolate. The darning needles had black velvety-looking wings and wore iridescent purple. A great day.
Soon enough we were able to step into the canoes and paddle the flatwater stretches close to Nicatous. Real lotuses, irises, black ducks-- full of trout and unsullied, ringed by real woods. Then in the final 120 meters we heard children and outboards.
The portage was a bitch. There's no good landing behind there, which is why it had been so fine and wild. A steep footpath led from the road to a notch between huge boulders. We offloaded the cargo onto rocks and then lifted the canoes bodily over them and up the steep bank. Across the road fifty feet away was a mowed, grassy lawn in front of Porter Point Cabins.
We were stupid-tired and staring about the place at the first human beings we'd encountered the whole trip. They looked askance at us, barbarians appearing from the wilderness as we were.
The rest of humanity had a suspicious and alien aspect. Everything about them pointed up how different they were.
There were lots of floats chained to docks and people in lounge chairs. Marinas of power boats tied to the piers or buzzing around the lake. A tall yellow grader clanked down the impeccably groomed dirt road; it rumbled past road signs and advertising signs every few yards.
A three hundred fifty pound man (160 kilos) drove into Porter Point on a very large four wheeler ATV and out again carrying with him a six year old with a helmet on her head. He looked grotesque, man; he must have been six or seven times the mass of the child. Without a machine to carry him he could never have managed to see the woods. His machine never left smooth gravel driveway or graded road, so he was experiencing the woods as scenery more than environment.
SUVs and pickups backed and filled to use the parking slots by the landing. Hundreds of square miles of real woods all around them, and they were crowding one another to come to this development.
They had levelled lawns, these places, in the middle of the woods; shrubs and hedges! Every boulder had been moved to lakeside or pushed off the road into the trees. If they came here because the woods were so beautiful, what were they doing landscaping? If they wanted to see animals and birds, why the constant motor noise?
But we would probably have found some rationalization anyway, even if they’d all been Sierra Clubbers with nothing motorized except their hybrids. We’d been several days relying on one another. Perhaps humans are meant to live in small, close-knit groups. Maybe that’s why we fell so easily into the tribal attitude. Their cars, their motors, their casualness even, seemed wrong.
The wakes of powered boats rocked us many times as we went, but one could not have ordered a la carte and gotten better weather.
If you've been on Nicatous, you know the one we found. The little knoll was the end of a peninsula, but you'd never walk to it or from it. It was connected to the main shore by a neck of marsh and bog.
Sandy Point had all the beach the kids would want, and plenty of room. It was an exposed site, though, and it was all sand. A sandy knoll with pines and even some blueberries, a gravel beach before and a sand beach behind.
The back beach, the one facing away from the swarm of aliens at the north end of the lake, had been, ahem, visited recently by a large dog, maybe for quite some time. We called that one Number Two.
That night, no firewood was needed; we fired up the stove instead, ate a huge one dish meal and were all abed by sundown. We were all proud of each other. We had come from Idiot Dog Falls to Sandy Point all in one day. Now for some Lake Time.
Okay, that'll do us, I think. Here's the six geese, though. We saw them a few more times. This was at Broken Faucet beach, or actually the marsh which sits behind Broken Faucet beach.
Two parents and four younger ones. I understand they take the family once through all the migration routes before the young ones are on their own.
The canoe is a kinesthetic thing, a feeling in the bones. The feeling arrives when you first come away from the land and are afloat and sense the current under you, it informs your muscles balancing the wind that wants to turn your prow with a flip of the paddle, gauged by nothing but the feel of it. Like dancing. Deftness has its own interior sensation.
It's all right, meeting force with mechanism. I was a firefighter, and it has its elegance. But there is something especially fine about mastering counterforces with muscle. Sailing partakes of that, too.