1969: summer evenings at bush camps in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba were long and lazy. And if the helicopter or geophysical instrumentation was acting up, the Scintrex geophysics crew I was a part of, played. There was little to do other than read, swim in the lake, play Monopoly, eat and fish. Fish abounded in the pristine waters. The helicopter pilot and mechanic were passionate and vocal about the joys of fishing. We ate a lot of their passion -walleye and bass, and wondered at the giant size and slashing teeth of the pikes.
I had never fished before, so one evening I welcomed the opportunity to canoe out into the lake and try my luck. According to the anglers in the crew, Red Devils, red and white striped lures, were effective, so I cast one out and immediately had a strike. Such excitement! I reeled the fish in and then came the really hard part – removing the hooks from the fish’s mouth and throat. I hated the blood and thrashing distress of the fish. I have never fished since.
We shared the fish in the lake with a family of osprey (fish eagles). Since I had no problem eating dead fish, and was partial to sardines, I thought to ingratiate myself with the osprey family, who clearly loved fish too. It was a short canoe paddle to the rock pinnacle upon which the birds had built a sprawling, reeking nest, in which sat two youngsters. They were not cute- their bright cold eyes and large talons dissuaded kootchiekoo. And if the cold shoulders and cold eyes of the fledglings were not hostile enough, mum and dad osprey divebombing my head certainly communicated the family’s inhospitality. They spurned my neighborliness – which is not to say that they ignored my gifts: the sardines were a big hit with the youngsters.
The lake begged to be explored- especially when we had a few days of idleness. But we had only one canoe. Yet, there were lots of empty fuel drums, slender jack pine trees to chop down to fashion mast and jibs, and an abundance of tent canvas for sail. It was not too much trouble to make a yacht of sorts. It was not much of a yacht: steering was so-so and it tacked dreadfully – the best that could be said for the vessel was that it floated. In fact, it could be sailed only in the direction of the wind. Once the yacht was on its way, we could only hope that the wind would blow long enough for us to reach shore, any shore. And then, by flashing mirrors, we signalled to our patient helicopter pilot (who was likely peacefully fishing) to crank up the chopper and come pick us up. If the wind was blowing from some other direction the next day, he would drop us off and we could continue our voyages to some other Far Shore.
And I have had many exciting adventures in my life; and some some foolish ones, too. One of those occurred one evening when I took a canoe to have a peek at a forest fire raging on the opposite shore of Lake Waspison, in northern Saskatchewan. Since we were so remote, there were no official efforts made to put the fire out. As a London kid, the biggest fire I had ever seen before was a Guy Fawkes Night bonfire on Ealing Common. So, telling nobody (because I was pretty sure that Nobody would tell me I could not go), I paddled the canoe a few miles across the lake and walked through the bush to the fire front: playful exertion was exciting exploration for this fresh Brit immigrant – the sound and heat was exhilerating. When I got to the fire, I took the picture (shown here) using the cast-off Agfa camera I had just bought from one of my crew mates. It was my first camera. But during the moments of pre-occupied, new-owner, fumbling distraction with exposure knob and rangefinder focus, the roaring fire jumped a few tens of feet toward me. Terrified, I ran back to the canoe and breathlessly paddled back to camp.
I wish that I could say that fire frolic was when I learned my lesson about daring myself with stupid solo jaunts; but I subsequently had many more silly (but fun) adventures;too few of which seemed to teach wise lessons …