Up North and Off Grid: SwampyViki Mather February 1, 2013
It was a perfect day for skiing on the lake. Just a couple inches of snow covered most of the icy surface. No trail needed, we could go anywhere! There is something wonderful about stepping out the front door, slipping on the skis, and heading out for the afternoon.
Allan and I headed out across the lake, with the wind and sun at our backs. Kick – glide, kick – glide, we skied joyfully on this cold winter afternoon. Wide-open spaces gave panoramic views to the north. The forested hills in the distance were dotted green and white with trees and snow. Ancient white pines rise above the rest, reaching toward the cold winter sun. The snow on the lake was windblown, so there were few animal tracks.
Two kilometres later, we came to the largest island on the lake. We slipped through a long skinny channel then skied along the far shore as we headed southward again. Now we had a glimpse of who lives in this forest: tracks of snowshoe hare, otters, mink, and wolf appeared in the forest along the shore and crossing the narrow channel. Skiing close to the shore, we were sheltered from the chilling winds.
One island or two? A lowland swampy bit split the island in two. Springtime high water levels allow us to canoe through, but just barely. There are tree stumps and fallen logs to navigate through, and sometimes to lift over. In winter navigation is not a problem. In winter it is a beautiful trek. We ski over the fallen logs and up close to the uprooted stumps. Winter lets us explore everywhere with ease.
Once through to the other side we were in the wind again. Allan headed south, and I went west. Soon I was back into the shelter of the land. I skied next to the shore, in and out of little bays. Then I went into a long, narrow swamp. It’s tucked in so comfortably between the hills. The deeper I went, the bushier it got. Soon I was skiing over shrubby laurels and beside infrequent cedars and tamarack. A small creek showed itself now and then as deep depressions in the snow.
At the end of this swamp I had a choice of nipping a bit to the east and into the next swamp that leads back to the lake, or a ‘shortcut’ through the forest. I opted for the shortcut. Maybe it wasn’t so short. I followed a bunny trail up a slight rise into a thicket of thin cedars.
Keeping to the low area between the hills, I knew I’d eventually come out to the lake. It was a long, slow journey. The little trees grew very close together. Sometimes cedar, sometimes balsam, and every now and then there would be a mature pine. I kept note of the sun to the west, trying to keep a straight line overland. Whenever I was unsure of the best route, I’d follow the bunny trails. They were going my way.
Eventually, I saw a glimmer of light through the trees. I made my way down the small slope to the lake. Though Allan had taken the longer route, I came across his tracks ahead of me, and followed him home again.