Swollen River Under the Dark of Night

It is nearly dark. Spring peepers by the thousands chorus in the background. Each individual voice can be heard singularly but also as a concert. It seems too cold for their orchestration on this 21st day of May in the Hudson Bay watershed in northern Quebec. The temperature feels like it is in the high 30 degree Fahrenheit range. The good news is that the black flies and mosquitoes that normally make this land uninhabitable have not yet hatched in great numbers. This will likely occur soon and there will be hell to pay. But for now this bugless wilderness is like paradise.

A few days ago my two sons, a friend, and I arrived at Lac Wetetnagami. It is my 6th visit to this pristine lake in the wilds of the boreal forest. It is my 14th visit to the bush of Quebec in the last 13 years. I am a wilderness addict. This is my paradise. I cannot stay away for too long. It is necessary for both my soul and my sanity. The wild is my life blood. Plain and simple.

Our primary mission every year is angling. This year we had hoped to tap into the walleye spawn where many fish would be caught and released. A few more would be eaten. The 3rd week in May is usually prime walleye time.

But this year is different. Deep, deep snows melted suddenly two weeks ago. Ten feet of snow disappeared in only a few days in the 85 degree heat. The heat would not last long but the high waters remain. The flooding has been so bad that our normal 100 kilometer trip on treacherous dirt logging roads to get to Lac Wetetnagami was severely altered. Bridges and culverts were washed out a few weeks ago necessitating the remapping of our access. This part of Quebec, along with most of northern Canada, is a never ending network of logging roads. To arrive at our destination we were directed to take another route starting from further south. The new route meant a new longer distance over dirt roads of about 175 kilometers. A three hour journey of truck bumping, shock absorber wrecking fun.

This stream where my boat is anchored while I fish for walleye is normally about 15 feet wide in July. A few years ago I couldn’t even get the boat up this stream. Today it is 100 feet wide, 30 feet deep in many places, and contains a very strong and constant current that is floating whole trees downstream as I sit here. Navigating the river is tricky. Submerged floating stumps, large branches, and entire trees occasionally travel with the current down the river channel. It is no time to fly up the river at full throttle, something I wish my younger counter parts on this trip would pay more attention to.

Reflections on wilderness waters.

I am at a one hundred and eighty degree bend in the river. This sharp meander provides a place for the waters to still and for food suspended in the current to drop out. It has provided more than a few fish in the last few days, nothing like it would if the spawn was on, but productive nevertheless. On this hairpin turn in the river we have caught walleye, northern pike, and gigantic golden suckers. Apparently the suckers are spawning. Large mature individuals weighing fifteen pounds or more have been nearly caught in this stretch of the stream. I say nearly because their great weight has proven to be a bit much for the 6-8 pound test line that we use for walleye. We have landed a few in the 12 pound class range. The larger ones that we have missed are the biggest I’ve ever seen.

Earlier in the day I sat on this same bend in the river. The sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds. The river intermittently reflected dark shadows and then blue sky. The fishing was quiet and so the stream attracted my full attention. As I looked upstream I could see dozens of whirlpools within the stream that ran with the current. Each one spun as a vortex in a clockwise direction. The center of each whirlpool was an empty chasm. The whirlpools varied in size from a few inches to nearly a foot in diameter. They were spawned by the heavy current. Like miniature tornadoes they were symptomatic of a larger river that held vast power. Like a cyclone within a strong weather front they wandered aimlessly within the river current..

The natural world is full of cyclone shaped entities. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, a huge galactic vortex is the most obvious example of this energy in action. On our planet weather patterns from full blown tornadoes to dust devils use this efficient energy mode. Even animals like the nautilus have this narrowing circular shape. Some believe it is a nearly perfect mathematical energy field known as the Divine Proportion. Mathematically it can be expressed by a Fibonacci series of numbers. It is said to be the universe,s most perfect natural symmetry. It is found not only in cyclones but leaf patterns, cell patterns, and hundreds of other natural forms. It is a perfect expression of both energy and form. It is art.

My youngest son Liam catches a nice northern pike midweek.

A sharp snap of the line attached to my rod and reel brought me back to reality. I reacted with a stout jerk. The fish on the other end of the line dove towards the bottom of the deep stream. I knew by its strength and weight that it was a northern pike. After a few minutes of playing the fish, a series if it taking the line out and me reeling it in, I brought it along side of the boat. Liam deftly netted the fish while it was still attached to my line. We unhooked it quickly, took a measurement, and released it back into the wild. This 29 inch fish was a mid-age fish. In another 20 years he might be 44 inches and weigh 30 pounds. Pike have indeterminate growth, that is they never stop growing. The larger fish are the best for producing large crops of new fish. A large released fish can produce thousands of pike over the next dozen or so years.

My oldest son, Brendan, considers the awe of the wilderness.

The sound of a loud splash in the water returns me to the present in the ever darkening night. A beaver apparently disapproves of our presence. She sends a warning signal to the rest of her clan by slapping her tail against the surface of the water. The result is more potent than any warning siren that humans could devise. The loud interruption to my thoughts makes me look around. The deep and dark shroud of night has pulled itself over the landscape. A glimmer of light in the horizon, masked by dark clouds, reveals the last remaining light of the day. It is about ten thirty. To the east the sky is clearing. The raw number of stars is astounding.

An old explorer of the natural world nourishes his soul.

Star gazing in the northern wilds of Quebec can be ultimately humbling. The sheer quantity of stars overhead, especially within the Milky Way band, is beyond all imagination. Large stars, small stars, bright stars, dim stars all contribute to a three dimensional experience. The depths of the universe fills my heart. Complete delight fills my head.

Imagine this.

Millions of stars overhead in an inky night time sky. Seemingly millions of spring peepers calling out into the dark abyss.

There seems to be a union of the stars and Earth.

Each star has a voice on this planet. One star in the black night, one peeper voice emerging from the dank boreal swamps. At least here, right now, in this far and remote corner of Earth there seems to be perfection.

It is simply magnificent.

Sunset over the wilderness.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in May of 2013.

  • Montucky

    How good to be there before the flies! I would enjoy that! After the flies, not so much. Just once I would like to visit that part of the continent after reading so much about it. I too love wilderness.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yep, you’d love this Montucky. Less altitude than you are used to, but wild nonetheless. The best part? Absolute solitude. Just you, the wild, and, of course, in the wrong season, unbelievable numbers of bugs.

  • Emily Brisse

    This post makes me feel happy to be alive. I wish you a summer of many more skies full of stars, Bill. :)

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Emily. Thinking your first summer with new child will be awesome. Show him the stars, he’ll understand someday how awesome they are!

  • Teresa Evangeline

    Bill, This is a remarkably beautiful post. I love your fishing stories,
    but this one has some gorgeous phrases and it’s not difficult at all to
    image your trip through the waters and that starry night. You’ve
    described it and how it feels perfectly. I was just thinking that the
    many cultural events one can attend, and pay exorbitant fees to do so,
    are free for the viewing and experiencing in nature. The birds on my
    feeder this morning is far superior to any ballet ever performed. I have
    long been intrigued by Divine Proportion, the Golden Mean, the
    Fibonacci Sequence, and such; they are all the highest form of art, as
    you expressed here. I so enjoyed reading this.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Teresa, your comments really mean a lot to this writer. The Earth is beautiful. The most beautiful are those parts relatively untouched by humans. The pace of our planet, the sequence of natural events, the awe that is strikes in anyone who pays attention is nearly beyond description. I treasure each and every adventure that I have from the 20,000 acres of forest to the south of our homestead to the Green Mountain National forest where I spend a lot of time, to journeys that I only do once a year to northern Quebec. There is so much to learn, so much to witness, so much to love.

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    Your posts from these trips are always so joyful they are a pleasure to read.

    All the best.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Guy. Good times make easy writing. More to come.

  • Annie

    It sounds like perfection.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Annie. Yes, perfection, as nature almost always is.

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