In the summer after I graduated from college, my friend Alex invited me to go on a fishing trip. He and his brother made a sort of tradition out of going Up North now and then with their father, Charlie. Charlie's friend Gordy owned a piece of land on Lac Seul, Ontario, and had set up a fishing camp there. If I could get the week off of work, I was welcome to join.
I had been on two similar trips before, a camping trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota with my dad when I was a young boy and a fishing trip to Canada with my grandfather in high school. Dad showed me how to build a fire and how to cook the fish we caught. My grandfather and I flew up to a fishing lodge in Canada and spent five days chasing walleye. These were awesome trips. Of course I wanted to go again.
Where we ended up was beyond remote. A small island with a green cottage and simple, solitary outhouse. The closest town, Sioux Lookout, was a 45-minute boat ride and a two-hour drive away. Cell phone service was undependable. I'm pretty sure the internet didn't even exist out there. We were off the grid. The cabin had one light bulb in each of its three rooms. It had six bunked beds. In the living room was a cluttered couch and spare table. The kitchen was decorated hastily, and every space was put to use for storage. It was comfortable, but not any more than sitting in a boat, drinking a beer, and casting a line. We settled in quickly and went back out on the lake.
For a few days our guide, Gordy, took us to his favorite fishing spots, and we caught our limit. Or enough to keep us full at night at least. He told jokes and revealed the local history of the area, like how loggers had recklessly burned down a vast part of the woods on the lake. He explained that yes, those were actual Canadian fighter jets we were hearing practicing formations high above the clouds. Sometimes he would point out where he had seen bears or moose, where we should avoid camping. He taught me a better filleting technique when it came time to prepare the fish for frying.
At night the stars above the lake shone bright and clear. Hundreds of miles north of home I lay on the dock staring at a purple-black sky, admiring a rare scene. The lake was never still, even hours after sunset. Frogs, fish, and mosquitoes stirred in the dark. Moonlight rippled the surface of the water, reflections shifting on the hulls of the boat. Here I was calm. There was nothing to worry about.
After a few days of fishing and sleeping in the bunk bed, Alex and I wanted to explore the wilderness. The opportunity would be lost in a couple days, so we unlocked an old canoe that was chained to a large pine tree behind the cabin, loaded up some gear, and started paddling a crooked course along the shoreline.
We beached our canoe at a place where a flat, bare rock jutted out of the shore and prepared a campsite. The clearing provided good shelter and good visibility. Alex grabbed his axe from the canoe and we walked into the woods to collect firewood and dried brush. We laid green pine boughs under our tent to make sleeping on a rock more comfortable, and before the sun set we lit a fire using only my knife and a flint stone - just to see if we could. In the pink and blue of dusk, we sat back in silence, contented by the sounds of fire hissing and popping nearby.
At the end of the week we loaded all the supplies from the cabin back into the fishing boat and were on our way home. We all stopped for one last meal together in a lakeside restaurant in Sioux Lookout before we were to go our separate ways. I thanked Alex and his family for their generosity in inviting me along. I would go back to my regular daily life happy and refreshed, grateful for the week of memories. Charlie mentioned in passing that he doubted he'd be able to take many more of these trips, that old age and the chemotherapy he had undergone in recent years would make it difficult for him. But he was sure glad to have been a part of this unique and uncommon experience.
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