OBJECTSummer is the time when some kind of potent magnetic force draws families and friends close together, and they quite often invest most of that shared quality time enjoying the outdoors.
We seem to spend the school year locked into these bullet-paced lives where rest and relaxation are nothing but a whimsical notion. It is an endless conga line of work, study, school activities, meetings, and a frantic sprint from one obligation to the next.
It is often not until summer that a downshift of some degree can take place, and we have the opportunity to experience life, and not just chase it on what feels like a dizzying loop-d-loop carnival ride.
My father had many demands on his time and a tremendous amount of obligations — to his large family, his medical practice, his surgery schedule, his thousands of patients, his parish, the priests and nuns he cared for, and to the many geriatric patients that meant so much to him.
But for one week each summer, he was able to put everything on hold and take his boys fishing.
These annual fishing trips taught us a lot when we were kids and kept us close as adults. We did 26 years in a row, each time finding adventure and excitement in the woods and on the water somewhere in North America, but none since my father died nearly 18 years ago.
Some places the fishing was phenomenal, such as File Lake in northern Manitoba, and sometimes the fishing was lousy, such as in Lake Superior Provincial Park the year that seven inches of rain fell in about 30 hours. But it became increasingly evident through the years that although these were officially “fishing trips,” it wasn’t really about the fish or the locale.
It was about the people. It was about family and the few close friends we brought along through the years.
When you put a dozen guys in a couple outpost cabins in the Canadian wilderness for a week, with no power, no cell phones, no CNN, no Internet, and no newspapers, they tend to really focus on legitimate conversation with each other. The week ends with everyone closer, more tuned in to the lives of those they love, and overloaded with stories hatched in that atmosphere of ultimate comradery.
There was the time on the Ivanhoe River, northeast of Chapleau, Ont., when a June heat wave made cooking on a propane stove inside a poorly ventilated cabin a recipe for misery, so my brother Seamas gave the two nephews along on the trip a field lesson in how to build a rudimentary Dutch oven.
They excavated a section of the rock and sand wall at the high water mark, heated the cavity with a two-hour fire, then baked a couple casserole pans filled with walleye enchiladas. That was at least 30 years ago, but we still recall how good that tasted, and we talk about it when we get together.
I remember so clearly the smell of coffee percolating in that old aluminum pot with the black handle and the little glass topper. It might have been 5 in the morning, but that aroma worked better than any conventional alarm. Starbucks might have superior marketing, but nothing has ever smelled better than that coffee, brewing in the dark, in a primitive cabin at least 500 miles from the nearest cappuccino machine.
There was the time when we were in an outpost cabin on Lake Onaping, many miles from even a whisper of civilization, and my brother Sean and I went exploring off the main channel and found a series of small lakes connected by swift, narrow streams. At one site where a creek rushed down a hillside and dumped into the lake, we saw two martens fishing and watched for a half-hour or so while they showed us how it was done.
We’ve had big pike thrash around in the boat and cover every person and every square inch with slime, all while we were just trying to release them to fight another battle. Numerous times, as a decent walleye was on its way to the boat and then the skillet, we had huge pike roar up from the dark depths and take the fish for their main meal.
There was always a lot of wildlife — moose, bear, porcupine, raccoons, blurry fast ground squirrels and chipmunks — along with an impressive array of waterfowl. We had countless insect bites, bee stings, fin punctures, sunburn, windburn, a stray fishhook or two, and some stomach aches from the heavy camp fare, but we always had a physician along, and that helped.
There were freezing cold mornings and miserably hot nights, a busted trailer hitch to deal with at one in the morning along the roadside near Toronto, an overzealous Canadian customs agent who wanted an explanation for every item in my dad’s medical bag, and the grumpy cook at the little diner in Sudbury who never wrote down a word as he took 11 different breakfast orders from a hungry group of fishermen who had been driving all night, then got every order right.
These summer outdoors adventures are not unique — many people create an opportunity to get far away and silence the noise of today’s society.
Tom Schlachter and Don Mewhort III and their large group of friends and associates have been to Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alaska, and the Northwest Territories in past summers, and there’s no shortage of stories to be shared about those excursions.
Wherever you go, it’s the personal experiences that you treasure. It’s not the fish, it’s the family. It’s not the place, it’s the people.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.