Clearwater Lake, Temagami. May 2016

Warm air wafts in pockets around my body: hot and close, then cool and green—air conditioned by the surrounding forest. The air is different here. Softer. I catch it’s sweet, pine-needle scent as it smooths past my skin. The sounds are different too: richer, deeper, quiet but far from silent. Wind hushes through the tops of the trees, waves lap and slap against the smooth rock shore, a hermit thrush punctures the lazy air with her song. The land sighs in contentment.

The pack on my back is heavy. This winters’ fallen trees have yet to be cleared off the path, so the going is not easy. But it feels good to be here, doing this. As I pick my way along, clambering over fallen trees, I’m careful not to step on the many wildflowers that carpet the forest floor. Trout Lilly and Trillium are having their day in the sun.

As we leave the car, Pond Lake, and the first portage behind us my heart rate begins to slow and the natural world slides into focus. I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in months. I take a deep breath of the sweet, spicy air and heave a sigh of relief. This is Temagami, the year has circled back around to springtime, and we are canoeing again.

Unconsciously we slip into a rhythm of paddling.

The long months of winter are behind us and the length of summer stretches out before us like a golden road. We find our first stop along that road at the edge of the Temagami wilderness with a trip up Obabika Lake to Clearwater and on to Little Fry. As we paddle up Obabika we pass our first ever Temagami campsite. Continuing along we paddle past islands and bays, forests and hills. I revel in the feeling of the soft, humid breeze tickling the back of my neck, the warm sun on my skin, the cool of the water on my hands. We come to a bay and a short hunt reveals the portage to Clearwater Lake. I grab a handful of trail mix while Sean trundles off under the canoe. Then I shoulder my pack and begin the carry.

The late afternoon sun steps closer to the horizon throwing long shadows that fall towards me through the woods. The shady air whispers to my nose that it’s not quite summer yet. All the same I amble along the path, content and comfortable in a T-shirt. Elbows and edges of root-bound rocks have been exposed along the trail by ten thousand footsteps. This is one of a system of ancient 5000 year old Nastawgan trails that link these lakes, one to the next. This specific route into Clearwater Lake is seldom used, probably because it’s a dead end route and not a loop trip. In some places the trail is so faint that only these rock-tips, the earth that covered them eroded over the centuries, distinguish trail from forest floor.

I come to a fork in the trail. At first it looks like the right fork is the wider, more well used trail but at closer inspection I see some flagging tape along the left fork. I head off left and hope Sean caught sight of the tape despite the canoe on his head. After awhile I begin to feel as though I should have caught up with him by now… unless he took the wrong trail. The worry finds a home in that place between my eyebrows where nothing is ever accomplished. I start calling his name, calling and calling until, finally, I hear his voice faintly from across the bay. It turns out that he had taken the more “well-used” trail—only to discover that it was a beaver run. Reunited, we complete the portage.

It’s golden hour as we conclude our travel for the day, paddling across Clearwater Lake. Old growth white pine tower over us. Each fluffy, soft bough is luminous agains the next. It’s been a long afternoon of paddling and I can feel the pull of each stroke between my shoulder blades. We set up camp quickly and I make homemade macaroni and cheese with broccoli for dinner. We boil some water for tea and sit gazing out across the water to the hills on the opposite shore. The moon rises. The fire snaps and pops behind us. Sean accidentally kicks over my carefully crafted tea.

As the wind sighs through the trees I sigh along with it, content.