NORTH ALGOMA

By: Brendan Cull • @baacull 

We left with the “murrrrr” of the outboard motor echoing on the lake. We broke the glassy surface of the water sending the reflected clouds into frenzied ripples of colour as the boat’s wake split it apart. Fluffy white clouds hung heavy, bumbling over the hills. It was a rather calm day.

When I was six, Dad took me to his favourite lake. A secret spot in the North Algoma where, as he described, fat pickerel heaved out of the little body of water, throwing themselves on fishing lines and into the frying pan. Being the gullible child I was, I believed him hook, line and sinker.

My first visit (and only visit, until twenty years later we trekked out on that calm, fluffy-cloud day) was filled with anticipation. Dad knows this area, inside and out. He’s zipped through it, paddled in and hiked the country. We (I say we, but I mean Dad – I was six) pulled the canoe out of the motorboat we used to get to the portage and walked towards the infamous lake. Its glassy surface was tickled by the breeze and the sky was a deep azure in this particular memory. I was entrusted to get in the canoe and manoeuvre it into a safe cove along the shore where the water was deeper and where Dad could hop in without driving it into the rocky bottom. I remember feeling wild and out of control wondering how I got into such a predicament. This was the first time I steered a canoe alone. All righted itself as I fought against the weak breeze and Dad jumped in. We fished for what seemed like years and caught only one. I imagined that the pickerel Dad had boasted about were hiding under the canoe, laughing bubbly laughs as they outsmarted two whole generations of fishermen. On top of this, on our way out, Dad – the Guide – managed to get turned around on the waterways he was so familiar with and we hit bottom, the skeg and propeller of the outboard bounced off a deadhead log in the water and it jumped, jerking our homebound craft. The light was falling and the stars twinkled and winked at us. As I sat in the boat, the canoe fastened on top and me wedged beside it, my six year old self worried I might not see my Mom or sisters again. I temporarily lost faith in Dad’s abilities. Of course, the dark wilds of a child’s imagination can blow an anthill into the Andes. We did make it home, but not before I had wished on a particularly bright star (not the North star as I had imagined in the moment) that we would get home safe. Of course Dad had everything under control and we sailed in, past other firefly boats illuminated with flashlights, towards the blazing yellow beacon of our cabin’s front window. Safely on Mom’s lap, in that little log cabin, I had cocoa and jellybeans before bed.

Twenty years later, we headed off to repeat our adventure, but with the wisdom of last time in the front of our minds. The story of the first trip is the stuff of family legend – when Dad took my sister there, all went well – so we hoped to better ourselves this time. Back at the little lake, we saw the same old boats that tourist outfits leave along the shore for daytrip explorers, their hulls full to the gunwales with rainwater and tiny water boatmen (the insects, of course) racing across these microcosm lakes. Into our same canoe with our same paddles from twenty years ago and off to the same place that the pickerel blew bubbles at us. This time, we caught a few smallmouth bass. I guess they don’t speak pickerel or couldn’t join in the massive game of hide-and-seek. We laughed it off and enjoyed the quiet time watching otters greedily munch on clams and loons tend their fluff-ball babies, and listening to a bullfrog “gurrrlorp” itself an opera. As we left, me wedged even tighter beside the canoe in the new boat, the light was still holding, there were no stars to be seen anywhere and better yet, no deadheads to grab the motor. I wondered what we’ll find in twenty more years? I truly hope that we won’t wait so long to venture back in.