Some time over forty years ago, a man with a dog decided to homestead the forests around Armstrong Ontario, two hundred miles north of Thunder Bay. They had been through thick and thin together, no doubt. This is a country dominated by harshness, bears, wolves, cold and snow, insects, and starvation and depravity. This is also the area where the Native peoples fashioned the Windigo myths together, about a being born of such depravity that it not only ate you, it consumed your soul, or worse, you could be taken over by one and do it’s bidding and forced to consume your family.
One day the dog died. The man outpoured his grief on this animal so much that he trudged in cement, miles on foot and canoe up the Caribou River and erected this monument on this rock face to entomb his beloved Fido, or whatever the dog was called. The name is written on the back of the cement but having been thirty years since I walked up to visit it, I cannot remember the name. It looks as though this was a whole summer long project so that surely must have been some dog, a dog of legend no doubt.
As you were aware about reading my essay last week that I had been overcome with the ‘fishing blues.’ Like any bout of melancholy, the cure can be anywhere from an hour to years away. In my case, it took just a day. It was a day of a journey back to an area called lower Fungar filled with memories. First of seeing the above mentioned tomb first seen years ago and climbing up to see it.
In 1997, also I helped pull a dead moose out of the mud about a quarter mile away, where it died after being shot and then well after dark, I led the band of hunters through a dangerous portion of lake and portages, to get back to camp. It was also near the site of the largest fish I have ever caught a few days before that. That night, fifteen years ago, over this tomb was the most impressive Aurora Borealis I have ever seen to this day.
This year, a trip to this forlorn stretch of water about an hour by boat from camp was no exception. It put some perspective on life, my life. First, I saw the dog tomb. There is more to the story than just his burial thirty brutal miles from anywhere. Some of it I know, some of it I don’t.
You see the very fall he built it, the woodsman came into Armstrong for supplies. He was never seen again. Something happened on his trip back to his cabin in the woods, and he drowned, was eaten, or whatever, nobody knows. Obviously, he needed his dog, and without him, the forest got and consumed him.
I had a little of the same last week, but in my case it was a near miss. My fishing partner and I were fishing in the exact same spot in 1997 where I caught my 31 pound northern pike when we saw something strange. To fully describe it here would be futile and you wouldn’t believe me anyways. I’m quite sure you already think I’m a bit weird, so I’m continuing. What we saw was obviously some sort of vortex, it was on a clear day, and we saw no spaceships connected to it, and let us just leave it at that. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen, quite frankly, and we were within yards of being sucked up somewhere from hundreds of feet up in the air to another dimension. I don’t know any more than that.
Unfortunately I was too quick to throw the motor in reverse than to grab the camera before the apparition was gone. My boat partner and I looked at each other and swore, but in the aftermath, it caused me to think. Life is about living, today, not about the future. That is something easily said, especially using cliché like “live for the moment” or some meaningless phrase like that.
I think there is a lot to the myth of the Windigo, more than just starvation and deprivation. Society is like the Windigo and collectively they want to consume us. Too many of us have sold our souls to society in various ways, be it jobs, debt, sin, you name it. I was thinking of the lyrics of a song: “…I sold my soul to the company store.” I could go on about this but it isn’t my point.
My fishing partner looked concerned while I laughed. “They missed us, Jeff.” I smiled. “Their loss!” We heard loud cracks in the woods and I shouted. “Bigfoot, you’re not going to get us either! Go away.” The noises stopped and even my boat partner laughed. I came back to camp refreshed, and although we decided we would talk about the day’s experiences, and we shared a round of bourbon, we knew nobody would understand, as why would they? I can’t even describe it fully, thinking about it here. The other guys thought we were nuts, to be honest.
I felt so thoroughly enriched by the life experience I started writing a new novel, called “The Box.” The next day I went out with fresh fishing vigor and our boat caught some extremely large northern. I took a nap on a rock and then we picked some large and bountiful blueberries. There is NOTHING better than fresh berries….gallons of berries. Pulling into camp, I said, “you know, today is as good as it gets, let’s do it again tomorrow.” ..and we did, with even bigger fish.
The fishing blues? They were sucked up with the vortex. Today is a new day for new experiences and new stories to share. Life for me is generating stories to tell and retell when I’m too old to actually create new stories. I’m booking new adventures and threw myself into a new one once I got home, one hopefully you’ll read about…someday. Hopefully one that won’t involve me trucking in any cement for tens of miles to build a tomb on a backwater bay on a rock at the corner of “nowhere and lost.”
The adventures continue, my friends