I have been away. It all started as family members began to descend upon our house two weeks ago. Once everyone arrived, we made our way to Ely, Moose Lake, and eventually the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
At my 40th birthday celebration, I got carded at the Ely Steak House. I would suspect a clever and discrete family member of putting the waitress up to it, but none of my family is clever and discrete enough to pull it off. Plus, only a handful of people at the table noticed what was going on. I suspect that the authorities had given the steak house trouble in the past, and the waitress was being abundantly cautious.
Two days after that, I swam to Canada. From Robbins Island at the bottom of Knife Lake, it is only about 150 feet. Double that to get from the canoe parking places on the island. Swimming to Canada does not seem like much when one has on the same day crossed the border half a dozen times portaging and canoeing. En route to Robbins, we spied three turtles sunning themselves on a large rock.
The next day, we paddled from Robbins across the lake to the Vera portage. The high wind created whitecaps on the water, and our keel-less We No Nah Minnesota II's required constant steering. My mom spotted the portage by the canoe paint on the rocks.
Then commenced the grueling portage to Vera Lake. The first challenge was a section of trail composed of deep mud, upon which someone had thought to place logs, which had become incredibly slippery. Shortly thereafter, we scaled a steep granite face toting a canoe (and later a #4 Duluth pack). All in all, it was a hell of a portage.
It rained the entire way across Vera, which was totally camped out. Smart campers stay put when the weather is foul. Consequently, the paddlers coming from the places to which we were headed told us that Ensign was already chock full. After a long but easier portage over to Ensign, the rain began in earnest. I did see what later was determined to be a woodchuck dart across the trail. We searched in vain for several campsites along Ensign's eastern shore, shivering and paddling out of sheer determination to find a spot. The only redeeming part of that day's paddling, apart from surviving it, was spotting a bald eagle atop a dead tree not far from the campsite we finally found.
The campsite was small, and we struggled to find a level spot. It is no fun canoeing, portaging, looking for a campsite, setting up a tent and tarp for the packs, cooking, cleaning, hanging the pack and going to sleep all in the rain. It would have been more fun had our tarp been large enough to accommodate our bodies as well our packs underneath it. Our 25 dollar rain pant met their match.
The next day, however, they dried out. We made excellent time from Ensign, despite some scary headwinds as we left the campsite. Though some of us had doubts about paddling through a small portage, we saved some time by running a channel. At the end of the channel we saw a red deer hanging out with a blue heron.
We enjoyed a rare tailwind coming down Moose Lake, and we leapfrogged the Boy Scouts (who had been out for 8 days) who had passed us at the portage. Some of them were apparently none too eager to return to the base camp, (located up Moose Lake's shore from our own home base), as evidenced by their paddling in circles, resting and fishing from small islands and general dilly-dallying on the water.
There must be a term for the jet lag type feeling one experiences coming home from camping too quickly. The next day was entirely lost to me as I sorted out pieces of our time away. We packed entirely too much food, which is good because we managed to carry it all: this means we could have stayed away much longer if we had arranged to. Next year, we will stay out a week, and we will bring some Gore-Tex.
Mookie's limp is not getting better. The anti-inflammatory meds she is on have not done a thing. She now ingests them, along with her glucosamine, anti-incontinence pills, and insulin at each meal. She has almost finished the prescription with no visible result. I am sure that it did not help matters that we tried to take her camping this past weekend. One last hurrah turned into one long hike in in the rain and one even longer hike back on Sunday, when she was carried a third of the way.
This morning, she fell down the last couple of stairs to the landing, and then fell down the next two stairs before she regained her footing on the wood stairs. She collapsed in the dirt as she peed. I fed her her food as she lay down on the floor in the kitchen, encouraging her and moving the bowl under her nose as it moved away from under her. I could hear the effort of her breathing as she ate. Perhaps it always sounded like this; I had never been so close to her as she ate. After eating, she did eventually make it back up the stairs for what my mom calls her "post-prandial nap."
NPR hosted a segment a few years ago, wherein the narrator described the giving of a lethal injection to his dog. His dog was to him, like Mookie is to me, the most faithful and adoring companion. Life, however, had become too painful for the dog to get around under its own power. He described cradling the dog in his arms as he administered the injection, as the sun set over the dog's favorite beach. He said that whenever the decision gets made to end a pet's suffering, it is almost always made too late, a statement I find haunting me as I contemplate what may be the last few months -- weeks? -- of Mookie's life.
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