Full Moon Rising

Full Moon Rising
Silent Cove. Chance Harbour NB - My back yard.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Alone In The Boreal Forest


Alone time. Me time. Whatever one wants to call it, I like it. Now, I know that a lot of folks out there that have some kind of fear of being alone.  I know of some people that cannot stand to be left on their own, not ever, not under any circumstances. For me, I really enjoy a little solitude now and again. Not meaning to sound egotistical but, I enjoy my own company. So during a 12 day stay at our camp in central New Brunswick, Eric, my husband, had to return home to Chance Harbour NB to do a 3 day shift at his place of work.  I got the idea of staying behind with our pets, Bear our dog and Stewie our cat, whom I always fondly call my boys. Eric wasn’t crazy about the idea at all. My reasoning was that I didn’t think it was good for the pets to have to go on two trips in a three day period. So, on that Tuesday morning at 3:30 am, I stood on the doorstep of the porch with Stewie in my arms and Bear sitting by my side as Eric placed the last of his things into the trunk of the car. Both animals were watching Eric very closely, their eyes following his every move. Bear’s ears were pulled back and his eyes wore an anxious expression. He knew Eric was leaving and we were not and he didn’t like it. After good-byes were said, Bear, Stewie and I stood and watched the red taillights of the car disappear into the night and the sound of its motor fade away until there was only silence and darkness. We were alone in the boreal forest. We turned and went back inside the camp turning the lock behind me. I tossed a couple pieces of hardwood into the old wood burning cook stove, then turned down the kerosene lamps. Calling the pets with me I entered the small bedroom at the back of the camp and crawled onto the hay filled mattress and snuggled down under the old quilts.

Sleep proved to be elusive and I lay in the darkness listening to the silence that surrounded me. The only sound that I was aware of was the sound of my own breathing and the crackle of the fire in the stove. Other than making my own noise, there wouldn’t be any. No sounds of people or traffic. Our camp is 11 miles into the woods with scattered camps along the way with ours being one of the last on the Kilmarnock Road. One might find a few more scattered camps deeper in the woods but for the most part there wasn’t anything but forest. Depending which way you faced there was anywhere from 60-100 miles of nothing but trees and streams.   Almost every single camp was still closed for winter and we were truly alone in the forest.  I lay there until the blue hour, the predawn of daybreak, not quite night, yet not quite daylight. It was 5:30am when I rose from my warm nest and padded out to the kitchen area and put some water on to boil for coffee. Peering through the windows, the oversized thermometer that hung on the outside wall of the woodshed was reading +3C. Emerging from the camp I retrieved a basin of rainwater from the rain barrel that sits on the side of the camp. Bathed, dressed and coffee in hand I stepped out onto the porch as Stewie and Bear took care of business.

 The outside light had slowly changed from a soft warm blue to a soft cream yellow. A light frost had covered the ground, grass, trees and shrubs. The warmth of the rising sun was heating the ground and soft plumes of mist were beginning to rise up from the earth. The sun was shinning through the frost on the trees and bushes, causing them to shimmer like yellow diamonds floating among the clouds. It was like stepping into a golden-hued world. Quickly turning on my heel, I ran back inside the camp and grabbed my camera. Slamming the door behind me I called for Bear.  We were headed to the dead water. I’d never been on the dead water at sunrise and the sun would be there rising in the east. We trotted to the end of the drive, crossed the dirt road and rounded the bend and there it was, widening with every footstep, a soft golden ball hung large in the sky - an imposing presence over the large dead water. It was my first time seeing fog in Kilmarnock.  It was like looking through a soft white veil. There was no wind, not even a breeze, not any sound at all except for the beating of my own heart and the ringing in my ears caused by the profound silence. My eyes scanned the horizon at the far off forest that encircled the dead water. Like a great, shadowed sentinel it stretched for hundreds of miles. Its impressive presence seemed silent and knowing of every hidden den, gully and burrow and all of the animal life that resided within her. And a lot of life there was, for this was a forest that was home to the Black Bear, Moose, Deer, and traveling packs of Coyotes. While standing there I realized that in that moment that I was the only human life form within her bounds for many, many miles. It made me feel special just to be there within this vast ecosystem that teemed with life. 

My eyes took in the great body of water that filled the dead water. In that moment the stillness of the water mirrored upon it the perfect reflection of the sun. The tall marsh grasses reflected deeply within its pools of water and long channels twisted and turned and wove their way through the dead water that seemed endless.  As I stood there lost in this golden world my heart began to beat faster and I raised my camera and said a silent wish to do justice of capturing the beauty that lay before me.  Suddenly, from somewhere farther up the dead water, several ducks started to kick up a racket. Bear’s head immediately turned to the direction of the ducks. He climbed out onto the old grey, weathered, cedar wharf that Eric and a friend had built many years before. Bear stood there looking up the channel, his proud beautiful frame silhouetted against the rising sun.

It turned out to be one of the best pictures I’ve ever captured. After a time I sat down on the grassy bank of the dead water to enjoy just being there in the moment and sipped my coffee.  Suddenly a loud splash arose from the water followed by some high pitched chittering sounds.  Bear immediately sprang into action by running into the water. I stood up and commanded him to stop, which he did. Bear would have made the ultimate hunting dog but we never trained him in that respect. He is a great swimmer with his webbed feet, a great sniffer with his long nose and he isn’t the least bit gun shy. His linage is a black Labrador Retriever for a mother and a long haired Golden Retriever for a father. It is in his blood to hunt and retrieve.  What he so badly wanted to chase turned out to be a family of about 5 otters.  I called Bear to my side and made him sit. We both watched with amazement as the long, wet, sleek bodies of the otters cut through the water with lightening speed as they chased each other.  We watched as they raced up the channel until they disappeared beneath the bog. Right at that moment, a very large pickerel softly broke the surface of the water and began to slowly roll over and over again. With every roll flashes of yellow sunlight gleamed against its’ dark green body. I think that Bear was as mesmerized and entranced  by the beauty and fluidity of the large fish as I was until the moment became broken by two fighting red winged black birds swooping and diving mid air over the dead water. It was in this moment that it occurred to me how ironic it was to call this place dead water when it was anything but dead. There was not only life here; there was a life force that thrived here.  Mother Nature had made it so every living species depended on each other to make the perfect balance to create life in what man had deemed dead water.  As we stood there watching the red winged black birds two Gray Jays  landed in a nearby tree making me realize that the ringing in my ears had disappeared and the silence had given way to the awakening of the world around me.  In that moment I also realized something else … that sitting on the frost and dew covered bank had soaked my bottom. Laughing at myself and suddenly feeling chilled we headed slowly back to the camp.   

Passing time whilst alone in the forest with no other humans for miles around is well, a timeless thing. One doesn’t pay much attention to manmade time but runs more on nature’s clock. Other than needing sustenance every four hours, passing the day on whims was very liberating. The only real responsibilities I had were being mindful of Bear and Stewie, topping off the kerosene lamps and refilling the firewood box that sat beside the stove. The Tapley camp is a no frills camp with no running water, no electricity, and no modern appliances other than the old wood burning cook stove. There is no phone service and no cell service either unless one wants to walk up to the bridge or down to the dead water and stand in just the right spot beside a metal pole once used for tether ball. If luck is on your side and the planets and stars have all lined up, maybe then you’d get a signal. No car, no phone, no television, no internet and no street lights I could handle. What I didn’t like was the, no bathroom part of it all. I never liked having to walk away from the camp to use the outhouse that sits tucked into the woods behind the camp. In my opinion there is nothing nice or comfortable about parking ones’ bare derriere over a gaping hole and nothing but 10 feet of black space beneath it. It’s creepy.
 My one big indulgence every afternoon was to wash my hair in rain water collected from the rain barrel. I’d then make myself a proper cup of tea, grab my current Stephen King book, park myself in my lawn chair and let the warmth of the sun dry my hair. It was far better than any beauty salon could ever offer.

Bedtime comes early in May when at the camp. It is dark by 9:30pm and I would spend my evenings listening to an American radio show on our old battery operated ghetto blaster or reading by lamplight. My first night alone I went through the pre-bed ritual of drawing the curtains, double locking the door, turning down the lamps and tossing more wood in the stove. I remember opening the bedroom window a few inches to allow some fresh air into the room, but that wasn’t the only reason. I wanted to fall asleep listening to the chorus of peepers. I slept like a baby.

With night one down and two days and another night to go everything was going well. The days were sunny and warm except for one rain shower which occurred on the second afternoon.  I enjoyed the rain by lying down to read my book and listened to the rain as it pitter pattered against the windows and on the red steel roof of the camp. Between the sound of the rain and reading my book it was not long and I was fast asleep.

The last night on my own I decided to treat myself to a small campfire. After cooking up a feast of hotdogs for myself and the boys, I placed an old metal grill over the fire and made myself a pot of tea.  The best tea is made in this fashion – over an open fire. And if a twig or leaf falls in, the flavour becomes enhanced.  Once the tea had steeped I removed the grill and added some cedar logs to the fire and built it up for a true campfire. Within minutes I was settled into my Adirondack chair, a quilt spread over my legs and my warm cup of tea cupped between my hands. Bear was curled by my feet and even Stewie seemed content to just perch himself on the rail of the porch, his front paws tucked neatly under himself and sporting his pretty new bell that hung from his neck.  My brother-in-law called it, “A dinner bell for coyotes.” 

 The sun had begun to set in the western sky and was soon followed by twilight.  The fire became brighter as the day slowly slipped away and off in the distance a choir of peepers sang up their song greeting the night. Tilting my head back my eyes scanned the black velvet sky and took in the glorious sight of what seemed a zillion diamonds of sparkling light that had traveled a zillion years from the past to greet my eyes at that precise moment, in that exact time.  It was … overwhelming beauty.  Before long the night dew began to settle upon us and I began the ritual of shutting down for the night.

With the lanterns turned down, the shades drawn and the door tightly locked I crawled onto the hay stuffed mattress and slid beneath the quilts. I lay in the dark and listened as the sounds of the night forest floated in through the bedroom window. Contentment flowed through me.  I smiled to myself, closed my eyes and waited for sleep.

Sometimes when somewhere between sleeping and wakefulness it can be hard to tell if one is dreaming or awake. So when I first heard the strange sounds I felt no reaction and assumed I must be dreaming.  The sounds seemed to be getting closer as they were becoming louder and I could feel myself floating up, closer and closer to the surface of wakefulness. Suddenly … I was awake … wide awake.  My eyes flew open; my mouth went dry and tasted metallic. It felt as if my heart slammed to a stop. I bolted upright; my breathing came fast and shallow.  I sat there in the middle of the bed frozen, and an icy chill slithered down my spine.  This was real terror and it had me in its grip.  I glanced quickly at Bear and Stewie and both were snoring away oblivious to the sounds. A flicker of relief washed over me because I didn’t want Bear to wake up barking and attract the attention of our presence to whatever it was that was out there.  The sounds were getting closer with every passing second.  I cannot do justice to try and describe those sounds that I heard.  I’d never heard anything like it in my life. It was beyond screaming, or squealing. Nor was it a howling or a yelping.  They sounded unearthly and not of this world.  There was more than one of whatever they were - they were many and they were moving fast and they were headed toward us, not away.  Suddenly the sounds surrounded us. They were in the air above us; behind us … they engulfed us.  They seemed to be everywhere all at once and I could feel something coming from them … euphoria, excitement, glee.  I dared not move, I think I stopped breathing. I dare not go near the windows. They were out there and I didn’t want them to know we were in here.  A deep dark feeling of unfathomable regret washed over me.  Why had I insisted on staying behind? Why had I insisted that I’d be fine on my own?  And why oh why of all times did Eric give into my whims?  I wanted to go back in time and do it all over again. I wanted to take it all back. I wanted to be home with Eric. I wanted to be anywhere but here, alone in the boreal forest.  As suddenly as the noises had appeared they began to move away.  Slowly, so painfully slowly, the sounds became lighter and I could feel them fading away.  Relief washed over me, but I still did not feel convinced that we were ‘out of the woods’ yet. Very tentatively I let go of the handfuls of quilts that I had clenched in my hands.  My fingers had cramped, the knuckles white.  I shoved the quilts aside and swung my legs over the side of the bed. 
I sat there holding my breath and listened hard to the night.  All there was to be heard was the soft snap and crackle of the fire burning away in the wood stove and the sweet familiar sounds of the boys both snoring lightly.  I slowly slid off the bed, my bare feet lightly touching down on the cold linoleum floor.  I walked and stood in the middle of the camp, my hair damp against my neck, my night gown pasted against my skin.  There would be no sleep for me this night and tomorrow seemed eons away.

It wasn’t until 9:30pm the next night that I could hear a far off sound.  Bear was lying in the middle of the floor licking his paws when he stopped, raised his head and looked at me.  His eyes met mine and suddenly his ears were standing, he turned and faced the door.  Stewie who had been asleep on the couch suddenly woke and became alert, his eyes darting from the window above him to the door.  Suddenly he jumped down, flattened his body against the floor and pulled himself under the couch.  I strained my ears and glanced toward the windows and looked out into the night.  The sounds were of a vehicle and it was getting closer. It was the first one I’d heard in 3 days.  I stood and walked to the window and I could see headlights bouncing between the trees.  The car was turning onto our road, it was slowing down and it was turning into our driveway.  I let out a long sigh of relief.  It was Eric. 

I don’t recall ever being so happy to see Eric.  Stewie came out of hiding and as soon as I opened the door Bear bolted out.  I don’t think Eric had ever received such a happy homecoming before.  Eric stepped out from the car, “What a long drive and a very long 3 days.  I missed you guys so much, you’ve no idea how hard it was or what I went through!  If this ever happens again I am not leaving you behind!”  I smiled at him and said, “I agree, next time … we all go home together.”

You can always find me at the next high tide.

Natalie ...