the bones of the land   10 comments

Posted at 1:11 pm in Uncategorized

After leaving the Terry Fox park, I continued on into Thunder Bay to fill up the gas tank of the van before setting out for Kenora where we would be staying the night at a motel. From this point on, we would be moteling our way across Canada. My original plan was to camp as much as possible, but the weather had been cold and damp, so that plan went out the window. I wanted to get the van repaired as soon as possible, but with it being Thanksgiving Day in Canada, there wasn’t much chance of that happening. By noon, the rain had stopped and the roads were reasonably dry, so I decided to forge onwards — knowing well that this part of Ontario has few towns and fewer repair shops.

From Thunder Bay to Kenora, there’s a long stretch of mostly flat highway with only the occasional curve or gradual grade. It’s a land of shallow lakes, boggy looking wetlands, and endless stands of stunted conifers over rock. In places, it must be nearly impossible to sink a telephone pole as many were constructed with wooden support struts. Somewhere along that stretch of highway, I spotted a sign that read: Arctic Watershed – From here all streams flow north into the Arctic Ocean. Here’s a link to an image of the sign posted on an RV travel website.

Driving soon became tedious. With the cruise control on, I tried sitting in slightly different positions trying to give my legs a rest as they were falling asleep from rarely needing to brake. There was a brief moment of excitement as I spotted a moose standing just a few feet from the road. As I became increasingly restless, I laughed to myself, lines from Jill Frayne’s autobiographic book Starting Out in the Afternoon, mentioned in my first post, ran through my head.

After three days of driving I was still in Ontario. We think of the province as a pan of paved-over ground along the shore of Lake Ontario, a stretch of a hundred kilometres where most of us live, but the real Ontario is the Precambrian Shield – the great wastes of rock overarching tiny southern Ontario in an endless tract of elemental granite and pointed black spruce. The land up here is ponderous, orchestral, especially where the road follows Lake Superior, giving tremendous views of the hills standing up to their mighty shoulders in the sea. Once you leave Superior, though, and plunge into boreal forest — the dark, acid, interminable land west of Thunder Bay –the project of getting out of Ontario becomes daunting. This rock carapace is nothing less than the bulge of the earth’s raw core, scarred, disordered, primordial. The density and weight of the rock have an emotional quality that penetrates the mind. Time seems to clog in the runty trees and gravity tugs in a bold, unbounded way like nowhere else.

Drawing closer to the Lake of the Woods region and the town of Kenora, the bones of the Canadian Shield were laid bare in many places. Road cuts of great, sagging masses of pink Precambrian granite bordered long sections of the highway. The weather had turned frigid and rain began to fall. The van began running badly, so I stopped in an empty parking lot to let the engine dry out for awhile before pushing on. Arriving in Kenora, I checked into a motel, taking note of a small poster on the glass next to one of the doors. It read something like:

To our valued customers: As you may know, this is the time of year when black bears often enter the town. Please use caution when in the parking area of the motel, especially at night. Do not leave food in your car or outside of your motel unit.

Actually, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bear in the parking lot, but though I checked periodically, there was no such luck. In the morning, after checking the weather and seeing several clear days ahead, we carried on with our journey.

Written by bev on October 26th, 2008