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ALGONQUIN IN JULY 1997 - GIFTS AND MAGIC!
"Opeongo Lake, Crow Lake, Dickson Lake, Opeongo Lake.
We arrived in a drizzle, and the fact that we were approaching a remnant of the real world was made apparent to us by the warning that there was a "bad" bear where we had planned to camp on the first night, on Opeongo's North Arm. A few days after we left the park a bear did in fact maul a young camper in that area; we heard, amazingly, that it was a different "bad" bear!
The portage from Opeongo to Proulx is an easy one which facilitates looking around as gear is carried. Part way along there was an astonishing profusion of pinkish-white twinflowers alongside the trail. For fifty yards the ground was densely carpeted with their blooms, so much so that at a glance it could have been snow. Twinflowers are common, but never before had we seen them like this. Several coralroot orchids grew on the downslope of the portage to Proulx. Coralroots are chlorophyl less plants which draw their nourishment from matter decaying underground. They have leafless purplish stems with small purple-dotted-white-lipped flowers and are not always easy to spot, so we were glad to find them.
The Crow River from Proulx is small, and meanders over low beaver dams through a swampy wetland. Although the wind blew quite strongly against us, as it did for the whole trip, due, no doubt, to the law of the perversity of inanimate objects, five moose made the river memorable. There was a large bull with huge antlers in velvet, a young bull with tiny buds of antlers, and two cows, one with a calf. All appeared to be in good health, and none seemed to be too worried about our presence.
We spent our second night on Little Crow Lake.
A huge white blotch on the cliffs of Big Crow Lake caught our attention as soon as we entered the lake. Examination with binoculars revealed it to be a collection of bird droppings below a few narrow ledges. Years before we had climbed around the cliffs to their top to look at Peregrine Falcon nesting boxes which had been in use in years previous to our visit. At that time they were still relatively intact, although both the weather and porcupines had been at them. We did not see any birds of prey about, and left the area wondering if the nest box efforts had been successful.
This year good things were clustered around the Crow River just after it left Big Crow Lake. A log garden is created when a fallen tree floats, with some stability, in the water long enough to soften and provide a rooting medium for plants. As we turned the first bend, a log garden of unspeakably lovely blue flags presented itself. There were dozens of intense blue blooms, all radiant in the midmorning sun. We stopped paddling in amazement at the incredible beauty and exuberance of the garden. Time stood still as we looked at it from all sides and tried to absorb and understand its beauty, its vitality and its message. This garden was made up, as usual, of several plant species, but the others, typical of log gardens, were completely overshadowed.
Nearby a medium sized painted turtle observed us in a most unturtle like manner; several times it looked us over for a bit, then submerged and swam about two or 3 feet before resurfacing for another look. It seemed not to have the usual turtle fear of humans and was just as interested in observing us as we were of it.
The trail to what the map calls "the finest virgin White Pine stands in North America" starts just around the next bend, and it's well worth the mile long hike to see this fragment of what once was everywhere. The path is poor in places and climbs for a while before leveling off and going through a damp, rich forest. After a while you realize that all the trees are big, some with branches that don't start until the tree is higher than the lower canopy. It's a quiet cathedral like place, which to me emanated feelings of saddness, decline and broken promise. Some of the largest trees have recently been blown down, one of them, about three feet in diameter, had snapped off about ten feet from the ground; there appeared to be about eight to 12 growth rings per inch, which would have made it quite old. A few large fungi grow on some of the fallen trees here. They are a multi hued orange, varying from almost white at the edge through yellows to deep brownish orange at the cente rs. The largest we saw was about eight or ten inches across and was attached to the log by a slimmer neck.
The Crow River did not lack for moose last year and we saw several more. One, a large bull in velvet, was especially memorable. As often happens with bulls in velvet, he saw no reason why he should move out of the narrow river for us. I've always assumed that this is because antlers in velvet are tender, and pushing them through the alders at the river's edge is painful. In any case, this bull would move from ten to thirty feet downstream at a time and then turn and look at us before returning to browsing. We joked that he must have been taking human-avoidance lessons from a heron or merganser. After an hour of this we were almost glad when he turned up a small tributary to the Crow and we were able to pass.
The time spent following the moose was, of course, not wasted. The Crow's meanders harbour all sorts of interesting plant and animal life. The ebony and river jewelwings were especially plentiful, and as ususal their slow fluttery flight and the beauty of their black wings and iridescent blue bodies captivated us. These insects are large damselflies, the ebony having all black wings and iridescent blue-black bodies while the river has black-tipped wings and an iridescent green body. The females of both species have small white spots, called stigmata, on their wing tips. Hours can be spent just gazing at the slow, impossible looking flight of these enthralling insects.
There was a small overhang at the edge of Dickson Lake at our campsite, and under this overhang were the abandoned naiad exoskeletons of dozens of dragonflies. They were all facing the same way and looked a bit like a phantom army of miniature monsters. Overhead, at dusk, the sky was almost darkened by the flight of countless mayfly type insects; there must have been millions of them. That night it rained hard for quite a while, and in the morning we found two or three dozen minute golden spiderlets inside one of our pots FACE="Times New Roman">. They were very small, about a millimeter across and we wondered where they had come from.
We started the big portage to Bonfield Lake (5305m) around 11:30 AM after another of our usual slow start mornings. Except for its length, this portage is not hard as the trail is good, not hilly and has lots of boardwalks over swampy land at its western end. We talked with two young men who had carried part of their gear through the night before and who had camped on the slope at the foot of the portage. They were breaking their camp, which had been soaked in the previous night's storm's runoff, as we started our first carry on the portage. After carrying about halfway we put our gear down and went back for our second load, which we would carry the whole distance. On our second carry, we found that the men, who had preceded us, had drunk all the water that we had left halfway down the trail. A note said that they hoped that we didn't mind, but that they had been really thirsty, and they left one of their empty water containers, for us to carry out, as proof.
The Bonfield Lake end of the trail had further distasteful reminders of humanity in that quite a few previous portagers had seen fit to deposit human waste and paper along the side the lake. We wondered what sort of person would so desecrate the beauty that they must have experienced in this manner. We wrote the Superintendent, John Winters, and reluctantly recommended a trap door outhouse be installed in the area.
Opeongo Lake's waves were too big for us to tackle, so we made camp there and waited for the morning to leave the Park. There was a bright pink sunrise in the morning, which still had a fair amount of wind. We packed up early, left before the wind rose and the rain started and arrived at the dock before we were usually up. After a leisurely breakfast at the museum, we left the Park.