Memo From Mac



The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

Blueberry Pancakes And The Great Escape 

Without my glasses, I discovered that the landscape the deep green forest, the dark blue water and bright blue cloud-scattered sky looked like a misty Monet painting. So I left the glasses in the pack, dug my paddle into the lake, and lost myself in vacation reverie.

At the very next portage I learned, alas, that Monet's rocks are hard and sharp, and my vision without glasses painfully misleading. I stumbled getting out of the canoe and ripped my knee open. In the presence as I was of two family practice physicians, one high-priced Washington lawyer, and two adoring grandchildren, I could have expected immediate medical attention, a tort liability suit, or at least respectful sympathy for the aged and infirm.

Instead, at the cry of "Blueberries!" they'd all gone off on a picking spree, leaving me writhing on the stones. But I forgave them all next morning when Katherine began flipping blueberry pancakes, one by one, from the campfire skillet.

I'd gone for a wilderness week in Canada's magnificent Quetico Provincial Park, a string of wooded lakes along the Minnesota border, the old route of the Voyageurs, with sons Tim and Terry, daughter-in-law Katherine and grandchildren Kathleen, 9 and John, 13.

One look at the first, storybook, Golden Pond of a lake was enough for the children to name themselves Norman and Ethel. The rest of the cast became Poppa Doc, Little Doc, Big Tim and (affectionately I was assured) The Old Man.

A week later we were back in our Minnesota base camp, sunburned and muscle-sore, having paddled 43 miles through 16 lakes and carried two 70-pound canoes and six heavy, bulging packs over 16 often-treacherous portages. It would be ridiculous to call such hard work a vacation, were the wilderness not so deep and lovely, and escape from the world not so complete. Only hard work can take you there.

There was no radio or newspaper, no label or sign or direction of any kind; only your map and compass to tell you where you were or must go. I marveled at the children, shouldering their packs for every portage, pulling their weights at the mid-ship paddles, gathering firewood, hunting berries, swimming in the lake in the late afternoon. I soon dubbed my 9-year old eastern granddaughter Klondike Kate. John caught the first fish, spotted the only moose.

Katherine, whom I swear must have majored in canoeing at Earlham along with botany and pre-med, was much more than camp cook. She lugged a full load over the portages, identified the edible and non-edible berries for us, commanded one of the canoes. But still, it was Little Doc's cooking that shone: fresh baked bread (don't ask me how); the blueberry pancakes, lentil casserole, curried rice which, because the water wouldn't boil, would ever be remembered as crispy rice. For the brief lunch stops she had a bottomless bag of salami and cheese, peanut butter and honey, dried fruit and M&Ms, all washed down with bottles of lake water lemonade and some god-forsaken drink I hope I never encounter again called Crystal Light.

The weather was kind. The night it rained we made shore just ahead of the downpour and got the kitchen flap up before everything was soaked through. It quit long enough for us to get the tents up and again during the long evening for Katherine to cook some blazing hot chili. It also provided some perspective.

"Do you realize," Terry said at one point, as we all sat whittling twigs down to the dry chips, "that it has taken a combined experience of 186 years, and a combined education of 93 years, and two hours, to start this fire?"

Thus the challenge of the wilderness.

There were other challenges. Papa Doc insisted on regularity and Little Doc doled out a daily ration of prunes. There are no toilets of any kind in Quetico; just a trowel and a roll of paper, and a hike deeper into the woods.

My grandchildren demanded a long series of columns on this adventure, "like you did on China." I refused because I was on vacation. For which they will never forgive me, and readers can be glad.

Return to Columns.