Musings From The Quebec Wilderness
By Gabrielle Blair
About fifty kilometers due south as the crow flies, of the mining town, Val D’Or in Quebec, is a beautiful lake with the sing-song name of Lac Otanibi. Here, a far cry from the bustle of Ajijic, is where my husband and I have our wilderness cabin which is our refuge for three or four months over the Summer. There are no roads and no access other than by boat or float plane, or, in the case of our nearest neighbor, three kilometers from us on the south shore, by helicopter.
Going to Val D’Or for supplies is a whole day event, negotiating a difficult route across lakes, through a rapid and the winding Ottawa River, in all, twenty-six kilometers, to a marina where our car is parked, then a thirty-eight kilometer drive to town. There we treat ourselves to the best Montreal smoked meat sandwiches with fries and pickles from Valentines, an unpretentious eating house frequented by the locals with worn faces and pleasant smiles. Coming home, if the ever-changing weather is ominous, we travel at full throttle, arriving just before the storm breaks, with its great show of lightning and thunder.
Our cabin is perched on a rock on a peninsula, surrounded by forest and water. Almost no one comes here, other than fishermen who are not afraid of crossing the rapid, but once here, they are rewarded with their full quota of pike, pickerel and occasionally sturgeon.
We have cleared a flat patch of brush as an emergency helicopter landing pad. Deep-blue swamp irises and purple gentians have sprung up amongst the emerald grass in the clearing that we ritually cut back every year and hope we’ll never have call to use. Not seeing people from one day to the next, we have become very attuned to the animals. Most times we live in peace with the forest creatures. The hares, however, living under the cabin, delightful as it is to watch them grazing at twilight, are becoming a bit of a nuisance.
Having chopped off the tops of my newly planted flowers, I’ve now surrounded the perennials with cedar twigs as a deterrent and their salad supply has been cut off. Snatch, the crow, pops by daily to scavenge from the compost pit or collect the scraps we’ve left for him, including two mice, trapped overnight, that were left out ready to bury. He is the wilderness garbage pick-up service!
One night, Smudge, our cat, his hair on end, alerted us to a bear, feet away from the bedroom window. After making its rounds of the cabin and compost pit, it finally left and we crept to the shed to switch off the generator. Back in the cabin, I was so shaky, that I accidentally set off the pepper spray, filling the place with burning fumes, and sending the terrified Smudge to spend the night cowering under our bed.
Next morning, I awoke after an awful night, and the bear was back! Blowing my whistle only sent it a few feet up the path into the forest. It took firing a gun for it finally get the message that it wasn’t welcome. The next day, our neighbor arrived to ask if we’d been bothered by a bear. This wandering loner had made its way to his camp, where again, only gunshot had made it move on.
My inukshuk that stands on guard on the rocks and that was washed down by the high Spring water, needs to be re-built to keep the bad spirits away and its time to refill the bird-feeder for the nightly visit of the Northern Flying Squirrel. Life is busy and entertaining in the wilderness!