18 August 2014

The Passage

My eldest daughter turned 18 two years ago and for the occasion we celebrated in the Boundary Waters. I documented that trip here, Six +Ace for the Waters...

Well, eldest son turned 18 this month and while I offered a full on expedition he wanted to try his mettle on his own, well with a couple of friends of course. So after handing him my favorite paddle, I watched my oldest son leave not long after dawn this past Saturday morning, him and a couple of his buddies off to face and chase adventure on the water.

My son is the middle yahoo.

With trepidation I watched the jeep pass out of sight. I knew their trip route, I've made it many times myself. Entry point 25, up Moose, to Newfound, Sucker on through Birch, along the Canadian border and into Knife. It's a fine route with many miles of excellent water, good campsites, decent fishing and nice sunsets.

Knowing that did not absolve me of a father's concern nor diminish the sense of pride I felt for him wanting and willing to do the trip without me, even if there was a twinge of sadness for that fact as well. While I insisted on a tangible plan, deadlines and goals as far as progress etc he insisted on doing the gear and food selection as well as picking the route. Somewhat reluctantly I relinquished the reigns and let him do this provided I could do his final gear check, in so doing I earned another title, 'Control Freak In Chief'.

Nonetheless the check was done and he was gone. I spent the rest of my Saturday working on my own project but he was never far from my thoughts as the clouds and drizzle were constant reminders. As the day wore away and night came I imagined the fire on campsite 1287 which should be about where he was on Saturday night, how the reflection of it on the water would dance and the retelling of the days events would happen. How dinner would be wolfed down even as the pain of paddle use between the shoulder blades would be an aching reminder.

Sunday morning I woke early, there was a mist on and I wondered if his morning was the same, if it looked like I remembered it, as primordial as I recall.

I set out with my second oldest son on Sunday for our run on the future trap line, I enjoyed his company and the sights we saw and yet thought often of my oldest. Our high was mid fifties, likely cooler up north. As we walked the miles my mind played with paddling in colder water, clouds resting at waterline and all things being soaked. I thought of entering Knife lake and having the wind at my back, wondered which campsite they'd settle on. I imagined scrounging around campsite 1460 for fire fixings and hoped they'd managed a good site and had not gotten stuck with camp 1454, which incidentally, sucks.

Monday morning came, cold here, low fifties again and heavy fog. Thick and settled, I knew it would not burn off before the night though I wondered if it was as bad on Knife. If it was the water would be stillness incarnate, flat glass that seems blasphemous to stir with a paddle. The loons would call and the sound would carry forever. If close enough you'd be able to her water lap the rocky shores but in a mist like that wouldn't see it. Such conditions make mystery in the mind as it paints its own picture of reality beyond what one's own eyes see.

I engaged with work duties, the world called and yet I still thought of my son whose muscle and sinew propelled him homeward, likely at least a little sunburned, chilled, tired, maybe hungry but like his father would grin into the face of adversity and pull on.

Afternoon came as my conference calls wound down, I looked at the thick mist I knew would still be there, wondered again if it had settled on the chain of lakes between him and his exit point. I fired up the coffee pot upstairs more as an excuse to leave my home office and see my wife than to actually get a cup of coffee. It was later in the day now, the time of which I could nearly read in the tight lines at the corners of my wife's eyes. I knew she was worried, I spoke a few words about how nothing in the wild can be done with surgical timing, that things like weather and the unexpected happen, that he was our son and likely better prepared than most. I'm not sure if it helped, the lines eased a bit but she didn't say much one way or the other.

A few more hours passed and I overheard her speaking to someone on the house line, she was leaving a message on his cell, she wanted him to call soon and that she was concerned. He should have been off the water by now and back into cell range. I drained the cup and loaded a pipe, walked outside for a bit of air, which was calm at the house and according to the weather calm throughout the lakes. While foggy at least he wasn't fighting wind and wake I thought to myself. Another conference call beckoned.

Approximately thirty minutes later the phone rang, it was my son. I could hear my wife speaking with him, her tone one of relief. He asked to speak to me and she handed the phone off.


"Yes, son."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Nothing else needed saying.


  1. Magnificent. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I truely enjoyed this one, Jim. You know very well how to write down the sentiments and thoughts involved.

    My kids are not that age yet, but I sometimes wonder what it will be like; letting go, swallowing that parental herding- and guiding instinct, trying to ignore that certain feeling in stomach and chest....

    Your son has a dad he can be proud of and v.v.

    1. Thanks Ron, figured you'd get it.

    2. That was really good Jim. My kids aren't as old as yours but I imagine the feeling being spot on when they want to be on their own the first time like that. Pride that their confident enough to take it on but a little sad for yourself not getting to share that with them too. I think on the brightside though the next time you two are out together you will have a much more confident and perhaps competent woodsman in camp.

  3. That, Sir, is priceless. Well done.

  4. Absolutely stupendous!! Great read! As a dad and grandpa I could relate so well and your writing style painted the pictures perfectly. Well done!!