May 17, 1917 Setting Up Camp

May 17, 1917

Even though there was a frost last night, I decided it was warm enough to set up my camp on Hayhurst Point. I’ll still take my meals at Mowat Lodge and check for my mail but I’ll be staying here most nights from now on.

I can’t be too far away, as I might be taking on some guiding work. Hayhurst Point is a favourite spot of mine – across the lake – I can see the cottages and higher up on the hill behind, Mowat Lodge. I can see smoke rising from Hotel Algonquin. My camp site is enough away that I’m not bothering Thomas and Mary Hayhurst (after whom the point is named). They’re friends of the Piries and Bertrams who have cottages on Gilmour Island. They came to Canoe Lake about the same time as the Frasers, but at the suggestion of Dr. Bertram. Thomas has weak lungs and the advice of Dr. Bertram was to spend time among the evergreens. Two years ago, their son Alexander died of black throat diptheria. I remember Mark Robinson bringing the casket across the lake by canoe. Shannon transported it with his hearse to the cemetery. It was a sad day for all around Canoe Lake.

I looked for where I had my tent last year. It was between two jack pines. The ground was still level from what I had cleared out last year. There were some depressions where I chopped out some projecting roots and I had to fill the holes with sand to make it smooth. I brought my canvas tent which I had stored at Mowat Lodge (my silk tent was in South River). The previous years I used a rope between the trees but this year I decided to make a more permanent fixture. I chopped three small trees, one to use as ridge pole, lashed to one of the jack pines, and the other two to form the front support of the tent, a lean-to of sort. This configuration gave me some flexibility where I could face the front of the tent. I made it face due south, so I could see the full glory of Canoe Lake, I could see Little Wap, Big Wap, Gilmour and beyond Cook Island. It was a grand view, and I felt like I was looking into my future and my fate.

I swung the canvas over the ridge pole. It had a musty but pleasant smell. It had the smell of past winter. I knew the smell would be gone after a day in the wind and the sun. I fashioned tent pegs by splitting slabs off an old pine stump near by. The stump was nearly three feet across, a reminder of the majestic pines that once dominated the landscape here. No more. I pegged the sides down and the tent began to take shape as a shelter and and a home. It felt good. To make a soft bedding I cut the branches of several balsam firs and spread them on the ground inside the tent. I brought three blankets with me. I spread them out on the firs. My oldest (and most threadbare) blanket was on the bottom on the branches.I would sleep underneath the other two. My Mackinaw coat, rolled up, would be my pillow. With the blunt end of my axe, I hammered a three-inch nail into the jack pine, about four feet off the ground. That’s where my lantern would hang.

I brought a cheesecloth to hang across the front, to keep out the mosquitoes. They still managed to get through, but the cheesecloth reduced the numbers enough that there’s a fighting chance for comfort.

Outside, I drove a nail in the other Jack pine to hang up my provisions. Mostly to keep it away from the chipmunks. They were the greatest threat for stealing food. If you didn’t pay attention, a chipmunk would gnaw through your canvas pack in no time flat. People asked me if I was worried about bears in the Park. I said no, chipmunks were the biggest threat.

I set up the fire pit. The rocks were still around from last year’s camp but scattered about. I placed the rocks into a circle and started a fire with some kindling I made from the stump. For supper I brought a can of beans which I heated up in the frying pan on the wire grill I set up. My reflector oven, I left aside. I’d be using it tomorrow but not tonight. I burnt my tongue when I started in on the beans – I didn’t let them cool down enough. I had that funny feeling on my tongue for the rest of the night. I didn’t make tea because it would hurt too much. A swig of water soothed the burn, a swig of whisky made it burn more.

I smoked my pipe while I watched the sun go down in the west. Across the lake I could see the lights at Mowat Lodge. I could also see the lights at the Trainor and Blecher cottages. I thought I could see a silhouette in a window but I’m sure it was either my imagination or the cooling air playing tricks with the lights. The frogs were peeping but subdued. The water was lapping quietly on the shore. I heard a loon cry only once, and it was a long cry. I rolled up my coat for a pillow and began to make my bed. The fresh cut evergreens made a fine smell over the smell of my socks which I hung to dry at the front of the tent. I could feel the temperature going down, but I could easily stay warm. The cool temperature was a blessing because it kept the mosquitoes down. Before I fell asleep, I remembered that I hung my pack on the nail outside. My canoe was pulled up onshore. All was good for the night.

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