A cup of leaves, a sea of stars, and her ...
I grew up on the outskirts of Sudbury, where the ancient rocks of the Canadian Shield had been burned by a half-century century of acid rains with stunted birch and cedar forests struggling in the valleys to reclaim the cliff-tops that had once been theirs.
Despite that harsh description, the Shield to me, is a land of sublime beauty, "God's country", as I like to call it. A land of glacier-ground lakes and mountains more than half as old as Terra herself, a land of subtle, faded glories, old beauty secure in itself and far beyond youthful ostentation.
Or, you could say, it is my home, the land in which I was forged and so, the standard by which I measure beauty.
I had only been to Algonquin Provincial Park once before, in the mid-1990s. I felt then as if I had returned home, to round, rocky lakes, and small hills rugged still.
And so it was that pulling into the Mew Lake campground was not a happy experience for me.
Algonquin is a huge park, larger than more than a few nations; it can't all be cliffs and valleys.
The Mew Lake campground is pretty flat — make that very flat; all signs of pre-Cambrian shield are a long way off.
Worse still, it is not even remotely a wilderness. Trailer park was more like it. Paved roads snaked through the grounds of tents, trailers and campers on little lots; half of the larger vehicles sprouted satellite dishes and not a single campsite was without electric power.
It's true, I had known going in that it would be something like this, but knowing and experiencing can be very different things. It took quite some effort on my part to get past my disappointment. For Raven's part, the foliage was still mostly green, nothing remotely like the spectacular hillsides we had seen up and in the distance during our drive.
But at least the sun was making an appearance. Once we got the car un-packed, I insisted we take a walk and scout out our surroundings; as I hoped, the effort was rewarded with acceptance and by the time we returned to our campground, we were happily hand-in-hand and looking forward to a fire.
Almost miraculously, the sky had by then cleared entirely. Sunlight glittered on the nearby lake and the barest trace of a breeze shivered through the leaves.
It wasn't bush, it wasn't wilderness, but our neighbours were quiet, the air was fresh and I was able — just! — to remember enough woodcraft to build a fire with the very limited kindling we were able to gather on our grounds.
Once the fire blossomed, I added heavier logs and we wandered about as coals formed from the wood.
And yes, when we ate, the food was good, the potatoes baked so succulent I didn't miss the the butter I'd forgotten to pack, and the meat (yes, meat; sorry about that) infused with smoke a thousand times as tasty as it was carcinogenic.
By the time we were fully sated, the sun was long gone, the fire reduced to embers glowing dimly in the pit. We had resorted to using a flashlight and Raven's cellphone to see what we had been eating.
"Hey," I said, as I slid the pip on my flashlight, "turn off your phone."
"It's dark," Raven said.
"I know. Turn it off anyway."
"But it's dark!"
"That's why I want you to turn if off," I said. "Just trust me, okay?"
A big part of the fun of a surprise, of course, comes from those final moments when one's victim starts to realize that there is a surprise in the offing.
Raven is a stubborn woman, who doesn't easily cede even momentary control. It took a some serious cajoling before she agreed to turn off our last visible link to civilization.
"Now," I said, "look up," and I laid myself down on the picnic table bench to follow my own advice.
For some things, there really are no words; at least, none as affecting as the thing itself. Like the colours we saw a few weeks later (pictured above), so it was the almost black and white dome of infinity that glittered in the heavens over our heads.
For a time, she was silent as she too gazed up at the sight whose beauty I myself had mostly forgotten in the years since I had last seen a sky unpolluted by city lights.
"My god," she said when she spoke at last, "it is stunning, magnificent."
And it was.
"I'll never forget this," she whispered some time later, and I hope I never do either.
After an hour or so, as it neared midnight, clouds rolled in again, as if some god had decreed we should enjoy only so long a break in the autumnal washing.
It was enough.
So many websites, so little time!
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