Settling In
The camping toilets in Algonquin are unique, at least for me. They consisted of a small pit covered by an inverted wooden box. The box had a rough wooden lid, which opened to reveal a hole through which you hung your business end. The whole affair was a short distance from the campsite and thus hidden from view To my mind it was still very much exposed.  
  Shirley loved it! She went on about being truly out in nature, being able to watch the birds and the chipmunks as you performed your daily ritual. I shuddered at the thought. What if someone comes along. Worse still, what if that someone is a bear? How is it going to look if I go flying around our camp site with pants around my knees and toilet paper streaming from both hands with a bear catching up the rear. Not a pretty picture. Worse, not a picture that had any impact on Shirley at all.

Regardless of how graphic my depictions or how well I conveyed the nature of this threat to my middle class sensibilities, it didn’t phase Shirley in the least. I found her attitude provocative so I heightened my efforts until I started to get the distinct impression that she began to find me pathetic, not at all the response I was hoping for. This prompted a brilliant new tactic on my part. I clamed up and sulked. Of course this didn’t stop me from conjuring up horrible new open-air bathroom scenarios but it did force me to keep them all to myself.

I would have to assume she took my silence as some sort of approval of her thinking on the subject. As a result, every time she reappeared from the path I had to quietly endure another long list of her keen insights. I was never quite sure if this was enthusiasm on her part of if she was meting out punishment for my childish tirade. I didn't voice my feelings but to me it' s simple. A bathroom has a door or at the very least a few walls, allowing you to maintain some semblance of dignity.

That evening, a mist rolled in from the lake just as we finished up the dishes. It wrapped us in a comforting silence, which was suddenly broken by a series of loud piercing shrieks. The sound was unearthly and almost caused me to drop my plate. Shirley recognized the loons' call, something I was only vaguely familiar with having heard , perhaps on television. The reality was shockingly different and their song sent shivers through me. We sat in the darkness silently listening as they called out one to another. We might have been there all night if the dampness and increasing cold hadn't forced us into our bed.

We paddled to our final campsite before we had to head back to the real world and both of us began to regret how short our visit had been. Since it's difficult to portage, we had brought with us only a small supply of firewood, some of which we had saved for our last night out. As we started our last fire Shirley said it brought her back to her teens when she had been a counselor at a girls' camp. "Ah ha", I almost shouted "that explains everything". Her blank look indicated she had no idea what I was on about and I started to feel a little foolish. After some fruitless attempts on my part to hide the truth she finally forced me (she has her ways) to tell her what I meant by "everything". Cornered, I blurted out my frustrations. How was it that her paddling was so much better than mine? How could she, a mere 110lb girl, be so adept at portaging a sixty pound canoe? What was she hiding from me? Rather than getting defensive she casually laughed in a way that made me feel even worse.

Shirley had learned to paddle a canoe at camp when she was a kid and later, as a counselor, she had to carry the canoe up and down from the lake, something she did so often it became second nature. As she elaborated I felt more and more foolish, something that Shirley soon observed. She mercifully changed the subject.

  This moment of overwhelming embarrassment might have ruined the trip for me, but my feelings soon gave way to an admiration of a partner who was caring enough to perceive my discomfort and forgiving enough to drop the whole thing. Within a short time I totally forgot my embarrassment as we huddled closer and lost ourselves in the fire. The stars appeared as the last of the fire's embers started to fade and we climbed into the tent together.
Our return trip was an easy paddle under perfect blue skies. We were rounding the point to our last short portage when we were overwhelmed by the sight of a grazing moose and its young calf on the nearby shore.We drifted silently by them, in awe of this natural spectacle and the apparent indifference they had to our presence.  
  As we left the park I realized just how much I had enjoyed the experience. Our discussion on the way back to Toronto centered on Algonquin, nature and the magic of sharing an adventure with each other. During those short few days I had acquired two distinctly different passions and I knew I would never lose either of them.
  Back to the beginning / Algonquin Provincial Park


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