Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Solitude among the woods and waters of Nova Scotia

Morning mist on Mersey River.

There it was again. We had no idea what was making the noise 30 metres from our campsite, and we were not entirely certain we wanted to find out.

"It's probably a bear hunting for frogs," I said, hunkering down deeper in my sleeping bag.

"Bears don't eat frogs!" my companion replied from deep in her own sleeping bag.

"Do too!"

"Do not! Might be a moose, though."

"This isn't moose habitat! It's probably a bear … "

As it turned out, we were both right - sort of.  Later research revealed that black bears do indeed eat frogs. However, it was not a hungry bear on the prowl for the delicacy of frogs' legs. It turned out to be a bird - probably an osprey - diving for fish in Channel Lake's waters.

Channel Lake is part of a chain of waterways in the northwest corner of Kejimkujik National Park. Located in south-central NovaScotia, "Keji" is the only national park in the Maritimes completely surrounded by land, although there is a seaside adjunct apart from the park's main body. 

This 403-square kilometre island of wilderness is home to more than 100 species of birds; mammals such as deer, porcupine, moose - and yes, bear; and a variety of tree species, including oak, maple, hemlock, spruce and pine.
Sunset on Channel Lake

One of the best ways to experience the park is by canoe, on routes north or south of the large lake that gives the park its name. We paddled north of Kejimkujik for five days - partially following the route paddled by Albert Bigelow Paine in his book, The Tent Dwellers - through Big Dam Lake, Frozen Ocean Lake and Channel Lake before paddling back onto the main lake.

Because we paddled the park in early August - peak holiday season - we were surprised that three days passed without sight of another human. 

The first people we did see were two park rangers, performing routine backcountry campsite maintenance.

That's not to say we were lonely. 
Prickly Porky on the move
Porcupines, barred owls, deer and chipmunks visited our campsites. 

Paddling down the quiet waters of Still Brook, LittleRiver and West River, we encountered herons, a painted turtle, frogs, a mother loon and her baby, and a merganser family.

The unexpected solitude was a true gift. 

On our last night on the big lake, a lone loon swam past our Moose Island campsite, wailing her trademark cry, as if to say,"Farewell!" from the wilderness, eliciting a prayer of thanks from my own mouth.

(This story was originally published in the Summer 2001 edition of Ski Canada's Outdoor Guide.)

Post script: There's much more to the park than canoeing. It's also a national historic site, as this video shows.

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