It’s late October and evening is falling on the woods of Kejimkujik National Park.
A pot of water bubbles away on my campfire. In a few minutes, I’ll dump the contents of my Harvest Works pasta primavera into the pot and wait the prescribed 10 to 12 minutes for my dinner to rehydrate.
The stars begin to materialize above the canopy of hemlock and birch. There’s good old Vega, the bluish-white beacon of the summer night sky. Vega has started its autumn descent but remains high in the west. The stars are welcome company as the light drains from the sky. It can be an unsettling feeling when you’re alone among the deepening shadows of the backcountry.
I came out here seeking solitude and I’ve got it in spades. The nearest campsite on land (as opposed to the lake island sites) is about 10 kilometres away. And anyway, there aren’t many other campers around as far as I can tell. It’s midweek in the off-season, after all.
I spend a couple of days at a backcountry site once or twice a year. It’s a ritual that my spouse at once admires and dreads. She worries that I’ll chop my hand off cutting wood or fall into a lake. She knows me well - these are not unreasonable fears.
And while I’m certainly in shape, I’m not going to register for a marathon anytime soon. But I can handle a loaded backpack for the six kilometres it takes to reach Yurt 1 near Peskowesk Lake. The yurt, a hexagonal metal frame covered in thick canvas, provides a little more peace of mind than my 1980s-era tent.
I always have a cellphone in my shirt pocket and a whistle around my neck. Cellphone reception can be dodgy in the park but you can usually pull in a bar or two on the 3G register. The whistle is recommended in place of wearing out your throat yelling for help in the event of trouble. I usually envision using it in a confrontation with a snarling black bear or coyote. (As if an annoying shrill noise would deter an animal intent on having me for dinner.)
Such are the thoughts that pass through a nervous mind in the darkness. Balancing out the primal fears in my monkey brain is the joy of silence. Halifax is a small city, hardly a bustling metropolis. But a brief escape from the noise, concrete and humanity is good for my soul.
I lack the filter that handles external stimuli most folks appear to possess. I have a hard time focusing on one conversation in a crowded room. And loud noises - well, let’s just say I always avoid walking near the Citadel at noon.
So the silence and solitude may be a bit spooky. But my pasta is taking on a vaguely familiar form in the pot. The stars are lovely. And I’ve got Eleanor Wachtel for company on my iPhone.
Time for dinner in the woods.