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Away from the world

It’s morning on a remote river, fog low to the water. My canoe is repacked with maybe fifteen miles paddling downriver before dusk. I check the map and mark a few rapids that will require study before shooting. I push my canoe into the dark water. A chill is in the air.

Bill York

The Canadian wilderness holds me in a hypnotic spell. I’ve been told it is foolhardy to canoe alone on a rogue river. I reply that it’s more dangerous on America’s expressways.

On a hillside, I see a bear with two cubs coming down to the water. I raise my paddle and drift silently. A loon dives for fish. The river is veiled in vapors. Bulrushes line the margin. Off to my right, a flight of mallards skim the surface with a shower of watery crystals, form a V, and honk their way to some unknown destination. The sun shows over a stand of tamarack. A beaver tows a willow branch near a sandbar. I slip off my vest.

I pass a village of Indians. They wave a greeting. Kids are playing cowboys and Indians. Amazingly the Indians are winning the battle. Parent swans, shepherding three cygnets, eye me warily while maintaining their distance.

A canoe with two Indians comes alongside. They’re from the village I passed a few miles back. I lift my paddle and put out my hand. Tying our canoes together, we drift downstream with the current. They say if I will stop they will cook a walleye for me. I accept their offer. I see fish nets and bows and arrows in the canoe. I ask if they like the old ways. They say the old way give animals a better chance. I agree with nurturing nature.

The mist lifts. I see turbulence far ahead and hear the sounds of a rapid. I tie my canoe to a ledge and climb the escarpment for a look. It’s a mean one. I take out my binoculars and sweep the rapid. It looks like a portage will be safer. My Old town weighs eighty pounds, a big load for an old man. Then there are my supplies. Three trips maybe. Dying when shooting the rapids will be okay if it’s my destiny. I prefer the control of my demise.

I beach the canoe between boulders and make camp for the night. I gather driftwood and start my campfire. The Cree gave me an extra walleye. Preparing a fish on a spit excites my taste buds. I look at my watch and realize that I have one more day until my pilot drops out of the sky to pick me up. Dark comes, and mosquitoes begin taking blood samples. A tundra fly gets frisky as I set up my tent. I will sleep well. I look through the mesh and watch the Aurora Borealis fire streamers of color across the cobalt sky. As night descends, eyes, reflected by the embers in my campfire, appear in the perimeter. I have guests. I snuggle in my sleeping bag.

I awaken to find my Cree friends cooking over a roaring fire. They say they shot a deer and thought I would enjoy some venison. We eat breakfast, venison and scrambled goose eggs, breakfast on an island in the middle of nowhere. That’s a real atmosphere.

I get out my GPS and see that I am near our rendezvous point. I explain the function of a GPS and present it to my friends as a gift. I tell them I’ll return next year and visit their village and find out more about their old ways. They say I will like hunting from a dogsled. I tell them I will definitely return.

Below the escarpment, we hear the sound of a plane as it descends into the canyon and skids to a stop. I lash my canoe to a pontoon and climb aboard. As we lift from the water, I make a reservation for next year. As we climb to cloud level, I glance down in the gorge. The Indians are canoeing away. Out on the tundra, I see wolves on the hunt. A mother moose frolics with her calf in a turbulent stream. I call my wife to tell her my after-burners have re-ignited. 


Bill is a 92-year old WW II Navy veteran and retired President of York Furs in Buckhead. You can contact him by email at