Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canada: We Liked It Better the Last Time

August 9-10

We leave Jan and Jim's Camp two hours before we need to be at church in Marquette—they usually don't take quite so long to get there, because they drive faster on the dirt and rock roads than we do, and they don't stop at roadside attractions like we do. It is a good thing we left a little extra time, since we come upon a large pine tree in the road. Jan mentions that she thought about putting the chain saw in the station wagon, but forgot to do it. Jim and Dick just rip the branches off the tree, and we gingerly drive over the trunk. Jim and Jan are sure someone else will pass by with a chain saw in their truck bed and have the tree cleared away by the time they return home this afternoon.

Speaking of chain saws,
o we have to stop on the way to church to take a picture of the World's Largest Working Chain Saw and the World's Largest Working Rifle at Da Yooper Tourist Trap (folks from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, abbreviated U.P., sometimes refer to themselves as Yoopers). The Chain Saw (affectionately known as "Big Gus") has a GMC V-8 truck engine and weighs 3,500 lbs. The rifle--"Big Ernie"-- is 35 feet long and weighs 4000 pounds. It is fired with propane, using an electrical igniter. There are many other oddities in the parking lot of the Tourist Trap,
but we have to be on our way to church, so we pass them by.

We make it to Marquette right on time. Dick sits in the car and studies maps for our afternoon travels east while I practice with the choir. Everyone is wonderfully welcoming. The sermon will be given by a Native American professor, and we are singing an anthem based on famous words of Chief Seattle, which align beautifully with one of our seven Unitarian Universalist Principles: "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." Chief Seattle's words: "Man did not weave the web of life—he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

Only tonight, as I am doing a little internet research on Chief Seattle, do I learn that he never uttered these poetic words, and the rest of the words in our anthem, which are so often attributed to him. They were written by Ted Perry, a screenwriter for Home, a 1972 film about ecology. Chief Seattle is now remembered as a fictional character, rather than the person he was. Hollywood put words in his mouth, and we have lost whatever it was he actually said in his native language, understood by so few of his white listeners. When it comes to the history of Native Americans, our nation often prefers to substitute romanticized fiction for fact, as our reading of historic markers all across America has demonstrated.

After church, we have a farewell lunch with Jan and Jim at a classic north woods roadhouse. Then, we head east and they return to Wolf's Echo. We are already looking forward to their winter migration to Savannah.

Our plan is to cross over to Canada at Sault Ste. Marie (or The Soo, as they say up here), take roads through Canada that follow the north shore of Lake Huron's North Channel and Georgian Bay, then skirt the west side of Toronto, cross into New York at Fort Erie, and end up in Webster, New York. We are looking forward to the trip around Lake Huron, because we spent the summer of 2005 exploring this area aboard Starsong. We have warm enduring memories of the sparkling clear water, the natural beauty of the rocky shores and wild islands, and the charming small towns and isolated areas we visited.

We drive for a couple hours through Michigan's north woods, and cross the bridge between the U.S. Soo and the Canadian Soo at 4 p.m. No worries about rush hour here—the towns are small and far flung. We get a few peeks at the North Channel as we pass through tiny lakefront settlements. Most of the handful of motels we see in the first hundred miles or so look like no one has run a paint brush over them in about twenty years. All the motels seem to have an on-premises restaurant, since they can't depend on any other restaurant within an hour's drive to stay in business to serve their clientele.

We stop at the first big town along the North Channel, Blind River (pop. 3,280). When we try to make our way to the lakefront, we find that the town is cut off from the lake by railroad tracks, and all the houses near the lake look like they are on the wrong side of the tracks. Our motel, the Auberge Eldo Inn, is along the highway and has a restaurant, like the other motels in town. The restaurant is about 90 degrees and empty, so we decide to try elsewhere. We eat at the most popular of the three motel restaurants in town, where the food is okay, but the service is interminably slow, because just one server has to cover the whole restaurant and help out in the kitchen.

In the morning, our motel serves a complimentary full hot breakfast in its restaurant. The same man who checked us in last night prepares us excellent breakfasts to order in the little restaurant galley this morning, clears our table, collects our room keys and checks us out. We hope he at least has some help cleaning the rooms!

Although the highway looks like it runs along the lakeshore on the map, our views of the North Channel turn out to be few. And we realize that, come to think of it, our favorite parts of the North Channel were the isolated island towns, the wild rocky anchorages with no civilization in sight, and the camaraderie we shared with our boating friends. So, doing the North Channel by car falls short of our expectations,
because, well, a car is not a boat, and the mainland is not an island.

We make the turn and head down the east shore of the lake, glimpsing Georgian Bay. We stop for lunch in Parry Sound, one of our favorite ports of call during that magic summer of 2005. We lunch on the porch at the Bay Street Café, across the street from the marina where we docked back then, and nothing here has changed, from the menu to the hanging pots of petunias, so thick with blooms that they almost block our view of the lake. The trains are still clattering across the high trestle that passes over the marina, waking other boaters in the wee hours of the morning, no doubt. The town rises from the lake on hills so steep that walking its streets makes your legs feel like you are mountain climbing. Dick recalls exactly where to find a bookstore we loved, and it is still there. The streets are full of vacationers with ice cream cones and shopping bags. We are happy to reclaim at least a little piece of our Georgian Bay memories.

Our ebullient spirits do not last long. By the time we get to the far outskirts of Toronto, it is 4 p.m., and rush hour is in full swing. Complicating the traffic tangles, the Queen Elizabeth Way super highway is in the middle of a construction process that eventually merges its twelve lanes of traffic into two. It takes us 45 minutes to go half a mile, and when we get off the expressway to seek a road that has less traffic, we make a couple bad decisions, and are in a worse traffic tie-up going the wrong way. Dick goes ballistic for the first time of the entire trip (and only the third time I can recall in the past ten years or so). Everything about our three hour odyssey traversing the far outskirts of Toronto is bad, very bad, including the gas station rest room. All hopes of getting to Rochester in time for dinner evaporate, as we subsist on our Diet Pepsis and dark chocolate M&Ms.

Eventually we find our way clear, there is no line at the border crossing, and once we get on the New York State Thruway, we can practically put the car on autopilot, since we have done this drive so often. Fortunately, Dad and June are night owls, so we can get in a quick visit at 9:30, after we finally make it to Webster.

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