Thursday, August 22, 2013

Egg Island Retreat

Mid-summer and not a single multi-day trip on the river. I decided to just bail from the house and camp out on Egg Island for a few days. Not far downriver from our home, Egg Island, like most of the islands and sandbars in the Yukon River, is egg-shaped. However, unlike many of the other egg-shaped islands, Egg Island is in a good place to go camping. Thus it is celebrated by being named Egg Island.

Launching the boat at Takhini Crossing is sometimes a challenge. Loaded for a trip it is heavy and once in the river it wants to leave on the current. Launching solo requires finesse, back the truck up to the river's edge, tie off the boat to a tree, carefully lay out the painter so the truck doesn't run over it as the trailer is backed into the river. When the top of the trailer fenders are underwater - hopefully before the truck starts to float - jam the brakes on, watch the boat float off the trailer (or not, in which case start over) and once it is clear drive the truck forward pulling the trailer from under the boat. Quickly jump out of the truck, grab the painter and pull the boat fast to shore and then jump back into the truck and get out of the boat ramp. Finally return to the boat, pull on the life jacket and start the trip. Maybe the engine starts right away or maybe you decide to float downstream for the first few minutes.

Its a short run to Egg Island. Past the Adamson fish camp - only another week or so until the salmon arrive - and around the bend I pull up on the downstream end of the island and nuzzle into the bank close by the camp spot. Unload the boat, carry the drybag with tent, clothes and sleeping bag to the camp site, haul the kitchen box and cooler over to the picnic table in the grove of spruce and heave ropes and tarp under the table for later.

Previous visitors have left a sculpture. A short log stands upright under a tripod of driftwood sticks. On top of the log is an array of tiny pine cones looking like plump little dancers in a circle. On one side a long slim willow wand is anchored in the sand, the sharpened end points at one of the pine cones. Perhaps a boreal forest pine cone henge? Later during my stay I move the wand slightly walking by and magically the pine cones, each leaning on the next, begin to turn and spin on top of the log. Each cone follows its own erratic curve off the edge of the log. While it offered only one performance I am impressed by the maestro who set this up.

I settle in with a good book and watch the river. A loud buzz catches my ear. Before I can place the sound a brilliant red float plane roars past, not more than 5 metres above the water slightly more from the trees shielding me from its wingtip. I stop worrying about mosquitoes after that.

After dinner and a placid hour or so reading a book beside the river I head to bed. I'm awakened in the darkness by the sound of rain on the tent fly. Quickly, and naked, I'm out of the tent scrambling through the cold shower groping for the tarp under the picnic table, trying to keep my spread out gear dry. I'm now paying the price for a lazy evening. Back in bed I warm up and slumber into the morning. First job; set up the tarp, then coffee.

Later in the morning I float downriver to the sandbars around the corner where I find eight campers just rising to make breakfast. All are in their late twenties and come from eastern and central Canada. Well educated and already into their careers, cutbacks and economic malaise closed their future and they found each other in the break backing primary labour field, replanting shorn forests in the backwoods of British Columbia. They are recession refugees, economic victims with interrupted lives. One of them had previously lived in Dawson City and they all agreed to a float down the Yukon River after their work ended. Although the future was grey their spirits were high and they were taking advantage of the "found time" in their lives. I wished them the best and continued downriver towards Lake Laberge.

The Duts'al Dhäl (grey rock mountain in the Southern Tutchone language) is at the upper end of the lake. At the base of The Duts'al Dhäl is Chamia (where you set fish nets), the camping spot of Tachokaii - the creator figure of Yukon River Athapaskan culture - where he dreamed the first canoe into existence. A few years ago a First Nation carving group reproduced Tachokaii's work, working through the summer making a traditional cedar canoe. We live in a marvelously rich place. Forest fire smoke from further north wreathed through the valley towards the end of day.

About 5:30 I returned to Takhini Crossing and picked up my wife, just back from work. I opened a bottle of wine and we prepared a fine dinner of spinach salad and cassoulet. The evening passed delightfully with a colourful sunset and the coolness of dusk ushering us to the tent. Early in the morning, after a quick coffee, it was time to return to the car and send her off to work. Another relaxing day on the river for me.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this makes me yearn for a good wide river to paddle down. With my thesis writing these days it's hard to get out of town on the weekends and this adds to the frustrations. But is ever so nice to imagine. Thanks dad. Love, E