Friday, June 29, 2018

Lac Seul Sojourn

As long as I live I will remember my mother's sudden stop
outside the cabin in Lac Seul that was our unexpected new home,
and her tired, baffled question,
"Why is all that heavy wire nailed over the windows?"

Nor will I forget Fritz's answer, "To keep the bears out."

I think that was the lowest point for my mother in a very long time.
Her shoulders sagged, and then she squared them and walked into the tiny cabin,
a shouldering of determination I have seen her do at difficult times in her life.

My Mother in More Carefree Days
Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada
Circa 1947
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The "Boys" set our suitcases in the middle of the front room.
Fritz showed us around,
while John grabbed two buckets and went to the lake get us water.

The small front room contained a cot to the right of the door
under two wire-covered windows,
one above the head of the cot to the right of the door
and one in the adjacent wall.
The only other piece of furniture in the room
was a small, tall table between the door and the cot.

Across the narrow room a door led to the biggest room in the cabin,
a bedroom with an iron bunk bed, a double bed, and a crib
lined up along the back wall of the cabin.
The crib tucked under the one wire-covered window on the far left side of the room.
Unlike the living room, the walls were unfinished.
The logs of the cabin were nailed to the backs of visible studs,
and the gaps between the logs were filled with a mortar-like chinking. 

There was no debating who had the crib (Bertie)
and who shared the double bed (Donnie and Barbie).
Roy and I shared the bunk bed.
I have no memory of how I won out with the top bunk;
but I did, and I had it the entire summer.

Roy sometimes kicked the bottom of my bunk out of sheer devilment,
but I had the perfect object for revenge: 
a small, scraggily wolfskin with yellow glass eyes
that I bought for 25¢ at the Hudson's Bay early on in our Lac Seul sojourn.

I'd dangle that wolfskin by its tail from the top bunk in the dark of the night,
carefully move the body over sleeping Roy's face,
and tickle his nose with the wolf's cold one.
When he woke with a scream, I'd yank it back and stuff it under my blankets.
Revenge can be so satisfying.

Grey Wolf Fur Skin

The last room was the kitchen, which we entered from the front room.
A cast iron wood stove stood to the left of the door
and a large kitchen table with chairs to the right.
A back door beyond the table led outside.
Upper cupboards and lower cupboards with a countertop lined the end wall of the cabin.
Windows on three sides made the kitchen the brightest in our three roomed-cabin.

Our one source of light was a hurricane lamp
which Fritz had showed Mom how to light by the time John returned with water.

The Boys left and took with them all the excitement of a wild day.
Here we were, but we didn't know where,
just a cabin in the bush somewhere out of Sioux by plane and boat.

Somewhere out of Sioux by Plane
Lac Seul, Northwestern Ontario, Canada
Summer 1976
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My mother slapped together some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
while I mixed a pitcher of Kool-Aid.
Then she made up five beds while we ate our cold supper.
My younger sisters were practically falling asleep over their plates,
slowly biting and chewing their sandwiches
and sipping their Kool-Aid without a word.

As soon as my mother had Bertie in her crib,
she shepherded a cranky Donnie and Barbie to and from the outhouse.
It stood a hundred feet or so up the gentle slope from the kitchen door,
a short walk on a rough path.

My younger sisters were none too thrilled about sharing
a smelly, two-holed outhouse buzzing with flies.
Fortunately it had a roll of toilet paper and a flyswatter.

With Donnie and Barbie tucked in for the night,
Mom ordered Roy and me to bed early;
and, one by one, we made our reluctant trips up the hill to the outhouse,
grumbling that we had to go to bed before sunset.

A knock at the front door startled me, just as I was drifting off to sleep.
Mom opened the door, and Fritz entered from the small enclosed porch carrying a shotgun.

"I know you're worried about bears," he said.
"They're not likely to bother you, but I thought you'd feel safer with this."

I fell asleep as Fritz was showing my mother
how to fire the shotgun:
"Don't worry about aiming carefully.
Just point and shoot,
because the shot sprays."  

Fritz Garrick
Lac Seul, Summer 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Mom often said that she didn't sleep a wink that night,
but I know that wasn't true.
The inevitable happened, and in the middle of the night,
I woke up having to go to the bathroom.

I was scared to death at the thought of trekking to the outhouse in the dark;
but the more I tried to convince myself that I didn't have to go,
the more I needed to go.
Finally desperation drove me out of my bunk.

I tiptoed into the front room.
Mom was sound asleep on the cot with Gretchen curled up at her feet.
The shotgun lay on the floor under the edge of the cot.
Gretchen gave me the once-over as I crept by,
stretching, yawning, and closing her eyes.

I slipped out the kitchen door, kept my head down, and streaked for the outhouse.
I stopped halfway up the path.
Although it was a moonless night, to my surprise, I could see the rough path.

I looked up.  A million stars gleamed brightly,
and northern lights shimmered in red and green curtains rippling in the sky.
I turned around and saw the aurora's reflections moving on the surface of Lac Seul, 
and a cloudy band of light, the Milky Way, glowed toward the south.

The Milky Way (left) and the Glow of Northern Lights (right)
Algonquin Park in North-Central Ontario, Canada
September 2014
Flickr ~ Malcom Park   License

I raced up to the outhouse wondering if a bear was lurking about.
The good thing about an outhouse in the middle of night
in the middle of the bush is that you can leave the door open.

I remember debating with myself:
Is it better to leave the door open so I can see a bear coming?
Is it better to close the door so the bear can't see me in the outhouse?

Beauty won.  I sided with the open door.

The stars and aurora weren't the only lights.
Hundreds of fireflies winked on and off
in the rough fields around our dark cabin and the Garrick's dark home.

The enchantment of the warm summer night lured me out to a grassy patch on the hill
where I sat down and drank in the beauty of the stars, the northern lights, and the fireflies.
The aurora teased me with dancing shafts of red and green
that reached for me on the hill, pulled up, and dove for me again.
The light spoke to me in crackles and buzzes and held me in its elemental spell.

I might have sat there till dawn outshone the aurora,
but crazy laughter broke out on the water near the fish house,
answered by quavering laughter across the cove.
Other voices erupted in eerie wails and shrill yodels,
raising the hairs on my arms and sending a chill down my back.

I froze where I sat and stopped breathing;
then I realized what I was hearing:
the haunting voices of loons calling to each other on the water.
I had heard loons before, but never such a variety of calls nor in the middle of the night.

Night Loon
Algonquin Park in North-Central Ontario, Canada
September 2014
Flickr ~ KSI Photography   License

Reluctantly I stood and walked back to our dark, stuffy cabin,
tiptoed past my sleeping mother and Gretchen,
and scrambled up into my bunk in our crowded bedroom.

Two nights before I had fallen to sleep in Lansdowne House.
One night before a pervert had molested me in a train car full of people.
This night I heard the chatter of the northern lights and a chorus of loons,
in a place I had never heard of until we flew in earlier in the day.
It was a long time before the voices and images swirling
in my overwrought brain stilled, and I could escape into sleep.

Northern Lights, Canada
June 2013
Flickr ~ Dustin Gaffke   License

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Point Prim, Near Digby
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Post Referred To:  TLL: Life Disrupted

2.  The Boys:
     Fritz (37) and John (22) Garrick, whose family cabin we were renting:  They were commercial
     fishermen on Lac Seul.

3.  Sioux:  Local people often referred to Sioux Lookout as "Sioux."

4.  The Milky Way:
      The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System.  The band of light we see is
      multitudes of stars that the naked eye cannot distinguish among.  Our galaxy is a barred spiral
      galaxy, and our Solar System is located within the disc about 26,000 light years from the
      Galactic Center.  Wikipedia

The Milky Way
Kilsyth, Ontario, Canada
September 2013
Flickr ~ Northern Lights Graffiti   License

5.  Fireflies (Lightning Bugs):
     These are winged beetles that uses bioluminescence to attack mates or prey.  Their light is a "cold"
      light with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies.  The yellow, green, or pale red bioluminescence
      is chemically produced from the beetle's lower abdomen.  Wikipedia

You Tube ~ National Geographic

6.  Post Referred To:  The Pervert and the Sandwich Man

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Two Point
Somewhere on Lac Seul
around the question mark 
Also Lac Seul, Sioux Lookout, and Lansdowne House
Northern Ontario, Canada

Lac Seul
Northern Canada
Google Maps  Map Data 2018

Lac Seul near Ear Falls, Ontario, Canada  2012


  1. lol at the wolfskin. Did he ever find out what you were doing? Having a shotgun handy must have made her feel a little safe from the bears. But keeping it out of reach of you guys must have made her a little nervous. Blah to the outhouse. Bears and outhouse in the night, yeah, see ya. Bet the lights were sure something to see. Don't think I've ever heard loons call.

    1. Yes, Roy did find out about the wolfskin. The kicking/wolfskin squabbles escalated until Mom, backed by Dad read us the riot act: If there was another fight, the person who started it would be demoted to the double bed, and Donnie would get the lower bunk. In the last squabble we had, Roy and I were shouting at each other in the middle of the night and pulling on opposite ends of the wolfskin, me on the top bunk, Roy on the bottom. Mom confiscated my wolfskin for several days, and warned us that the next instigator would be in the double bed. We obeyed, because neither one of us wanted to get stuck in the double bed with Barbie.

      We were brought up around rifles (my dad was a marksman and shooting instructor), and we knew not to touch them. Mom kept the shotgun well under the cot, and we were rarely, if ever, in the cabin without her. I'm sure she worried, but we were more worried about Dad skinning us alive if we touched it. You would have had a tough time with the outhouse ~ LOL The northern lights will always be one of the most spectacular things I've seen in my life. I'd love to see them again. Many of the stars where I live now are invisible because of development. Enjoy the weekend, my rhyming friend!

  2. Quite a change in just a couple nights.
    I bet seeing the stars and everything else so clearly was amazing.

    1. Hi, Alex! You're right ~ It was amazing! I miss seeing the stars I saw in my youth. When I was small and living in rural Nova Scotia, the Milky Way was spectacular. In the north we saw more of the disc and less of the core because of the higher latitude; but with no light pollution, literally no light at Two Point on Lac Seul, the stars were unforgettably beautiful. Bluff, Utah (near Monument Valley) had fabulous views of the Milky Way thirty to forty years ago, but the skies are hazier now, so the view isn't quite what it was. People who have never experienced a truly dark sky have no idea what we have lost to light pollution. Have a great weekend with your wife!

  3. With the threat of bears in the area, I would've held it until morning. I remember staying at my grandparents' cabin as a kid and the outhouse was just ten feet from the back door, but I still wouldn't go out at night.

    1. Lucky you, Diane! To this day if I wake up and have to go, I can't hold on till morning. I went on digs a couple of summers with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and I would wake up every night and have serious conversations with myself about staying in my sleeping bag. Eventually out I'd bolt, running for the nearest sagebrush because I was too scared to hike to our latrine. There were always kangaroo rats hopping about and other things. I don't miss outhouses! Enjoy your weekend!

  4. What lovely writing, I think I held my breath when you went out to the outhouse, I was afraid of a bear for you but instead, I was thrilled with the Milky Way, Northern Lights, fireflies and loons! And just the night before...what down and up emotions for a child. xx

    1. Thanks, Kay! I worked hard on this post trying to capture what I experienced in words. Emotional whiplash for me. The trauma of what happened to me on the train didn't slam me until later in the summer, and it impacted me into my thirties. Sending you a big hug, my friend!

  5. What a tumultuous time that was in your family's life and in your own life in particular! I'm glad there was that moment of beauty and grace, though, under the starlit night sky with the northern lights and the loons.

    1. You captured it perfectly, Debra! That night was a moment of beauty and grace. Nature has always soothed my soul. Have a great weekend with your Rare One!

  6. Outhouse, we call them a "longdrop" and we had one for almost a year while our other home was being built, when the 4 of us lived in a caravan. Bravery beyond what we could imagine for your Mum, and your words evoke so many feelings, as always, I could be there. The best writing of all when it inspires this.

    1. I laughed at "longdrop." What a perfect description, Jean! I'll bet you were really glad to move into your new home! My mother had a core of steel until she lapsed into unconsciousness for the last time. I admire her more than anyone else I have ever known. Thanks for your kind words about my writing. I worked had on this piece. I hope that you and Hugh have a nice winter weekend. We hit 105º F/40º C yesterday, tying a record. Too hot ~ enjoy the cool!

  7. That's the thing about shotguns, worthless at mid to long range, best weapon to have in close quarters

    1. Hi, Adam! That's exactly why Fritz brought my mother a shotgun! Having the shotgun made her feel a little better, but not much. I hope that you and Daisy have a great weekend! Take care!

  8. Greetings Louise. A well-written piece that I enjoyed reading. Sorry you had the scare of bears! Tut. Sounds like your outhouse at the time was a mission, but I'm so glad you got to enjoy the lights in the area at the time. I'm glad you were trained not to touch lethal weapons. You mother was a strong woman to handle firearms and use them if the situation warranted it. You and your brother were sure mischievous with each-other, I bet the first time you drooped the wolf skin over his face was a real scare! Ha. You had to contend with a lot at such a young age. Blessings to you. Love love, Andrew.

    1. Hi, Andrew! Thank you for your thoughtful comment! Roy and I had a blast together when we were kids. As our younger sisters grew older, they joined in. I don't know how my mother did it ~ LOL! But then, most mothers had a lot on their hands. Have a good one, Andrew!

  9. I really don't know how you all carried on. I'd collapse.


  10. What a beautiful way you described that night!! I could see it and feel it! Thank you for your writings Louise! Happy Canada Day! Big Hugs!

  11. Another name for you story should be the adventures of Louise. Your mother is so brave to go to this remote cabin and have someone give her a shotgun...just in case. So scary. And how about you, sitting and watching those stars with a sense of wonder and one eye on the lookout. As always your pictures enhance the story. This memoir is amazing.

  12. I really, REALLY hope you are considering putting this all into a memoir and publishing it. So many memories, so vivid!!!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.