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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Trip of a Lifetime

The Eagle Has Landed

By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

A Note to the Reader

Ed and Brenna are back on the river with two new partners, but Jack doesn't know that, and he's decided to take matters into his own hands. What happens next? Read on to find out.

A REMINDER This is a work of fiction. All the characters are figments of the authors' imaginations. It's NOT a paddling guide. If you're planning a trip on the Albany River, consult the most recent edition of a good guide-book and be sure you're thoroughly familiar with all applicable regulations. While maps of Ontario show some of the waterways mentioned here, the places depicted in our story exist only in the authors' minds—and in yours.

If you've missed a chapter of our Trip, or if you're joining us for the first time and you want to catch up, just use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat Archives. It's all there.

Our story continues….

November 5, 2002

Chapter Twenty-Eight

One o'clock in the morning, or near enough. A still and sticky night. Two distant fishermen tending a night-line coughed, one after the other, and the echoes reverberated for miles along the river. Joe Hunter squatted on his haunches on the boathouse walkway, listening. He seldom moved, and when he did, he made very little noise. The night, like the river, was an old and trusted friend.

And apart from the now-receding echoes and the lapping of waves against the boathouse piers, all was quiet. The international border between Canada and the United States was closed now, as it had been since the Independence Day Attack. Police and military patrols moved up and down the St. Lawrence on both sides of the river. But Joe wasn't worried. This latest white man's squabble wasn't his concern, and the tribal police knew just when and where to turn a blind eye. Business is business, after all, and money talks. It was, Joe thought, the closest thing to a universal language. He chuckled quietly.

Startled by the sound, Jack turned to look at his old friend. Joe placed a reassuring hand on Jack's arm and then motioned toward the river, but he said nothing to break the silence. Then he stood up, stretched, and swung down into the waiting 24-foot runabout, turning to help Jack negotiate the unfamiliar drop. When Jack had settled himself, Joe started the big inboard. It made surprisingly little noise. Joe reversed into the channel, swinging the bow downriver as the hull felt the current. The boat gained way slowly, the chuckle of the bow wave almost drowning out the rhythmic thrum of the well-muffled engine.

Jack noticed that his teeth were chattering. But he wasn't cold. The warm summer air streamed by, enfolded him like a comforter. It was only excitement—like shipping out for the first time. Only excitement! A little bit of excitement went a long way at his age, Jack reflected. Maybe Molly was right. Maybe he was being an old fool. But that was beside the point. He'd made his decision

The runabout gained speed effortlessly. Joe negotiated the river bends, now in the buoyed channel, now out of it. The dark, tree-shrouded banks slid by. Soon they left the Raquette and entered the St. Lawrence. Joe opened the throttle. The thrum of the engine became a roar, and the runabout came up on plane. Black water rushed aft on both sides of them as the boat sped toward the distant lights of Canada.

Jack's thick hair was blown back. The enveloping comforter had become a wet towel, pummelling him in the face and chest. Joe swung the boat's bow to starboard, heading for a stretch of shoreline where no lights shone. The runabout now flew from the crest of one roller to the next, landing hard each time. The noise of rushing air was deafening. Jack found himself clutching his seat. He forced himself to relax his grip, and noticed with relief that his teeth had stopped chattering.

The two men sped headlong into the black night. Jack closed his eyes. In a minute he was asleep.

A jab in the ribs woke him up. Joe was grinning. The runabout idled next to a small dock, its exhaust burbling quietly. The branches of a giant willow shut out the sky. Jack could hear the faint thwok, thwok, thwok of a helicopter, but it was a long way off, and it seemed to be moving away. Then a woman's voice broke the companionable silence. "Hullo," she said. "Catch anything?"

"You betcha," Joe replied. "Strangest damn' thing I ever found in my net, though. Some sort of sea eagle." And he slapped Jack between the shoulder blades.

"Can't hardly wait to see it," the woman replied. Her voice was a husky contralto. "Why don't you land your catch right here?"

"Don't mind if I do," Joe replied. "Had enough fishing for one night, anyway. Good time for a little drive on the river. See the sights. That sort of thing."

"Whatever turns you on," the woman replied, reaching down for Jack's arm. Joe thrust a small duffle into Jack's other hand. "Good bye, you old bastard," he said. "And take care. Molly's waitin' for you. That's a good woman you got there. Someone to come back to, like."

Jack struggled to his feet and clambered up onto the dock, helped by the young woman. He turned toward Joe. "Thanks for everythin'," he said. "Be seein' ya soon."

Joe nodded. He opened the throttle, and the runabout moved slowly off. In a minute it was lost in the night. Only the rumble of the motor gave a clue as to its whereabouts.

"Anne Laughing Deer." It was the woman's voice.

"Huh?" said Jack, turning to face her. He was still feeling a bit groggy.

The woman laughed. "Me," she said. "Anne Laughing Deer. Call me Anne. And you …you must be the famous Sea Eagle."

"Don't know about famous," the old man replied, "but Jack'll do fine."

"Pleased to meetcha, Jack. Hope you're enjoying your stay in Indian Country." And then the young woman laughed again.

*   *   *

Low-lying clouds obscured the stars. All Brenna could see were shadows of varying shades of charcoal and black. The river hurried them along. Sometimes a sibilant hiss warned them of a gravel bar ahead. More often, however—far too often—the first indication was the judder of the canoe grinding to a sudden stop. Some of these landings had been hard ones, too. She'd already been thrown forward across the stern thwart three times. And each time they ran aground, they had to jump out onto the bar and haul the boats over, stumbling and cursing in the dark. It was getting old fast, and the infrequent rocky shoals were even worse than the gravel bars. Brenna was soaked and cold and miserable.

Not that they had any choice. With air patrols flying along the Albany by day, night travel was their only hope. Discovery meant detention—for all of them. Fortunately, night patrols were rare so far. Brenna hoped that they'd stay that way. She had no illusions about their being able to evade a determined search.

The decision to gamble everything on a one-way trip hadn't been easy, but as Sergei kept insisting, they were all in the same boat now, and the news bulletins they'd managed to pick up on Pavel's ancient shortwave receiver had made it perfectly clear that their best bet lay in heading downriver. And what happened after that? That was the big unknown. Staying put at the Russians' camp was out of the question, and daylight travel was far too risky. They'd all agreed about those things. But what would happen when they got to the Bay?

"We improvise," Sergei said, shrugging his shoulders. Nobody had a better answer. So that was that.

But first they had to reach Fort Albany. And that meant making the most of the summer nights. The lazy, languid days early in their trip, days filled with new discoveries and the joys of exploration—those days were soon forgotten.

Now Brenna's attention was occupied by more mundane matters. Her wrist ached. Her thighs were chafed raw with constant wetting and endless wading. And to make matters still worse, a cold drizzle had started to fall. It swirled around the two boats and their huddled occupants. Brenna cursed her luck in a steady, profane monotone, directing her words toward Sergei's barely visible back. Not much more than a boat-length to her left, she heard a paddle bang against the gunwale of the Russians' battered Grumman, followed by a string of Russian epithets and Ed's muffled laughter. That was another reason to be angry, she thought. It was bad enough to be feeling their way down a big, powerful, wild river in the dark, but to have to do it with a stranger in the bow…!

Still, she had to admit that it made sense. Neither Pavel nor Sergei was much of a canoeist at the start, though both were proving to be good bowmen—strong paddlers and good companions through the frantic hours of the too-short nights. Now, Sergei was chuckling. "I had no idea how…ah…expressive the English language could be," he said, speaking just loudly enough to make himself heard over Brenna's litany of epithets. "You have opened my eyes to its many possibilities."

Brenna blushed unseen in the dark. For some time afterward, she stayed silent as the current drove them onward toward the Bay.

Later—how much later, Brenna didn't know, since her watch was buried in her pack—a hollow boom told her that Ed and Pavel had gone aground. Within seconds, the Tripper, too, had struck hard. She kept her seat this time, but Sergei pitched forward onto the bow deck. Brenna heard echoes of her earlier profanity as he struggled back upright. "See," he said. "My English is improving!" And then they clambered out into the cold, rushing water to free the big boat. Despite the tug of the frigid current, both were laughing.

Suddenly, a lone dog barked downriver. Soon others joined the chorus. Sergei's laughter stopped. "The Reserve," he said. His voice was now a hoarse, penetrating whisper. "Unless I am very much mistaken, we must be near the Ogoki. I am afraid our brief holiday is over."

Silent now, he and Brenna worked the Tripper over toward the place where Ed and Pavel had grounded. A whispered conference followed. It was short and to the point.

"It would not do to go aground opposite the Reserve at dawn," Sergei began. "So I suggest that we see what sort of bivouac we can make on the opposite shore—now."

"And then?" asked Ed.

"And then we wait for dark," Sergei replied.

"Agreed," whispered Ed. Brenna and Pavel only nodded.

Brenna looked toward Ed, his face just visible in the light of the false dawn. "Upstream ferry?" she said. It was more a statement than a question.

"Yep," was all Ed said.

"Those dogs…," Pavel interjected tiredly. "Dogs are not civilized animals. That is why I prefer horses."

Ed made a noise which could have been a whispered whinny. It was the last sound anyone made. The four travelers muscled their boats around. The bowmen got in, and the stern paddlers prepared to shove off. There were no wasted motions. All was purposeful activity. Slowly, painfully, the two boats crept toward the right bank of the Albany, driven sideways by the force of the current against their bows.

The Tripper reached shore first. Hoping to avoid a noisy landfall, Pavel leapt out of the bow of the Grumman in order to hold it steady in the current. He misjudged the depth. Floundering and spluttering, he struggled toward shore, clinging to the painter and finding his feet just as the Grumman was about to ground stern-first.

Everyone was quiet. Everyone listened. But the dogs had fallen silent, and there was no challenge in the night. A quick search along the bank in the half-light revealed a swampy tributary. Soon both canoes had been floated up the tiny stream. The cold drizzle continued to fall, and the four exhausted paddlers took advantage of whatever shelter they could find among a tangle of spruce and stunted pine. Ponchos were pulled out of packs. Pavel handed round a soggy bannock, saved from their last breakfast. No one had much of an appetite, but everyone was thirsty. Water bottles were passed from hand to hand. Sergei took the first watch while the others slept—or tried to sleep. Brenna was dead tired, but she found it all but impossible to doze off. Soon Sergei was shaking her shoulder. "Your turn," he said, handing her his bulky wristwatch. "Wake Pavel in four hours." And then he curled up into a ball. In seconds, he was snoring.

To her disgust, Brenna now found it hard to keep her eyes open. The dark of night had given way to a gloomy, gray day. The drizzle continued. Brenna glanced down the tunnel of the creek toward the Albany. Nothing moved on the big river. She pulled her pack over toward her and rummaged through it. Her fingers closed on what she'd been looking for. "Hurray!" she thought. Her hand emerged from her pack clutching a large Hershey bar.

"You're going to share, I hope."

Brenna whirled round. Ed was grinning at her from the dark recesses of his poncho hood. "Oh, all right," she said, petulantly, and she handed him a piece of the chocolate.

"And save some for those two," Ed added, nodding at Pavel and Sergei.

Brenna opened her mouth to protest, but Ed interrupted her. "We're in the same boat, aren't we?" he asked, winking. Brenna found that she had no answer to that one, so she set half the bar to one side. She and Ed ate the other half together, watching the drizzle swirl over the little creek.

"Get some rest," Ed said, after they'd finished the last morsel. He leaned over to give her a quick kiss. "I'll keep an eye on things."

Before another minute had passed, Brenna was sound asleep.

When she awoke, it was early evening, and a thick mist was creeping down the river from the north. Sergei and Pavel were eating. Brenna noticed that they had divided the remainder of the chocolate bar between them. Both men grinned at her. "Thank you," they said with one voice. "Perhaps," Pavel added, "you and Ed will come to visit us at our ranch in Montana. After all this is over, of course."

"I would like that," Brenna replied. "Very much."

Pavel and Sergei smiled. Then they licked the last crumbs of chocolate from their hands.

More food was dug out of packs, and Brenna heated water for tea on the Optimus. It was the first hot drink they'd had in more than a day.

Hours passed. Ed napped. Sergei, Pavel, and Brenna watched the river. The daylight faded into the long twilight of the North. As the mist darkened from gray to black, Sergei nudged Ed awake: "It is not yet night, but it is time to go, I think."

"Yes," said Ed, sleepily. He removed his rain-streaked glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Yes," he repeated, "it is time to go."

In the shrouded half-light, the river was now all shade and shadow. As they paddled along, they heard a single dog bark from time to time. Once they even heard a snatch of music from a radio. But there was no repetition of the previous night's grounding, and before they knew it, the Ogoki was behind them.

"Looks like we made it," Ed whispered to Brenna, as the two boats drifted closer together on a straight stretch of the river.

Squinting ahead, trying to see through the thickening mist, Brenna felt relief wash over her. "Looks like," she replied.

Just as she spoke, a single clod of earth tumbled down the high riverbank to the north. It splashed when it hit the water. After that, everything was silent.

*   *   *

Jack was tired, and he desperately wanted a little shut-eye. But sleep just wouldn't come. He wasn't surprised, though. There were some places where an old man shouldn't plan on taking a nap, and one of those places is the shuddering womb of a helicopter in flight. Especially when that helicopter is a Twin Huey dumped on the civilian market by the Canadian military and flown by a tobacco-chewing madman into the teeth of a freshening gale.

"Well," Jack muttered, "I guess I asked for it." The thought didn't give him any comfort. The chopper rattled loudly and shook with such violence that Jack was sure he'd have no fillings left in his teeth by the time they touched down. IF they touched down. He wasn't so sure that they would. Each time a gust buffeted the chopper, the pilot let out an ear-splitting "Whoop!" It must have been ear-splitting, because Jack could hear it over all the other noises assailing his ears. And then Philip—that was the pilot's name—grinned a good-natured jack-o'-lantern grin, while rivulets of ropey brown juice trickled down his chin.

Jack tore his glance away and looked out at the endless bog unrolling beneath them. It didn't look like a good place for a walk. He hoped they'd stay airborne. Still, he'd come a long way in a very short time, passed from hand to hand like a valuable parcel. He hadn't fully appreciated how far Joe's influence stretched, nor had he ever experienced such kindness and generosity from perfect strangers.

His trip north had begun when Anne Laughing Deer had driven him to a lonely, tumbledown farmhouse in scrubland not far from the St. Lawrence. There he found a Cessna two-seater waiting for him, piloted by an skinny, taciturn kid who wore dark glasses even in the murky dawn light.

The kid could fly, though. After a flight that seldom took them higher than the tops of the tallest trees, they touched down on a dirt strip next to a cluster of frame shacks, nestled among an infinity of spruces. Here Jack learned that he'd be picked up by a de Havilland Beaver carrying a cargo of groceries and other supplies to a Native community further north. While he waited, he was force-fed hot moose stew and ice-cold beer. Whatever hardships he might have to endure on this fool's errand, he decided, hunger wasn't one of them.

Jack had no idea where he was, and he didn't ask. The de Havilland's pilot, a cousin of Anne Laughing Deer's husband, took Jack over to his own house and gave him a bed while he got his plane ready. Jack didn't get to sleep long, though. No sooner had his head hit the pillow than he was being shaken awake. Minutes later, a mug of sweet black coffee cut by condensed milk was thrust into his hands, and he was staggering through a cold drizzle to the de Havilland, all warmed up and ready to go. When he stepped out onto land again, Jack smelled sea air and salt mud. Then he was handed over to Julius, a short, stocky Cree wearing hip boots and a red sweatshirt. After offering Jack a can of Coke and a moose meat sandwich, Julius lifted his Twin Otter floatplane off its river berth in a haze of spray.

The Twin Otter dropped Jack off in Moosonee, at the bottom of James Bay. ("You're back on the map now!" Julius joked as they said goodbye.) There was no meal stop this time, however. Before he knew it, Jack was on the last stage of his journey, strapped into the left seat of the lemon yellow power-company Huey. They were on their way north, following the transmission line that ran from Moosonee to Fort Albany. A cold front was sagging down the Bay, and the pilot wanted to get home before the worst of the weather hit. "Saves me from havin' to clean the cockpit afterward," he joked. Jack didn't laugh.

At long last, but a lot sooner than he'd have thought possible, Jack saw the settlement of Fort Albany below him. A big river—the Albany, Jack guessed—flowed in from the west like a wide silver ribbon, and James Bay spread out far to the north and south along the eastern horizon. Jack noticed a small boat motoring slowly upriver toward the settlement. The boat was nothing but a speck. He pointed to it and jerked his head in silent inquiry.

Philip laughed, and Jack could only just hear his shouted reply. "That's prob'ly Crazy Dog. His right name's Adam Beauchamp, but he's a little…you know…special. Good waterman, maybe, but he's gonna kill hisself one day, goin' out on the Bay in that Rupert House canoe of his. Huntin', fishin', trappin', he do it all. Folks tink he drowned, dead, lots of times, but he always come back. Always got somethin' in his boat, too. His luck's gonna run out someday, though. Bound to."

Jack craned round to keep an eye on the boat while Philip circled Fort Albany. The pilot landed the chopper in a small field behind a log house with a metal roof. Despite the shifting, strengthening gusts, he set it down with barely a bump. Twenty or more dogs immediately began to howl in unison, jerking furiously at their chains. Each had a small house of its own. "My dogs," Philip said proudly. "Chopper's OK, sure, but the old ways, you know, they still sometimes best." And then he grinned his jack-o'-lantern grin. "The eagle has landed, eh? Welcome to Fort Albany."

End of Book II

True North

Copyright 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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