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A Mixed Bag
Author's note: Going on this trip was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I had SO much fun despite all the crazy things that happened. The thing is; I wouldn't do it again because there's no way it could be as perfect, is there?
“We’re going to Temagami, and that’s final.” Miss huffed after an uproar of 24 yelling 7th graders shouting things like “I hate canoeing!” “Yeah, canoeing’s boring!” “Canada’s boring!”
Miss (that’s what we call our teacher) made the mistake back in 6th grade of telling us how her boyfriend- our Physics teacher, Mr. Banks- had taken his class to Hawaii. We were then convinced we would be surfing and lying in the sun in Hawaii in the fall of 8th grade. Instead we were expected to canoe long distances and carry 70lb canoes on our head through the woods!
Going canoing in the wilderness would require a lot more gear than the bathing suit and flip flops I’d expected to bring to Hawaii. I made countless trips to outdoor stores that fall. I was able to borrow a few of my brother’s things, but considering I’m a girl, we had to buy all new clothes. Everything had to be waterproof.
“I still need a Nalgene and some caribeaners.” I told my dad checking things off my extensive packing list.
“You also need bamboo socks, they resist water better than wool.” My dad said grabbing a pair as we walked past them in Biviouac. I was already lugging a raincoat, gloves, long underwear, cargo pants galore.
On the day of our departure we met in Windsor at 8pm to get on a bus for a 10 hour road-trip. There were kids from another Waldorf School in Detroit there as well. They all sat in the back of the bus playing some version of Truth or Dare for most of the ride. I sat near the front, but not too close to the teachers sleeping in the front few rows.
Near the end of the ride, when people started dozing off, Lucy ended up falling asleep over both of our seats while I was in the bathroom. So I lay down in the aisle-way. I did not fall asleep, however, because Maggie, who was hopped up on organic jelly beans, was jumping over my head from seat to seat across the isle. I flinched every time, even thought I knew she wouldn’t fall. Maggie’s always jumping around, but she has impeccable balance.
When we finally arrived, we were fogged in. A ocean plane was supposed to take us from the dock where we stood to the camp- Temagami. We arrived just after 6am but the plane couldn’t come until 8:30. “ GAH! I’m freezing!” I complained, running in place to keep my toes from falling off. “Well duh! You’re wearing flip flops.” Lucy pointed at my toes and I shivered. “Think about tropical islands.” My giggly, book-smart, friend Ella suggested. I pushed play on my iPod and we screamed Weezer’s Island in the Sun and dancing like mad, until finally the plane arrived. The plane ride was supposedly beautiful, but I was only awake for about a minute of it. After staying awake for 24 hours my eyes couldn’t stay open anymore. When we landed I stumbled up the path, flopped down on a bunk and fell asleep.
“This.” Said one of the camp’s guides, Matt, “Is a wanigan.” He hoisted a heavy wooden box onto his back and pulled the strap around his head. These carry all our food and supplies. For an estimate, they’re about 15lbs without anything in them.” We then took turns hoisting the backpack-like contraptions on to our back and walking around. We split off into groups and learned how to carry canoes, assemble the tents, put away the cookware so it all fit together.
Somethings you need to know about Temagami:
1. Don’t ask questions about the future.
2. DO NOT ask questions about the future!
3. There are no clocks allowed, so you’ll never know what time it is.
4. And you don’t want to be the one carrying the Cook Wanigan.
Let me explain those rules: at Temagami, part of the “wonder” is to experience life in the moment. We weren’t allowed to know what time it was, because there was no reason to. We had no other plans! We also couldn’t ask where we were going, when we would get there, what we were eating for supper, or like I said any questions about the future. That rule was especially enforced by my group’s leaders, Matt and Claire. Matt even told us a story about the first time he came to Temagami:
A friend of his kept asking about the future and their guide ,Thor, slapped him repeatedly across the face with a bag of leftover oatmeal. After that, Thor assigned Matt as the answerer. He told him everything he’d need to know about the day and then all the kids would ask Matt. He hated it so much, he won’t answer questions about the future anymore. I’m pretty sure the story was embellished, but I avoided questions about the future all the same. Matt, of course, never physically hurt us or anything, he’d just repeat his mantra “Hm, that sounds like a question about the future” and it’d be the end of the conversation.
And last but not least- the dreaded Cook Wanigan. That was the wanigan that contained all the heavy cast iron cookwares. I don’t know how much it weighed, but it was HEAVY. Lucy tells me it was only five pounds less than a canoe.
We set out the next morning divided into three groups. My class was split in two and the Detroit Waldorf class was their own group. Our group was dubbed “Bob-Bob’O’Bob-Obobika” because we started on Bob Lake, then portaged into Bob’O’Bob lake and then took a long muddy portage into Obobika and took that lake all the way back to the final camp, North-Waters- To be clear, Bob’O’Bob was a conveniently unnamed lake so we named it that, they didn’t all just happen to be named Bob.
The first day we stopped for our lunch. I’d heard from my brother that we would be eating delicious bread called Bannock. It’s a circular, dense bread. Cut in to slices like a cake and smothered with peanut butter, so we’d be ensured our fat and protein for the day’s work ahead. We didn’t encounter Bannock during our first luncheon though, because we had to bake it the night before. We had bagels and meatloaf.
“I don’t eat beef or pork.” I informed Matt. “Did you check the box marked ‘Vegetarian’ on your form?” He asked taking a big bite of his bagel. “No, I’m not a vegetarian,” I replied. “Well, we can’t waste our Peanut butter yet, so you’ll just have to have a plain bagel today,” he replied, tossing me one. I sat down on a rock next to Lucy, an excruciatingly observant girl, who pointed out that there were little white blobs of fat in her meatloaf and poked at them for a long time before finally eating it. There’s no where to keep waste except for us to carry it with us so we had to eat everything we were served.
Our first portage was really short. A portage is when you unload all the canoes and carry all the stuff across a bit of land to get to another lake. When we were loaded back up and ready to go we paddled across Bob Lake. The people in the back of the Canoes were the designated Canoe carriers, I sat in the front. I couldn’t manage to pick up a canoe on my own so I couldn’t be a canoe carrier because it is really important when you’re stuck on a portage to be able to pick up your canoe if you drop it.
My job was to carry the wanigan. Mine turned out to be the food wanigan. So it got lighter and lighter over the week, until the end, the only thing in it was a cabbage. My other job was to hold up the tip of the canoe up for my partner when they needed a break. That’s called a Tee-Pee. Unfortunately that happens a lot, so I'd be standing for long periods of time holding up the canoe with a Duluth on my back. A Duluth is a backpack that holds all our personal clothes and sleeping bags. It’s about two feet across and four feet tall.
When we arrived at our campsite for the night, we had to collect fire wood to be able to cook tomorrow’s bannock and supper. Each person was meant to collect two arms width of dry sticks from the forest. The way this usually worked out was: The two leaders and our school chaperon (Matt, Claire, and Mr.Coulter) collected two or three arms widths each. Then Gabe and Alexa would, too. And Lucy, Joy, Val, and I would collect about ½ as much as we should have and then messed around popping sap pimples on pine trees. I actually still have some of those sap stains on my shorts!
We amused ourselves immensely on those long canoe trips, talking about various subjects. Such as quizzing Claire on Canadian candies that we don’t have, playing name games, 20 questions and I spy, and reciting Dr. Seuss in funny tunes wait, that was just me. “I DO NOT like them Sam, I Am!” I would shout while neglecting to paddle for a bit. “I DO NOT like green eggs and ham.” Claire would giggle and give a prompting look at my paddle dragging in the water. “Oops, sorry!” I would yell to whoever was trying to keep the boat moving in the back.
One day, it began drizzling. That day we were just canoeing, no portages. On our way across the lake we began to sing. We sang songs Mr.Banks had taught us to sing during his time served as our Physics teacher. A big part of Waldorf education is singing, playing recorder, or reciting before our Main Lesson. Mr.Banks took that to mean “Take ½ the main lesson forcing the children to sing high soprano songs and then toot them out on your recorder too!” So we’d learned a great deal of song from him by the time we were rowing on the lakes of Canada. We also sang songs from Musicals like Joesph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and Mary Poppins.
As we pulled into our campsite for the night, we were belting a working song we’d learned in 5th grade in three part harmony. “Guys.” Claire said as we were having our “circle time” before bed, looking up into the starry darkness. “I was feeling crappy ‘cause of the rain and then you started singing and it really made my day.” It was a wonderful compliment because as a whole, we were an extremely loud class. But out in the Wilderness, there was no one to tell us to quiet down. I think that’s one of the reasons we got along so well there.
“Dinner is served!” Matt announced. “What are we having?,” Ella asked pulling out her bowl and fork. “Tuna Glop.” Matt replied slapping a ladle full of a sickening colored goo into her bowl. She flinched. “It reminds me of those creepy lunch ladies on TV,” Lucy whispered as we lined up. “What exactly is Tuna Glop?,” Billy insisted before he would let Matt put any in his bowl
“It consists of macaroni noodles, peas, onions, macaroni cheese powder, mushroom soup powder, and optional tuna.” Matt replied slapping some into Billy’s bowl. “It’s so good!” Claire said taking a bit mouthful. “Wanna know who invented it?,” Matt asked excitedly, he loved to tell us stories. “Sure.” Was the general reply, so he started off:
“Once upon a time, right here in this very campsite-” Matt began dramatically. “Wait, really?” Billy asked. “No, but somewhere on his Temagami trip.” Matt replied, then resuming his storytelling posture he went on; “An old man named Albert Cliffston was wanigan shopping, that’s where you just take stuff in your wanigan and throw it all in a pot and see how it turns out. So, he was wanigan shopping and...” He paused. “And?” Ella prompted. “Well, he invented this,” Matt said simply. Plopping some in my bowl. I chuckled and hesitantly took a spoonful. We’d been working pretty hard though so even to the pickiest eaters (Billy and I) it tasted delicious. Though I’m sure it wouldn’t taste nearly as good if I tried to make it again, at least we all enjoyed it that night.
The next evening after a most strenuous portage (known to many as the Mudmatage), all of our joyous attitudes from the day before were no where to be found. We grumbled and groaned all through the wood collecting. When it came time to put up our tents Lucy grabbed the closest one and barked, “Let’s not dawdle today.” Directing the comment at me, since I was the one who would unroll the tent then walk away and let Lucy and Ella finish it up. “Alrighty,” I said pulling the tent bag towards me. “Hey, it’s really jammed tight,” I grunted as I tried to pull it out of its case. Ella grabbed the other end and it finally popped out. Once we’d gotten the tent ready, I picked up one of the poles and shouted “IT’S CRIPPLED!”
Ella and Lucy looked up and laughed. The tent pole was bent at a 60˚ angle in the middle. “There’s no way our tent’s going to stand up if we use that!” Ella whined. All we really wanted was to be in our sleeping bags and relax. We showed Matt the pole. He chuckled and promptly slammed it against a tree to try to straighten it. The pole came out all wavy but it was the best we could do. “It’s a freakin’ crippled grandpa tent!” I shouted angrily when the pole fell down for the 3rd time. “Julia, you’re too mad, Let me try.” Lucy said taking the pole from me in the most civil way she could manage. “I just want this tent to be up!,” Ella groaned when it fell down again. Matt finally got it to stay for us. And we hopped inside without another word to anyone, except maybe a few “Stupid cripple” and other derogatory comments towards the tent.
That night in our tent, there were multiple rampages. One from me about how tough it was Tee-Peeing my partner Gabe all the time because he’d been a gentle man and volunteered to take the heavy canoe. Another rant from Ella, who’d fallen waist deep in the banks of the Mudmatage. And a final from Lucy because she hadn’t gotten a turn in the middle yet because Ella and I were always faster at rolling out our mats. “I always wake up soaking wet!” She whined. Even though the tents were supposed to be water proof, the dew always soaked through the sides and dampened whoever was on the edge.
We’d been cursing up a storm rather unusual for us and swearing in increasingly louder voices. Lucy interrupted a rather long string of curse words to say “That sounds like a song I know..” and she started humming the song. Ella bust out in one of her loud guffaws and said “That’s Angels We Have Heard on High!”. I chuckled and we all began singing it and tossing in random foul language. We went on to sing almost every Christmas carol in our repertoire, making them have god-awful meanings. We laughed (and guffawed) at the top of our lungs but no one so much as shushed us. We hummed late into the night randomly bursting out with a new hilarious combo of swear and carol until we finally dozed off.
The next morning our good moods were renewed and we gallivanted off to breakfast laughing as Lucy tried to remember all the carols to record in her journal. I’d stolen Lucy’s journal so many times to add drawings that by then I’d become the official illustrator and drew the three of us screaming in our crippled tent.
That day the wind was just right for sailing. We tied our canoes together and made a sail out of a tarp and some oars. The wind pulled us clear across Obobika Lake. We all relaxed and I caught up on my illustrating duties. While the sailing trip was a lot faster than caonoeing there was one major downside; we couldn’t pull over to go to the bathroom since all the boats were connected. We were forced to drink at least 4 litres of water every day to keep hydrated so we always had to go to the bathroom. Some people opted to hop out and hold onto the back and pee in the lake. The problem with that was only Astrid, a sports fanatic, was fit enough to pull herself back in. Other not so prude people simply stood up and peed off the back, and still others peed in the bail buckets (empty Clorox containers) attached to the canoes.
I, on the other hand, managed to hold it together until we got to the shore to begin our portage. I bolted from the canoe and ran into the woods as fast as I could. Without taking a second look I went to the bathroom. All of a sudden I looked down and saw that I’d been peeing on a fallen beehive! I screamed but there was nothing I could do. The bees attacked me and I had nine bites up my knees and thighs. They were my first ever stings from a bug and itched like mad!
After applying itch cream and bandages to my swelling legs, I grabbed my wanigan and headed out. I managed to make it through the rest of the day fine, even though the bites were growing larger with every stroke of my paddle. When we got to the site Matt rewarded us with trail mix that contained...CHOCOLATE! The first sweet we’d seen in nearly a week!
That night we enjoyed spaghetti for dinner, and had a rather long under-the-stars meeting about things we were afraid of. Someway or another, it ended in tears and we all retired to our tents. All the girls managed to cram into one tent and we sat together for a bit. Then I burst out “anyone want to hear a bed time story?” Everyone chuckled a bit and looked around to see where I was. It was pitch black and we couldn’t see anything! I took the silence as a yes and began on a hilarious tale that slightly resembled the story of the Trojan War, except it was Harry Potter we were all fighting over and I told the whole story in a very low toned, lisping, southern accent.
After a while, my throat began to hurt and people were yawning so Lucy, Ella, and I went back to our own tent.
“I can’t sleep.” Ella whispered. “Me neither.” I groaned,“I’m too cold!” “..I think I know what it’s time to do.” Lucy said dramatically. “What?” Ella replied as I put on another pair of wool socks. “Break out the hand warmers!” Lucy exclaimed tossing two packs of hand warmers at each of us.
“How did you end up with six packs of hand warmers?” I giggled as I unwrapped mine and began shaking them to heat them up. “My mom actually sent me with 10 packs and two packs of feet warmers.” Lucy said shoving the extras back into her pack. “Your mom’s so funny,” Ella laughed as she rubbed her hands with the little warmer.
“She was afraid I'd catch pneumonia. Every time I looked away she shoved more packs into my duffel bag!” Lucy said trying balance her hand-warmer on the tip of her nose. We spent a while putting our hand-warmers in various silly places like inside our socks and under our necks until we fell asleep.
The next morning after our usual breakfast of oatmeal and dried fruit, we had some time to burn. It was our last day and we were very close to the base camp but we weren’t allowed to go there yet. On our way, Matt spotted a cliff and pulled over. I’d been asking from the beginning if we would get a chance to jump off one of the cliffs we’d spotted along the way, but the water was always too shallow under them. After lunch and a few rounds of psychiatrist Matt shouted “Who wants to go CLIFF JUMPING?!” I shouted “ME!” and looked around realizing that, much to my surprise, there was not a loud chorus of “ME’s” along with me. I was the only one! “Too cold” Mumbled Lucy, “Too high” Mumbled Ella, “I wanna take a picture from the bottom!” Shouted Sam, our enthusiastic, short friend, with crazier hair than Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes). So everyone except me and Claire climbed down the cliff and into the canoes. I stood at the edge and peeped over. I kicked a pebble off the edge and watched it fall as I waited for Sam to ready his camera. “1, 2, 3, GO!” he shouted. I didn’t move. Why didn’t I jump? I thought. Am I scared after waiting so long to do thi- out of nowhere, my body flung itself off the cliff and I shouted “Bombs away!”
Without any warning to Sam and his camera, I was flying through the air, falling and falling until I made a dainty landing in the water and swished around under the surface for a moment, recollecting myself. When I popped up Ella cheered and said “Man, that looked so fun!” Max and Gabe, who had originally chickened out, scarred my record of being the only one by going up and jumping. “They only did it after they saw you survived,” Lucy said seriously. As I shivered in my boat, dripping everywhere. “LAND HO!” Matt exclaimed and we paddled over to the camp.
At main camp, we screamed with delight as we met up with the other half of our class and exchanged stories for hours. We ran around like mad, delighted by anything remotely modern, We even washed our hair in the sprinkler. But before we could enjoy our dinner of pot pie and mashed potatoes, we had to air our our tents. “Look.” Ella laughed as she pointed to Gabe and Billy who were struggling to put up the Grandpa Tent. We all roared with laughter and then explained the story to Maggie and Peyton. Once our tents were up the five of us skipped off into the dining hall, ready to dig in.
After dinner they asked for two volunteers to wash the dishes. No one made a peep. So I raised my hand and, reluctantly, Sophie did too. We went into the kitchen where a dish-cleaning assembly line was coming into place. We hopped in here and there doing all sorts of jobs to leave the guides free to make our whipped cream to top the pies for dessert. We got to listen to one of the guide’s iPod as we cleaned. A luxury we hadn’t experienced in what seemed like forever. We also got to lick the whipped cream off the whisks before we washed them.
“That was awesome!” Sophie said throwing her rag down as we made our way back to our cabin singing songs from The Little Mermaid. “I know, everyone else totally missed out!” We laughed and decided to keep it our little secret what we were having for dessert, since no one was even expecting a dessert.
That night, everyone slept soundly and the bus ride home was soothingly loud and chatty and full of electronics. We watched Lord of the Rings, stopped at a gas stop to buy Canadian candy bars, and caught up with the other group some more.
Temagami was an incredible experience. It was really tough and sometimes, I was tired and annoyed. When we got back, the 7th graders asked how it was and we couldn’t quite put it into words for them. We often disliked it and talked about how we couldn’t wait to go to sleep on our real beds and not have to worry about leaches in our shoes. But then again, we have so many hilarious stories to tell and looking back I'm glad every minute of it happened!
By now, all the days are melded together, and it takes me a while to remember which crazy adventures happened on which days. I tried to keep them straight by writing a journal. But who wants to sit in their tent writing, when the great Canadian outdoors is waiting right outside your tent flap?