Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Day 39: Some things I did or did not see.

I found a tiny patch of rocks, just big enough for my canoe, and dragged it up there. The flavor of the river was changing. Where it had been ranchland for miles, it was now becoming forested, and here was this little patch of rocks. This is an improvement. It is starting to get on in the day, so I could either stop here, or go on and hope the river gets even better.

I usually scope out this sort of situation on foot - barefoot, if no cactus are about. I want to feel the ground, to stretch my legs out after a full day of sitting in the boat. And so I climb up onto the bank to look ahead, to see if there are nice gravelbanks or even sand just around the corner.

It is about minimizing regret, I suppose. I can stand not having the greatest campsite in the world, but I will be quite frustrated with myself if I come around the corner in the morning, and see the greatest campsite right there. Sometimes I have looked on ahead and found nothing. But sometimes, I have gone on ahead and discovered that the river really is just getting better and better in that stretch, and I go on for miles until I come to a sandy beach with pelicans basking in the sunset, and dragonflies darting to and fro in front of a great double rainbow.

It has happened.

On this day, I was walking up on the high bank and saw the beginnings of some shoddy log cabin a couple of guys must have been trying to hack together in the woods. A couple of black lawn chairs sat nearby, and they were covered in empty beer cans and bottles. I watched my feet carefully to make sure I didn't step in any broken glass. There was a big blue tarp just lying out there, and several blackened patches where bonfires had been. These campers had left a trace or two. The biggest bonfire was held around a living tree, which sickened me. Approaching it, I saw on the ground


There was its blue jacket, and here was its red and black patterned flannel, scorched in the flames. What was I going to do? I guess go back, get the GPS and contact the police in the next town, where I'd say, yes, officer, this is the exact spot where I saw the -- oh, wait. I lift the blue"jacket" and examine it more closely. It is just a sleeping bag, and empty. I am quite relieved, and imagine what I would have to do if I did find a body. Such things do happen, I suppose. Just not that day.

I continue on, climbing over trees, brushing away shrubs, wading in mud, until I come to a point that looks out over the next turn. Well, it doesn't look any better there, so I begin to turn back. When I see that all around, all the plants I have been stepping through barefoot are


I had seen a sign at a recent park warning of it, though I hadn't yet encountered any in Canada. Now I believe I have walked through poison ivy before and not been affected, but I have seen ivy rashes and they do not look fun. At least a month of itching and treatment and scratching. So, it is a good rule to follow: "Leaves of three, leave them be." And suer enough, there they are: one, two, three... four, five. It isn't poison ivy at all.

I return to my canoe quite relieved that this is a decent campsite, and that I saw neither a human corpse, nor poison ivy. I may have been a bit fooled by the river. The increasing forest cover made me feel increasingly like being back home in Missouri, where such things are more common. At least, the poison ivy is more common.

So I calmly got my stove and cooking supplies out of the boat and began to make dinner. But sitting down and looking at the stove, I saw on my feet a number of


Right there, on my feet. Three huge ones on my right foot, and one on my left. Just stiking there, sucking my blood. I yanked them off one by one with my pliers. After the big ones were gone, I noticed many smaller ones. I killed them with alcohol and salt. They respond the same way slugs do. Shrivel up and die.

I am not kidding this time. Though I have never had leaches before, I know bloodsuckers when I see them.

Now I have no major gripes with leaches. They are quite professional in what they do. It is true, thier bites neither hurt nor sting; as far as I know they don't transmit any horrible disease; they have great uses in alternative medicine, for people who don't think conventional medicine is freaky enough already; in two generations teenagers will probably adorn themselves with them as a form of rebellion. But it is important to set personal boundaries and one of mine is that nobody sucks my blood without obtaining permission first. And so I must add them to my enemies list, which now reads, in order of decreasing hatred:

1. Ticks
2. Biting flies
3. Mallards
4. Leaches
5. Mosquitoes

And so there you have it. Another animal I had no experience with before beginning this trip, now added to the enemies list. Oh, Canada, you are a silly country.

Day 39 ended: 50*38.721N, 104*54.798W


Michelle said...

We used to have blood suckers at the lake I grew up at. My dad used to get them off of me by taking his lighter to them. Yes, while they were on my leg. I never got burnt though. My mom used salt.

Kevin Saff said...

Fortunately I haven't seen any on the Assiniboine. None since day 57, really. So they were only a threat for 19 days.

John said...

> they have great uses in
> alternative medicine, for people
> who don't think conventional
> medicine is freaky enough already