|Somers - Ben Somers. Somers
was old now - too old to go on any trips. He
often drove the school bus that the club used to
shuttle canoes and people from launch to take
out. If the group camped at the end of the trip,
Ben would stay and usually there was a story he
would tell. Somers was all right. It would have
been good to know him when he was younger.
Phil remembered the meeting when Ben
brought up the Sharprock River. Actually it was
just after the meeting. Brett Pearson had
finished his presentation about an
"expedition" that he led last
September. As usual, Brett's presentations left
you with the feeling that the outfitters were all
crooks, the pilots were chicken, the natives were
conniving and apart from the storm / rapids /
moose attack - the trip was rather boring. When
Brett was done, Ben Somers started talking.
Evidently he and his old wife went driving
through Ontario, met some interesting people...
The Jeep was stopping now, and
Phil pulled up behind. Pat was out, a map in his
left hand, a compass in his right. He walked out
away from the cars while Brett lit up a cigarette
and leaned on a fender. They were out of the
clear cut area now, and stunted jack pine and
poplar made an impenetrable barrier on either
side of the road. There was no wind, and the air
seemed thick and heavy. Clouds covered the sky
and the smell of rain was in the air. Phil
swatted a mosquito on his neck and rolled his
window up. The men climbed into the Jeep and
Brett punched the gas, sending a shower of gravel
that rattled on the grill of the Ford.
Somers started talking, but
Brett cut him off. That's how it happened. Ben
mentioned that he met some people - a town near
some river. Brett heard the word
"river" and launched into a talk about
another of his river "expeditions." Ben
shut up then, but later he took Pat McCafferty
aside and talked to him for about half an hour.
Pat suggested the Sharprock trip at the next
meeting and Brett quickly became the leader. It
all seemed pretty exciting back then. It didn't
feel that way now.
Forty minutes later they saw
The cabin was old, built from
logs and chinked with oakum. A plywood shack with
fake red fire-brick siding was next to it,
obviously added well after the cabin was crafted.
There was a widening in the road beyond the
shack, and Phil thought he could see trailers and
a few trucks back there. A curious wooden sign
said "Paquette's Bar" and there was an
ax stuck into the top of the sign. Brett had the
Jeep pulled over and was stretching and smiling
as he talked to McCafferty. Phil pulled up
behind, hitting a final rock that seemed to grow
out of the hard gravel. He hadn't noticed before,
but there was a boy, a young boy standing next to
the bar sign. He was looking at the men, looking
intently at them. He suddenly smiled and ran down
the road toward the trailers. Miles, Phil's
passenger and canoeing partner for the trip, was
checking the straps and ropes that held the canoe
Phil automatically pulled his
camera out of the wagon and motioned for Brett
and Pat to stand in front of the sign. He was
part of this trip because he could take good
pictures. As he lined up a shot, he wondered if
that was the only reason he'd been invited.
The cabin was old.
Thrown up long ago when men rushed in to find
gold, it was briefly a prospector's winter cabin.
When promising core samples were found, it became
a company office for a while. Three courses of
logs were added - the prospector was short and
didn't believe in wasting energy. The search for
gold didn't pan out and the men moved on. For
quite a few years, the cabin stood empty. A
lumber company moved in and widened the road.
Soon after, old Bill Paquette pried open the door
and chased out the mice. He laid fresh paper on
the roof and nailed together a bar near the long
wall opposite the door.
The door opened now, and Brett
entered, a broad smile on his bearded face,
laughing loudly, waving his arm as he acted out
some joke or story for his companions behind him.
He stopped and squinted in the dim light, finally
focused on the bar, and slid onto a middle stool.
He was a man very sure of himself, a big man, not
older than thirty. He relaxed, waiting, as though
a performance for his benefit was about to begin.
Pat followed him in quietly, the smile from his
partner's joke slowly fading as he took the next
Phil entered now, somber faced
and tired. He was a shorter, younger man, with
brown, scholarly eyes framed in wire rimmed
glasses. His beard was short and well trimmed.
His new gore-tex rain suit rustled as he walked
to the bar and pulled up a stool that had seen
better days. Miles pulled up next to him, too
tired to laugh or even listen to Brett's jokes.
He twisted in his stool, looking first left then
right at the furnishings on the wall. He had seen
such objects in theme restaurants back in the
cities to the south. The snowshoes, the rusted
and waxed traps hanging from pegs, an old tea tin
wedged near the roof... He might perhaps be
surprised to know that Paquette was simply too
lazy to remove the old junk that was already
hanging there when he moved into the shack. Miles
turned around and planted an elbow on the bar. He
rested his chin on a closed fist, slowly stroking
his dark brown beard with the back of his hand.
Behind the men, behind the dirty pane of a small
window, a pair of dark eyes watched calmly,
observing the visitors as an artist might study a
Paquette now entered, walking
slowly across the room.
yer pleasure, gentlemen?" Paquette's voice
was smooth, his manner relaxed. He was lean, with
broad shoulders and he limped heavily, his right
ankle not moving at all as he walked up to face
the four men. He had thick, white hair, cut well
and short. A gnarly hand dusted the bar with a
stained towel and moved one of the old, tin
ashtrays in front of the big man. Taking his cue,
Brett pulled a cigarette from a pack in his front
pocket. Another pocket produced a wooden match.
He lighted the match with one hand, flicking a
thumbnail across the head, almost like a
magician. No doubt this was a well practiced
maneuver, intended to impress the less dexterous.
"A nice cold Molson's
would sure hit the spot." The big man pulled
hard on his cigarette then blew out a cloud of
said Phil. The other men nodded.
Paquette reached under the bar
and produced four bottles. He popped the tops and
placed them in front of the men.
The bottles were quickly
drained and the men were working on the next
round when the door again opened. Outside it was
nearly dark, unusual so early for this high
latitude. The room filled quickly and the four
visitors were somewhat surprised at the sudden
influx of patrons. They perhaps forgot for a
moment that the road that brought them here was,
after all, a logging road. There were one hundred
and nine kilometers of rough gravel to the
nearest town. For the men that ran the heavy
equipment used to harvest the pulp trees
Paquette's cabin was no worse than the bar in
Neepa at the end of the road.
A wide doorway led to the
fire-brick shack attached to the cabin, making
one large room. There were a few crude tables out
on the floor, and they filled quickly with a
rough and tired crowd. Perhaps twelve people were
now in the room, but it was surprisingly quiet.
Paquette was busy now, moving quickly to bring up
beer, brandy or tea. The boy was back, and he
shuttled trays from the bar to the tables.
The door opened. Phil noticed a
change in the room and turned around, a curious
look on his face.
A woman entered, a slender
woman, mature but not yet old, her hair long and
straight and dark as midnight. Her eyes were
downcast and modest as she quietly turned to
close the door, holding it so that it would make
no noise. Her feet were wrapped in soft
moccasins, and made no sound as she stepped to
the side of the room. She wore the same rough,
dirty clothing that the loggers wore, making the
moccasins seem out of place. Over her soiled
flannel man's shirt was a vest of dark, smoke
softened leather. The vest was trimmed with lynx
fur and decorated with fine stitches, a pattern
foreign to this northern land, or perhaps foreign
to this time.
The boy came forward with a chair. He
placed it in a darkened corner, near a small
table. The woman nodded to the boy, and sat
gracefully on the chair. Paquette now brought a
candle, placing it and a small teapot near the
woman. With no change of her somber expression,
she produced a swatch of leather from a scrimshaw
bag and began to stitch. As Phil turned back to
the bar, he heard a soft voice. It was coming
from the dark corner, from the strange woman. She
was not speaking, but humming quietly.
"That's a nice Jeep you
got there fellows." Paquette gestured at the
small dust covered window behind the men where
Brett's Cherokee was visible in the fading light.
"Been to some rough places
with that baby," said Brett as he snubbed
out his cigarette. "Name's Brett. This
here's my partner Pat. That's Phil and Miles over
there. Hey! wake up guys!" Brett glanced
around the room. "Didn't expect to find a
tavern out here. Nice place."
A man behind Brett laughed.
"It's a dump!" Several others agreed
loudly. "But Paquette, he's always close by.
Sometimes it's a trailer, sometimes even a tent,
and sometimes a dump like this. But his beer is
cold, and his brandy comes in a bottle, not a
Phil turned and looked at the
men laughing. He glanced at Paquette, saw him
smiling, bringing out deep wrinkles in his rough
Paquette resumed his
conversation. "Your canoe seems to have met
quite a few rocks. You guys must get out on some
"I've done some rough
rivers, that's fer sure." Brett took out
another cigarette as he finished speaking. He
seemed to forget his partners as he lit up and
launched into a recital of the trips he led to
wild rivers in the southern part of the province.
Phil listened with half an ear, resting his chin
on his hand again. Brett droned on, telling the
story about the strainer that almost killed him.
It was a good story, but it happened to Gene
Fredrickson, not to Brett Pearson. Gene mentioned
it two years ago at the canoe show in Madison.
Then there was the story about the night paddle
where Brett went through Flambeau falls. That
happened to John Mies during a canoe race. Brett got careless
when he drank, and sometimes forgot that his companions knew the
truth about his stories. He actually didn't care if they knew or
didn't know. "People are stupid, and they like a good story, so
it might as well be about me." That's what he said when Phil
caught him at it last fall. Phil looked around the room. The
loggers seemed to be lapping it up, looking keenly at Brett at
he spoke. Maybe Brett was right, maybe people were stupid. Phil
considered himself pretty sharp, and was sure that he could tell
a tall tale from something that really
happened. Brett, however, was on a roll and Phil
knew that any attempt to divert the conversation
would put him in a foul mood.
After about ten minutes, Phil
glanced around the room again, peering into the
dim light. The woman in the corner, her face
barely discernible in the candlelight, seemed
oblivious to all but her stitching. The men at
the tables seemed to watch Brett carefully as he
recited his deeds, as though they were sizing him
up, measuring his words, deciding what type of
man he was. They had known boastful men before,
some that could actually do the things they
bragged about. Perhaps this was such a man,
perhaps not. Paquette stood by, his head tilted
up, mouth half open, his right hand on the bar.
The hand was pushing down, easing the load on the
leg with the stiff ankle, easing a pain that did
not show at all on the old, weathered face. He
stood smiling, gaping and nodding as Brett
Presently, Brett seemed to
finish, and Paquette reached down and produced
four more bottles.
"You'll have a less
exciting trip on the Salumo," he remarked.
"That's a long carry just before Rosenberry,
but other than that you should have no
"We're not doing the
Salumo." There was a note of irritation in
Brett's voice, as though Paquette had offered
milk to a drinking man. "We're running the
Sharprock to Cache, then taking the Whitefish to
"You're taking the
Sharprock?" Paquette took a step back. Now
Phil saw pain flash for a moment as the bad leg
came down, saw Paquettes jaw tighten
momentarily until the other leg took the weight.
"It's been run before," said Brett. "In fact I
talked with one of our club members. He ran it early in
June, about ten years ago. The water's high now,
we should be fine."
Paquette said nothing. He
nodded uncertainly, then turned away. Brett took
a pull on his beer. The issue seemed to be
settled, but one of the canoeists watched
"Is there something
wrong?" Phil spoke quietly, his voice
breaking the silence that descended on the group
of logging men.
"No, no nothing's
wrong..." Paquette did not turn as he spoke.
"Have you heard something?
Was there some trouble? Maybe at the
"We can handle the rapids
at the bend." Brett was annoyed now.
"Old Somers went through. The rapids will be
Paquette did not turn.
Phil turned around on his stool to look at the
men behind him. Some were stone-faced, others quickly looked
away. The silence of the men was getting uncomfortable. He saw a
flash of lightning light up the dirty window near the door. From
the corner of the room there still came the faint humming, some
other primitive melody. There was something odd in the melody
and the rhythm, something ancient, or foreign, almost hypnotic.
The song sounded old, very old. Perhaps the beer was starting to
affect him... he felt as though he wasn't quite where he was
just a few moments ago. He turned his head
slightly and looked at the woman in the dark
corner. He imagined this woman's ancestors had
always worn the furs of wild animals, that her
grandmother sat just so, sewing and humming a
melody that was passed on and on through the
generations, just as the song of the loon is
passed on and on through the wilderness night...
Now the low rumble of thunder swept over the
land, then echoed back into the sky. Phil turned
"Mr. Paquette, if there's
some reason we shouldn't go down the Sharprock, I
wish you'd tell us. It would be the devil of
a trip up current if we can't get through."
Paquette turned slowly and
sighed. "You'll probably be fine." His
eyes weren't looking at the men as he spoke, but
past them. "There's been some talk in Neepa.
There's probably nothing to it."
Phil looked at Paquette.
Paquette did not speak.
"Hrrumph" One of the
men in the room cleared his throat, but he did
They know something, thought
Phil, they all know something, but they're not
"Mister Paquette, do you