Thursday, May 17, 2012

No One Ever Has To Know

         A curly topped bundle of energy landed full force in my lap.   
        "Grandpa, read me a story" Soft green eyes looked up at me. 
        "Go ask Grandma." I said gruffly, "She's the official story reader around here."
        "Grandma's busy." pouted Emma, "Please read me a book?"
        The smell of roast beef permeated my nostrils; the clatter of dishes told me that final preparations for Sunday dinner were well underway.
       "Why don't you read the story by yourself? It's good practise for you."
        "Grandpa," Emma giggled "I can't read I'm only four. You're a grown up. Grown ups are the only ones who know all the words."
        "I think it's time for me to carve the roast." I said, removing a squirming Emma from my knee. I stood up and snatched away the Nintendo my grandson David was playing with, "Do something useful. Read this book to your sister."
        "Bur Grandpa, I was on level 10." whined David, slouched down in the rust coloured recliner in the corner of the room.
       "When I was your age we didn't have computers, we didn't even have television. We played with our brothers and sisters and we enjoyed it. Besides, reading is good for you. Don't forget to turn a light on, it's darker than Grant's tomb in here."
        "Who's what?" David looked confused.
        Ignoring his question I crossed the worn area rug and stepped onto the scuffed hardwood. I entered the kitchen with it's happy yellow walls and the old formica table that we'd had for how many years now? I couldn't remember when or where we'd bought it but it had served us well. 
        Annie and Anita were working side by side at the counter under the window. Anita resembled her mother in both looks and action. I smiled every time I looked at her multicoloured eyes and dimpled cheeks. I felt happier just being in this room with them. 
        "Dad, grab me a package of frozen corn will you?"
        Annie's head turned quickly and my eyes met hers. 
        "I'll do it dear, you get the roast out of the oven."
        "I think I can manage to find a package of frozen corn." I grumbled.
        I opened the freezer in the bottom of the refrigerator and pulled out the drawer. I studied the white plastic bags. I spotted peas and beans but no corn. 
        "What's taking you so long Dad?" Anita asked as she grabbed a bag from the shelf above the drawer. "I swear I'll never understand men. If it had been any closer it would have bitten you." she teased; shaking those bright red curls that were so like Emma's. 
        If the picture on the corn bag had been facing up like it should have been I would have found it right away. I wish Annie would be more careful when she puts things away.
        "Were you and Emma having a nice time?" Annie changed the subject quickly.
        I opened the oven door and paused.  "Emma wanted me to read her a story." I answered with downcast eyes.
        Annie looked up from the pot of potatoes and gently touched my arm. "It's okay Gus", she said quietly so only we could hear. Annie had been at my side for over forty years telling me we'd be alright. And we always had been. Even though I'd been through more jobs than I could recall we'd managed to buy this cozy little bungalow and successfully raise three children. Today the old feelings of inadequacy and fear had come rushing back and I was struggling with them. I was feeling so frustrated. 
        I looked down into Annie's plump face; into those multicoloured eyes that seemed to change to whatever colour she was wearing. Today they were hazel with flecks of green that shone like tiny sparkling gems. How could I not trust that face? I wanted to look at her forever.
        The slamming of the back door broke the silence. "Hi sweetheart," James said to Anita, giving her a peck on the cheek, crossing the room in three strides. "something in here smells mighty good."
        "They didn't have half and half so I got whole milk,"  he said to Annie, his thin six foot frame towering over her ample 5'2" form, "I hope that's okay."    
        "That's just fine dear," replied Annie, "stick it in the fridge for me will you?"
        Why was it always James they sent to the store? I could have gotten a bottle of milk just as easily as he had.  Where he needed to be was in a barber's chair getting a proper haircut.
        That evening after Anita and family had finely gone and Annie and I had finished washing the dishes, just like we always did, I decided to finally broach what had been on my mind.  
        Tentatively I began, "Annie I think it's time."
        Annie put down her knitting. There was no going back now. I rattled off the words that had been churning in my chest for days, waiting until I'd built up the courage to let them out.
        "Annie, I'm tired of walking around with a pocketful of labels so I can pick things up at the store for you. I want to be able to read a newspaper. I want to know that if my supervisor at the loading dock asks me to pick up a pallet of televisions I'll be able to do it without being afraid I'll pick up the wrong brand. And most of all, I want to be able to read to my grandchildren. You said this thing is confidential, right? No one will ever have to know unless I tell them myself."
        Annie reached over and touched my hand. "No, Gus. No one ever has to know."
        "I'll call first thing tomorrow then."
        I turned up the television and Annie went back to her knitting, a Mona Lisa smile on her face. 

Copyright Shirleymac April 2009

Monday, March 15, 2010


The Cyclopes appear very early in Greek Mythology. They were deities that resembled human beings, differing due to their large size and the fact that they had one large eye in the middle of their forehead. While Cyclopes in some myths were feared as violent shepherd monsters said to feed on the flesh of men and each other, the first three Cyclopes, the Uranian Cyclopes, were not violent or dangerous. They were the Storm deities, giant beings with large hands and great dexterity. Their names were Brontis - known as Thunder or Thunderer, Arges - known as the Shiner or Thunderbolt and Steropes, - known as Lightning or maker of lightning.

These three Cyclopes were the second set of children born to Gaea (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Sky). Uranus was disgusted by their physical appearance and so frightened of them because of their size and strength that he imprisoned them in Tartarus, deep in the earth where he had also imprisoned Gaea’s first children, three one hundred handed giants. In mythological terms this means he returned them to the womb of Gaea where they would never see the light of day. Gaea gave birth to other children and while Uranus didn’t imprison these more beautiful children he hated them all. He was immortal and he felt threatened by his offspring, fearing one of them would take his place as ruler. He rejoiced in his evil doing and cruel treatment of his children.

Having her first six children in her womb was extremely painful for Gaea both physically and as a mother. Physically it was painful and as a mother she didn’t like seeing such punishment inflicted on them. Eventually Gaea enlisted the help of her other children to overthrow Uranus and free their brothers from her womb. Her youngest son, Cronos, was the only one brave enough to challenge his father. Furnished with a sickle made by Gaea he castrated Uranus in the middle of the night and threw his testicles into the sea. Then Cronos took over as ruler and, as promised, freed his six brothers. However Cronos too found he was afraid of them and it wasn’t long before he threw them all back into Tartarus.

It had been prophesied that Cronos would be overthrown by his children as he had overthrown his own father. It’s not known if this prophesy came from Gaea or was a curse placed on him by Uranus. Not wanting to lose his power Cronos swallowed all 5 children that his wife Rhea gave birth to. It upset Rhea to have given birth to these children and yet been denied motherhood. She enlisted the help of Gaea and when Zeus was born to her she gave Cronos a rock wrapped in a blanket. Thinking it was Zeus Cronos swallowed it. Meanwhile Zeus was raised in Crete by Nymphs and suckled by Amalthea. When Zeus was old enough he became the servant of Cronos and, urged on by Gaea and his mother, fed Cronos an elixir that made him throw up all the babies he had swallowed. With his brothers and sisters returned to him Zeus could now form an army, the Olympians, with which to fight against his father and the Titans. Zeus then once again freed the Cyclopes and the giants. During the ten years war between the Titans and the Olympians. the Cyclopes provided Zeus with thunder, lightning bolts and earthquakes as a thank you for releasing them. They also fashioned the Trident for Poseidon and the Helmet of Invisibility for Hades which allowed him to enter the enemy camp unseen.

Zeus was grateful to the Cyclopes and allowed them to stay in Olympus as assistants to Hepaestus, son of Hera and God of Fire, Smithing, Craftsmanship and Metalworking. They worked in workshops deep in the volcanoes, most notably Mount Aetna in Sicily and in Lemnos, where they made metal, armour, chains and arrows for the gods and heroes. The smoke that arises from the volcanoes is said to come from the forges used by the Cyclopes. They were also skilful architects and while Hepaestus built several of the halls and palaces on Mount Olympus, the Cyclopes built gigantic walls which still stand today. These are known as the Cyclopean Walls but were most likely built by an ancient race of men – perhaps the Pelasgians – who occupied the countries in their time. According to Aristotle towers were also the invention of Cyclopes.

Apollo, son of Zeus, had a son named Asclepius who was a famous healer. Feeling that Asclepius was creating an imbalance by going so far as to raise the dead, Zeus threw a lightning bolt at him and killed him. In retaliation for his son’s murder Apollo killed Thunderbolt. Another version of this myth says that it was not Thunderbolt who was slain but rather the sons of the original Cyclopes. These sons were named Euryalos, Elatreus, Trakhois and Halmedes.

Cyclopes were also born to a Sea Nymph named Loosa, daughter of Phorcys, son of Gaia. They were the result of a love affair she had with Posiden. This breed of Cyclopes, the Hypereian Cyclopes, were violent and savage. They were gigantic, lawless, flesh eating shepherds who lived in south-western Sicily. The most well known of these Cyclopes was Polyphemus.

While returning home after the Trojan wars Odyesus, not knowing it was the home of Polyphemus, decided to land on the island of Sicily to give his men rest and to gather food. He took twelve of his men with him to explore the island to look for food. They came across a cave holding a large store of food. The men were hungry and wanted to just help themselves to this food but Odyesus didn’t want to steal and insisted they wait for the owner of the cave to return so they could ask for it.

Polyphemus returned at dusk with his herd of sheep, drove them into the cave, and barred the entrance with a large boulder. When Odyesus asked for food Polyphemus’ answer was to grab two of the men and devour them. The men knew they couldn’t kill Polyphemus because he was the only one strong enough to remove the bolder that imprisoned them in the cave. In the morning Polyphemus ate two more men and then trapped the rest of them in the cave for the day. At dusk he again came back with his sheep and ate another two men. Odysesus had thought all day and had come up with a plan. That evening he fed Polyphemus all of the wine that they had brought with them to trade for food. Once the Cyclops had become drunk and passed out Odyseus drove a red hot stake to into his eye and blinded him. In the morning when it came time to release his sheep to graze Polyphemus, not being able to see, blocked the entrance with his huge body and petted each sheep as it passed to make sure it was only the sheep leaving the cave, not the men escaping. Odyseus had anticipated this and had his men tie themselves to the underside of the sheep during the night in order to make their escape.

From Encyclopaedia Mythica:
“Recent scholars have hypothesized about the origin of the Cyclopes' single eye. One possibility is that in ancient times, smiths could have worn an eye patch over one eye to prevent being blinded in both eyes from flying sparks. Also, smiths sometimes tattooed themselves with concentric circles which could have been in honor of the sun which provided the fire for their furnaces. Concentric rings were also part of the pattern for making bowls, helmets, masks, and other metal objects.” ~ Anna Baldwin~

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Apollo and Hyacinth

I'm taking a class in Greek Mythology. This is one of my assignments:

I’ve always wondered why plants and flowers have Latin names. Thanks to this myth I now have my answer.

Hyacinth, or Hyacinthus, was a beautiful young Spartan boy from the southwest of Sparta who was loved by many.

Apollo, Zephyr (the God of the West Wind) and Thamyies (Apollo’s grandson) all declared their love for Hyacinth. But Hyacinth chose Apollo. Apollo was the God of prophecy and oracles, healing, plague and disease, music, song and poetry, archery, and the protection of the young.

Apollo often neglected his own duties so he could spend time with Hyacinth. Apollo taught him to shoot with a bow and arrow, and they spent time together fishing, hunting and hiking in the mountains. Apollo also taught Hyacinth to play the lyre and to throw the discus.

One day Apollo and Hyacinth were having a friendly contest throwing the discus to see who could throw the farthest. Hyacinth was feeling playful and he ran to catch the discus Apollo had thrown even though it was obviously out of reach. The discus hit a rock, rebounded and hit Hyacinth in the head. Some versions of the myth say that Zephyr blew the discus off course and deliberately killed Hyacinth out of jealousy. Apollo tried to staunch the wound but it was too late, Hyacinth died in his arms.

Apollo wouldn’t allow Hades to claim Hyacinth. He transformed the spilled blood into a flower and named it Hyacinth in honor of his friend. This flower was not like the Hyacinths we know today but rather it was lily shaped and crimson… some say purple. Apollo was so grieved that he wrote the 2 Greek symbols for “Alas, alas” on its petals.

Hyacinth’s tomb was located at the feet of Apollo’s statue and every summer there was the Spartan Festival of Hyacinthia to honor his memory. There was one day of mourning followed by two days of rejoicing to celebrate his rebirth. Some believe that this was a celebration of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

I like the idea that I can go in my garden now and imagine it full of playful deities that were changed into flowers upon their death. There is a painting by Nicolas Poussin painted in 1631 entitled The Empire of Flora, the Goddess of Spring and Flowers, showing her surrounded by all those adults and children who were transformed into flowers on their death.

Friday, August 14, 2009


This is a story I submitted to a magazine and it actually got published! Of course it was a magazine that no one gets paid for stories in but still... someone liked it enough to publish it. We were given a picture and asked to write a story about it. My imagination goes nuts when I'm challenged like that so here's what I came up with.


In August the news of Qiqirn’s death (pronounced Kewkern) reached Robert. It had been twenty years since his bush pilot days when the scheduled route included the settlement at Igloolik. Each time they stopped, he’d visit Qiqirn and watch soapstone being sculpted into pieces of art. First it was given shape using a piece of shale. Loving hands smoothed the stone with water, and finally the point of his knife was used to add the finer details. Robert had once brought him a stylus, but Qiqirn continued to work with his knife. He liked the old ways. He shared many Inuit legends as he worked.

On Labour Day a truck pulled up to Robert’s Ottawa home and a large block of stone was placed on the lawn. A note from Qiqirn’s wife was handed to him.

“It was Qirqirn’s wish that you have this stone. He sensed it holds something you will understand.”

Robert ran his hands across the sides of the cool stone. He felt nothing, but trusted that the mystique Qirqirn spoke of would eventually be revealed.

On Tuesday morning a red-faced Robert stormed into the house. “Someone knocked the corners off my stone during the night!”

He took a piece of his roughest sandpaper and smoothed the edges of the broken corners, then rubbed them with water as he had seen Qirqirn do.

Each morning when Robert went out he’d find more damage to the stone. He sat up one night in his darkened living room waiting for the culprit to show but saw no one.

One morning he found a smoothly carved featureless head sitting atop the stone.

He felt relief that the stone was not being maliciously damaged, but was still angry that someone dared to take a chisel to it. How would he ever discover the meaning of Qiqirn’s message?

Each day more was being revealed. He started to look forward to the mornings, anxious to see what had transpired during the night.

After a week the right arm and most of the torso appeared. A smooth rock was held securely in the right hand. But the head of the statue was looking down to the left. What was hiding in the stone?

Saturday Robert slept late. He awoke with a start and ran outside to see what change he would find. In the bright sunshine he saw that the left hand had appeared. In the hand was a carver’s tool fashioned from shale.

Features had been added to the face. He gasped as he recognized the image of his old friend. Qiqirn had told him of the Inuit belief that everything on earth holds a spirit (anirniq in Inuktitut).

Robert now understood that in a weakened state Qiqirn had felt a part of his own spirit in the stone. He knew no artist would come to free him. If he didn’t sculpt himself his spirit would be locked in stone forever.

Now Qiqirn’s spirit was freed and he could rest.

NOTE: I know that the Inuit believe that all living things have a spirit, I can't say that they believe stone does but I used writer's license for interests sake.

Copyright Shirleymac April 2007

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Journey to Magnetawan

This is a photo of my grandfather Woodward and my great grandfather Langford. It's not a great photo, my great grandfather was much more handsome than this, but that grandfather is his son-in-law, not his son and I imagine he was not pleased about having to have his picture taken with him. His daughter (my grandmother) not only eloped but through doing genealogy I found that she was pregnant when they eloped. The baby was born too premature and lived only a few hours. That's why I'd never heard of him.

Anyway, I chose this photo because I wanted to show how very tiny a man my great grandfather was. My grandmother was 5'2" and this grandfather she married was perhaps 5'4". From this picture you can see that if James Langford was 5' it wouldn't be stretching it (no pun intended *LOL*).

I found a letter in my aunt's belongings that was written to my great grandmother Langford by James. I couldn't figure out where the heck South River was and once I did I couldn't figure out what the heck he was doing there. I did some research and discovered that locks were built near there at Magnetawan during the same time period as James travelled there. Since he was a farmer on the 1881 Census and a Stone Mason on the 1891 Census this explains a lot.

Because I was taking a writing course I had to add twists and turns to make the story interesting. I'm going to print the story first and then the typed version of his letter to his wife Rachel, complete with his spelling and with a couple of words missing that I couldn't read.



As the January moon began to dip below the western horizon a lone figure made his way across the frozen Ottawa River. Small in stature and wearing dark clothing, his slow forward movement was the only thing that distinguished him from the colourless sky and the sleeping leafless trees that flanked either side of the river. His arms were wrapped tightly around a hand made knapsack and a hunting rifle was slung over his shoulder .

The greyness that surrounded him matched the struggle going on within. He wanted to offer Rachel and the baby more than a country existence. But the thought of being separated from them weighed heavy on his heart. Yet wasn’t attaining his goal for their life in the long term worth doing what he needed to do in the short term? How he wished someone could assure him that his choice was the right one.

He stepped onto a path worn through the brush. Hearing the howl of a wolf in the distance he felt for the rifle hanging at his side. He tensed as he realized how difficult it would be to reload the rifle with cold fingers if there were several wolves in the pack.

Emerging onto the road near MacLaren’s Landing, he noticed smoke rising from the chimney at the McLean farm and quickened his pace.

Mrs. McLean opened the door to welcome him.

“Come in James. Good Lord, you look half frozen.”

After hot tea and some time by the fire with Martha McLean James was ready to move on once again.

“It’s time to get on the road. Where’s Hugh?”

“Och! I’ve been dreading having to tell you James. Hughie isn’t going. You’ll need to take charge of two teams of horses and three other men.”

With blanched face he looked at Martha to see whether he’d heard right. The small wrinkle of her brow told him he had.

“Brown and MacDonald are good men as long as you keep the whiskey bottle away from them.” she continued “Alex Sharpe won’t give you any problems.”

With a resigned breath James gazed into the fire. How he longed to be in front of the hearth with Rachel.

Martha broke into his thoughts. “The men and horses are in Arnprior - I’ll take you over in the sleigh. The train leaves at six o’clock.”

James hesitated. Hugh knew that James wasn’t a leader. His size and gentle nature made it difficult to be taken seriously. He didn’t feel capable but if he didn’t go he would be breaking the contract he’d signed with the Dominion Government. A lock was to be built at Magnetawan in Parry Sound. It was his dream to become a stone mason. This job would move him forward. Not going could end his dream.

As the sleigh slid over the snow covered road James heard the sounds of cattle in the barns. He envied the farmers following their daily routines.

In Arnprior, as expected, he found the men in the saloon. He pulled himself up to his full five foot height and approached their table.

“Hello fellas, I’m Jim Langford.” he started “Hugh MacLean sent me.”

A scruffily dressed man stood up. At six feet he had the muscular body of a manual labourer. His dark receding hair was tousled and an out of control mustache and beard covered most of his pockmarked face.

“You’re the one who’s in charge of us?” he laughed. “Hell, my ma gave birth to babies bigger ‘n you.”

“Sit down Brown.” Another man chided. “Mr. Langford’s only following orders.”

“So you’re Aaron Brown. And you must be Alex Sharpe.” he said to the second man - who appeared not so inebriated and better groomed than the other two at the table.

Brown sat down. “You must be real educated to figure that out.” he sneered. “That scoundrel over there is George MacDonald.”

James nodded towards MacDonald who simply stared back. The sunken eyes on his deeply chiseled face gave him a fiendish look. A tuft of hair stood straight up at the crown strangely located near the front of his scalp.

“Our passage has been arranged. The train leaves at six. I need you there at five to get the horses loaded.”

Without further comment James turned and left.

The recent amalgamation of Canada Central Railway with Canadian Pacific Railway was evident from the new signs painted on the 22 year old cars. The men managed with some difficulty to get the four nervous horses up the ramp into a freight car.

On seeing the inside of the passenger car James was glad he’d arranged for sleeping berths. Given the size of Brown, in particular, sleeping in the cramped day seats for two nights would be difficult and uncomfortable.

After a few grunts and puffs of smoke the train jerked forward and soon settled into a rattling rhythm.

“Try that once more and I’ll whoop you good!” came a booming voice.

James looked up to see MacDonald and Brown standing nose to nose.

“Break it up you two. MacDonald, get your stuff and move back. The last thing we need is to get kicked off this train for fighting.” James was relieved that there was no smell of fresh whiskey emanating from the men.

The train rolled northwest along the Ottawa River to Sand Point and then turned inland towards Renfrew. From Renfrew the tracks led to the river again and followed it’s path to Pembroke.

At ten in the morning on the second day they pulled into Pembroke Station. James had a number of errands to run and left the horses in the care of the men. Finding what he needed would be difficult. In Eardley there was a General Store. Here there were a number of different establishments he had to visit.

It was mid afternoon when James went in search of the men. He found Sharpe at the blacksmith’s feeding the horses.

“Where’s Brown and MacDonald?” James asked when he got Sharpe’s attention.

“Don’t know. Said something ‘bout the saloon but I ain’t seen them since.”

A feeling of unease crept over James as he walked through the streets. Eventually he came across MacDonald sitting on the steps of a public building nursing a large purplish bruise beneath his right eye.

“What’s happened here? Where’s Brown?”

MacDonald pointed behind him without turning around. “Sobering up. Got in a fight over a poker game.”

“Why aren’t you in there too?”

“Ran out the back when I saw the police come in.”

Taking a deep breath James climbed the steps of the building that was home to Pembroke City Hall, Jail and Morgue. He found the cells in the basement.

“Yep, he’s here. Won’t be leaving for a while though. Overnight should do it.”

“We haven’t got overnight. Our train leaves in a few hours. I’ll pay what he owes and take responsibility for him. He’ll be out of town by seven o’clock tonight.”

“Can’t let him go right now – too much of a troublemaker. Try again at six.”

James didn’t like the sound of that. It was already four o’clock. Two hours didn’t leave much time for Brown to sober up.

It took some doing for three men to get the four blindfolded horses into the freight car. James then headed down one block to City Hall arriving precisely at six o’clock.

“Back already? Not much has changed.”

“What’ll it take to get him out?” James was getting concerned. They couldn’t all be held back because of Brown’s misdeeds. But how would he explain Brown’s absence once they reached South River?

“S’pose you could pay the fine now and the Chief can see him onto the train at seven. No guarantees though.”

“Done.” James paid the two-dollar fine plus another three for damages.

The Chief appeared at the station with Brown at six forty five. James had acted on faith and purchased four passenger tickets allowing them to board right away.

Over the clattering noise a surprisingly meek Brown finally spoke. “Thanks Jim, I sure appreciate you getting me out.”

Was that a touch of respect that James was hearing? Maybe McLean was right. Maybe he could handle this responsibility

“I’m glad I was able to. It took the money for the sleeping car though.”

The trip to Chalk River and inland north of Algonquin Park was uneventful. Brown and MacDonald behaved themselves and no one complained about having to sleep slouched down in the seats.

Twenty miles from Mattawa the train jolted to a stop flinging the men forward.

“What the?” they all said in unison.

Snow blown across the next quarter mile of track blocked the train’s path. It would take all the volunteers that could be found to clear it. Three hours later the shivering men returned to their seats and the train moved on.

After stopping at Mattawa the train headed cross-country to Callander Station. There was no sign of Josiah Booth who was to meet them and provide a place to spend the night. Being a small village, the stationmaster was able to give James directions and soon the men were having their first home cooked meal in three days.

By dawn the next day they were traveling south along the Colonization Road. It would take another two days to reach South River on roads that were mostly snow-covered gravel with sections that were simple trails through the bush.

The plan to overnight in a tent changed when they reached a Dutch colony and gratefully accepted the offer of overnight accommodation..

The next morning as they were hitching the teams for the last leg of their journey James realized he’d been too busy the last few days to think about his decision and realized he was beginning to feel more comfortable with it.

The sleigh shushed quickly over snow-covered road and they arrived at South River by one o’clock where Joe Stewart, foreman of the project, was waiting. Joe wasn’t much taller than James but was stockier. Prominent laugh lines wrinkled the beard- rimmed face, however when he spoke his no-nonsense attitude was evident.

“You fellas are lucky to be working the winter shift,” said Joe. “Summers up here are humid and the men’ll be plagued by mosquitoes and Black flies.

James was skeptical. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than the bitter cold of the dead of winter.

“I’m glad to see them horses.” Joe continued. “Need 'em to haul stone to fill the cribwork. Now let’s get you settled in the shanty.”

It was another twenty-mile ride north of Bernard Lake to Magnetawan on the north shore of Ahmic Lake. Along the way Joe outlined the plan for the lock. When finished it would be 128 feet long, twenty-eight feet wide, and would raise or lower steamers ten feet to allow travel between Ahmic Harbour and Burk’s Falls for the first time.

As James stepped through the canvas door into the rustic shanty he felt the warmth coming from a potbellied stove in the center of the structure. The stove would be used for cooking as well as heat. A table and chairs sat nearby and bunks, each with a Hudson’s Bay blanket, lined the outside walls.

That evening James found himself sitting alone at the table. He was missing Rachel, but was proud of his accomplishments. He’d successfully brought the men and horses on an eight-day trip to the work site. He’d solved unforeseen problems along the way. He’d felt respect and was now feeling completely confident that this was where he needed to be in order to fulfill his dreams.

He picked up a pencil and began to write:
“January 7th, 1883
Dear Rachel ….”

Half an hour later he stoked the fire, put out the lantern and lay down on the bunk he’d call home until June.

The End

Now here is the letter I found that James had written to Rachel. It's what I based my story on.

January 7th, 1883
South River

Dear Rachel

I suppose you will be looking for a leter from me every day so I am taking the first opportunety to wright to you for the sooner I wright the sooner I will hear from you.

I was lonsom starting away from Georges Sunday night but did not feel so bad after I got on the road. I left McLanes Monday morning. there was four teams in the gang and the worst of it was I had to take charge of them all the way up for McLane did not come with us.

It took too days to get to Pembrook and we was there all day Wednesday. I had a lot of running (around?) getting stuff and getting the carrs and getting the teams and we did not start till after dark and was on the carrs all night and got off about too oclock the next day at what is called Calander Station about forty miles above the Matawa and then drove till night before feeding our horses and ourselves unless a few bisket. we stayed at Booths (?) that night and the next day we was into a settlement of dutch and stopped at a dutchmans that night and later that day got into the shanty. I cannot tell you much about it yet. our shanty is in Parresound districkt (Parry Sound District) north of Mawcaka. when you wright or rather answer this as soon as you get it and let me know how you are and my little man is and all the rest. I suppose you never think of the little house behind the big mountain. tell me what Aleck and Silas is doing. Colie of corse is chore boy. Tell me what George is doing if you know.

I think I must close so good night and take care of your selfe and Harrie

NOTE: The Dutch settlement that James spoke of was really a German settlement. In those days each nationality/religion kept to themselves and lived in pockets of their own kind, so to speak. They knew very little of the world outside their own little communities.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Trial by Fire

I have a great interest in family history. In one of my family books I read of a farm one branch of my family owned that was covered in Maple trees. Every spring this gr gr aunt, or whatever, would work at the camp alone while the men were off tapping trees. After researching about what things would have been like in the sugar bush before the new fangled machinery I wrote this story about her.

Trial By Fire
I drew my woolen shawl closer as the sleigh bumped over the ice encrusted trail. The March weather hung around the freezing mark, below zero at night and above during the day…. ideal weather for sugaring.

The forest seemed surreal in the pre-dawn. The dim light from lanterns hung on the sleigh gave the bare limbs of the trees an evil look, their branches reaching out as if ready to grasp whatever came near. Over the clanking of the yoke’s harness chains I heard the distant cry of a lone Timber Wolf. Wolves were plentiful in southern Ontario and at this time of year they were gaunt and hungry.

I sat beside Jesse, my husband of three months, while Father and my brother Henry sat behind us leaning against the stone boat that would hold the sap collected from the sugar maple trees. Feeling me shiver Jesse pulled me close.

“You’re being quiet Ella. Are you okay? Warm enough?”

I didn’t want to admit I was trembling at the thought of having to spend the day alone at the camp with nothing but a small lopsided hut for protection. Jesse, Henry and Father would be gone all day. They’d pick me up when they brought today’s collected sap to the camp.

“I’m okay Jesse.” I answered softly. “I’m feeling the cold but I’ll be fine once I begin working.”

I was trying to sound brave. I wanted Jesse to believe he’d chosen a strong wife. I’d always known this day would come. I was nineteen and it was my turn to work in the sugar bush just as Mother had. I’d dressed warmly as she’d advised me. My flannel pantaloons felt soft against my skin but the heavy knitted socks itched inside my boots. On my head was a woolen bonnet. Yes, I’d be plenty warm.

The sun was beginning to rise as we came to the clearing in the forest. The men had been out working for the last two days checking the trees, inserting the cedar spiles and hanging buckets. Yesterday they brought the first batch of sap to the stone boat at the camp to sit overnight where the water would rise to the top and freeze. This saved a lot of boiling time since the sap was 90% water.

An iron pot was suspended over the fire pit. Chopped wood was stacked against the small wooden hut and several tree branches lay on the ground.

“Remember to poker the fire often.” Father told me as he climbed into the sleigh. “And keep a watch for cinders landing on the roof, we don’t want it catching fire. We’re off to northeast corner this morning and will work our way back.”

I nodded in assent then watched as the large black oxen pulled the sleigh down the trail and around a corner.

I was alone.

I chipped and removed the layer of ice from the boat and, mindful of my long skirts near the fire, transferred the sap into the pot to be boiled down to form sugar. It was arduous work but the muscles in my arms were strong. I’d been responsible for churning the butter since I was ten.

At what seemed to be mid day, judging from the location of the sun, I decided to take a break.

I was tired from working all morning, my legs ached and bits of my hair had come loose and were pasted to my face by sweat. I headed towards the hut where I’d left the bread, cheese and water that would be my noon meal. There was a bench inside where I could rest.

As I opened the door I heard shuffling at the side of the hut. Curious, I rounded the corner and came to an abrupt stop. Every muscle in my body tightened as my eyes fell upon a lone grey wolf pawing at the edge of the hut. Although the now molting winter coat covering the malnourished body was thick, I could see the tensed muscles of its shoulder. I slowly stepped back towards the front of the hut and the open door. But my presence hadn’t gone unnoticed. A pair of steely grey eyes stared me down. The fur on its neck bristled and it bared its teeth emitting a low snarl. I froze once again desperately trying to remember what Mother had told me to do when the wolves appeared. I glanced towards the fire then slowly stepped back again to within reach of the branches and set one ablaze. The wolf had followed me and was now crouching, muscles twitching, in attack position. I swung the flaming branch wildly in front of me. The wolf turned and ran, ears flattened against its head, tail between its legs. I dropped the branch in the snow and collapsed against the hut, heart pounding, mouth dry, gasping for breath.

I no longer felt hungry. I took a few moments to recover and went back to work.

Before long the wolf was back, this time with seven members of his pack. What if the fire didn’t work this time? I slowly picked up another branch, set it alight and began waving it in a large arc towards the wolves. Miraculously they all ran off, some whimpering with fear. I knew they’d be back but knowing that I had the power to stave them off gave me a new feeling of strength. I found myself humming at times as I continued my work.

As dusk fell it became difficult to see the wolves and I kept my ears strained so I could hear them approaching. They appeared once more but just as I was about to light another branch they suddenly dispersed. The sleigh was returning. The sound of the chains had driven them off.

As we began the long trek out of the forest I leaned against Jesse’s shoulder. It had been a tumultuous day and despite the bumpy ride I was soon fast asleep.

©Shirleymac February 2007