I think pretty much everyone agrees that this was an especially good year at Crowduck. The weather was spot-on, the logistics all went bizarrely smoothly (except for the matter of my backpack), the fishing was bounteous, and the water was just right for swimming. (Dan proved this at length in Ritchie Lake: more on that soon.) There were eagles and loons in every cove, and even a pair of loons with a loonling between them (“chick” may be the right word, but it’s not much fun).
We even found the clarity of will to do something that we haven’t done in so long that I can’t remember the last time. Crowduck is satellited by a few smaller lakes; Ritchie is one, and Dan and Tracy visit it every year, but another is Saddle Lake, which no one from our group has trekked to for something like ten or fifteen years. The attraction for Saddle is that you can keep walleye that you catch there. Actually the only lake where you’re not allowed to keep walleye is Crowduck, but there aren’t any living in Ritchie, so no member of the Troxel clan had tasted walleye in camp for all that time.
Grandma, Dan, and I were the ones to hike over there. Bright and early—or, at any rate, bright—we got up on day five of fishing and got some advice from Jason the dockhand and headed over. The trail to Saddle is about two klicks through forest and mud and over sunny granite boulders. It’s just the thing for stretching out muscles that have been sitting in motorboats for a few days too many. In Grandma’s case, it stretched them out a little more than she’d bargained for. We were happy to alter our spry young pace a little, since either of us would be happy to be able to walk that trail at all at 73 years old. And anyhow I was glad to be able to slow down and pick a load of blueberries. I knew there’d be some! Grandma said spring came too late for them, but I’d seen some blueberries ripening in Maine, so I figured there would be good ones in Manitoba. They were all over, and they were made of pure flavor. We used them to great effect this week, in pancakes and muffins and straight out of the bowl.
Saddle doesn’t seem as remote as I’d expected, mainly because there’s an island in the middle of it with some boats on it. Later we even noticed some people on that island. I guess they must have been flown in from somewhere. But when we turned the corner and put them out of view, we could forget about them and concentrate on catching walleye and, in the process, “solving the problems of the world.” Whenever Grandma decides, or finds out, that I’m going to spend some time alone with some other smart person in the family, like if I go ride in the car with Dave during the drive, this is what she insists we do together—solve all the world’s problems, and have the answer ready for her by the time I get back. I think Dave and I actually got close on the drive north. Today on Saddle she got to take part too. But mostly we were intent on catching walleye, enough to limit out at twelve. And the walleye were obliging. Dan took us to a little rock point that Jason had mentioned, and let the wind blow us past it over and over. Every time we went past, the walleye would practically be tripping over each other to get to our hooks. Within practically no time (in fishing terms), we had ten; the eleventh came a little slower, and then we took a brief troll around the bay before tying back in to number twelve. Walleye for us! Fried up that night, they tasted like success. Success is firm and succulent.
For Dan, maybe it made up for this year’s trip with Tracy to Ritchie. I witnessed them leaving and also witnessed them coming back two hours later, soaked, both with oaths that “What happens at Ritchie stays at Ritchie.” But the story was too good for them to resist telling. Tracy says they should have called it quits after the canoe ominously flipped as they were first trying to get it into the lake. But they pulled their stuff out of the water and fished. Then they went ashore on a good fishing rock for a while, and after (shall we say) getting distracted, came back down to the water just as the canoe was floating away. Dan swam after it, but in jeans and boots, so his pace was just barely inadequate, and he had to swim after it all the way until it came to a stop against the opposite shore. And then he had to paddle solo against a stiff wind, which eventually made him turn around and paddle backwards while playing Marco Polo with Tracy on the rock. For a short moment they were still intent on fishing, but Dan’s reel bird’s-nested and he officially declared that it was time to get out of there. As they pulled back into the Crowduck dock, they had a certain pall about them, but after showers and a deep, long nap the next day, they were able to allow it to be a horrendously hilarious story, one that’s already entered the pantheon of top memorable Crowduck moments.
My poker losses might have made a blemish on the week for me, but after I got myself in the hole about $15, I managed to recoup enough in the last couple nights so that I was only down about $5. That’s not a win, but then at least Dan didn’t win it off me—he was down about the same amount. That meant that he couldn’t really brag of all his winnings by smashing the weight of his Bag-o’-Money down on top of everyone else’s, like he did while he was up. And, come to think of it, even while he was down, but it just didn’t have the same force then. The big winners this week were Dave and Grandpa. Dave, in a hand of three-card Wahoo (you only get three cards dealt to you), got three 10s. This prompted me to play occasional hands of “three-card Wahoo, trip tens lose.” And Grandpa hit trips at least three times during five-card draw. I think it may have been seven-card draw where he hit a king-high straight flush. That’s unheard-of. The odds are one to something in the dozens of thousands. Not that bluffing and reading people weren’t winning strategies too. After a long time I finally started remembering how to do that too. Maybe that’s why my Bag-o’-Money isn’t completely empty now.
But maybe the most important thing is how the family togetherness was unmatchable. It is every year, but this year I started getting to know what sort of teenager Sierra Gwyneth is becoming, which had been a mystery to me; Dave told me about the long literary and philosophical kick he’s been on; and Dan gave me sage life advice and sang goofy songs to Cammy and Cory. Cammy got her first fish ever, nearly as long as she is. We talked around campfires and looked at hazy Northern Lights. I may be traveling far and wide over country after country, but there’s always a corner of Canada that will be special.