Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 3 | Fall 1983 (Portland) /// Issue 19 of 41 /// Master# 19 of 73

Wildcat cooks their dinner after a couple of drinks. Wildcat puffs on a cheroot, Coyote on his funny smoke, and they reminisce. Wildcat was a G.l. bill student and Coyote lived by his wits and his art. Later Wildcat went off to San Francisco and married the angular, elegant Black- Necked Stilt, a tall bird down from Utah. Wildcat took to high iron work, and helped erect the San Francisco skyline. He was the rigger who topped out the Transam pyramid. As for Coyote, his wives changed as often as his jobs and after either he went off traveling. In the morning Wildcat decides he has to paddle back and phone Stilt, lest the bill for the canoe surprise her. He carries a few unnecessary things back with him. “Take the gun back,” Coyote tells him. “Oh no, there are bears in these woods.” “You fear bears?” “In my house we speak of little else,” says Wildcat. Wildcat paddles off, and Coyote carries his goods across the next portage. Indian- point Lake reflects the jagged Canadian Rockies. Other canoeists carry past traveling light with one pack each and the canoe between. Coyote goes back for another load. Four persons rush past in the wrong direction: Wolverine growls directions at Fisher, who shrieks a warning at his scampering son Chipmunk, while thickset Ox plods sullenly behind. Coyote greets them, but they are in a great hurry, and he learns nothing. Wildcat finally returns from civilization, and they complete the portage and set up camp. Out on the lake another loon, but this one’s cry is so plaintive and contrapuntal that both men are struck dumb with admiration. Truly, these are the Canadian north woods: pristine and romantic, yet with certified campsites and pit toilets. The voyageurs pig-out on the last fat melon. In the morning they paddle Indianpoint Lake to the third portage. On the map the portages seem less noticeable than the lakes. On his second trip across, Coyote encounters shaggy Wolverine returning, and inquires as to the events of the previous day. “We took Ox back,” growls Wolverine, baring fine white teeth. “He was unprepared for this wilderness. Fisher told him things would be easy.” “Ahha.” “Fisher is a little crazy,” Wolverine confides, kneading his black exercise ball. Wildcat carries again, but Coyote dawdles. Coyote wants to carry the canoe between them, but Wildcat declares he can carry it easier alone. Wildcat carries the canoe, but Coyote sulks. Wildcat must return for the last bag. “When I told him not to bring everything he said he would carry his goods himself,” Coyote tells the trees. Wildcat finishes. “When we build skyscrapers everyone helps each other,” he tells Coyote. Isaac Lake is two long, narrow fjords joined at a 90-degree turn. Above, the Cariboo Mountains still bear the snow of winter. At sunset they camp next to Yorkshire Terriers, two young visitors to Canada, off touring. The Bowron, they claim, is world famous, and their friends in England envy them. Wildcat breaks out the Hudson’s Bay rum, and they regale those pups with tales of a certain long-for- gotten war. Next morning Isaac Lake stretches ahead into blue haze, a shoestring scar between the mountains. At noon, Wildcat invites Coyote to scramble up the mountain and see what they can see. Coyote inspects the trail. “This is no San Francisco sandhill, Wildcat,” he warns him. Coyote stays below to sketch. When Wildcat returns his face wears scratches and sweatpaths. “That was no trail, just devil’s club and blackberry vines.” “Harumph,” says Coyote, “Some Coyotes are listened to when they speak.” A little farther on they camp, and that night Coyote smokes the last of his weed. Next morning they encounter Boy Scouts whose camp has been ravaged by bears. “Graaahr!” roars Wildcat, “Arrgh!” growls Coyote. The sprouts have lost much of their food but their counselors are undismayed. Short rations and a quick trip out, but an adventure to remember. At the next campsite there are bear warning signs on the trees and the tracks of what may well be bear and moose. The voyageurs defer lunch. Several miles on, feeling safe with a cliff behind them, they again encounter slim, nervous Fisher and toothy 9-year-old Chipmunk, and hear the saga of that party’s disintegration. Wolverine, after much wild talk about Fisher going crazy, tried to kidnap Chipmunk, then fled with most of their food and gear in his canoe. Fisher hisses with rage, while his son’s flashing incisors confirm the yarn. They continue together. Wildcat and Coyote will share food with their new friends. Fisher and Chipmunk have only one sleeping bag now. Wolverine took even their extra clothes. That evening Wildcat runs out of whiskey, and a bear rips Fisher’s tent. Fisher, who has toured The Bowron seven consecutive years, vows never to return to this accursed place. Wildcat loads his rifle and announces, “I will not be a bear’s dinner in some mickey-mouse nature preserve.” The night is rainy. The Chute is next, where Isaac Lake goes over a rock ledge and becomes Isaac River. Pretty young birds go through “Look,Coyote,theyhaveplacestoleanyourboatinthiswilderness.Iamtesting it." “I willtestthegrounditself,“pantsCoyote, andliesdown. without difficulty, but Wildcat decides they will portage their baggage. “Oh, Wildcat, you make me tired,” Coyote thinks aloud. They pack their goods to the lower end of The Chute. “Maybe we should carry the canoe around too,” Coyote rags him. “Humph,” says Wildcat. The Chute is so easy they carry the canoe back up and run it twice, but while they are doing so, the bear reappears in camp. Fisher sees him rear, tall as a man with glistening teeth and musky odor. Fisher is frightened, solely on Chipmunk’s account, of course, and wants them to stay close. The four reload their goods below the Chute and speed down The Roller Coaster, a series of fast riffles, then pull hard for shore. Below are The Cascades, a boiling rock stew lined with hulks of wrecked canoes. No one makes it “OhWildcat, youmakemenotorious.” “Besilent, Coyote, wearefamousaroundtheseparts.“ through The Cascades. Wildcat meets bear at the lower end of the portage. Most of their goods and food are spread out around Wildcat. The bear rears, flexing its claws. Wildcat digs for his rifle. The bear shows its teeth and circles closer. He can’t find it. The snorting bear keeps coming. At last he finds it. Bear says “whuf.” Wildcat fires into the air. Bear edges closer. He fires into a tree alongside its head. The bear drops to all fours and scampers off. When Coyote arrives at the end of the portage he hears about it from Wildcat. “ I miss all the excitement,” Coyote complains. Fisher is unnerved. He refuses to return for his goods without an armed guard. Wildcat accompanies Fisher and son, leaving Coyote to sit on the food. “Hey, you fat ugly bear," Coyote shouts, “come on down and we’ll dance.” Bear says nothing. “I eat bears like you for lunch.” Nothing. Coyote keeps shouting, but that coward bear never responds. They set off again. Fisher knows a good campsite just around the bend. Out on McCleary Lake, however, Wildcat keeps paddling along. “Over there,” says Coyote. “Oh no, farther along.” A little ways, then, “We go too far, Wildcat.” “Oh no,” Wildcat responds, “ I know where he said.” Coyote throws down his paddle. “You treat me like your wife Stilt, but I am a man, we are here together as equals." “Oh, what’s the matter, Coyote? You are just bothered because your funny smoke ran out. We shall look and see.” They look, and see Fisher, far back, already landing in camp. Silently they paddle back. Only camp mouse visited them that night. McCleary Lake is next, which at its lower end joins the Cariboo River, a shallow, wide-curved stream. They hardly notice taking the larger left-hand channel, but coming round the lower end of the island they encounter shipwrecked Wolves. Three tall, rawboned young pals, summer busboys and desk clerks at Banff Hot Springs, have gone off on a lark, rented a canoe, and hurried round The Bowron. The right-hand passage looked fine until the Wolves saw the log jam blocking the channel. They hit it sideways and the river sucked the canoe under. Loupie jumped on the log, but Canis was dumped in the water and was nearly pulled under. Those two stayed to salvage what gear they could, while Wulfisch trotted on ahead seeking help. Wildcat and Coyote make sure that Canis and Loupie have food and clothes for a day or two, then hurry off for aid. Several miles farther on they find Wulfisch strolling along, in shorts and tank top, without food, knife, matches or extra clothing. They take him aboard. With three paddles working they fly down slick, blue-jello Lanezi Lake, regaled by randy tales of sex and recreational drugs at Banff resort. Glacier-dap- pled peaks tower close by. Lanezi Lake becomes Sandy Lake, and they come upon the tents of other canoeists, who tell them there are rangers 5 km. ahead. Coyote stays to set up camp, while Wildcat and one of the others hurry Wulfisch on. Wildcat paddles tirelessly and they reach the ranger cabin before dark. Wise old ranger Raccoon tosses Wildcat’s canoe across his motorboat’s bow and putt-putts back to camp at dusk. He’ll sniff out the Wolves tomorrow at first light. By then it is raining, and everyone retreats into their tents. All night long it rains, and Coyote recalls that it was hot and dry at home. “Puddle City people don’t need to come to rainy places in summer,” he growls at Wildcat. The next morning, Fisher suggests a hike up to picturesque Hunter Lake. The sky is big with thunderheads as they paddle across Sandy Lake to the trailhead. Climbing up the trail they encounter stout, easy-mannered young Smokey Bear, and Wildcat has to hide his rifle. Hunter Lake turns out to be a weed-choked nothing, and on the way down Smokey makes his move, neatly confiscating the illegal weapon. He lets it be known that the authorities have had their eyes on the two greybeards all along. It rains as they re-cross the lake. A few miles farther, at Babcock Creek, Fisher and Chipmunk depart, hurrying onward to safety. Wildcat and Coyote detour to view the falls of the Cariboo. They are not sorry to see Fisher and son go. “Trouble befalls us when we are with that little dude,” Wildcat observes. The falls are high, misty and loud. They camp at Unna Lake. The shelter cabin there is thickly carved with names of travelers, and within are model birchbark canoes, drawings on shelf fungus, carvings, ships in bottles, and the graffiti of a thousand storm-trapped days, ranging from cryptic name and date to extravagant paeans of delight about The Bowron. The Rangers assemble such items there. Camped nearby are Elk and Mule Deer, long-legged, thick-chested outdoorsmen of peaceful mein, who make it clear that Coyote and Wildcat have not gone unobserved by their fellow voyageurs. Several travelers have told them of the two old farts with their wooden food box, melons, rum bottles, fabulous cooking utensils, and of the rifle, shots fired and ranger's confiscation. “Oh Wildcat, you make me notorious.” “Be silent, Coyote, we are famous around these parts.” Next comes Babcock Creek, a marshy place, where they must wade and drag their boat by rope. “Look, Coyote, Humphrey Bogart and the Canadian Queen.” “Pull harder, Wildcat, this water is icy.” Babcock Creek becomes Babcock Lake, in the middle of which it rains. “Why didn't you warn me this was the interior rain belt of B.C.?" They complete the last of the portages and reach stringbean-shaped Spectacle Lake. They detour into a swamp to observe river otters at play and bald eagles. “This is more like it," Wildcat purrs. “Wilderness wahooo!” howls Coyote. They speed past several attractive campsites. “Why are we hurrying so?” asks Coyote. “I am not hurrying,” claims Wildcat. They pass a splendid campsite. “The wind blows this camp free of mosquitoes," Coyote observes. “We shall find better ones ahead,” Wildcat decides. The next campsite is already loud with mosquitoes. Too late to go forward, too tired to turn back, they daub themselves with repellent, and cook dinner. They sit on the beach, they back out into the water, they discuss each other’s faults at considerable length. Only the tent saves them. They climb carefully inside and are at last safe from those murderous bloodsucking bastards. In the morning, Coyote sees a dark shape across the lake, and runs for his binoculars. It is indeed a bull moose. Never have National Geographic photographers paddled more carefully. To the moose it must seem a curiously shaped log floating speedily closer. Eyeball to liquid brown eyeball at 50 feet, Wildcat cranks off snapshots. The moose lifts his big nose from the rich grass only to be more picturesque. The voyageurs paddle down Spectacle Lake and Swan Lake to Bowron River, then out on Bowron Lake itself. Now, even a cow moose across a marsh hardly interests them. They speed down the last lake with the wind at their back, and pull up smartly at the dock, a couple of hundred yards from where they left the car 11 days before. They have paddled 106 km. and carried 10. More important, part of a bottle of brandy remains intact in the rig. Wildcat has to retrieve his rifle at Park Headquarters, but he doesn’t have to pay anything. Indeed, Wildcat claims the rangers understood entirely his desire to protect himself. “Wildcat will not be trifled with by any bear," he announces, beer and cigar in hand at the sauna in Wells, B.C., enjoying city pleasures in the Canadian north woods. “We are going on now,” Coyote announces, “but all you other creatures stay just as you are, in case we want to come back.” ■ Rick Rubin is a Portland writer T. Michael Gardiner is a Seattle artist. Clinton St. Quarterly 47