tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Aching for the Portage: A Week in Algonquin Park

The first of twenty-four portages feels like the chaos wrought by a summer storm upon a beach; the last, like an imperturbable old friend come to lean on your tired shoulder.

Everything in between is no more and no less an addictive progression of ache.

Before we began our Algonquin paddling adventure, I'd wondered whether the portage ache--the unique stiffening soreness of schlepping first a 55lb backpack and then a 42lb canoe over crooked forest trails as long as 2km in between each lake--would, like its counterpart the alpine ache, come to be felt as both agony and ecstasy.

When the very thing that is the cause of physical pain is also the cause of metaphysical joy, one tends to long for it, as with nostalgia. Like looking a photograph of childhood, one experiences both pleasure and pain.

For seven days in August we assailed the portages of Algonquin's northwest frontier, embarking our seventeen footer at Kiosk for a charted clockwise loop across no fewer than twenty-one lakes, from Kioshkokwi to lakes called Mink, Club, Mouse, Erables, Maple, Ratrap, Three-Mile, Mangotasi, North Tea and Manitou, among others.

Yes, we felt the ache. It was a great ache, attacking sharply with the inversion of the boat on our shoulders, pulling us out of breath, throbbing through our backs and legs and feet, and lingering in the form of evening spasms and morning stiffness. I miss it already.

Algonquin Park, Northwest Frontier from Kiosk (Click to enlarge)

Day 1: Kiosk to Mouse Lake via Kioshkokwi, Little Mink, Mink and Club lakes. 13km paddling + 4 portages (2900m total). Portages are gentle trails cushioned by pine needles; a great way to start. We faced fierce, east-blowing crosswinds and white-capped rollers crossing Mouse Lake to a good campsite on the southern shore, though it made for a mucky evening swim.
Paddling out on Kioshkokwi. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.

Day 2: Mouse Lake to Maple Lake via Big Thunder and Erables lakes. 9km paddling + 4 portages (3700m total). Erables is a beautiful and peaceful paddle, with good-looking campsites. The island campsites on Maple Lake are justifiably popular, but we arrived too late to snag one, and so took a decent alternative on the western shore.
Dawn over Maple Lake. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.

Day 3: Maple Lake to Three Mile Lake via Ratrap, Boggy and North Sylvia lakes. 8km paddling + 4 portages (3100m total). Despite the toponyms, this is a beautiful stretch of landscape. The portages get a bit steeper and twisting as the day progresses, but the last one ends at a great beach. The rain began this day, and we scarcely saw the sun thereafter for 4 days.
Island campsite at Three Mile Lake. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.

Day 4: Three Mile Lake to Biggar Lake via Upper Kawa, Kawa and Sinclair lakes. 7km paddling + 4 portages (3200m total). A monotonous day, as the scenery between Three Mile and Biggar is unspectacular, and the paddling in between each portage is shorter than the portages themselves. Biggar is beautiful, and the campsites on the north shore of the main channel (9 in total) are about as sublime as this part of the park has to offer.
Early morning on Three Mile Lake. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.

Day 5: Biggar Lake to Manitou Lake via Hornbeam, Mangotasi and North Tea lakes. 14km of paddling + 4 portages (1100m total). The portages around the rapids between Biggar and Mangotasi are quite photogenic. We spotted moose on the western shore of Biggar, then beaver and blue heron on Mangotasi. The sandbar between Mangotasi and North Tea lakes was barely covered with low water levels, so we had to drag it. The island campsites on southern Manitou are the way to go.
Wooded campsite on an island on Manitou Lake. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.

Day 6: Manitou Lake to Manitou Lake. 4km paddling, no portages. We'd planned a more robust route to the northwest, via Lorne, Kakasamic, Fassett and Shada lakes, then back onto Manitou. But health issues directed us to the more direct route northward. Nevertheless, Manitou's famed headwinds and storminess (especially travelling north) made the journey a slog in the cold drizzle. The northern Manitou campsites are not quite as memorable as their southern counterparts.
Pulling the canoe into a campsite on northern Manitou Lake. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.

Day 7: Manitou Lake to Kiosk via Amable du Fond and Kioshkokwi Lake. A great finish: wild raspberries grow in abundance near the du Fond beach, the start of the portage. The portages of lower Amable du Fond are beautiful and (in our direction) all downhill; you can do them all as one single portage, or paddle the middle section (even in low water, as we faced). The cove out into Kioshkokwi is studded with grounded drift logs, making it a bit of an obstacle course.
Portager's view of the trail near Amable du Fond. Photo by Richard A. Johnson.
View complete photo gallery here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dog Days of Spadina

Toronto, August 15, 2012. The Spadina Avenue corridor from Bloor to King Streets is a brocade of barriers, hard hats, steel beams and jackhammers, as the TTC's construction teams retool the streetcar infrastructure to conform to the new trams arriving next year.

King Street
Adelaide Street
Richmond Street
Queen Street
Sullivan Street
Dundas Street
Nassau Street / Kensington Market
College Street
Harbord Street
Sussex Street
Spadina Station / Bloor Street

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Stewart-Colbert Road Map for Middle East Peace

This month the Comedy Central duo of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert released an advance draft of their highly anticipated Road Map for Middle East Peace, and there is no questioning where the comic cartographers sit on the controversial issues of land dispute between Israel and Palestine. As revealed recently in broadcasts of their respective and influential political shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, having assessed the facts of the heretofore intractable quarrel, Stewart and Colbert appear united in their drawing of Israel:

Notice that on both maps, what appears to be a beaver-toothed bite taken out of Israel's eastern border is indeed the fullest extent of the West Bank along the so-called 'Green Line' of the 1967 ceasefire, right down to the Latrun pimple dangling just northwest of Jerusalem, which was one of the first areas of the West Bank to be commandeered by the Israeli military after the Six Day War conquest. 

Quite clearly, the Stewart-Colbert Peace Plan envisions a free Palestine at the 1967 borders, not along lines drawn since by Israel's settlements in Judea and Samaria, nor by the infamous separation wall

Furthermore, we notice that beyond a doubt the Stewart-Colbert map does not grant even the so-called Jerusalem suburb settlements (Ma'aleh Adumim, Pisgat Ze'ev, Ramot Allon, Neve Ya'akov, Gilo, Har Homa, et al) to Israel, even though Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem in 1980.

The Gaza Strip, to be sure, is carved out and served to Palestine in the Stewart-Colbert plan, but Israel has long wished away that parcel of poverty. 

More subtly but just as critical to a comprehensive settlement in the region, the Stewart-Colbert Road Map for Middle East Peace evidently has not awarded the Golan Heights to Israel, either. Israel formally annexed the upland region of its northeastern frontier in 1981, after having captured it from Syria in '67 and held it in '73. 

Perhaps this is a nod to the hoped-for liberation of Syria by the rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad: in a post-Arab-Spring Middle East, Israel will, say Stewart and Colbert, gladly return the Golan to its previous owners.

Will this latest attempt at a two-state solution in Israelestine be as laughable as those of earlier shuttle diplomats and political cartographers. Stay tuned to your favourite comedy shows to find out the truth.