Assinica Lake

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been traveling north again – this time in the lap of luxury.

(LANGE) First time we came here to northern Quebec, the forest was black spruce, with a light-green moss floor. Our second visit, in 1992, was just after a forest fire. The spruces were charred skeletons, decorated like Christmas trees with roosting spruce grouse. Now jack pines have sprung up, over ten feet tall. Their seeds, which had lain dormant in the moss, popped like popcorn in the heat of the fire and took root. Between them are sprouting beautiful little black spruces, the climax forest in this part of the world. I’ve never before seen a boreal forest cycle.

We’re here to fish for giant brook trout, but so far that’s been a washout. The water is the highest it’s been in 50 years. The trout are waiting it out.

Whenever this sort of thing happens, the trip becomes more important. The Quebec bush is another world, at the meeting of the native Cree and French Canadians. The lovely ladies of the kitchen, laine and Sophie, are as French as Parisiennes, yet expert with propane pilot lights and water pumps. For dessert they produced pudding chaumeur – unemployed pudding – made without eggs or milk and sweetened with whatever’s at hand. Each pair of us fishermen shares a guide. Our guide, Paul, is sturdy and quick at 62, with an accent to die for: “Will,” he asked, “Are you boddered by de musky-doos?” I could listen to him forever.
That’s mosquitos.

It’s embarrassing, as a member of a dominant culture, to realize how little we know of others. Everyone else speaks our language so well, we rarely have to strain to make ourselves understood. This might explain why we’re often intolerant of others; but it’s the very reason we ought to bend over backwards to understand.

Without the usual rush to get back to fishing, our group’s after- supper discussions have been outstanding. The sum total of what we know approaches 500 years’ worth – in geology, forestry, economics, medicine, chemistry, literature, business. Great conversations!

The surprise of the trip is Romeo Saganash, one of the guides. Guiding isn’t his profession. He’s an attorney who represents the Cree Nation at the UN and consults in other negotiations. If he advises his legal clients as well as he does his fishermen, they’re doing all right.

Now, we wouldn’t be here but for the promise of big trout, but the real treat has been the people. I talk a lot, but everyone else has grabbed the ball and run so hard with it I feel left out at times. Which is just how I wanted to feel. It’s hard not to wish that life were longer, because we extend our acquaintance so much more widely with time, and it seems a shame to make an end to that. Sometime, somewhere, we’ll get together again, and Paul and Romeo, too. And laine and Sophie? Boy, I hope so!

This is Willem Lange out in the bushes, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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