The wilderness is calling, and I must go (back)

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Temagami, Ontario — The only way to get there early is to leave early, thus five anxious men, two trucks towing a fishing boat apiece, and enough gear for a month on the Arctic ice shelf, shoved off at 5:05 a.m. — already five precious minutes past the appointed departure time.

Time is important on our annual trek to the Ontario wilderness and to waste any of it is to chance traveling the final approach to our hidden island in the dark.

After all, boating an unmapped seven miles of twisting channels, submerged rock piles, and hidden dangers of Lake Temagami is treacherous enough in broad daylight.

After sunset, the same course is thrilling at best — a real pucker maker at worst.

The lake

Lake Temagami is in a class of its own. Surrounded by thousands of acres of dense forest, it’s deep, clear waters, wind themselves into several legs that all join in what the locals call the Hub.

From our island (I call it our island because “our” experiences over the last half century have made it our island) to the town of Temagami by water is all of a half-day journey — one that requires the purchase of a tank of boat gas while in town. That plus an ice cream sandwich, a true and coveted treat after several days on our remote island.

When the island first came into the family in the early 1950s, visits were primitive in many ways. Lights came from brilliant white-gas fueled lanterns, kerosene lamps, and glowing wax candles.

Chunks of ice placed in an oak fridge cooled fresh groceries and milk, and split wood spit out any feeling. Even then, there was a kick-start, gasoline powered washing machine that still holds a place of honor and tradition in a corner of the dining room.

Island escape

Tradition is important to the island just as it is to us. As if it is required, we fish every evening and into the night.

Our late night return to the island is in the dark when stars and sometimes the moon, provide the only light.

But alas, as we leave the distant shoals and coves and come upon the open water with our island just a couple miles away, the distant twinkle of our dock light shows the course to safety.

Our dock light is the same beat up railroad lantern that is was in 1950. And so is the same push and pull water pump that brings lake water to our sink, with of course, so many new parts and leathers that it might be considered just a descendant of the original.

We’ve done without electricity, or hydro as the Canadians call it, since day one. Although it could be had for a stiff price, electricity would strangle the island and it would never, ever be the same.

Right now, just as it has been, the island is an escape from the rest of the world.

It talks

Funny thing about our island; It speaks. Maybe whispers is more like it. Not everyone can hear it.

On arrival each trip, the island, the wind that courses through the towering pines, the lap of the water against the cedar wood dock boards, and even the cricket-like creaking of two trees that have been rubbing shoulders for decades, seem to great us with a soft “welcome back.”

And I am just as a sure the island is as sad as we are when we pull away for the trip home.

Our island

Our island is actually owned by a first cousin who got it from his dad who got it from his dad.

Three acres in all, the island sits in a large expanse of water in one of the more remote areas of Lake Temagami.

There are 1,200 islands on the lake, not all large enough to inhabit or to be given an official number. In fact, the smallest is simply one rock with one small, very weathered tree.

You see, to be considered a legit island there must be a tree. Otherwise it’s just another rock; another hazard for boaters to avoid.

The island is nearly 600 miles due north, an all day trip ending only when we step on the dock.

It’s a trip that requires that we leave on time. 5:00 a.m. to be exact.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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