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The Portage:

Burnside to Crab and Generations

Like a man who hasn't felt love for a decade, and is now afraid of what he may have found, I pause at the opening of the trees that, but for a thin line of pounded path, would be the unknown and unattainable. My mind fills with both joy and fear of what I am about to encounter, to conquer, or be vanquished by. At my side, my 8 year old daughter - yet she is more than my daughter. She is the receiver of the harsh yet beautiful gift, the taker of the torch, the receiver of the flame, the light of the next generation. Her eyes filled with innocence and excitement anticipating a walk in a different kind of park and eager simply to get to the other side.

The first steps bring forth a rush of emotions: the finality of commitment, the joy of leaving the trials of a decade of work ever farther behind, and the rediscovery of my youth. With each step, the realization that the comforts of home fall ever farther behind, and how poorly strung one shoe has been strung. The smell of the woods beckon us onward. The subtle sounds of the trees slowly reach our ear's. There is still youth in my legs, yet the taker of the torch knows not how she ages me by her occasional skip down the trail, and her constant commentary. Deep in my mind I sense myself marking every soft spot in the trail and I feel old alarms trying to go off. .However, the sight of a pond created by a beaver dam, the serenity of the sudden openness within the dense forest, and the reality of myself as intruder, quell the alarms. Though I walk through a bog and disturb countless mosquito's and my one shoe loosens a little more, I feel a sense of vindication in my first choice of vacation after 10 years.

But the trail goes ever farther, the conversations begin to die, and the sounds of the woods begin to chuckle in amusement as the trail starts to rise. A brief stop, (only to fix the shoe of course) and then upward and onward. The first alarm goes off, the brief rest has made it plain that this is not a Saturday at home. The next turn exposes the never ending ascent that fades into darkness even though the sun is high. Rhythms in the feet begin to develop. Horrible songs from the world fall begin to echo to the rythmn of my pounding feet. The taker of the flame ceases her skipping and begins to dwell on the sounds in the bush and high in the trees, yet she clings to her faith that her father is with her, and that danger cannot be near. My other shoe begins to whine that it is not as comfortable as the newly re-tied lace.

Up, forward, Up forward, the lungs begin to expel old flesh from previously unused areas within them. The taker gives a quizzical look at the new uncouth spiiting from her father and senses a change in his attitude that matches the discoloration of his face. She begins to lag behind. My mind forbids my feet to stop and remember the joys of lazy Saturdays in the world falling ever farther behind. The youth in my legs begin to sag like an old woman's breasts, and my stride becomes a slosh. 'UP FORWARD! UP FORWARD!', my mind begins to command. Songs from the world turn up in volume in my mind to grotesque exaggerations. No longer do I hear the sounds around me, just the pounding of my heart. I realize my eyes have only watched the trail and have not looked up for what seems like hours. With great effort I lift my head only to look upward still into a darkened hole between the trees in front of me. With sudden fear, a thought races through my mind , " I'M NOT YOUNG ANYMORE! I AM MY FATHER!" The desire to drop to my knees and satiate this realization with tears worthy of a new movement in Wagner's "Twilight of the Gods" is fought off only by the presence of the light of the next generation. But the receiver of the flame begins to whine, more out of boredom than pain, and out of my mouth a little dictator belches out the command for silence, and the order to enjoy. She looks at her father's cherry red face dripping with froth from the mouth. Her stride picks up, and within the silence of the moment the woods chuckle ever louder.

I feel her unformed question burnning within my own mind,'Isn't this supposed to be fun?' The agony now searing through each step, and every root and stone I now stumbled over, forces me to focus upon the consummation of the quest. With primal anger I attack the hill. Every step becoming an act of defiance of my body. I have become a living middle finger mockery to the woods. Obscenities that were but echo's in the back of my mind now begin to ooze out my mouth with the spewing froth. Even my other shoe becomes quiet out of fear. I have become a madman. The chuckles from the woods begin to fade. I can now here them say, ' He IS a man, therefore he is insane. ' My arms, fully engage in the battle, begin helping by almost swimming with each step.

The summit reached, I pause not to enjoy. The forced march crashes and stumbles onward to as if to finish what Napoleon and Hitler could not, 'Russia will be ours!'. The taker of the flame now staggeris in step, five paces behind, and holds back tears of fear 'Is the whole week going to be like this!?' (She knows not that the worst is almost over). With a final fury my rage carries me to the exit upon the other side. Adrenaline is now the only thing between life and death. My burdens virtualy expel themselves from my back, and I fall into what would be unconsciousness upon the ground, but for the presence of the mosquito's feasting upon my pulsating flesh. Later that evening, after setting camp and enjoying a dinner fit for a victorious general. I sat upon a rock beside the gently lapping waves of the hidden lake. My daughter and I shared the first clear cry of a nearby loon together, and listened to the wind dance through the trees. As the sun began to set the water turned to glass, only to be broken by fish nearby. She sees a tear run down my cheek,

"I get it" she say's in a sincere tone.

I look into her face with the hope that she does. Has the torch has been passed? Has the light entered the next generation?

"What do you get?" I ask with fatherly pride.

"A worm is like a fish hot-dog, - right?"

For a moment I feel the illusion shattered. Then I realize We've still got a whole week and that she's just beginning to feel the gift she's received. Besides I made it from Burnside to Crab, just like my father - JUST like my father did.

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