Friday, August 5, 2016

Trip to Pukaskwa Park and the Depot

Contact the author for your copy
$29.95 plus $10.00 shipping

Email Ruth Fletcher at 

Well.... the trip to Pukaskwa Park was terrific. We rode down to the Depot on the "Wildshore" under the most able care of Captain Brian.  

Approaching the beach at the Puckasaw Depot

Stephanie (from Outside magazine), Ruth, Serafina and Josh (park employees)

We checked out the old cabin.

 Also--Ward found Gus' cave with beaver board intact.

Are there ghosts?

There was the boom log...

Ward identifies the photos.

and the Red Chairs

Getting ready for the book signing the next day was a lot of fun too.

Thanks to everyone who helped and attended . The whole weekend was such a memorable part of this 2016 summer.  

And the book continues to travel too.It even made it to Mexico....

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Getting ready for a 2016 trip to the Puckasaw Depot

I recently finished your fine book. Beautifully written, and immensely interesting! Thank you so much for sending it to us. I thoroughly enjoy Canadian history, and your engrossing writing certainly brings the Depot to life.
Bill Whitman   Washago, Ontario

 I very much enjoyed reading The Puckasaw Diaries, my favourite Christmas present this year. It’s the first book I’ve read a second time immediately upon finishing. Thanks for all your efforts in getting this history recorded for others to enjoy.Rich Greenwood    Sault Ste Marie, Ontario

 Wow Ruth what a book. I’ve read it once but there is so much to take in that I can see there will be quite a few repeat reads.Bridget Roberts     Wiltshire, England

 I have started reading and am enjoying it. I'm sure as soon as I get them cataloged they will be read by many of our patrons. It is great when we get some new local history in our libraryJan Ramage       White River Public Library

To order a copy of The Puckasaw Diaries contact the author Ruth Fletcher at
Cost is $29.95 plus 10.00 shipping.

1956    Gord and Dan all set to head up the lake to Puckasaw 

           Hurray .. 

             Summer 2016 and we're heading to Pukaskwa Park 

                         and the Puckasaw Depot

1999 view of Davis Island, Puckasaw Bay and Imogene Creek mouth 

We'll see what's left of the cabin this year.

1975      Fletcher -Mills cabin 

                                ...more news when we get back...

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Puckasaw Diaries by Ruth J.Fletcher

To purchase a copy of The Puckasaw Diaries contact the author at:

 Update  : Big thanks to the readers who have sent me  photos.Thought you might like to view them too. 

Matt mailed this one of the inside of the cabin, probably sometime in the early 1980s. You can see the mill-wrap peeling off the walls. The old granite water pitcher waits for someone to take a bath. Thanks Matt. Perhaps some day this picture will be inspiration for a painting .

This photo from Matt makes me lonesome. It must be the fall; the leaves are off the birch trees.I wonder about the coming winter and how the snow will fill in the cracks. There is no more  woodstove warm to stave off the chill.  

Jo-Anne shared a pic in an email.Her son purchased this old postcard on eBay. Here we see Wigwam Bay in the early 1900s. I am still trying to identify the exact time and maybe the names of those enjoying the fine Lake Superior summer day. 

August 8th , 2015.....Art on the Bay was a sun-filled fair where folks wandered and enjoyed the work of local artists.

Some even took time to sit and read.

Woodworker Steve Dyni describes the design on a wooden plate 

 Tami Poldmaa , who creates oil paintings of Lake Superior , had a colourful display tent.

August 3, 2015.....Book signing day at Pukaskwa Park

Ward and Ruth on a hike around Hattie Cove, Pukaskwa Park 

Pukaskwa park was fantastic! Thanks to everyone who showed up  at the Visitor's Centre. And thanks to Jason Turnbull for the radio chat.


Ruth will be at the Pukaskwa Park Visitor's Centre for a book signing  on Aug 1 , 2015 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.

(Listen to CBC Up North with Jason Turnbull  on Friday July 31st after 4 pm for the radio interview)

Getting ready to read at the Sault Public Library


Cost is 29.95

To order your copy contact the author at :


Books also available in Sault Ste Marie at 

....Discovery Heritage Centre , Bay Street

....Joe's Sports , Queen Street

"Where's Puckasaw?"

The Travels of The Puckasaw Diaries.

Where's your book? Send your photo to

At Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas

A Happy Reader in California

Wanted on the Voyage


   Entertainment during intermission at the opera in Chicago

Georgia O'Keefe looks over a shoulder from atop Pedernal, her  beloved mesa in New Mexico

Hanging out by a big log in Vancouver Harbour 

 Dan Rae (pg 250) shows his son John a favourite photo on page 234.

A great holiday read ...

The Puckasaw Diaries.....

The long awaited book about  life at and journeys to a wild and wonderful place on Lake Superior is now available . The launch on December 6th, 2014 was a heartwarming and laughter -filled event.Thanks so much to everyone who attended. 

Two oil lamps from the Fletcher/Mills' cabin made it to the launch.

Cost of each book  is $29.95 (cash or cheque) No tax. 

(Shipping is $9.95 for one book.For multiple copies,  shipping costs vary. )

The book reading and signing held at the Sault Ste Marie Public Library on May 25, 2015 ......

posters and artefact table

 To order your copy ,  contact the author by snail mail at P.O. Box 4, Highway 17 North, Montreal River Harbour, On. POS IHO or by email  at 

When young brothers Gordon and Lee Fletcher left Liverpool. England in the aftermath of WW1, they began a life with their mother, Bel and soldier stepfather, Jack Mills in a strange new place called the Puckasaw Depot, the center for a logging operation along the Puckasaw River.Little did they know that this isolated shoreline on Lake Superior would be their home for 14 years and would live in their hearts forever.

Gord's daughter,Ruth Fletcher,tells their story with humour, insight and passion for the beauty and power inherent in this remote stretch of Lake Superior shoreline. Included in the 270 page book are over 140 original photographs spanning an era from the late 1800s to 2005.


  Gord and Lee Fletcher in front of their cabin at the Puckasaw Depot as they get ready to hit the trail.

As an accompaniment to her book , Ruth J.Fletcher also offers online stories of the adventures of Gord and Lee . The Puckasaw Perils : Stories of Survival along a Lake Superior Wilderness include  three of her narratives.  Fifth Street Julia, Waiting for Water and Hellespont will be published as serial installments on this blog.

The Puckasaw Perils: Stories of Survival along a Lake Superior Wilderness

                                 Fifth Street Julia

Some nights you just go. You can’t stop. The rhythm gets to you, or the speed. You’re moving, man, moving, and that’s all.
Eric Nesterenko, hockey player   
  1972 qu. in The Death of Hockey by Bruce Kidd and J.Macfarlane

Episode One 

 Gord wanted to stop for a smoke but he didn't dare. The cold was moving up his legs and if it reached his arms and chest, walking would be that much more difficult. He continued, worried that stopping might mean he wouldn't be able to get going again.
The day was not supposed to end up like this. It had started out the same as the others since he and Lee had come up here, except that this cold late December morning had powdered fresh snow over the spruce trees. He had been eager to get up. Today was the day he would gather traps and close down the trapline. The two brothers were one step closer to collecting their fortune.

Gord, now 23, and Lee, 19, had come up to Puckasaw over three months ago. They had a lot of experience in bush work but had found little to do in the city of Sault Ste Marie. The Depression had worsened. It was 1934, and ’34 was as bad a year as ’33 or ’32. As it became more and more obvious that any work opportunities were pretty well non–existent, Gord had the idea to try their luck at trapping. So, in mid-September, with $50 in their pockets, the two of them took the ACR train to Michipicoten Harbour. There, they spent most of their money on grub from Dave Summer’s store before hitching a ride up the shore towards Puckasaw on the Lapointe Fisheries boat. Charlie’s 18 ft canoe, tethered to the fish boat, bobbed in the water behind them. The Lapointes took them to Ganley Harbour, about 10 miles east of Puckasaw, where Gord and Lee disembarked, loaded their gear into the canoe and headed to the Depot. Since the canoe had oarlocks, Gord rowed and Lee paddled.

The brothers returned to their cabin at the Puckasaw Depot, the only home they remembered with any fondness. The first thing they did was clean house and catch some fish for supper. The place was full of memories and ghosts, but it was warm and dry and for that they were thankful. Never mind the isolation, or the lack of outside contact. Even though they would have to do without supplies from the steamship, the Reliance, would have to live without the mail runs from White River, would have to find amusement without the jokes and poker games with their Chicago uncles, would have to be strong without the company of their mother and stepfather, Puckasaw was the best place for them right now – or so they thought.
Today they were shutting down the trapline and decided that Gord would pick up the last of the traps and Lee had would stay back in the cabin. Animal activity had slowed down so the load should be ok for one man. They both had snowshoes to finish, just in case they had to make the 75 mile walk to White River and Lee was anxious to get them done. He’d keep the stove going, make a partridge stew, work on his snowshoes and hold the fort. They shared a breakfast of bannock topped with the last of their mother’s raspberry jam. Their conversation bounced back and forth with talk of what they would do with their earnings from the pile of fox and beaver pelts waiting in the corner.

8:00 am

Gord took a last swallow of sugary tea, grabbed his canvas pack and threw in his tin cup. He wrapped up a piece of last night’s moose meat in brown paper and tossed it into his pack. It would provide him with all energy he’d need. Just before leaving, he told Lee to put lots of spuds in the stew. He knew he’d be hungry when he got back.
He set off into the grey morning with a slight northeast tugging at his jacket and last night’s chess problem whirling in his head. A little skiff of snow dusted the ground. For early winter, there was a strange mildness in the air.

Lee watched his brother lope up the shore trial to the river. It was always an anxious moment, this parting. With just the two of them here, they had developed a strong dependency. The days were spent in an odd unison. The routine of mornings, the sharing of chores, long miles on the trap line, hours of crib challenges and hours of silences had wrapped them together.
Lee turned from the window and looked around the cabin. The logs held voices in the eaves, held whispers in the corners. And now there were lots of empty spaces, especially the big one where their mother’s piano had been. Chilliness had entered the cabin, so Lee moved to get a load of firewood. He stepped outside to the shrinking woodpile. They had been burning some of the logs they had pulled off Kelly’s old barn, and they’d soon need to wrestle down a few more. Lee gathered up an armload of the old cut and split spruce logs and hummed as he opened the unlatched door with one hip. He bristled from the cold and threw another piece of wood into the stove. Later he’d go for a walk and check out the Depot for one last time. He wished the wireless operator was still around. His cabin, used for forest fire watch, was always buzzing with some interesting tidbit from the outside world. Better quit day dreaming and get back at the snowshoes, Lee thought as he sat down at the kitchen table.
 Gord adjusted the pack on his shoulders. The closer he got to the Puckasaw River, the more the breezes began to pick up. Earlier he had started to sweat from keeping up a quick pace, but now there was a bit of a bite to the wind. Gord buttoned his jacket again. He was glad the snow was holding off. He always liked this part of the trail. He could hear the roar of the river a mile before he reached it and memories of the busy days of the drive always made him smile. Gord had become accustomed to being alone. He had spent many hours by himself and had ways of dealing with the nag of loneliness. Two years ago, in the fall of 1932, Gord, Jack and Einer had come up to trap. Jack and Einer went overnight to check the north end of the line. Gord was alone at the Depot when an aggressive bear showed up, bared his teeth, huffed, growled and forced Gord onto the roof of the cabin. He stayed there all night while the bruin circled and claimed the territory below. In the morning Gord came down, Jack and Einer returned and a bad experience became a good story.
Gord kept up his steady lope on the trail and turned his thoughts from bear encounters to his chess game instead. He’d been playing both sides. Black already has two of White’s rooks and a bishop. And now here’s a chance to take another bishop! The game kept his mind buzzing as he approached the familiar terrain of the Puckasaw River. Gord whistled, stepped over a deadfall, removed a trap and put it in his pack. The metal clanked as it hit his cup. Almost time to stop for a smoke. The dam would be a good spot for that, a good spot for a break.

Episode Two

10:00 am

The dam was a familiar place. Gord had crossed the roadwork of hammered pulp logs hundreds of times. But it had fallen into disrepair over the past five years. On one side was the smooth river. On the other side of the dam was a rush of white water beginning its descent to the lake. He rested by the river bank for a few minutes. The hike to here was just a warm-up to his long day’s trek. Gord rolled a cigarette and lit a wooden match with his left thumbnail. The flame crackled the dry tobacco as he inhaled a long, deep breath of the sweet smoke.

Lee decided to put the partridge stew together before cutting the babiche for the shoes. He had two of the tasty birds left from the dozen he had shot with his 22 pistol. And all on one day's hunt too. He could have shot more, but 12 were all he could carry.  The partridge meat and bones would make a tasty bouillon along with a few added roots. Lee tossed potatoes, turnips and the last onion into the pot.  They'd have a good hot meal tonight. With the stew pot full, lidded and simmering on the back of the woodstove, Lee laid out his chore for the day. It was an important job. If the lake didn’t let them, the snowshoes might prove to be their only way out. 

They had prepared the frames, soon after their arrival, at the beginning of October.  They cut off the outside edge from birch saplings and soaked them until they could be bent and formed into a teardrop shape. Scrounging through the blacksmith shop, Gord and Lee salvaged oak boards from an old apple barrel. The oak made for strong toe pieces so all they needed to do now was weave in the moose rawhide. 
The brothers wouldn't have taken on the chore of making snowshoes if Gord hadn't shot the moose. It was luck really. They had been returning from the north end of the trapline, up by Lafleur’s, when Gord noticed the tracks leading into a tag alder thicket. He got close enough to bag it with the Luger, Jack's WWI treasure and a constant companion on the trapline.  

With his mind's eye, Gord measured up the dam.  The water was higher than the last time he was here.  The heavy rain that had turned to snow two days ago added more to the height of the river.  The dam was less and less resembling a dam and more and more  nothing but a log jam. 
How many times had he traversed it?  Ten years ago this was a strong span of fresh cut logs, wide enough for a horse and wagon. It held back the push of the river and herded logs through its sluices.  Built in summer when water was low, it had withstood more than a dozen years of floods and log runs. But today it was a crumbling facade of what its former self. With no work crews to tend its broken bones, the dam was getting ready to succumb to the forces of the river. 
But not yet.
Crossing over was a test of dexterity.  Gord realized that the two remaining logs barely supported the weight of a man.  Step lightly, step quickly.  Don't look off to either side.  Keep feet straight.  Watch for slippery spots.  Gord made his way to the other side of the river.  Once there he turned and looked back at the pile of logs that had just accepted his stride. He was glad this was his last trip to get the traps, glad he wouldn't have to use it again. He thought to himself.  "Wonder how many more times anyone will be able to make that trip."

12:00 pm

 Lee got up from the kitchen table, which filled the middle of the room, and went outside to gather some more firewood.  It was almost noon and the low December sun was a grey ball just above the tree line. A dark line of cloud over the lake looked heavy with snow. He looked around at the rest of the buildings, each one familiar from past days and strange now in their emptiness.  The office next door was no longer a stimulating network of activity.  The scaler's shack to the other side, the walking boss' home directly across, the doctor's house on the hill, they all looked at him with windowless windows.  Not a pane of glass left; his slingshot had done its work three years previous.  Behind his cabin he could hear the rushing and singing of the Imogene, the creek where they were guaranteed trout in the spring and skating in the late fall.  The creek sounded louder today.  There must be a lot of water in it.  Rains from two days ago had found their way to the lake.  A strong nor-easter blew high overhead pushing the Lake Superior waters off shore.  Leafless trees scraped branches against each other, their creaking and tapping a secret code to the wind. Winter was coming.

Lee shivered as he approached the woodpile.  He loaded up his bent left arm till the pieces reached his chin.  He decided to get two loads while he was at it.  Keep a good supply on hand for the evening. If one of them didn't get up during the evening to feed the stove, it always went out before morning. Building up a good daytime bed of coals made the heat last longer.  With an armload full, he pushed the door open with his right foot. The heavy thud, as he set down the firewood, broke the silence in the cabin. His left foot slammed the door shut. He was lonesome and hungry.

Lee remembered his mom’s cooking. Lemon pie, rice pudding and blueberry pancakes teased his memory. For the nth time he read the curling ACME name on the oven door. He recalled the smells of strong tea, moose ribs braising in the oven and slabs of bacon sizzling in the cast iron fry pan. To quell the spell, Lee opened the top warming oven for a piece of this morning's left over bannock. He took a bite, and then looked at the babiche he and Gord had prepared. The thin strips of moose hide lay curling on the wooden floor of the cabin. Lee picked up a strip and began to weave. 

2:00 pm

Gord was getting hungry.  He knew it was past noon; the sun was slanting through the trees. He felt his energy lagging, but he wasn't going to stop until he got to the Julia. After crossing the dam, he followed the river south to the Canyon, where Schist Falls tumbled the water to the lake. Here the trail left the Puckasaw River, veering east into thick bush and blow downs. Anxious for his break at the Julia River, Gord hurried his pace between the stops to pick up traps. He handled each one with care. A cut from the rusted metal jaws could mean a nasty infection. Gord was used to this taking of animal life.  From pan sized specs to monolithic moose, he had seen and partaken in the killing since he had come here from Liverpool.  But he still twinged at the sight of a fox paw crushed in the jaws of a trap. Sometimes, the animal had tried to work itself free.  Other times, it would escape, either by losing a body part or dragging away the trap.  The Luger made for quick dispatch of such a struggling captive, an end to the pain and the suffering. That was a chore Gord did not enjoy.

Yes, a rest at the Julia would give him a lift.  The Julia River was a much smaller, gentler river than the Puckasaw.  It tumbled from the headland and met the lake at a long wide stony beach. Half a mile up from the river mouth there would be a cabin, a reminder of busier years, when the logging operation was in full tilt.

Gord hiked hard until he came to the open lake and the Julia River beach. The promise of a smoke and a bite of food urged him on.  He strode across the small pebbles of the beach up to the narrow river mouth. Fresh Superior air filled his lungs. The morning's nor-easter had changed direction and a south west blow was charging white capped waves onto the shore. Clouds on the horizon seemed to be carrying a load of snow. He pulled the moose meat from out of his pack and ate it all with a few quick bites.  With a more contented stomach, he allowed himself to be mesmerized for a few moments by the cresting water. He dipped his cup into the lake and had a few cold, bracing swallows. A residue of sugar from his morning tea even sweetened the taste. Then he turned his back to the wind, lit a freshly rolled smoke and prepared for the journey inland and up river to the forks. As Gord picked up his pack, he thought of the chess problem back home. It was endgame now. Down a bishop and a couple of rooks, is it time for white to sacrifice the queen?

He turned his back on the lake and took the trail upriver to the cabin. Once there he laid down his pack. The rough cabin logs seemed to have sunk further into the ground. Gord pushed open the door and ducked to enter the darkness of the shelter. Light from the one window filled a square space on the dirt floor and gave outline to a small hand hewn table, chair and single cot against an unpeeled log wall. The old Make- Sure-Fire–Is-Out sign, that fire ranger Jack Fuller had posted on the front of the cabin, lay on the floor. A hole in the tar paper and pole roof had allowed rain to collect on the boards of the cot. And the steady leak had done other damage. Red rusted pock marks covered the top of a small wood stove. At one time, this shack offered warmth from a day on the trapline, but now even the moss and dirt chinking was giving up on the place. Gord could see that the cabin’s days were numbered.

 Episode Three

   4:00 pm

Lee stirred the soup.  Steam laden with onions and partridge, watered his taste glands. It soon would be time for supper and the late December sun was nearing the horizon. He checked his pocket watch – almost 4:00.  Gord should be home soon.

 Home.  Funny word for the place when mom and Jack weren't even here. Now that everyone had left for good, the decay of time had set in over the whole Depot.  But how do you say goodbye to the only place that gives you clear remembrance of childhood?  There can be no goodbyes, only repeated hellos for the rest of your life. 

Lee wondered where Gord might be. He knew the trapline route well. Leave the cabin, walk the shore trail to the dam, cross the dam and follow the bush trail to the mouth of the Julia.  Follow the Julia back upriver to meet the Puckasaw.  Cross the Puckasaw by poling their raft to the other side, then a couple more miles of trail to home. They alternated the route on the trail so the raft would always be available to cross the river.

The snowshoes were looking quite professional he thought.  No amateur work here, he laughed to himself.  With toe board and back frame in place, he had woven the sinew into tight webbing at the back end.  That had taken the thinner pieces of babiche.  He was ready now for the wider webbing.  It was less intricate work, but more strength would be needed to pull and stretch the damp strips over the edges of the frame.

But first he’d brew himself a strong cup of tea – with sugar – and make some extra for Gord too.

Gord picked up the last trap before the Puckasaw River.  The light was low and he was looking forward to being on the final leg home. All he had to do was hike to where the east branch of the Puckasaw met the north branch. There he could push the raft into the river and pole across to the spot where the river met the tote road. Then it was just four more miles to home.
Gord’s pack was heavy now.  The weight of the steel traps was pulling on the leather straps, digging into his shoulders, aching the bump where his collarbones overlapped. The traps clanked when he jumped over the blow downs across the path.  Not much further now.  At last he could hear the river, but it seemed to be louder than it should. A few minutes of his long strides and he was at the top of the bank. A quick gaze at the river told him something was wrong. There was more water than he had counted on. Two days ago, when he heard the downpour thundering on the roof of the cabin, he worried that the water might come up.  But this was even higher than he expected, higher than when he had seen it earlier in the day. And---the raft was nowhere in sight! They hadn't pulled it up far enough the last time they used it to cross the river. The raft was gone! What were his choices? Wade across? He had done it before but in low water. After all, this was the best spot to cross. Or should he backtrack down river all the way to the dam? It was getting late. Go back and spend the night in the cabin at the Julia? Not really. The thoughts spun around Gord’s head. Have a smoke and decide? No, just get going.  It will be dark soon.  Lee will be worrying.  Home is just a couple of miles away.  The pack isn't that heavy.  Get going and wade across. 

Lee stirred the stew then covered the steamy rich mixture.  The bones meat had fallen away from the flesh and he had burnt them in the stove. Light in the cabin was reduced to soft shadow.  He could 'see' because he already knew where everything was.  But, to finish the snowshoes, he would need the support of a kerosene lantern.  He pulled one off the shelf, cranked the glass mantle up and lit the wick.  It needed trimming but it was good enough for tonight.  Besides they'd be leaving soon anyway.  Lee lowered the mantle before the wick could flare up and blacken the glass.  He did not feel like cleaning it right now.  He wanted to get this job done.

He settled once more at the table with the strands of babiche. As he worked the strips into the holes along the side, a frown creased his brow.  Not a frown of working intensity, a frown of worry.  He sure would be glad when Gord got back.

Gord pulled his shoulder straps tight to raise his pack as high as possible. He didn't need wet canvas to add to the weight. Two careful steps down the sand and cobble bank and he was into the river.  The shock of cold was immediate.  His rubber bottomed leather boots were keeping his feet dry for the first plunge. He could stand a little cold water and he'd hike it back really fast.  And Lee would have the fire lit anyway.

But the next few steps weren't that easy. Gord planted one foot onto the river bottom and water swirled around his calf. The boulders on the river bottom were slipperier and bigger than he remembered. Another step and the water was mid-thigh. He secured his foot and moved again. Another step and he gasped as the icy cold surged to his waist. The fingers of current picked at the bottom of his pack and tried to pull him under. The other side of the river was too many steps away. 

 Episode Three

5:00 pm

Lee yanked on the babiche.  His index finger was beginning to ache from all the tightening of hide.  His imagination was growing into a maelstrom of anxiety.  Where was Gordon?  Maybe he decided to spend the night at the Julia cabin? 

Darkness was settling in for the night.  Gord was late.  The tea was cold/sour.  His troubled stomach balked at the thought of food.  The smell of the stew seemed stale; something was wrong; Lee could feel it in his bones.  Lee wondered if he should go looking for his brother. Was Gord hurt?  Certainly not lost, they both knew the way since they were young boys.  Should he stay in the cabin and keep the lamps lit and the fire going or head out?  Panic began to weave its way into the snowshoes.

Fear was reaching out to grip Gord.  He knew he had made a mistake trying to cross the river.  This was a bad situation and he had only himself to blame.  The river had the bottom of his heavy pack and swung him to face upriver. All he could do was lean forward into the current and inch sideways back to shore. He knew he had to turn around or die.  The many miles back to their cabin would be welcome compared to this mid river madness.

He turned and almost slipped, his pack wanting to heave him into the water.  With tree outlines and a snowy bank to guide him he headed back to the shore where he had stepped in.  It was rocky, cold, uneven, yet the best friend he had at this moment.  When he reached the bank, he took a deep gulp of air, unaware that he had been holding his breath.  A step up onto the land and he bent over in exasperation, relieving the heaviness of the pack on his shoulders. Gord wanted to stop for a smoke but he didn't dare. The cold was moving up his legs and if it reached his arms and chest, walking would be that much more difficult. He continued, worried that stopping might mean he wouldn't be able to get going again.
Through the semi-darkness, with only a brightness of snow to outline an old path and the rushing Puckasaw beside him, he headed for the dam.

6:00 pm

Lee rose from weaving the snowshoes and paced by the woodstove.  He gripped a chunk of wood, clanked open the lid of the stove and threw the log onto the coals.  Hearing a noise, he moved to the door and stepped outside to see if Gord was coming. Lee listened to hear his familiar whistle but there was only the swooshing of trees in the wind.  They knew where Gord was, but Lee could not decipher their code.  
The moon was not yet up and the darkness was deep.  Lee turned back to the warmth of the cabin and the making of the shoes, the only sanity his mind would allow.

 Gord could hear his heartbeat in his ears. His legs were numb and water had run down into his boots. He was keeping the numbness away by increasing the speed of his stride.  The scant light from the snow made soft shadows. Numbness came to him, the kind that precedes fear.  Keep going, keep going, keep going. Just get to the dam.

Lee checked his pocket watch once more – 6 o'clock.  How much more time should he give Gord?  It was now too late, too dark to go searching.  Should he go get Gus? Back to the snowshoes.  One was done already.  The simplicity mocked his confusion.

 Gord stumbled as he finished the big loop just before the dam.  The stiffness in his frozen wool pants made taking long steps almost impossible.  His ice coated boots slipped on the snowy trail.  His pack with rattling traps was a frozen lump growing on his back. Thunder from the river filled his ears.

Twist, hold snowshoe tight, weave, cut, tie.  Sore fingers, tired eyes, dry mouth.  Breathe in slow.  Don't think bad thoughts.  Remember Mom, her lemon pie.  Remember Mom, her voice.  Hear her singing at the piano – Hear her parting words.  Remember Lee take care of each other.  Twist, weave, cut, tie.

Back here again. Back at the dam. Too damn dark. Find the logs over the river.
There they are.  Two logs to walk on, two logs over the raging river.  Here comes snow.  Slippery, get balance, don't move pack. Stay stuck to my back.  Boot one, boot two, log spinning, log sinking, boot one, boot two. Logs stay steady.  Remember their width, their feel.  Don't look down.  Don't look down.  Voices? Voices?  Mom?  No. Jack? No. Who, wind and trees?  No, no. Laughter, children?  A boy, John? A man,.. John.  Leading the way.  Long powerful familiar strides, a child on his shoulders, making it look easy.  Over there, on the far bank, four women, young, old calling Dad! Dad?  Who? Me...Dad?!  Beside them another woman, young, smiling, waiting.  Oh trees and wind playing tricks.

Almost there – move stiff body, move, move.

When Gord got to the other side of the dam, he was almost too exhausted to continue.  Adrenaline had surged and waned, leaving his body desperate for rest.  The last two miles along the tote road were delirious. He tried to think of his chess problem but all he saw were suspended chess pieces dancing across an invisible board. Nothing made sense. Nothing except the clank of cold steel on his back. Nothing mattered except seeing the light from his mother’s house.

 Lee was pacing, a completed pair of snowshoes lying on the table, when Gord unlatched the door. For a second, neither of the two brothers could speak. Their eyes, locked in a paralyzed gaze, said it all. They knew that something beyond their reach had brushed their cheek. For a moment, Puckasaw had held them in its grip, and then with a shrug, had let them go. Lee helped Gord out of his frozen clothing.  Once his shivering brother had warmed up, Lee thickened their partridge stew while Gord told his story.

A few days later, close to the winter solstice, on the day the lake let them, the two left the depot, hoping to make Michipicoten Harbour for Christmas.  They rowed and paddled east in sub zero weather, their snowshoes and their fortune in furs lying on the bottom of their 18 foot canoe. 

For photos and information about the Depot , read  Fletcher's "The Puckasaw Diaries."