Isn’t that a marvelous title? I have waited half a lifetime for an excuse to invent that title. Ever since I saw the documentary film The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar.
The latest incarnation of that title to inflict a rash of envy upon me is the TV series Lark Rise to Candleford. Haven’t watched a single episode yet, I am so green with jealousy.
So, enjoy the title of this post. And read on, for you won’t be disappointed.
In a single day I traveled from the snow-haunted woods of the world’s second largest boreal forest to the shore of the world’s largest and still unfrozen freshwater sea, and back again. Wow wow wow. I shall never forget it.
I was driving my faithful ’97 Nissan Patfinder. Yes, faithful. I got the gas line break and the leak in the gas tank taken care of, and I would stake my life on that truck now. Oftentimes I have.
I started at daybreak yesterday, after a centimeter of fresh snow had fallen overnight, adding to the two centimetres that had fallen a day or two before. The Goldfield Road runs due south to the North Shore of Lake Superior, linking Hwys. 11 & 17, the two – the only two – cross-Canada road links through the boreal region.
The vehicle tracks in the freshly fallen snow told me I was not alone – that if my faithful truck broke down, I would be found within the next day or two. Twenty minutes later, I was following only two tracks, the others having turned off. Another twenty minutes, and I was following a single track. Another forty minutes, and I was alone, breaking trail. It started to snow. Steadily.
I saw it up ahead, about three-quarters of a kilometre away on a straight stretch. It was travelling on the northbound side of the Goldfield. I figured at first it was human. But on that side, a human would be walking north. A stranded motorist would be walking into oblivion, for this point was closer to Hwy. 17 than to 11. I was now in strange territory, never having travelled this stretch in winter.
At half a kilometre distance, I decided I was looking at a moose, and it was southbound, ignoring the rules of the road. I prepared my trusty camera. The creature plodded along.
At a quarter kilometre away, the creature stopped, leapt in the air and landed on its feet sideways, staring at me. The hackles on its neck flared. It did look in some respects like a yearling cow moose, or a young buffalo (not indigenous to this country). But it had a canine outline, like a Great Dane, only shaggier. On second thought, a very lupine outline. I was looking at the largest black wolf I have ever seen. Perhaps the largest wolf ever seen in these parts.
Now, the timber wolf, aka the gray wolf, can range in colour from gray to black. I have seen many wolves in the wild. And a normal-sized wolf may be 30 inches high at the shoulder and weigh a hundred pounds, more or less. A record-sized wolf can be much larger. One shot in Alaska in 1939 weighed 175 lb. Googling, I found a report of one shot in Michigan in 1935 – it stood 39 inches at the shoulder, weighed 182 lb. after it was gutted, and measured 7 feet 11 inches long.
This wolf, my friends – this wolf on the Goldfield was bigger. Much, much bigger. No, I didn’t pull out my tape measure and make notes, but trust me, it was the size of a young moose.
When it ascertained that the Pathfinder would not be digestible, this wolf leapt into the bush in three bounds. I pulled up to the place it had left the road and stepped out. I was armed – with my point-and-shoot camera. With one eye I looked at the enormous paw prints and with the other eye at the bush where it had disappeared. If that creature took it into its mind to ambush me, it would be surprised. A rap on the snout with a little camera can really smart . . . for several seconds. I would not succumb without a fight.
I reached Hwy. 17 an hour before noon. Plenty of time to finish my research.
Yes, dear hearts, I was conducting field research for my current writing project, The Geraldton Northbound*, the second novel in the Kennet Forbes mystery series.
Sometimes a writer has to get off his ass and get out there, at risk of life and limb.
I turned east on Hwy. 17, looking for the Jackfish Road. The snow had stopped.
[Continued in Chapter 2.]
*Note: The novel was published in 2013 and titled Geraldton Back Doors.