Of Inukshuks and a Stroll Through the Park
by Jim Carrier

Blue sky. Open road. Our Ford Explorer and gear-laden trailer were rolling north to another Quetico adventure in June ’03. A CD by the late great Canadian folk singer, Stan Rogers, was rallying us to “take the Northwest Passage!” In that spirit, my brother Gary, my son Ben, our long lost buddy “Big Ed”, and I approached the border. The scene had all the makings of a good beer commercial. Sadly, the commercial ended abruptly and, for the next few moments, we found ourselves starring in a horror flick.

Edging the Ford Explorer forward in the Fort Frances border crossing traffic, Gary, Big Ed, and I were immersed in talk of our “good old days.” Suddenly, seventeen year-old Ben, seated in the back, politely but assertively, interrupted our reminiscing. Nervously, he pointed out the approach of a rather large locomotive, closing on our trailer full of camping gear at about 5 mph. Instantly, all eyes turned, widened, and fixed upon our impending disaster.

The line of traffic wasn’t moving. Neither was my brain. Rather, the thought it fixated upon was: “Old Petey is going to be plenty PO’ed about this trailer he loaned me!” Ben snapped my brain back into gear, spotting a sign and reading aloud, “This Train Is Remotely Operated.” Agitated by this new information, Gary and Big Ed fidgeted with car door handles and shouted various unflattering evaluations of my driving skills. With nowhere to go, and not much else I could do, I blew my horn beseechingly at the vehicles ahead. Ben further obliged us by initiating a “countdown” before impact, “Twenty-five yards, twenty, fifteen…” etc.

Fate appeared menacing. We were poised to “abandon ship” when Fortune smiled upon us. The line of vehicles lurched forward, and so did we, just barely in time. My teenager concluded his “play-by-play”, proclaiming train disaster had been averted with 3-4 inches to spare. We exhaled in unison.

Resuming our beer commercial trek towards Quetico, we noticed the pyramid-shaped stone cairns, called Inukshuks, dotting the lonesome rocky landscape on either side of Highway 11. Such Inukshuks were once placed by Native American pathfinders as markers for those who followed. They signified “I have passed this way and it is safe.” Having narrowly avoided calamity in the form of a near train wreck, such signs were encouraging! We would enter the Park the next day, Friday the 13th.

We remained in high spirits that next morning, bouncing our way into the Park down the dusty rough road to Beaverhouse Lake. Big Ed spotted a moose - a large cow - in marshland mists to our left. It stood, unperturbed, just seventy-five yards away. “Quetico Dave” Ribey, our outfitter, stopped his truck. Big Ed slid out, snapped a few pictures, and muttered, “Wow! We don’t see many of those in New Jersey!” This was Ed’s first Quetico adventure. He was off to a fine start.

Jim Carrier