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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Bon Voyage (09/05/05)

TITLE: May 30th, 1845
By Lisa Smith
09/09/05


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The canoe slipped silently from shore, the cool, damp air settling on my hair and garments. Ahead, our companions were nearly invisible in the mist, mere silhouettes in the early dawn stillness. The only sounds their two canoes made were the slap of water against the hulls and the occasional muted shout as the steersman in front called out to his companions of some obstacle ahead - a floating log or shallow sandbar.

I turned to my husband only to see him regarding me, his warm hazel eyes hidden behind the droplets of mist that gathered on his spectacles. Similar droplets gathered in his sandy brown hair. I was grateful for my hat, which kept my curly hair under control. Without it I knew I would be bedeviled by the springy locks this humid air would cause.

Paul took his spectacles off and wiped them on his shirt. In his eyes I saw the same spark of eagerness I shared for our voyage. Commissioned as a missionary to the fur traders and natives in the remote outpost of Rocky Mountain House, he brought to the task a single-minded determination and a robust faith that hid behind a mild-mannered exterior. Our guides and companions, the hardy French voyageurs, had gifted him with the title "Petit Lion" - small lion. Paul said it was because of his features, which with his shaggy hair and pointed nose could resemble a lion, especially as the days passed and his beard grew in. I rather thought it was because of his fierce dedication to God, which was evident to anyone who knew him for long.

As we had been traveling for many weeks now, the voyageurs certainly had ample time to see his mettle. He had thrown himself into the adventure with an eagerness that they at first found comical. They grinned and teased as Paul tried out his rusty paddling skills, but shared their medicinal bear grease concoction to ease his blisters over the fire at night. He helped with the heavy portages (against my wishes) and earned their respect with every staggering step.

The voyageurs themselves were merry, rough men; hardened warriors of the wilderness. I marveled at their stamina as they portaged many pounds of furs and goods over difficult stretches of land between accessible waterways. Their songs rang through the wilderness as they paddled endless miles onward towards our goal. They always ended their songs with a piercing Indian yell that never ceased to startle and thrill me.

And now we were nearing the end of our journey. We had stayed at Fort Edmonton for the last few days, while the Frenchmen and natives traded furs, alcohol and many other goods, ending with a raucous send off the night before. Paul and I had enjoyed sleeping under a roof, guests of the Factor (manager of the Fort), and conversing with the Roman Catholic priest who had set up shop there. Despite some theological differences, our fellowship was heartening to us both, I think. He shared with us some of the difficulties he had faced, and encouraged us in our venture. It is good to know we have made a friend who will be relatively close at hand.

We had an early start this morning, despite the cool misty weather. I had every confidence in our guides, however. After all the miles we have shared I am convinced they could navigate through the sometimes fickle North Saskatchewan with their eyes closed. Indeed, we sailed smoothly down the river, the fog alternately revealing or shrouding the green banks that whispered past our canoes. The Frenchmen paddled silently this morning, perhaps in deference to the effects of their debauchery the night before, or perhaps they were loathe to break the mist-bound stillness.

Then, suddenly, Paul began to sing, his fine baritone intimate in the muffling mist. I glanced at him, startled, but soon my heart swelled as I recognized the hymn, "Be Thou My Vision." It was a fitting song whose words and tune summed up exquisitely both the atmosphere and our hopes as we sailed towards the unknown challenges ahead. After a moment, our companions began to hum along in counterpoint, their harmonies mingling with the steady pull of the oars. I am convinced that no finer choir was to be heard anywhere in the world that day.

The last notes were swallowed by the vast wilderness as our small, fog shrouded band glided by, heading towards journey’s end.


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This article has been read 741 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Anita Neuman09/12/05
A delightful account - worded very eloquently. Well done.
Jan Ackerson 09/13/05
Beautifully written. With some expansion and some dialog, this could be a chapter of a novel.
Crista Darr09/14/05
This article is a blessing, especially the singing paragraph. Wonderful work.
Maxx .09/17/05
This is very nicely done. Very strong writing and polished. Congrats on a great job!
Duane Gallop09/18/05
This was a nice read
Shari Armstrong 09/19/05
Very well done - great details!
Sally Hanan09/19/05
Very realistic and thoughtful account of what it must have been like back then.
Karen Ward09/19/05
Congratulations Lisa! Well done.
God Bless, Karen
Julianne Jones09/19/05
Congratulations on a well-deserved win. God Bless.
Deborah Porter 09/21/05
Lisa, congratulations on your 1st place win in the Level 3 Challenge awards, as well as your 3rd place in the Editors' Choice. It was a very close race! This was a wonderful entry and I just want to add my "Well Done!" With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)