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Camping Across Canada

A few weeks ago I wrote about the first part of our trip from Georgia to Oregon in 1988 by way of Niagara Falls. The next leg of our journey, a very long one, was our camping across Canada. This, too, was an experience never to be forgotten.

We were traveling in a 1987 Buick, a roomy comfortable car with a nice big trunk for our tent and other camping gear. It was just the two of us. We were scheduled to be in Portland, Oregon by July 17 for the American Veterinary Medical Association annual convention. We rode the ferry across from Tobermory, Ontario to South Baymouth on July 8. By driving three or four hundred miles a day we knew we could make Oregon in time and have leisurely evenings and mornings in provincial camps.

I am drawing many of my recollections from my journal, some direct quotes. I wrote in my journal sitting at a picnic table, in the car riding across the prairie, and in the tent retreating from fierce wind.

We pulled in to a KOA camp at Wawa, Ontario about 7:00 p.m., July 8 and quickly set up camp. In minutes a can of stew was heating on the sterno. Contrary to our last camp on Bruce Peninsula, a beautiful provincial camp  but with only primitive toilets and no showers, this one in Wawa had everything. There were showers, a pool (much too cold to tempt us!), a laundry, even movies if we’d wanted one. But we actually preferred the provincial camps, some of which did have showers, because we were much more interested in exploring our surroundings. The firs were particularly beautiful, so many of them–bigger ones, cute little ones with knitted branches hugging the cool night air. We had known on Bruce Peninsula not to light a fire because of fire danger. But we saw no such warning sign around the camp in Wawa and it was cold. We had a fire long enough to make coffee before a fellow camper told us there was, indeed, a restriction so we started pouring water on our feeble little fire. That was the last time we had a fire in Canada.

Charles and I had been so busy with church responsibilities and raising children we’d neglected our shared devotional time. At the beginning of this trip we made a commitment to read the Bible and pray together each morning. It became more and more of a special time and we have kept up that practice to the present. One morning we sat down at a table to read our Bible and had barely gotten seated when we were literally attacked by a swarm of some kind of stinging fly. We ran to the car for cover and pulled out the Sting-eze.

The beauty of the drive along Lake Superior is as impossible to describe as that of Niagara Falls. There were views of rock-ribbed ridges spiked with firs. There were slopes covered with wildflowers (white, yellow, and soft pink). There was the view at the top of a peak, then a swooshing ride down into a valley again with the blue, blue lake on our left and, on the right, a jewel of a tiny lake fringed with spruce. (We had a new tree book but were constantly disagreeing about whether a certain tree was a spruce or a fir!)

Charles offered to turn around and go back to let me get a picture of a dead moose by the highway, but I told him I hoped we’d see a live one later on. There were lots of moose signs: MOOSE, NEXT 2 KM. NIGHT HAZARD. As it was, we did see a live moose one day eating grass right along the road. We stopped and watched him but at that point I had no film left in my camera!

Breaking camp in the mornings gets your blood going, particularly washing your face in icy water.

It was as we crossed into Manitoba that the road we traveled, which had been Highway 17 for all those many miles, now became Canada 1 with a sign near the border announcing “Crossroads of America Highways.” We could have turned there and gone all the way to the Gulf of Mexico! In Manitoba we saw fields of Christmas trees, a raspberry picking farm, and cherries for sale (yum!) by the roadside. We came to a giant field of potatoes, something we hadn’t seen since Pennsylvania and then not so large a field.

The first time I saw a red and blue oil pump right out in a huge field I asked what kind of a baler that could be.

Riding across prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan was almost like being in a virtual view, it was so smooth, so straight, never a curve or a rise. Yet, there were always interesting things to see: wide forever fields of yellow rape for making Canola oil, also fields of blue flowers we learned is flax used also for oil. The manager at Buffalo Lookout Campground near Regina also answered other questions. The little creature like a small prairie dog with whom we shared lunch was a Richard’s ground squirrel. The trees around our camp were Russian olives, elms, and aspen. This wide flat prairie surely does need trees! And water. A sign in the washroom pleaded: “Water is a precious commodity. Please use with care.”

Some road signs we saw: Yellow Quill Road, Red River Road, Thunder Creek, Roger’s Pass, Ocanagan Valley, Fertilizer Good for Peas and Lentils, many signs in English and French one of which read “Debut” for “Begins.”

Our mileage at the Regina campground showed we had driven 517 miles that day. We were certainly ripe for bed after eating our sardines, crackers, bananas, and moon pies. But our sleep was not to be a peaceful one. The wind picked up, getting stronger and stronger, until our tent literally blew down across our noses. We knew that, without our bodies, the tent, even with its good pegs, would have blown away.

July 12-8:00 a.m. Headed west to Moose Jaw and the Rockies and Portland! Drove downtown Moose Jaw just to see this pretty prairie town with handsome old buildings, well-blended new ones, a neat train station.  We ran into a downpour that day and were so glad the dry thirsty prairie was getting a drink. The year before, we were told, the crops had been so good, the surplus pulled the prices down. This year, 1988, the drought was threatening famine.

The land had been prairie-flat for such a long way but suddenly it appeared rippled like blankets loosely spread. We began to tease each other with “Look out for the Rockies!” though we knew we had a long ways to go before we’d see those majestic mountains.  We came to a scientific point of interest: salt mines. Saskatchewan is the only province in which sodium sulphate is known to occur naturally. The salt is saturated in lakes in summer, pulled up in ditch lines to reservoirs where the salt settles in cool autumn months, then is harvested in winter.

When we came to the Alberta line, we stopped. A woman from Australia offered to take our picture by the sign. The wind was blowing so hard we could hardly stand steady. Charles did the majority of the driving but I was the one driving when we first saw the Rockies. We had joked about cloud formations being the Rockies ever since Thunder Bay, Ontario, so when I exclaimed “There are the Rockies!” Charles didn’t believe me. The mountains were so far in the distance and it seemed as if we didn’t get any closer for such a long time, I was beginning to doubt my own eyes. But finally we were close enough that we knew absolutely. The mountains were jagged blue irregular teeth biting the sky. There was a sign reading “Rocky View” and then the Calgary Welcome Center.

More about Alberta, the Calgary Stampede, a quick view of the 1988 Winter Olympics park, the Rockies, and British Columbia next week!


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One Little Shoe

IMG_0168We were going camping with our two young teenage children. So we went to Sears to buy a new tent. It was when we unfolded the tent in our rec room that we found the shoe.

The tent had been folded tightly to fit into its bag. All the way inside was this little, and I mean very little, blue tennis shoe. It was a well-worn blue shoe. The sole was worn almost through. The four of us caught our breaths when we saw it. It was as if suddenly before us we could see the family who had worked making this tent. A family in Korea whose living, probably, depended on what they made from creating tents to be shipped to America.

At least one member of that family we could very well visualize. A small dark-haired child playing about as his/her parents worked. The little one could walk. This shoe appeared to have walked and run, pivoted, danced, whirled all about. In fact, it was so well worn it might have been worn by more than one child. It might have been the hand-me-down from an older sibling who, by then, was also helping make the tent.

What should I do with this little shoe? I laid it down and became involved in packing for vacation.

We did go camping. We made a lot of memories. Some might not have seemed like the ones you’d want to save,  like: “Are we almost there?” “There’s something black and white eating our eggs.” “Wake up. I think we’re floating.” But there were the swimming times, the discoveries of star fish and hermit crabs and even baby octopus. And there were stories in the dark and castles in the sand and throwing Frisbees and eating ice cream. Lots of laughter and teasing.

When we got home, there, on top of the television was the little blue shoe.

Should I just throw it away? It could not return to its owner who probably now had outgrown it anyway. And what good could one little shoe be to us? Even if we’d had a child that small.

But my heart was drawn toward this little child in Korea who had lost his shoe. I couldn’t throw it away. It kind of drifted from one spot to another, atop the bookcase, on a low table, on the mantel, here and there. I decided I would pray for the child who’d worn that shoe. I wasn’t very consistent but over the years I continued to stop every now and then, handle the little shoe and say a prayer.

When we moved four years ago I again had to make a decision whether or not to save the little blue shoe. I couldn’t discard it so here it is perched in front of some books in our den. Our children are grown with children of their own. That little child is grown, I hope, with children, too. I’ll never know what his life has been like, what kinds of troubles he’s faced, what dreams she had and whether they’ve come true or been forgotten. And he or she will never know that in America someone was praying for them. I pray that the one who wore that shoe now knows Jesus and is walking in His steps.

I know you’re expecting some kind of touching end to this story and I don’t have one. It isn’t ended yet. I still have the shoe and I’m still praying.

Watching the Korean children perform so beautifully during the Olympics, my eyes went to the corner where the little blue shoe sat, empty and still. I could just imagine a little child, the owner of that shoe, growing up–dancing, singing, skating, flying across the ice.

God knows all about the owner of the little blue tennis shoe.



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