Three days into a one week trip a few years ago,
during late fall,
at the end of a long portage in Algonquin Provincial Park,
I saw an older man sitting at the edge of the water.
As I took the canoe off my shoulders and laid it down,
he half turned and smiled a brief,
almost embarrassed smile.
I walked down,
washed my face in the cold water and sat about ten feet from him.
He was eighty-two years old.
Sitting by the lake, and later sharing a campsite,
he told me a little of his story.
This was his last time on this portage —
his favorite he said —
and his last Algonquin trip.
He had been coming here since his teens.
Now even getting in and out of a canoe was difficult.
He noticed that I had a solo canoe and asked me if I was paddling alone.
He tried to come up every year,
and usually now in late fall when the park was empty
and the leaves a kaleidoscope of color.
And almost no bugs.
Northern lakes and rivers were a primary source of peace in his life.
He was saying good-bye after decades of foggy sunrises on remote lakes,
wolves howling and clear nights when you could see millions of stars.
I asked him if this final trip was sad for him.
No, not really.
Maybe in a week or two.
For now, he was just absorbing the beauty one last time,
creating memories to carry him through the last years of his life,
and thinking back on the memories he had accumulated.
We shared a few minutes of silence.
Then he said goodnight, got up, and went into his tent.
When I got up in the morning
he was gone.