It was another of Dad’s many Great White North adventures. We paddled out on the lake and a very cold breeze rippled the water. Just enough to cause little wrinkles on its surface. Dad was in the back, executing his signature “J” stroke to swing the bow around, and I, as usual, struggled frantically to help turn the boat. I was twelve, still skinny, stringy and mostly annoying, with a large unfiltered mouth that typically got me into a lot of trouble.
The air was full with the chill of the promise of snow, but up there in northern British Columbia, two hundred miles south of the Yukon and high in the Rockies, it rarely was not. My father sat straight in the back of the canoe, his iron arms pulling us through the water as I looked around at the vast lake before us.
We’d attended the propaganda films put out by the dam at the makeshift museum they’d set up next to it. The ones where they talked about the future wonders that the lake would provide. Recreational boating, water skiing, tourism dollars. They showed the gigantic machines used to log the trees and move the dirt: the largest machines on earth, they claimed. It was a wonder of human achievement, but in the end it was all about the human achievement called politics. It took too long to log the millions of square miles of timber that stood in the path of soon to be flooded areas, and they wanted the dam yesterday. Electrical power dollars would make them millions and take less time and effort than logging. So they built their dam on the Peace River, and the valleys flooded, creating the largest man made lake in North America.
We angled our tiny sliver of aluminum, our Grumman canoe, toward one of the many crooks and crannies of the lake along the shoreline. I looked down into the crystal clear water and far down below I could see the tops of trees: a city of them, a forest of the dead. How far down I could not tell. A hundred feet, two hundred feet? And how tall were those trees? Another hundred, or hundred and fifty? I had to look away, the vertigo was overwhelming, but I couldn’t keep my eyes from it very long. I peered back down. It was fascinating. A whole world lay frozen in time below us in the refrigerated waters. Our tiny boat could be dragged below falling down, down, down to the angry branches below. The trees with their lives cut short taking us below to roll us in their watery grave of ice.
I’d read the newspaper articles, and heard the stories that my parent’s friends told about the boats that the stray logs sunk. You couldn’t run a power boat on the lake, floating and submerged logs would ram you and sink your boat. It had even sunk a heavy duty tugboat. All of that timber they couldn’t take the time to cut down and mill and turn into lumber now floated around waiting for its next victim. So much for tourism, so much for fishing, or swimming on beaches. The water was a deathtrap.
We glided through the waters into an inlet where the trees stood half out of the water, some of them still had living branches. Above, there were the trees half alive, below the dead. Below it was if we were flying over a long dead civilization and I was peering down into it wondering what it had been like to live there. Who were they, and how did they live? Way down there in the mysterious deep.
I shook my head, and dragged my eyes away from the scene. I looked up into the mountains where the snow always dwelt. The clean, cool breeze and the sounds of birds reminded me that I was here in the land of the living. There was life above, and I was still part of it with my dad, floating on the lake over the city of dead trees in the ice glass of the north.