Crossing borders I instantaneously found myself in a different human milieu. Quebec at that particular border was not especially welcoming, but I quickly made the mental adjustments. Staying a desolate night in an off-season campground in Nicolet was a surreal experience, as I was making efforts to follow the second presidential debate on my electronic devices in pouring rain.
Cold Baptism at Parc National du Bic
My early impressions of French Canada changed for the better once I reached Parc National du Bic, Quebec.
The first thing I saw when I got into the “parc” were three fawns browsing grass on the meadows by the sides of the road. My heart danced…
On the way to the park was a spectacle of seabirds:
By the time I reached the Accueil (reception office), my mood had already much improved. Pleasant rangers explained I could hang the tent to dry in a strange structure called Huttopia. This is a special protective tent made of hard materials and fully furnished. The Huttopia cost 116 CAD, about 95 US$ for the night. Obviously, there was no question of staying in this utopia for more than one night, no matter how cold it got. In contrast, a tent site cost 29 CAD per night plus the park fee. I paid for the Huttopia for this one night.
The instructions were to put the receipts in the car, in my pocket and at the entrance between the wood and the plastic. Misunderstanding the last instruction, I tried to insert the slip between the plastic and wood of the door. It did not stay put. I hadn’t noticed the small post at the entrance to the camping site that had the special pocket to put the receipt.
I also received maps, explanations about trails and plenty of smiles.
Under the title: “Experience the comforts of nature”, the Sepac Internet site explains Huttopias and calls on tourists to have an alternative camping experience without having to bring their own equipment.
These innovative structures are available in 17 of Quebec’s 24 national parks and come equipped with heating, beds and full kitchenware. According to the site, the huttopias are “perfect for families, couples or groups of friends”. The advertising pictures feature happy 2 to 3-kid families or groups of friends dining in front of the Huttopias or riding their bicycles. That was clearly not my scene, but I could easily see why this would be economical and wonderful for a nature-loving family of 4 or 6. I would have happily used such a facility myself when my kids were younger.
Once I got into the Huttopia, I took in the marvel of it, checking all the bits and pieces – the garlic crushers, egg cutters, doe rollers, etc. The furniture was exquisite – hard dark wood, beautiful canopied bed, complete with pillows, blankets and bedcloths.
The reason I went out of my way with the budget and rented the Huttopia, though, was my wet tent. That’s why, unfortunately, I was soon forced to doom the room’s esthetics to destruction like an elephant stepping into virgin snow. I moved the quality wooden furniture to the side to allow for the rope to cross the room diagonally, stringing it over the beams. Hanging the tarps and tent pieces in the middle of the room barely allowed for movement in the little space left… That much for my expensive first night in supposed comfort…
Cold Nights, Sunny Days
In Parc National du Bic I discovered first hand, or more precisely, “on my body”, the physical truth we learned in school – the sunnier the days, the colder the nights.
Sep. 27th, 8 p.m.
True night and true winter.
The horns cannot be trains, they must be the big ships crossing the St. Lawrence [I was wrong. They were trains, but I didn’t know that at the time, and ships sounded more romantic. The ships were actually moving further away, too far to be heard from the park]. What is this St. Lawrence again, a river, a sea, both?
The night is full of sounds – the heating (a strange heater emits hot air from the lower rail and cold air from the top grid), the flies, and unidentified animals outside or perhaps on the inside?
Huttopia is actually a kind of a tent built on tree trunks over which a large heavy canvass is draped. The door closes with some kind of a sticky mechanism, Velcro-style, but different. There is electricity and a million sockets for charging, but no Wi-Fi… On one side there is a beautiful wooden table with nice sturdy chairs, a small fridge, shelves with a fully (almost overly) equipped kitchen with everything but a sink.
The sounds were getting more intense. It felt like some animal was moving inside the Huttopia. I decided to dare and check the back side of the two canopied beds where the tent descended into the “wilderness”. It was hermetic. No large animal could have penetrated. They were outside, then, but judging from the different sounds, were multiple. At one point I clearly heard the snorting of a male deer. That was comforting.
In front of the Huttopia there was a covered porch with a sturdy gas stove, equipped with two large burners (lighters were provided in the kitchen). There were plastic chairs and a clothing line. It was enjoyable to so easily use it instead of my usual having–to-set-up my own gas stove ordeal.
Well, indeed, the tent and all pieces were dry and happy in the morning, when I moved them all into the next camping site and re-erected the tent. Interestingly, no animals rushed and crackled around my tent on either night. Perhaps they learned to expect more from the families in the Huttopias… But I faced a fox straight on my ground the first morning. Auspiciously, the fox, two meters away from me, looked me straight in the eye, a reminder of the greater Life and Soul.
Chemin du Nord, Parc National du Bic, Quebec
Right at the entrance to the “Chemin” I saw a crowd of people, motionless and quiet with their cameras ready. Several deer were browsing happily, letting us humans do our number. I joined the crowd, but at some point quit and moved on into the trail.
The day was beautiful and there was a sea to see. The sea was at low tide and the algae exposed all over the beach:
Interesting coastal plants were growing out of sheer rocks:
or out of dead matter:
The game of sea, river and Land
A promised teahouse for a little treat on the trail, La Rose des Thes, (The rose of Teas) was closed. Other buildings were scattered along the Chemin, as well as an old boat.
Markers explained in English and French that a colonel and his wife purchased 350 acres in the 1920s. They built the main cottage as well as 5 more buildings – a stable, a bathroom, a woodshed and a sauna :
“The family chose to live in harmony with nature. They spent their days in contemplation, hiking and exploring, horseback riding and sailing. There was a “deliberate” lack of electricity and water on the premises.” Anybody wants to join me to live such a life somewhere in this vast universe? Ah…
There is no end to how much sea and shore I can see in a day. As the “chemin” kind of reached its end, I still walked a bit further into an area called “Secteur Rioux”. The rest of the trail is tide-dependent. There were cliffs shading the sun and lots of driftwood on the shore. Few other people ventured this far. Eventually we all turned back before the tide and the darkness set in.
On the “boring” route back there was a fork to La Pinede, a peak-climbing trail with a promised gorgeous view, but I was happy that day to let it go.
As I caught back with the “Chemin”, I decided to take a little detour into the Chemin Archeologique, the “Archeological Trail”. Here I was challenged with my French since, as mentioned elsewhere, there were no explanations in English. I managed to understand that the site was occupied on and off by different “Amerindien” groups for 9000 years. They killed large mammals. They fished. You can see what they called a foyer, but it was not very impressive. There’s no comparison with prehistoric sites in Israel, I must say. Pictures showed arrowheads and ceramics taken from the excavation site.
Only on the way back I understood it was low tide (there is a part of the route on the western side of the peninsula you can do only at low tide. It is marked in triangles on the map). I could now see the tide advancing along the beach, “swallowing” the strips and vesicles of the Sargasso algae that were formerly sprawled on the shore, providing photogenic material for my biologically artistic eye.
Le Contrabdndier Trail and Friendly Quebecker Neighbors
I returned in a loop through a trail called Le Contrabandier. During Prohibition, a lively commerce was apparently carried out in the area, hence the name. It was a boring forest trail and I was getting tired and cranky. My mood improved when I got clearer signs of where I was on that trail, promising an end in sight. Piles of cut trunks were situated by the road sides. Canada is preparing for winter…
Back in the campground, I met a sympathetic Quebecker lady who felt sorry for my sleeping- in–the- tent plight. She did not have that kind of problem because her husband was there to warm her up. Painful… She also told me Shimon Peres died. That took me a bit off balance, as it was not the place and time to absorb that kind of info. On the other hand it showed how successful I was on the trip in disengaging myself from the news…
The new residents in “my” Huttopia were two very nice Quebeckers. I struck a lively conversation with one of them. Very tall, solidly built but not fat, she was a super-friendly mother of three and a perfect English speaker. Here she was spending a short end-of-summer vacation with her friend.
We spoke about the language issues. She talked about rule 151 that prescribed French as the official language in Quebec. Children are allowed to go to bilingual schools only if their parents have Anglophone (a new word) background. For her this is problematic since she wants her kids to be bilingual.
She changed my dollar into quarters for the shower. Both ladies were a grand improvement over the English-reluctant locals I encountered in the south of Quebec.
My Cold Baptism - the Night of Sep. 28th
Wow, how cold was the night in the tent, how cold…
I fell asleep with four upper layers. For the lower part I had the “pajama” pants, my “Hello Kitty” one-piece nightie overalls (which made it very hard to go pee, as I had to take the whole thing off) and my light “fisherman pants”. And I wore gloves.
I went to sleep at 8:30. Tired from yesterday’s walking, I just crashed, but around midnight I woke up frozen and shivering. I was clueless on what to do, nowhere to escape. The bath-house had a generator working off and on, and a service room to heat up the 4-minute- 1$ showers, but people came in and out. Sleeping curled up in the stuffy car would not protect from the cold. It is just as cold there, unless you turned on the motor. I already had the experience of battery drain in the 1000 Islands Campground.… Plus a window must be kept open…or perhaps not? I wasn’t sure.
Eventually I pulled myself up to go pee in the bathroom. Going near the tent was too excruciating, especially with the “Hello Kitty” overall … This is my first true immersion in Natural Weather, I realized. This is the bottom line.
There was no way to sleep, so I decided to stay awake and read Abram’s book, “Becoming Animal”, on my Kindle. Abrams, the naturalist, was giving credit to Prague, the City – to its atmosphere, the accumulated cultural and human heritage imbued in its stones, pavements, structures, everything, – something that surmounted and survived Communism, wars.
That brought me back to the atmospheric Jerusalem of my childhood, its alleys, its distinct neighborhoods, the “feel” in the air on Shabbat. I love how with all his “Earth First” passion, Abrams allows for humanity’s achievements as well, from churches to computers. And the origin of all those marvels is in the Land itself. We can never remove ourselves entirely from Earth, as we are in it and of it. There’s a “remnant” of Earth even in the computer chip.
Reading has a miraculous effect on wakefulness, and with those insights and memories I started to drowse, but did not fully sleep until I ventured outside one more time to get one more layer: jacket for the top and jeans for the bottom… That entailed crossing the three meters to the car to get them, a mission hardly accomplished as I was all crunched up and contracted. Still, yes, I did fall asleep in the end.
Despite all that, I stayed another night in the tent. That was somehow easier. This time I was equipped with two extra layers right next to me, and a woolen hat (I was told it’s a must). It felt a bit silly, reminiscent of the servants in the British historical movies looking ridiculous in their pajamas and sleeping caps, but there was nothing ridiculous about that cold…
The "Relevant" Revenant?
I recently watched “The Revenant”. Apparently Di Caprio actually exposed himself to below freezing temperatures during filming and suffered from hypothermia for periods, which helped to make the movie look authentic…
That night in Du Bic was certainly as close as I ever got to anything remotely similar, and it was a worthy life experience.
The movie, though clearly dramatized, crystalized the sense I was getting of the “human wilderness” that prevailed in these high-latitude lands, both English and French. A mere 100-200 years ago you could witness the barbarity of those trappers, fur traders, hunters, the originating culture of the “second amendment” people today?
The movie underlines the greed that still seems to be a top cherished value in North American culture. It exposes the atrocities committed heartlessly against native peoples, the “place” of women in that male’s world, the bloodiness of it all. In those days, it was not pretty natural parks and protected lands. It was mayhem.
I think quality movies and novels are an excellent way to learn about cultures and history, and suggest they should be integrated into school curricula. “The Piano”, for example, is a great teacher on the colonization of New Zealand. That said, reality itself gives myriad hints and clues on the history that brought the present into existence. Just keep your antennas and intuition alive.
Following and side by side with these rough and tough hunters (and the fishermen, another story), came farmers, just as they appeared chronologically in human history at large. Quebec’s economy is still heavily dependent on its agriculture.
The next day I took two more excellent walks in the park, a vertical and an horizontal, enjoying even more sea, animals, peace as well as adventure. I even made a friend in rough circumstances…