A Different Kind of Vacation

At Owl Hoot Camp near Lac la Biche
l. to r. Adam (family friend); Troy & Clarissa Austin, Allen Shaw, Katrina Shaw and Aaron, William Shaw, Hank Husby, Vicki Shaw, Joan Husby
    For years my Canadian cousins, the Shaw family, have told us about their annual camping trips to Lac la Biche (Lake of the Fawn). This year Vickie e-mailed, saying “I know it’s short notice, but we have room for two more. Would you like to go along?”

     Would we? Yes, indeed! We dropped everything and drove 750 miles north to Innisfail, Alberta. There we joined Vickie and Allen, their young-adult children, Clarissa, William, and Katrina, plus Clarissa’s husband Troy, and Aaron, Katrina’s boy friend. They’re a lively crew who really enjoy having fun together.

    Among her many other talents, Vickie is a gifted organizer. She and the kids had prepared and packed five days’ worth of meals. We all helped load utensils, towels, games, fishing equipment, cameras, lifejackets, tools–well, everything needed to sustain the group for five days. Allan towed a boat, also loaded to the gunnels with supplies.

    We drove five hours north and east to reach our destination, an old fishing resort on the placid Owl River. The Shaws discovered the place years ago, when my Uncle Bill, Vickie’s father, visited them and expressed a desire to go fishing. It’s a beloved spot for all of them. The owner of the camp passed away last year, and his family is trying to keep it operating. Official rules no longer allow fishermen to catch walleyed pike in the Owl River. On the lake, only one northern pike per day is allowed. So fewer people come now. We were the only guests until the weekend.

    One of the red-painted log buildings is over one hundred years old. Campers boil the river water for non-drinking needs, and each cabin has an outhouse.  Only the trailer cabin, where Hank and I slept, has a bathroom. We all took turns using that shower. Aaron and William each set up his own tent, and we congregated in the largest cabin to eat and play games.

    Our boat held four fishermen at a time for the mile-long ride down the Owl River to Lac la Biche, one of Alberta’s larger lakes. Occasional farms dot the tree-lined shores. The shallow water, murky with algae and weed patches, is ideal pike habitat. Hank came back from his first expedition one happy man. He’d caught a 36-inch pike. Allan fried fish steaks for the next morning’s breakfast. Delicious, not fishy at all.

A peaceful moment on one of our walks

    Our days were long and lazy. That far north in mid-July the sun didn’t set until 10:30. Hank and I started each day with a leisurely walk. Sometimes we sauntered along the road where cattle congregated within sight of the bridge over the Owl River, sometimes on lanes that led through birch and spruce woods. Once a doe and fawn bounded away through a clearing. Another time we held our breaths while a buck and doe picked their way along the edge of the woods to cross the lane ahead of us. Mornings were enchanted times, with no human-made sounds, just the music of warblers and rose-breasted grosbeaks and mourning doves, punctuated by the drum-knockings of woodpeckers. Sometimes, when the rustling cottonwoods stilled, we heard a distant cow bawling for her calf.     When we weren’t fishing, we piled into vehicles to revisit the Shaws’ favorite spots, like a nearby lake where cormorants and pelicans had built their nests in condos one above the other in every tree on one small island. All that activity eventually killed the trees, and when we stood on the shore, we could see that not even one tree remained standing. Only a few of the birds circled the former rookery.
    Always before, our vacations have been “on-the-go” affairs, leaving us feeling as if we’ve covered too many miles, tried to see too many people and tried to do too many things. This camping trip was a leisurely adventure we never expected.

    The best part was having time to appreciate the other members of our party for the special people they are. I’ll tell more in future blogposts, but for now, I’m convinced: it’s never too late to try a different way of doing things. 

Allen checking out the boat at the Owl River launching site
Hank with the first two pike caught

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