Lange: Dreams of the midnight sun

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(HOST) As commentator Willem Lange watches more snow fall, he’s dreaming of summer, and getting ready for 24 hours of sunlight.

(LANGE) Snow filters through the spruces, bending down the boughs, and covering my summer’s sins of omission.  The sun, when it shines, warms the barn I’m working on only from nine in the morning till just past noon.

The days are lengthening.  But the cold is still deepening; so I keep the wood furnace going, and work outdoors whenever it’s not too wet for the tools or too cold for me.  I think often of my friend Larry Whittaker in Kugluktuk, north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun is reappearing.

The Geriatric Adventure Society has aged into its name.  Its annual bushwhack through northern New Hampshire is finished, but the canoeing division is still alive.  We never know which trip will be our last, and whether we’ll be disbanded by agreement or calamity.

All winter I read the journals of those who have gone before us.  I’ve learned they rarely describe what we’ll find when we get there; but when several  all describe the same rapid in a river as "pulse-pounding," that gets my attention.  So I try to plan for every eventuality, knowing full well I can’t.  I trust to common sense, conservative decisions, and long experience to get us through what we can’t foresee.

There are a hundred details.  When we started years ago, communication was by telephone and snail-mail.  They were slow, but I got to hear the voices of the people we’d be meeting.  Now everybody’s got e-mail; and I try to read character on the computer screen.  This is not reliable.  Last trip, a charter airline employee quoted me a great price, but neglected to tell me the plane to carry out the job didn’t exist.  He quit a few days before we arrived, and fled to Montreal.  Lucky for him.

This year’s trip begins in late July.  Before the end of this month, I have to make a deposit on three canoes, six life jackets, and nine paddles.  Northern flights are usually booked, so I make reservations early.  At the end of the trip, we’ll meet Larry at the mouth of the Coppermine River.

We no longer drive to Montreal and leave vehicles there.  Our foreign plates are a magnet for car thieves; we lost a truck there last time.  So I’ll arrange for dropoff and pickup at the airport.  Cheap motel in Yellowknife.  Charter company to fly six guys, three canoes, food, and equipment to the Dismal Lakes.

The crew’s all veterans.  I know who’s paddling with whom, and who’s tenting with whom.  Nobody wants to spend the night with the guy he paddled with all day.  We’re ready for portages and foul weather, and mosquitoes and black flies that swarm into nose, eyes, ears, and cuffs when you’re carrying a heavy load, and can’t swat.

We all know what the trip entails; we know our attributes and shortcomings; most of us are over seventy; and we like each other a lot.  I can hardly wait!  Anticipation brightens the dark days of a northern winter.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and for now I gotta get back to work.

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