Lake Kipawa: The Remote, Canadian Lake to which I owe an Extraordinary Debt

Here is an edited version of the first, and likely last, story that I posted on Medium.com. It was a colossal failure, earning $0.00 despite getting 160 views in four days (not bad for my first entry on a site where I had zero followers). Nevertheless, there is important content in this article, so I am re-blogging it for more views.

Note: This article was designed to be a full-length travelogue, so it is longer than anything I have previously written for this site. Medium’s Terms of Service also state that I own the rights to the content I generate there, so I have no qualms about posting my story here, on my non-commercial blog.


Looking out over Lake Kipawa from Camp 3 Saisons/3 Seasons’ Camp in Quebec. Photo courtesy of the author.

In July of 2019, I was in a rut. I had just put myself into considerable debt by earning a master’s degree, and apparently for nothing. It had now been seven months since graduation, and — despite multiple job interviews and promises of employment — I had been unable to secure anything more than seasonal work. I was a failure.

I yearned for a chance to clear my head and decide how to proceed, and I was hoping that a return trip to Lake Kipawa in rural Quebec would be what I required.

I first visited Lake Kipawa in 2007. I had just graduated high school, and my best friend invited me to accompany him to a fishing camp called Camp 3 Saisons/3 Seasons’ Camp. This was the most remote location I had ever been to, and it felt like paradise. Thus, 12 years later, I was certain that my second stay at 3 Seasons’ Camp would grant me the insight I needed to move forward.


I piled into a rented van on the morning of July 26 with my friend Paul — the same one who had brought me to Lake Kipawa before — his mother Doris, and their Bernese mountain dog, Mack. We departed from a city just west of Cleveland, drove east for several hours until we crossed into Canada via Buffalo, and then began an infuriatingly slow crawl through Ontario. The whole province seemed to be one giant traffic jam, and Mack was drooling on me constantly.

These were hardly the right conditions for a New Age breakthrough.

We accidentally set Ontario on fire while driving through. Photo courtesy of the auth – I mean, some guy.

It took us nearly 12 hours, but we eventually reached the town of North Bay. Here we stayed the night, before crossing the Ottawa River into Quebec the next morning. We stopped in a sleepy town called Témiscamingue to buy our fishing licenses, then drove for a few more minutes before turning off the paved road and onto a rough, dirt track.

We followed this hilly route to a large clearing, where we parked our van and unloaded our bags. After a short wait, Reggie — the owner of 3 Seasons’ Camp — came gliding in on one of his covered boats.

Reggie had dark hair and a goatee that were just starting to turn grey. He was old friends with Doris and Paul, and they immediately began catching up. Doris asked Reggie if he remembered me; and, when he looked confused, I explained that I had not been to 3 Seasons’ Camp in 12 years. Reggie then quipped, “When you used to be good-looking?” This friendly banter continued all week.

Unfortunately, the sky threatened rain, so we could not tell jokes all day. We hastily loaded all of our items onto Reggie’s boat and sped off towards camp.

We reached our cabin, “Chalet 4,” by 2 PM. It consisted of one large living space, three bedrooms, and a rudimentary bathroom. It also featured a screened-in porch, which was the perfect place to sit and read. That is how I spent my first afternoon in camp.

The view from our porch. Photo courtesy of the author.

The next day would be the start of our fishing extravaganza, along with my quest for enlightenment.

Doris, Paul, and I got up around 7 AM on July 28. All patrons of 3 Seasons’ Camp get a small motorboat to use during their stay, and we drove ours to an isolated cove in Lake Kipawa to fish. Doris hooked a small fish that got away, and I landed a tiny bass that I let go. Then, we were interrupted by a crisis: we became hungry.

Surveying the lake from our morning fishing spot on July 28, 2019. Photo courtesy of the author.

We raced back to camp and made ourselves lunch before anyone got hurt. We took the afternoon off to process our near calamity, and then ventured out again in the evening.

This time we headed for a spot called Smith Bay, where Doris and Paul had caught many fish before. The location was so good that we convinced two of our neighbors to follow us, because we were sure to need multiple boats to transport our spoils.

We caught nothing. As twilight engulfed us, we hauled anchor and made for camp.

The distinctive cliff at Smith Bay. Photo courtesy of the author.

Along the way, I noticed that Lake Kipawa did not seem as magical as before. I remembered a vast, untamed wilderness, but I encountered a lake with frequent boat traffic that was rimmed with cottages. In fact, I was perceiving this section of Lake Kipawa more realistically.


Lake Kipawa lies in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec, which has a long history of human occupation and use. The Algonquin people have inhabited this area for centuries: hunting, fishing, raising families, and keeping their traditions alive. They still dwell along the shores of Lake Kipawa, and they have never rescinded their claims to their ancestral lands.

When Europeans arrived, they changed the landscape more dramatically. They added two dams to Lake Kipawa, flooded it, and exploited the lake and surrounding area for logging. As Christina Moreau wrote in her undergraduate thesis — one of the few ecological studies on the lake — this lumbering is, “believed to have caused severe environmental damage.”

While logging occurs on a much smaller scale around Lake Kipawa today, a more pressing threat is that of mining. There are several mining claims in the vicinity of the lake, including Quebec Precious Metals’ (QPM) proposed rare-earth mine.

QPM is seeking a third party to partner with them on an open-pit mine near the shores of Lake Kipawa; they are after “rare earth” elements like lanthanum, lutetium, scandium and yttrium. The demand for these metals is skyrocketing, since they are used in cell phones, laptops, batteries, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and more.

Open-pit mines are great for the environment — not. Image by keesstes on Pixabay.

Many residents around Lake Kipawa are worried about the environmental impacts of QPM’s proposed mine, as reflected in comments made for the lake’s 2014 Concerted Management Plan.

Some of those comments revealed anxieties about the potential for radioactive waste.

Christina Moreau — who is now the co-chair of the Kipawa Lake Preservation Society — echoed those concerns in an email when she said, “rare earth elements are often found associated with radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium.” She also noted that, “processing to be done on site requires large quantities of toxic substances such as sulphuric acid, lime, and sodium carbonate.”

Had I known about this proposed mine while on Lake Kipawa, it would have seriously hampered my existential quest.


Still, as we zoomed back to our cabin from Smith Bay, I was becoming annoyed with Doris’ happiness. She insisted on stopping multiple times to take pictures of the sky, but I wanted to focus on our main task of returning to camp.

It was a nice evening, though. Photo courtesy of the author.

That boat ride began to feel like the previous three years of my life. I had been completely focused on accomplishing my goals, but I had gotten nowhere. I had become so angry, so fixated on what I did not have, that I could no longer see the simple joys around me.

That started to change the next day.

We spent the afternoon of July 29 in camp, so I returned to my reading spot on the porch. As Doris and Paul napped, the tranquility of Lake Kipawa began to affect me. It was deafeningly quiet: the only sounds were those of the gentle wind and the waves lapping against the shore.

That evening, I was able to add thunder and torrential rain to the Lake Kipawa soundtrack. A thunderstorm rolled through, leaving us with a brilliant sunset. The clouds looked as though they were on fire, and I joined the rest of the camp on the dock by Reggie’s house to admire them.

It was the first time I had stopped to look at a sunset in three years.

The sunset on July 29, 2019. Photo courtesy of the author.

Two days later we still did not have any fish, nor did I know what to do with my life. I stayed up until after 11 that night, and right before bed Doris came to get me. Reggie had turned off the lights in camp, and the stars were amazing.

I raced outside — hardly bothered by the hundreds of mosquitos — and tried desperately to take a picture of the night sky. I had no idea what I was doing, so I turned off my camera. That is when I began to appreciate what I was seeing.

Never before had I beheld such a spectacular night sky: the Milky Way streamed from horizon to horizon, a satellite floated from right to left, and a blue meteor flashed across the sky.

It was only when I stopped trying to “get” something, in this case a photograph, that I noticed how awesome that moment was.

On the next morning, August 1, I awoke to the sounds of the resident loons going crazy. It had gotten cold overnight, and now the lake was cloaked in fog. The cries of the loons, the ethereal fog, the cool air — that morning was so perfect that Doris, Paul, and I did not go fishing. We never got to experience mornings like this back home, and all we wanted to do was enjoy it.

Looking out over Lake Kipawa on August 1, 2019. Photo courtesy of the author.

We resumed fishing that evening. Paul and I elected to fish from our dock, which Reggie had been recommending all week.

We took full advantage of the comforts of our new fishing spot. I reclined on a lawn chair that I had moved to the end of our dock, while Paul sat on a cushioned seat in our boat — each of us with a glass of good bourbon. Neither Paul nor I managed to land any fish, but I did not care. I was no longer concerned with catching any “keepers,” nor was I waiting for a bolt of clarity to strike me in the head. I was in an amazing location with friends, and that was enough.

Paul (right) and I fishing from our dock on the evening of August 1, 2019. Photo courtesy of Doris Azzarello.

Our final morning in 3 Seasons’ Camp dawned overcast and cool. Reggie loaded us, two sets of our neighbors, and our luggage onto one of his boats, and then ferried us to our vehicles. We embarked on the long drive home after exchanging pleasant goodbyes, but Canada had two parting gifts for us.

First, a black bear raced across the road in front of us, apparently in no mood to be hit by a car. Second, shortly after we had crossed into Ontario from Quebec, we noticed a large coyote on the side of the road. It grew bigger as we approached it, until I realized that this was no coyote — it was a wolf.

I had dreamed of seeing a wild wolf since I was a toddler, and now one was standing mere feet from us, watching us drive by. It was as if Mother Nature herself had sent an emissary to say, “Good riddance, losers.” The honor of being personally insulted by Mother Nature left me feeling awestruck for at least the next 45 minutes, until we once again encountered the traffic of Ontario.


In the end, I never found the insight I was looking for: I was still a miserable waste-of-talent who was destined to go to jail for being unable to repay his student loans.

However, I did not return empty-handed. This trip helped me realize that sometimes, simply enjoying the moment is more rewarding than any prize, for which I will always be grateful to Lake Kipawa.

Bonus picture from the evening of July 31, 2019. Photo courtesy of the author.

16 Thoughts

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your camping trip and search for enlightened answers that you hoped time spent in nature would bring, Josh. I think it was the right approach and the fact that you did not leave with any clear answers does not take away the benefits of the overall experience. I have done the same in the past (going into nature) and sometimes I returned with answers and sometimes not, but the memories and insights gained regarding other subjects and matters are always long-lasting and influential in respect to subsequent writing and research. Wonderful photos! I can ‘feel’ the tranquility through them.

    As an aside: It was interesting (but sad) to hear about the planned rare-earths mine next to the lake. Resource extractions are taking its toll across the planet an an increasing rate and the huge demand for especially rare-earths is fueled mainly (but not only) by the consumer demand for Smartphones with 10’s of billions of these devices already sold and in circulation (leading to more contamination when they are disposed of because they cannot be recycled easily) and the demand is still rising, because people keep on buying new models. (My personal approach? I don’t own a Smartphone by choice and I hve resolved not buy buy one, I use a basic and used ‘dumb phone’, which is sufficient for my needs, no GPS maps for me, I go with paper maps… although people do look at me strangely sometimes ;) )

    When I was in high school and in my early 20’s I always wanted to go to Canada one day – specifically for the combination of nature, tranquility, safety and peace. I used to read (in American and Canadian magazines back then) about camp sites such as this one. I never made it to Canada, but who knows, maybe one day… I have heard that winters can be brutal there.

    I hope something comes up for you in terms of more permanent work, Josh. In my case went through a 10 years period (in the past) where I job hopped and did temping and part time jobs to keep myself busy before settling into something more permanent which I eventually created through entrepreneurship and independent contracting, so the impermanence eventually lead somewhere.

    Just a question about Medium: You said you did not earn a y revenue from your article on there. I was unaware that revenue can be earned – does it work through advertising? I was thinking about using Medium at some stage to lead visitors to my main blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jacques, thanks for the compliments on my article and photos!

      Concerning rare earth elements, the scale of technological production – largely cell phones for the reasons you’ve pointed out – has serious consequences that most people either don’t know or care about. There’s absolutely no need to buy a new smartphone every time a new model is released: I do have a smartphone, but I haven’t bought a new one in 4-ish years.

      About Medium: If you join Medium’s Partner Program you’re eligible to receive payment for your stories. However, you payment is completely dependent upon how long other subscribers in Medium’s Partner Program read your stories. That means your story could be read hundreds of times, but if none of those readers are in the Partner Program, you’ll earn nothing. Unfortunately, I was seriously overconfident about how many Partner Program subscribers would read my story.

      Personally, if you want to drive more traffic to your blog, I think that posting frequently and interacting with other WordPress members will do more good than publishing stories on Medium.

      Canada is a great country, but the winters are harsh in much of it. Many Canadians know how to make the most of those winters though, so I’m sure they could teach you how to do the same.

      I suspect I’ll end up working for myself someday, as a freelancer and contractor. In the short term, however, I’ll need a reliable source of income, and that’s what’s eluding me. We’ll see what happens.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Josh, I am sorry you have not yet found a permanent job, but keep looking. It has taken me years to realize that following your passion does not always translate to dollars earned. However, sometimes you can find a day job that you enjoy and pursue what you are more passionate about on the side. It’s been so long since I’ve followed anyone’s blog (I’ve been caregiving, and more recently, going back to school), that I can’t remember exactly what you got your master’s in. But you are clearly dedicated, hard-working, and talented. I always enjoy reading your posts about jaguars and your travels and adventures. I am glad you enjoyed your vacation, and hope you find a great job soon. And, please don’t wait three more years to enjoy another sunset!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Debbie! It sounds like you have a lot going on: best of luck with school and caregiving. To answer your question, my master’s degree was technically in social science, but it was a blended social science/ecology program.

      Like

    1. Thanks Chape! I know I could make money on Medium if I kept trying, but the amount of work I put into each post doesn’t make the risk seem worth it. If I’m going to write for free, or for close to free, then I’d rather put those efforts towards my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I fully intend to put one of those “buy me a coffee” buttons on my blog. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the only way I can keep this blog going is if I monetize it: I can’t keep doing all this work for free. Before I do so, however, I’ll have to go through and remove all of the images that have non-commercial licenses, which might take a while!

          Like

  3. Hi Josh

    I joined Medium once upon a time and was disappointed to find that my country was ineligible for the Partner Program so yeah, that ended that dream and I moved back home to my blog and pretty much left that account though I use the profile mostly as calling card and to interact with content on Medium; i.e. comment, clap, highlight and tweet interesting quotes discovered….

    Just before I came round to your blog I was checking out a post by a blogger who claimed to have blogging formula that take you from zero to lots of zero on your bank balance all for the low low low price of not $999 but $99 per month billed in six month cycles and I laughed and I laugh

    I’m low key so going to start a blogging institution watch me 😂😂

    Trip looks like it was worth it, minus the fire hazard potential was reading something about how 99% of forest fires are caused by humans and sometimes I think about that 1% wild animal with matches or a lighter or went to an ultra secret cub scout camp and learnt how to start a wild fire…. spooky

    I digress though great trip there should be an ancient blessing that goes
    “May you find the insights that you seek”
    If there isn’t, well there should be…..
    ~B

    PS I have a poet friend on medium who seems to beef getting some measure of success, read that as pay outs so I guess it does work, though haven’t asked how much they get and how much traffic it takes for that to happen…… It helps if you are kinda of a mini celeb cultivating partner followers
    (I suspect the are facebook click through groups)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi B,

      Medium definitely works for some people, but I’d rather not waste my time and money trying to figure it out. As I told another commenter, if I’m going to write for free or close to free, then I’d rather spend that energy on my blog.

      I might revisit that idea if I become a mini celebrity, but I don’t think that’s going to happen soon!

      That sucks that Zimbabwe isn’t eligible for the partner program; I wonder which other countries aren’t included? I hope that the same countries who usually aren’t able to tell their own stories aren’t blocked from the partner program.

      Haha, your comment made me visualize bears running round with matches, which is hilarious! Well, hilarious and terrifying. I think the 1% of forest fires that aren’t caused by humans are most likely caused by lightning though.

      Like

  4. Really enjoyed reading through this, your vacation was quite something.

    Sorry you’ve yet to find permanent work but it will happen soon hopefully.
    I am that person whose always with a camera or a phone taking pics, it’s also relaxing to just put everything down and take in the beauty that is the nature around us without any distractions.

    Liked by 1 person

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