Waiting for the Plane at McBeth Point, June 12th, 1997
We sit in the sunshine on the edge of the concrete pad, looking hopefully southward. Behind us the wind is rising, pushing combers and grinders against the other side of the bar. The pebbles and cobbles complain and grumble as they are pushed up the beach and slide back down with a deep percussive sigh.
This morning we took down tents and packed gear. We folded the Zodiac into its bags, and loaded most of the rocks into pails. Lunchtime is past now, and the other half of our group has already flown out, headed south to Pine Dock and civilization. We hope the north-south bearing of that intense wind holds, because if it moves just a few more compass degrees to the east it will be coming around the point and the plane will be unable to land. The others took most of the camping gear with them in the Cessna, while we held the rocks to put into the Beaver with its far greater load capacity. If we can’t get out of here, it may be an uncomfortable night without tents and stoves!
The pad we camped on was all that remained of a burned building. The fire must have been brilliant, because strewn across the white concrete were dozens of nails and chunks of melted aluminum; nothing else was left. Just along the shore, at the base of McBeth Point, the tumble-down remnants of another small group of buildings can be seen through the trees. I think of these as a mink ranch, but why I am not sure. After all, why on Earth would anyone want to build a mink ranch out here? I walked over there last evening, discovering that the only inhabitants were rabbits hopping through the wreckage; it doesn’t take long for nature to take back what is hers, especially in this harsh place.
And we really have no idea what our concrete pad might have been for. It was fine to camp on (if a bit hard), but that was in mild weather, and now that it is starting to blow up a bit we realize that there is very little shelter here. The bar is tall but very narrow, and there is a sparse band of vegetation between us and the north part of the North Basin. The cobbles on the other side of the bar are beautifully smoothed, rounded, and sorted; the wave-grinding we hear now gives a clear illustration of the reasons why.
Scrambling up to the top of the bar to watch the weather, we can see the waves breaking along the shore below the fractured cliffs that loom between here and Cat Head. We have been along there on each of the past couple of days. Most of the rockfalls seem to be old and lichen-covered; nevertheless, they are not cliffs to be trusted. There were times yesterday, even with light wind, when we could hear the patter of stones falling to the beach behind us. We mostly looked for fossils in loose blocks along the shore, but an examination of the cliff in its safer parts indicated that the fossils occur as concentrations in sporadic layers, and that they are absent from most of this rock.
The rounded and sorted cobbles made for hard walking; Ed greatly regretted the soft boots he had worn the first day, because they made his feet too sore to make the full trek yesterday, though of course there was still plenty for him to find close to the camp.
As we wait here, there is time to contemplate the larger blocks we have collected; can they be fitted into the floats of the Beaver? Dave and Nick get to work with their geological hammers, expertly bashing off corners and reducing weight as much as possible (nevertheless, the Beaver will be riding low on its floats when we finally get out of here!). We have to smack our finest Winnipegia slab into two pieces, as it is simply too large to fit anywhere in the plane as it is.
Looking across Kinwow Bay, we see Inmost Island as a pale streak between us and the low dark land on the horizon. We were out there yesterday, dropped off by the kind fisherman Irwin. It took us two and a half hours to go around the little island, picking up every fossil we could find in the warm sunshine. The trilobites and algae were well worth the trip, but thank God that Irwin came back! It would have been an awful, desolate place to be abandoned; the prospect of getting stuck here today seems comparatively pleasant.
Irwin has a 16 foot open boat with a 90 horsepower motor. That sounds like a lot of power for such a boat, but it is critical; all the boats on Lake Winnipeg seem to rely on immense power to push them over and through the waves that can become so steep on this shallow body of water. Irwin’s daughter is his assistant; she has her own fishing licence and will eventually take over his business. Most people at the McBeth Point fishing station are from Fisher River, but Irwin is from Jackhead. He has had much misfortune – his wife died of illness and his house burned down – but he says he is happy, and he appears genuinely cheerful. He seems like a man who has his niche.
Yesterday evening, in the golden light, we were surprised when the Goldfield glided into the harbour at McBeth Point. We were not even aware that there were such vessels on the lake, and yet here it was, this ghost from a time long past, looking huge and solid beside the modern fishing boats. But of course it only makes sense that a ship would be needed to service the active fishing stations on the lake. The McBeth Point station has 50 licences, and each licence allows a catch of 3800 kilograms; how could all those fish possibly get to market without a ship of this size?
Now a small fishing boat passes us, hugging the southern shore of the point. Pelicans glide over, mostly in groups of two to four. A bit farther off, too far to tell what they are, is a large flock of ducks with white flashes on their wings – mergansers, perhaps? Mergansers have been around in pairs for the past couple of days, but I had not seen a large flock before.
The sun continues to move across the sky, the wind blows a bit harder, and we while away the time by telling stories and attempting to flint-knap the abundant chert cobbles. But we are constantly listening, listening intently for the deep rotary-engine buzz of the Beaver. We hear nothing beyond the wind in the trees and the waves on the shore. Surely the plane must arrive soon. Surely.
© Graham Young, 2012