The Restigouche's Personality
by: Mike Lushington

        We had just come in off the river. For nearly two hours, my field assistant Jeannine and I had been chasing Black and Surf scoters around, prying once again into their secret lives, while trying to learn a little more about them. It had been our final survey by kayak for this season, and I think that we were glad to be back on shore. It was cold - about 4 degrees; there was a brisk north-westerly wind that had stirred up a chop that ensured that Jeannine got a good splashing every time I miscalculated the angle of a wave; and it was grey overcast. When had it not been grey overcast this spring?

        We had carried the kayak up to my van and were returning to the beach to pick up the rest of our gear, when I stopped for a minute to look out over the expanse that we had been traversing. It was grey, steel grey, flecked here and there with whitecaps. In the distance, toward the Quebec shore, another squall drifted downstream, and I could see the line of rain against the far hills. "Not far from snow," I muttered to myself.

        Jeannine had stopped too, and I could see that she was looking out over the water. What her thoughts were, I don't know. Instead I found myself saying, "You know, this is the aspect of the river that I always associate with it. The Restigouche is a northern river, here a big northern river, and these are its colours and this is its mood. Even when the sun shines on it, it is not a gentle river."

        This is not a river of conventional beauty. Even in the sunlight of a July day, its blue is cobalt, and the sun glints hard and clear from its surface, especially when it dances from the waves under a brisk north-westerly. In this mood, it is not an easy river to love. And yet, in its elemental harshness, it is compelling. At moments such as this, I am reminded that this is one of those rivers that one would expect to find in northern Quebec, in the Continental Shield country of Ontario, or the tundra of Nunavut. It has little in common with those gentler, softer rivers to the south.

        When I look at the Restigouche from a vantage point such as the one where we're standing on at present, or from the window of my attic study at home, I am reminded of the ice and snow of the winter that has just passed. In this aspect, it seems merely to be waiting for when the winds and colds of another winter allow it to resume its true identity. The loons calling from offshore, the gulls foraging along the shoreline, and the long lines of cormorants coursing up and down along the current line, fit into the image, even as the haunting, melancholy song of the Black scoter fades into memory for another year.

        As I take all of this in, I re-identify what it is that so compels me to return to this river, to want to be out and around it especially when it is in one of its sulks. I can understand the compulsion of those who are unable to leave the harsh realities of the north for the warmth and comfort of gentler climes, because, I realise more strongly all the time, I have become one of them. Even my laments over the weather have become those of one who wishes that a much loved but recalcitrant child would behave a little more gently once in a while. Even in those wishes, though, I realise that it is what it is, with no compromise for those who seek soft, gentle ways. After all, it is not about to change its personality - not after 10 000 years of ice and snow and spring thaw - and of complete indifference to little humans who might wish for the impossible


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