Paddling the Pembina


In a canoe, late June, and Phil has broken out into one of his old Morris songs as we paddle the Pembina.
Along the banks are coal seams. Exposed, punky, bituminous coal.
We find a camp spot—a clearing with a bleached log that suits to anchor a tarp.
Gear put away, canoe pulled up on a gravel shore, a fire, and garlic sausage on willow sticks.
We watch stars come out.
The air is crisp and we bank the fire up with river coal; it burns pale yellow, spits and smokes acrid in our faces.
We crawl into sleeping bags and fade, hear beavers in the dark, not remembering they are nocturnal creatures.
Phil is sleeping. Then an explosion. 
Coal flies past my head—bits bright with heat and smoke trailing like comets.
Phil had been under but the blast brought him out flaying like a Cornish wrestler.
We settle back, discuss whether to use coal for tomorrow night’s campfire.
The beavers go back to their work.


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