The Other Water: A Story from Parcel B

Nat Kishchuk

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In an effort to make the work housed in our print issues available to a wider audience, yolk digitizes a select few pieces from each print issue! “The Other Water: A Story from Parcel B” by Nat Kishchuk first appeared in the Vol. 3.2, Winter 2023 Issue.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

          Let us introduce ourself.
          We are the both-at-once, yet the more-than-both. We are the land’s edge at the water’s beginning and the land’s beginning at the water’s edge. Your view—of water or land or both—will depend on your north.
          The Nêhiyawak and Wahpetonwan knew us well but did not claim us. The settlers named us variously, as the lakeshore of: W1/4 S7 Twp 53 R26 W2M; lat 53.555990, long -105.83477; 101 Ward Drive; Sanctuary Wood; and 94PA06785 W2 Parcel B.
          We endure with you in the Holocene Interglacial, in the transition between boreal forest and aspen parkland, near the middle of the continent and the centre of our lives. For us, there is as much past as there is future.
          This is one of our stories.

          It wasn’t just the loss. It was the brutality of the losing. 
          It was Hoar Frost’s moon. She whispered, rest, only rest now my darlings, this is a time of stillness. She hoped to clench us as ice, make us immobile, eternal. Our deeper dreams were wet. Above, stardancers sparkled and streamed while courting fern-green ribbons plaiting the northwest horizon. Between us and Hoar Frost Moon, the frozen lake glittered with accolades. 
          Our profile was jagged with tamarack: black silhouettes in the ozone night. We wanted to pretend they slept, but their lacy roots rotting into sulphurous slime told us otherwise. 
          A piercing screech. A wrenching groan. The air’s crystal tinkles quieted. 
          For ten Summer Moons now, newly made channels had rushed torrents of foreign water into the lake. This was not from our watershed and the transfusion was not of our doing nor our wish. The water failed to recede the first year and rose again and again the next and next, filling the lakebed, climbing the banks. 
          First to be lost were the shallows where tadpoles waggled and minnows darted over glistening sand. Their beach dulled with muck and so they never came back to us. The sun could no longer coax the waves to twinkle: they had lost their playmates. Even the dragonflies, those sapphire sentinels, seemed tarnished. Over the years, the lilting chorale waned, and then one year, there were no more frogs singing to Spring Moon. 
          The waves slapped the tamaracks relentlessly. They drowned slowly, suffocating tendril by filament. Their agony is too great to recount.
          By the year of this telling, the lake was finally too full for its shores. The distending ice strained for space, heaving up rough hunks, erupting a new shorescape.
          Our protruding point of land with its gentle inner curve of beach, our goodbye gift from the glacier, was in the new ice’s way. We thought the rocks behind it were stalwart, a protection, but we were wrong. They were pliant, portable: the merest granite. 
          That night the ice began shouldering its way across the point.
          That night we learned the edges of our life are flimsy illusions, not stiff thresholds one can choose, or not, to cross. One can stand on the shore and be drowning, stand in the water and be parched.
          When in a few weeks, Spring Moon had laughed at Great Moon’s back, when Break-up Moon’s icy chandeliers were enticing sleepy walleye up to play, the graceful curlicue of sand and shoregrass revealed itself torn and scattered. During Break-up Moon’s long last days, as the poplars’ sequin shimmy beguiled chickadees into nesting, we grew used to our new shape. As Spring Moon ceded to summer that year and the next, the new water wrestled with the point, and won. 
          That point had been our frank delight. 
          Its artfully tumbled rocks had long cradled messily elegant snuggeries woven from lakeweed. Launching from these, chubby muskrat kits learned to swim and burrow and hold their breath, out of range of fishers and pike. Their rocks disappeared under the new water, lurking untidily. 
          The merganser family, led by its haughty-headed papa, no longer hopped up to preen and strut. The cheerful pelicans, in their brief annual flybys toward the fishful shallows, no longer hailed us. The loon pairs, with their fuzzy chicks sliding off and on and around them, steered an ever-wider berth. The Canada Geese snubbed us too, although truthfully we were not very sorry about that.
          When the muskrat, bellies full of cattail, padded down from the slough at the top of the hill, they were startled and unsure. 
          As the moons cycled through the years, the lake’s new voluptuousness seduced more fishing boats, who invited their friends the speedboats to caress its undulations. They begat water-ski and wakeboard boats, pontoons and Sea-Doos: lascivious froth crumpling the whitecaps as they headed to gas up at Bell’s Beach to our south. On calmer days, the toxic tang of gas fumes trailed past us as the boats returned. Polka music humped all the way down the lake on Saturday nights from the Big Dipper Bar. Cabins, cottages, trailer courts, change rooms, toilet blocks, picnic areas, boat launches and garbage dumps sprang up all around us. We watched in quiet horror and kept the minnows close.
          One Spring Moon, for some days we could feel machines rumbling over roots, squashing intricate tunnels, carelessly slashing branches as they bullied their way off the road. The next thing we knew, the quiet cattail slough, with its dozy mosquito buzz and sturdy muskrat lodges, had been drained and landfilled to make way for houses, garages, grass and fences.
          The muskrat never even came to say goodbye.

                                                  *****

This small, sandy-bottomed lake lives with many others in the Saskatchewan ecoregion marking, at this point in continental history, the southern limit of closed boreal forest and northern limit of cleared farmland. In 1965, the Saskatchewan government carried out a waterflow diversion to benefit cottage owners and businesses whose buildings had become inconveniently far from their boats due to the droughts of the 20s and 30s. This intervention raised the water level by a couple of metres. 

As horrific as it was for this little lake’s riparian zone, it was trivial compared to many others credited with our ongoing economic and social “development.” Parcel B’s lake is about seven square kilometres in area. That same year, a couple of hours due east, the Tobin Lake Reservoir was compelled by flooding 470 square kilometres of an ecologically and culturally crucial inland delta. By 1968, further to the east in the Saskatchewan River Basin, enacting the Grand Rapids Generating Station had somehow necessitated drowning Cedar Lake and flooding 1,280 square kilometres. 

In the summers of 1976 and 1977, my siblings and I dug out drowned tamarack and poplar stumps and removed deadfall from the shore of Parcel B. The rotting stumps stank of sulphur. 

Nat Kishchuk began creative writing about three years ago, after too many years of writing something completely else. To date, her work has appeared in carte blanche, The Rumen, and Crow and Cross Keys.

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Additional reading

Sicilian Blue

Age of the Machine

Beyond Control