I knew there used to be a portage trail as soon as I looked at a map. I’ve followed enough Voyageur routes to know they’d never paddle a hundred miles when they could walk ten. These are old highways, passed down from before Europeans ever thought to impose their will on the land. They’re as efficient as an animal’s path in a forest, never wasting energy, never going anywhere without reason. The Richelieu and St. Lawrence are too close for too long before they meet, running like parallel train tracks for forty miles, but the trail between them is gone.
Tangles of highways and neighborhoods clog the twelve-mile gap now. Interstates and asphalt roads crisscross suburbs and farms. Whatever’s left of some dirt path stamped down with moccasins has long disappeared under a bulldozer. I read and read, but all I found were old references to a portage off La Prairie.
I thought of walking through the streets of New Orleans and forcing old ways onto a new world. How you see a city differently when you stare at it from hundreds of years in the past. That’s why the streets are a certain way, why the avenues are crooked, why they go where they do. I will never forget that walk, the way it ghosted the past. I relished that feeling that I saw something in plain sight that no one else knew.
Maybe that’s why I passed the Richelieu canal and portaged the rapids. That’s what they would have done. Maybe that’s why I stared at the little crooked stream heading west from Chambly, stared and then turned, hesitant, unsure, almost turning back, but not quite. Maybe that’s why I’m laying here, waiting for the early morning light to walk, to piece together highways and bike paths, sidewalks and neighborhood streets.
The trail is gone, but the idea still means something.