The French doesn’t look like a normal river. It doesn’t drop out of Lake Nipissing into a smooth channel and flow down to Huron. It looks like some giant swung a hammer into Nipissing’s south shore and put a thousand cracks in the granite for the water to seep through.
It’s a maze of islands, bays, and channels. I have to take it on faith that I’m going down a river, that I’ve left Nipissing and entered the French.
Granite rises in every direction, old and giant, worn smooth over millions of years. Lichen spreads across the rock faces. Pines claw their way out of cracks, roots twisting outward, limbs bent and stunted by the wind.
The river never looks like it wore a path. It looks content to flow where it may, to fill pre-made cracks and nothing more.
Then it starts to drop, piece by piece, sliding over fault lines, spilling over broken rock. That is when, in those hundred-yard roars, the French looks like a river.
The rapids drag me out of the boat to stare and decide. My heart pounds looking at them, not when they’re big and scary, those are easy decisions, but when they are small enough to tempt, to seem possible, that is when my chest feels small.
I crawl to their edge and peer at the rushing water, at the rocks, at the way the foam moves. I stand, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I breathe against the tightness in my stomach.
Then I squeeze into the boat and drift for a moment, waiting, collecting my mind before I slip over the lip, down that smooth green tongue of water, knowing I’ve bet the trip, maybe more, on the next few moments.
That is when French is all river, beautiful and wild in its maze of granite.