After visiting Stanrock 1, we hiked out to Rooster Rock, a promontory that stands some 400 feet above a 300-foot deep part of Quirke Lake. It is an incredible view, and it is also terrifying. Unlike all the wussy natural parks around where I live, there are no warnings, barriers, or guard rails at Rooster Rock. It is an outcropping bare but for a few scraggly bushes, and brutally exposed to the buffeting, gusting wind.
From such a brilliant overlook, Pappa pointed out the site where he camped on the shore of the lake, before the mine was up and running. His commute to work that year was by canoe, and he told us that in retrospect he would have preferred a kayak, since the waves get awfully bad at times.
He also pointed out the place where ship full of miners overturned, killing all aboard, and how they had to fish out the bodies. (These are the kinds of stories that I hear from him. Pappa also enjoys the story of arriving in some tropical country or another to find a crowd gathered around a recently beheaded body. Based on such tales, I have determined that he has led a very different life than I have.)
After Rooster Rock we picnicked on a cliff that over looked Stanrock 2, a mine shaft sitting in the valley below. The sun had come out and the wind had settled enough that it had turned into a darn pleasant day for early November. (My brother was still horribly underdressed for the weather. He’s a city boy, and for some reason he thought that thin cords and a leather jacket were appropriate for late-fall wilderness trekking north of Lake Superior. Lucky for him, I had an extra pair of gloves in the trunk.)
After lunch, we passed the place where the… um… “ladies of negotiable affection” used to bunk. (Elliot Lake was seeming more and more like the wild west.) A looping trail took us back to an old quarry near the entrance, some four hours after we arrived.
“If you’re bored,” my Pappa told us, “we can head back to the house.”
“What do you mean, bored?” I asked. “You just showed us a place where you pulled up radioactive ore and another place where multiple people died. How could we be bored?”
With that, we headed down to Stanrock 2, 400 feet below Stanrock 1.
Like Stanrock 1, Stanrock 2 is now nothing more than a hole covered in concrete slabs. Across the valley from it, against the rock face that, further up the lake, becomes Rooster Rock, is another entrance to Stanrock 1. At least, it was there once. Now the entrance to the old mine was blasted shut. In fact, you would never even know that there was one there; it looks like nothing more than a rock slide. Once, decades ago, it was the way into a massive processing facility.
“When I was younger,” Pappa said, looking at the steep slope of broken rock, scraggly trees, and whispering grasses, “I would have looked at that as a challenge. I’d have climbed right up to the top just to prove that I could.”
My brother and I tried and quit after 40 feet or so.
By the time we made it back up the hill, we realized that we’d been moving for almost six hours. My legs felt like lead. Pappa and Mona still looked like they could have kept going well into the night. If I’m half as nimble as they are at that age, I’ll count myself a lucky man.
Every family has stories built deeply into them, ones that shape lineage as strongly as genetics. We never hear them all, so we treasure the ones that we do; we hold on to them tightly as we begin to grasp how much of ourselves comes from those that came before.