Watershed Moments

Darryl Blazino's "A Brief Time in Heaven" captures the essence of Quetico Canoe Country

By: CONOR MIHELL

Darryl Blazino’s midlife crisis came earlier than most. He’d raced through high school, blasted to university degrees and started a dental practice in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, in his 20s. It wasn’t long before he started to burn out in the face of 60-hour work weeks. He recognized pending crisis in 1996 and made a pact with himself to change by the year 2000. “It seemed my life was slipping by, and if I didn’t make a conscious and concerted effort to take control I felt true happiness would always be a dream for the future,” he writes in his new book, A Brief Time in Heaven (Dundurn Press, $29).

Blazino’s “watershed moment” was a canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park with his friend, Rod Mackenzie, who sold him on the park as remote “motorless wilderness area.” What began as a nostalgic “fishing trip” for Blazino morphed into something more tangible. Mackenzie taught Blazino the all-encompassing joys of canoe-tripping amidst the myriad lakes and rivers at the Ontario-Minnesota border. “To him everything was great,” writes Blazino. “Where I accepted the paddling as a means to an end, [Mackenzie] actually enjoyed it—just as he did portaging, chopping wood, setting up the tent and cooking.”

Epiphany came at Chatterton Falls on the Maligne River. “That evening my eyes and ears opened to all the beauty in which I was immersed,” Blazino notes. “It was as though time was progressing in slow motion. The rocks, the water, the pines, the setting sun and the vivid colors were so etched in my brain that to this day I can close my eyes, and I am there. The magic of Quetico had cast its spell on me.”

A Brief Time in Heaven captures the magic in a series of memoirs detailing over a decade worth of canoe trips in the Quetico. Blazino recalls encounters with wildlife, close calls with danger, the new thrills he’s discovered in introducing the wilderness to his young family and, of course, great fishing. It’s fitting that Chatterton Falls cracks the top five in his “terrific 20” list of favorite places to visit in Quetico. Though not quite coffee-table size, the book’s large, airy format and ample, full-color photographs harkens back to pre-tablet publishing.

It’s been more than 50 years since Ely, Minn.-based writer and game-changing conservationist Sigurd Olson’s The Singing Wilderness popularized wilderness tripping by evocatively describing the simple charms of canoe-camping in the Boundary Waters. In the same vein, Blazino makes the Quetico wilderness accessible to readers—creating enthusiasm and making a passionate, first-hand argument for the restorative powers of nature.

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