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Les Fleurs and Raleigh Falls

“What you call dos orange one?”

“I think they’re  some kind of milkweed. How do you say that in French?”

“Search me, brudder. Mebbe le laiteron? I is not sure. Dats what les chenilles eat , n’est-ce pas?”

“Caterpillars? Absolutely. Milkweed has some kind of toxin that they can digest but that predators, like birds, can’t abide.”

“Mebbe dats why dos Monarch butterfly is orange. ‘Cause o’ eatin’ dat orange milkweed.”

“Maybe. And I think birds learn that orange insects are dangerous to eat.”


Thierry and I are relaxing by Raleigh Falls, a couple hundred kilometres east of Kenora. We’ve decided to call it a day even though it is early afternoon. The forest is thinning out. Many of the trees along the highway are no thicker than a man’s neck. Much of the forest is a sickly looking mix of struggling fir and birch.

The highway climbs over the past three days have been long and gradual. I’ve been shifting through all three rings on the drivetrain but have never needed to dismount and walk. The scenery is dull and monotonous. We’ve been hopping from rest area to rest area. The waterfalls at this locale are a welcome respite from the hours of tedious grinding.

But always Thierry and I have felt ourselves cheered by the wildflowers along the highway.

“Lots of daisies, huh? Big ones.”

“Les marguerites? Oui. Dey got dat ‘appy yellow face an’ dos white collar like dat guy Shakespeare.”

“You’ve been reading Shakespeare?”

“Non. But you got dem movie on yer phone. To be or not to be, dat is de question!”

“Thierry! Don’t be watching movies on my phone. It wastes battery. We need the phone for navigation.”

“Whate’er. Yer dumb movie is preddy boring, anyway. Nutin’ ne’er blow up.”

For a few moments we listen to the rush of the water over the falls. The air is cool. The black flies that, lately, have occasionally swarmed us on the road are not around. Mosquitoes are relatively scarce, too.

“What about dem yellow one?”

“Yellow flowers? Some of them are just dandelions. Some are cowslips, I think. And maybe some kind of buttercup. I’m not sure, Thierry. I guess sometimes I just don’t notice the little things in life.”

“You notice les jacinthes, fer sure.”

“The hyacinth? Oh, yeah. But I’m pretty sure they are not wild flowers. We see a lot of them. But only where there are people.”

One way we know we are approaching a community is to notice that a few houses and gardens start appearing. Purple and pink hyacinths seem to be favourites.

It seems strange, sometimes, to go from dodging transports and logging trucks to admiring elaborate lawns and landscaping as though we’ve stumbled onto the location of Downton Abbey.

A lot of buildings on our route, both residential and business, are in ruins. A few places that we’d hoped to find a restaurant or campground have been recently abandoned. Maybe COVID finally pushed some of them from marginal enterprises to unviable ones.

I have been told by several folks that RVs and camping trailers saw a sudden surge in sales during the pandemic. People seeking somewhere remote, perhaps. Several campgrounds we have visited style themselves as ‘resorts’. Even the provincial campgrounds seem to have folks who have settled in for the season.

Thierry and I continue to pass spacious homes with vast lawns. Maybe a boat near the garage. Or an RV. Both. I was served a sandwich today by a woman older than I standing behind the glass at Subway in the little town of Ignace. She was cheerful and friendly but there was a part of me wondering how many minimum wage jobs has she done in her lifetime? And how long can she keep it going?

But along the highway the wild flowers flourish. They reap not; neither do they sow. But Solomon in all his glory…

It’s a crazy world, hein? You wanna go for a swim?”

Thierry dives in. I am briefly alarmed. But he rides the rapids for thirty metres and confidently paddles to shore. I sit on a rock with my feet in the freezing water.

It’s the little things.

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