In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in. It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience. It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.
The preparatory meetings began. ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’. All of us gathered from the four corners of the school. We found a seat and glanced around. The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come. Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning. What needs to be packed. How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains). What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.
When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead. We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost. Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us. It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.
Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places. Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip. Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’ Years later Sue joined the Army. He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.
Anyway, the trip was magical. We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other. Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites. At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were. We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.
One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls. He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?” Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper. The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.
At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair. I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life. The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in. The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband. With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip. No bottled water. No tanks of water. No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water. No one got sick.
A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them. They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have. They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair. It was a foreign place, nature. They were home-sick.
On the other hand, It was bizarre how much I enjoyed the whole experience and again reveled in the physical outdoor challenge: loving the sights especially the starry sky or a glassy-calm lake; the sounds like the lonesome, haunting call of the loon and smells of nature like of fallen pine needles under foot on a forest trail. I ate it all up and reveled in the wisdom of the team effort and of observing my classmates who may or may not be in their element. Did it bring out the best or the worst in them? Interesting to see and had me recalling that game about picking who you would want in your lifeboat.
Around six in the evening, the canoe finally drifted into the little cove on the island. They carefully unloaded the gear to assure it would remain dry. They set up the tent, threw the sleeping bags inside and paddled off to Echo Rock. As they paddled, Luke looked up at the rock cliff, and he began to remember the first time he had jumped from Echo Rock. He recalled the mixture of exhilaration and frightening feelings, as he slowly scaled the naturally laid stones to the precarious ledge which opened to a panoramic view of the bay. Local history has it that in the late nineteenth century, before roads were built in the area, a steamship that supplied the towns of Maggie River and Almond Harbour caught fire and sank in the bay. On a clear day, one can still see the timbers of the old steamship from the ledge at Echo Rock.
They docked the canoe to the side of the majestic rock surface and tied a line to a birch tree conveniently overhanging the surface of the water. Like most hot July days in the north, the day’s end was a subtle transition into a long, warm evening, with the heat of the day still prevalent in the mid-summer air. On this particular day, the late evening temperature was higher than usual. As he dove through the air, he anticipated the cool feel of the water on his sweltering body. After thirty minutes of climbing and diving, they were both ready to retire for the evening. They jumped back into the canoe and headed toward the tiny island campsite, just three hundred yards in front of them.
As the distinctive sound of crickets filled the air, accompanied by the multitude of mysterious sounds from other diverse night creatures, the sun’s powerful radiance created a timeless portrait on the night’s western sky.
The buzz of thousands of mosquitoes hovering over the surface of the water were silhouetted by the red glow of the sunset. The night became animated in sound and the peculiar northern environment came alive with tranquil vitality.
The time was 9:30pm. Jason started a small fire and they cooked a meal of beans and wieners as they quietly watched the flickering flames. Luke turned and asked Jason a question and he was surprised to see him already heading for the tent to go to sleep. Just then, he looked up at the night sky and saw a ring of clouds forming in the western horizon. Suddenly, he heard a splash on the other side of the island. He ran over to a barren rock-shelf and flashed his light in the rippling water.
A big snapping turtle appeared in the dark water below him. The characteristic hooked head and long tail on the lonely reptile gave it a sinister look as it frantically swam away from the light. As he looked over the water, the rain then began. Nevertheless, Luke doused the fire and headed for the tent.
The air in the tent was hot, but after a while the rain’s hypnotic sound on the tent softly lulled him to sleep as it quenched the night air of its sticky heat. The wind was picking up as the sound of trees bowed to its might and it could be heard all around the tiny island.
Suddenly, Luke awoke. He looked out the tent window and saw a flash of light in the night sky. Just heat lightening, he optimistically thought, as he drifted again into a twilight sleep.
Twenty minutes later, however, the tent abruptly shifted as the wind became strong and severe. They were both awake now and wondered if this was a smart time to get off the island.
Luke looked out the window of the tent at a tiny porch light, about a quarter of a mile up the lake. The light flickered and went out. A power-line must have gone down, he thought to himself. He realized then that this was not a normal storm. As he looked out at the turbulent lake and heard the white waves hit the shore of the island, he knew they were trapped.
The canoe could easily capsize if they took the chance to reach the nearest shelter. The storm raged on, and with every flash of lightening their fear rose as they waited for the inevitable clap of thunder, which sounded so close it shook the tiny island and rang in their ears as a warning of its fury.
Luke reminded himself and his young nephew not to panic. The combination of rain, wind and lightening became so intense that they were forced to yell at each other to communicate over the furious tempest.
What could they do?
Their bodies were drenched from the deluge of rain. They were sitting ducks in the midst of a powerful storm. The lightening flashed with great intensity and they both knew that they could be electrocuted at any second.
The time slowed to endless crawl. The lightening crashed down so close that the ground was alive underneath them. Fear became their greatest enemy. Luke thought about the headlines in tomorrow’s local paper:
Two Careless Canoeists Swept To Death Camping On Tiny Island
They had to act!
They both jumped out of the tent and into a blinding shower of rain. They had to get to the canoe to get off the storm-besieged island. They looked in amazement when they realized the canoe had flipped over and dislodged itself from its original place high up on the rock. The tie-line had torn off the tree limb. They were just in time! Luke had to get to the canoe before it was swept away into the deep water of the lake. He dove into the tumultuous water and came up on the other side of the canoe. The waves lapped against his head and he luckily braced himself on the bottom of the lake, pushing the canoe into the island’s rocky shore. Jason grabbed the tie-line and they lifted the canoe up and over, to empty it of water.
The lightening flashed and they saw its giant forks crash into a tree near Echo Rock, splitting it in half with ease. But, they were paralyzed with fear and decided they had to wait it out in the water-soaked tent. Going out on the lake now would put them in more danger.
It was three in the morning, and the storm had raged for more than three hours. At three-thirty, the lightening and the wind began to subside and they were ready to risk an escape in an empty canoe.
They placed the canoe in the water and paddled for the nearest cottage with all their might. The lake was still rough and the white waves became a formidable obstacle in the dark.
The wind gusted unpredictably. The canoe turned abruptly and the waves haphazardly hit the side of the tiny craft, pushing it into the bay. Luke started having second thoughts about their decision to cross over to the cottage on the mainland, but they could not turn back now.
The cold rain dripped from their weary faces as water lapped over the sides of the canoe.
The wind subsided and attacked like a bull on a rampage. After forty-five minutes of wind and waves, Luke pointed to the dock in excitement. Just as hope became alive in them, a colossal wave rolled mightily over the side of the canoe, sweeping them into the uproarious lake.
Fortunately, Luke and Jason were both strong swimmers and they did not panic easily. The night seemed endless and surreal as the dark water encompassed their every thought. Luke then looked behind him and saw the protruding dock just a few feet away.
They had made it….
Luke opened his eyes and it took a few moments to realize where his exhausted body had fallen two hours before, in the dark. The water was now calm as the early rays of the sun shone over the tree-line in the east. The canoe was rhythmically hitting the rocks just twenty feet to the left of the dock. As Luke’s eyes came into focus, he thought that the once proud craft looked broken and demoralized as the water swelled over its humble crescent form.
A man then appeared on the dock and told them about the tornado that had touched down in the area. They suddenly realized that the storm had left a path of destruction, with immense pine trees split in half and cottages with trees leaning on them, precariously.
As Luke and Jason drove out onto the main highway, they looked in wonder at the legacy of the storm. It was a storm that would be well-remembered by the two fortunate survivors.
Luke turned to his nephew and said:
A philosopher by the name of Nietzsche once wrote what I am feeling right now…
‘What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.’
Leave a comment! I love ’em and the guest writer, Luke Player, will love ’em too!
Here’s a fabulous adventure and survival story from my little bro. Prepare to be very, very scared. Shivering in your boots and thanking your lucky stars that you’re dry and warm as you read…
The winding country road was once again under construction. In the twenty-six years both as passenger and driver on that road, Luke had witnessed few changes in the 14-kilometer trek from Rex Falls to the town of Maggie River. Every inch was etched in his mind: every bump to avoid; every curve that had caused a fatal accident; every long hill that brought back the rush of deliberate speed of bike trips as a teen; every business sign battered and torn by winter’s cold and every cozy structure that lined the highway with backyards of dense forest or boggy swamp with poorly rooted trees leaning loosely to one side.
This road often triggered a set of paradoxical emotions, with both excitement and melancholy. Every turned corner held another vividly colourful memory of childhood summers. Driving to town with siblings to do errands was always a treat and the family’s weekly trip to church brought all of us together to share in the week’s joys and sorrows. Luke’s reflections were suddenly cut off by an unexpected bump and the long rough sound of gravel under the car’s wheels.
The heat of this July day was exceptional. Luke casually observed the straggling construction crew, noticing the look of dogged monotony in the eyes of one anonymous worker, draped in the ubiquitous orange which made him stand out like a flash of fire at the side of the road. He thought to himself that the sign in his hand was more than a warning to drivers to slow down; it was a warning as well to slow down before the power of the sun stripped them all of their energy.
As he turned another corner, just before entering the camp, he reminded himself to stop at the spring on High Road for some cold water. He could remember as a small child looking down at the bubbles in the crude wooden box which contained the spring water. His mother dunked the neck of the water jugs to fill them as she commented (with a pained smile) on how perfectly cold the water was on her hands. Today, the old wooden box has been replaced by the modernized well and tap that create the seemingly never-ending sound of water on the smooth, polished rock below.
Luke bent down for a long drink and he noticed a tiny bright green frog playing in the stream of spring water. As a child, he caught the same tiny green frogs for the purpose of scaring his big sister with the slippery creatures. He splashed cold water on his face and the memory was driven away with a feeling of cool, refreshing relief.
He filled the jugs, threw them in the back seat and was confident that in a few minutes he would be unabashedly running to dive in the lake that he had known all his life.
As he finally neared the entrance to the camp, that old familiar anticipation rose in his being. He looked to his left and saw that the sprawling bay was unusually calm except for the group of children diving off the raft near the beach. Even though the raft was far away, he knew they were his boisterous teenage nephews. He turned into the old camp road, reducing his speed, as the car rolled gently over the incorrigible rutted grass-line, cutting the rugged road in half with long green grass. He then drove straight for the beach.
He parked under the natural shade of an old pine tree, quickly exited the car and did a running dive into the water. As he swam in slow motion under the water, his heat exhaustion was washed away. He thought to himself about an ongoing contest he once had with his sister Morgan, in which they had devised an underwater race, with the winner being the first to come up to the surface and touch the raft.
He reached the raft and called to his eldest sister’s oldest son, who was swimming about ten feet to his right. The last time they had talked in May, they had decided on canoeing up the lake, and all they had to do now was decide when to go.
They had planned to paddle to the small island, approximately ten kilometers up Eight-Mile Lake, near a gigantic landmark by the name of Echo Rock. It is the name for a place where one can climb up 50 feet to dive into the deep water below, with the Precambrian wall of rock providing a unique, natural location for diving.
The water was extraordinarily calm as they started up the lake. It made the canoe’s speed easy to increase over the glass-like water. The afternoon heat was overpowering in the middle of the lake; so they headed over to the shoreline, to allow for the natural shade of the over-hanging trees.
As they paddled through a narrow stretch of the lake, they kept their eyes on a well-known wooden bridge which gave access to a dock for a group of cottagers. The canoe skimmed briskly over the serene waters of Eight-Mile Lake. As Luke looked down into the water, he saw the flash of rock and dead tree stumps, but they were just deep enough to be missed by the canoe, and Luke thought that the canoe is truly a superior water craft, for it can intimately explore every inch of a lake. He would soon think a little differently about it…
The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall. My best friend Kelly was already studying Nursing. Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at June’s Diner if we could work there. With a yes from June, we promptly began to plan.
We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was a tender four years of age. We promptly started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught. Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin. In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Jobe build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on. Jobe was good at that. Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire. After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire. We would just love those days with Mom…
It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless. One time, Kel reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight. Kel just chuckled at my antics. At the end of each full day, we all went out to June’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin. Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.
Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon. We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEY tapes. I should mention here that Kelly was a tireless worker. She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today. So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting. All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing.
Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god. The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, was coming to cut the hay today. You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.
The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town. Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.
Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend. We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness. The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen. It was like it was written for us.
Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin. There were a few of us in his little jeep. We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive. Kel and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change. Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left. The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK! It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows. Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out. The last person climbed out and let the door slam. It slammed on my right thumb. Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew. That was a close one. The jeep did not blow.
During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together. As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).
One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road. Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it. In we piled. There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk. We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp. Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye. He had projectiled such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall. We should have seen it coming. I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door. Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time. He was moaning, groaning and puking. He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no. I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.
The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse. There was Sue. His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me. He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind ‘reeled’ back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me. Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink. Frozen in horror at what I had just done. Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)
Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole. He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter. This was going to be interesting. I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green. His front teeth were missing. He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter. It had fallen out when he was sick…..
Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place. He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.
The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a the late hockey great, a former Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below. There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair. I could not stop looking at everything. Up at the top of the wall, hanging from the open rafters were huge posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.
Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear. The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop. The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below. It was teenager heaven. He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride. I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend. Imagine.
In the 60s my parents buy a piece of lake-front property north of the Muskokas in Ontario, Canada where we move to every summer to live bare-foot at the lake: fishing, swimming, sunning and doing chores each day…
In 1960, the year Mark was a born, my parents with my paternal grand-parents, bought a 21-acre piece of lake-side property north of Huntsville, Ontario. The Camp, as we came fondly to call it, had ten cabins, each on private, wooded lots, most with their own water frontage and docks, on beautifully picturesque forested property beside the soft mineral waters of Eight-mile Lake. The lake is part of a very long and historic river system. The camp is still up and running but is now owned and operated (since the mid 80s) by my eldest sister, Eva and her family.
The Camp was an integral part of my childhood and it was instrumental in my love of the outdoors. You see, as soon as the school year finished, Mom and Dad would have us packed up in the huge boat they called a car and we would move, lock, stock and barrel, up to the camp for the two months of the summer holidays. We never returned to the city during the summer. The City, in the summer, was a place where the less fortunate had to live.
Driving to the camp was always an undertaking. There would often be five or six of us in one car at a time for two hours straight. Once we were in, it was the lake or bust. Dad didn’t dare stop for anything. He had already gassed-up the boat and if one of us had to pee, it would be at the side of the highway, no kidding. That two-hour drive seemed to last forever, such was my eagerness to get there. Once we would pass Gravenhurst, we would be into The Rocks where the Canadian Shield would start to show its lumpy head. The Rocks was the first milestone that proved we were making progress. The Rocks we would say to each other and grin and point, then poke at each other in anticipation of all the fun the summer would surely hold for us.
The lake was the best place in the world to be in the summer and oh, how we pitied, for once, our neighbours, The MacNeils who only got to go on a short summer holiday somewhere closer to Walden. One or two of the MacNeils would usually come to visit at the lake and stay for about a week. Never the whole family though.
Once at the lake, life became a little simpler and a lot more basic. We would shed our shoes and heavier clothing and run around for hours at a time in shorts, tee shirts or just bathing suits. I can remember days filled with hours of swimming, canoeing, running back and forth to the trampoline, playing outdoor games and having the time of my life. All of us became expert swimmers, canoeists, fishers and water-skiers thanks to the black, soft water of Eight-mile Lake. I was swimming by the time I was three. I would spend hours in the water and became such a great underwater swimmer that people would often think I had drowned because I could hold my breath and swim underwater for so long.
The Camp had a built-in source of friends every summer. Nine of the cabins would be rented out to various families who had usually made bookings for them in the winter months. The campsites would also be filled up with people on vacation from the hotter, muggier climes of southern Ontario and of the northern United States. The odd time we would have customers from somewhere exotic like Europe. We would make friends one summer and then see these same people and their families return for several summers to follow. Together, my friends and I would explore the camp and surrounding area. We would swim, trampoline, canoe or walk to town, go for a hike, go fishing, go bull-frog catching, play hide-and-go-seek and have amazing sing-songs around the camp fire and under the vast starry sky at night. We were constantly on the go. We had a lot of good times. On rainy days we would play board games and spin-the-bottle above the work-shed that we called The Shop. Dad didn’t like us to have friends into The Office where he was trying to conduct business. (There were many fights about keeping The Office – our house where we ate and slept – professional and quiet. It was very difficult to keep it so serene especially with the screen door always slamming on the way out.)
‘Slam it!’ Dad would sarcastically yell from his inevitably prone position on the couch, with the newspaper. Conducting business was exhausting work. Meanwhile, Mom had already probably cut three huge grassy cabin lots, cleaned and dug four grimy, foul outhouses and had nothing but an open-face sandwich, a cup of black coffee and a gingersnap for lunch. A calorie deficit was often bragged about for some reason.
Saturdays were the worst days of the week at the camp. Saturdays were turnover days. All of our friends would be leaving and because we had so many chores on Saturday, we often didn’t even get a chance to say our good-byes. From the crack of dawn, we would be tasked with cleaning the cottages, picking up the garbage, cutting the grass, painting and making repairs. Of course, we had many of these same tasks on a daily basis but on Saturday we had a new element involved: time constraint. We had to have it all done before the new customers would begin to arrive and would be expecting their cabin or site to be absolutely sublime. When I was little, I would work closely with Amy, Eva or my mom on cabin cleaning. I would marvel at how quickly and efficiently they could complete a task. I would wish and wish that I was older and more capable, and I would try very hard to keep up with these experts but, I was a child and had the attention span of a child so I would find myself wishing I were swimming instead. Mom knew my love of the water and so would give me a task that would take me down to the dock. I would be given a large blackened kettle to scrub with sand or told to sweep off the dock! A few years later though, I was in charge of cleaning some cabins on my own, or with Luke as my assistant. Wanting to do the very best job, we drew up a list of the various tasks that would have to be completed in each cabin. It went something like this:
Make the beds. Wipe the bedroom furniture down. Sweep out the bedrooms. Clean and sanitize the fridge. Remove any left food and bait. Organize the cupboards. Blacken the wood stove and empty the ashes. Sweep down the cobwebs. Clean and sanitize the sink. Clean out the outhouse and drop ashes down the hole. Sweep and mop the floor. Sweep the porch. Sweep the dock. Tidy up the outdoor fire-hole.
Dad was very proud of this list that we drew up and he would show it to some of his friends and they would all have a chuckle over it – especially the sweep down the cobwebs line. Even now, when I sometimes (actually very rarely due, sadly, to living a few provinces away) help Eva with the cleaning, I mentally run over this list as I lovingly go about the task of cleaning those rustic, very special but ancient cabins.
Dad had a few nicknames that were given to him by the older boys: Cheapskate, Tightwad, Lard-ass, Oaf, Ogre, Moose and Minnie. Moose and Minnie were the ones that stuck although, on occasion, when Job was mad about something, and he was often mad about something, he would refer to Dad as that cheap tightwad or that Lard-ass or something akin to that. Nicknames were big in our family. From the second my Dad laid eyes on me he nicknamed me. I had all this black hair and my skin was a little brownish in colour. I was not cute. I became known as Petite Laid, meaning little ugly and later this was shortened to just Titty. I can still feel the humiliation, as a young girl, perhaps just starting to develop, Eva would holler across the aisles of Woolworth’s, Titty, come over and take a look at this. Just the other day, when on the phone, long-distance with Eva, she slipped and called me Titty. Oh my God, where did that come from? she asked. We just had a chuckle over it. Now, a few of decades later, I think it is a cute nickname. Back then, we all had a nickname, except for Eva who only got one when she met her hubby who called her Tuda. Amy was Doobie and Big Sweets. Matt was Feebert and then Feb. Mark started out as Goobie-Goo and then got Bert (except for the summer he was Manic and got ‘Skeletor’ due to not eating or sleeping). Job got Bert as well. I got Titty and then Ditch. Luke got Bert then Bertrum Brothers then Buttox. Mom was Big Bubbles. She used to leave the kettle on until there were lots of big bubbles and Dad used to goad her about that calling it a waste of energy.
Raising a family of seven kids, on a teacher’s salary, means that frugality is necessary. One day, at the lake, My brother Job 🧡 climbs out of bed and down the ladder from the loft. He decides to cook up some breakfast before starting on his morning chores. Noting that Dad is on the riding-mower out front, he decides to take some extra time and savour the peace of being alone in the office. He can just about taste the crispy bacon and eggs he will make.
Job pulls a pound of bacon out to the fridge, takes one look at the generic brand, and is so disgusted by how fatty it is that he flies out the screen door and whips the pound of bacon at Dad on the riding mower. The pound of bacon hits Dad on the back of the head while Job yells, Minnie you’re such cheapskate!
Dad would try very hard to stick around The Office most of the day. He liked to be there to collect the mail and to answer the phone and to sell a bit of ice and worms or gasoline to the customers. Of course whoever paid in cash made him very happy. Dad had a perpetual role of twentys in his pocket and would often get one of us, especially me, because I was honest, to count it for him.
Anyway, during the warm afternoons while the Northern Canadian sun danced on the large south-facing windows of the office, and the house flies buzzed angrily on the fly-catchers, Dad could invariably be found snoozing on the couch with his newspaper on his chest. Dad had bought a couple of massive, partially rusted deep freezers second-hand and they lined the north-facing exterior walls of the office with ICE printed on front and each sporting a Yale pad lock. Dad would tediously freeze huge blocks of ice in discarded fridge crisper bins. He’d then put the bin up on its edge on the kitchen table and it would begin to thaw and drip on the kitchen floor and then finally, it would yawn and tumble out. Dad would most often be there to stop the block from smashing on the floor. Here we go kids, another couple of blocks of ice to sell. Make sure to tell the customers that we sell ice down here at the office.
Dad would then, almost lovingly, wrap the blocks in old newspaper and sell them to the customers for a buck or two, as inflation dictated. Dad seemed to enjoy the process of making and selling ice and could be seen smiling dreamily as he slid the beef-laden freezer baskets out of the way and lay another completed block in its bed in the bottom of the massive freezer.
One afternoon, while Dad was snoozing on his back on the couch, a slim, curly dark-haired, handsome seventeen-year-old Mark decided to have a steak dinner. At that point in time, Mark was on the outs with Dad and was staying in one of the unrented, less popular cabins. Mark or Job and even Matt were often on the outs with Dad. Usually it was over a lack of respect. Personally, I don’t think there was much respect flowing in either direction in these relationships. Mark sauntered up the office screen door, to verify what he suspected would be the scene at that point in the afternoon. He then whipped out a screwdriver and proceeded to work the screws out of the latches on one of the freezers. He was successful. He opened the freezer. Squeak, the old hinges complained loudly. Oh Shit! Sure enough, Dad had heard his freezer door opening when it had been locked. He was up and he was mad and he was coming out of the screen door. Mark had already snatched a couple of steaks and was running through the trailer park up into the camp and yelling, I got some! I got some! Dad never saw those steaks again. Dad didn’t like to run and especially didn’t like to make a scene in front of the trailer park.
The trailer park was located beside the office on the way up to the rest of the cabins and other wooded camping sites. There was one older couple who used to always take the first site and were, therefore, closest to the office. The Pattersons were excellent fishers and liked to be close to the office dock where their boat and motor was tied. Every time we would have an argument or a kafuffle in the office, which was usually a couple of times a day, Dad would say: Keep it down, The Pattersons will hear. One of these fights got pretty bad one day. Fights were about money, nick-names, laziness, poor grammar and lack of respect. This time the fight involved Mark and got extra bad and very loud. Lots of harsh words were screamed in each direction and, of course, Dad said: Shut up! The Pattersons will hear. At that point Mark flew out the front screen door, slammed it loudly, jumped off the porch, ran down past the shop and right past The Patterson’s tent-trailer and screamed, at the top of his lungs,
FUCK THE PATTERSONS!
A few years later Mr. Patterson died of a heart attack while seated in his lawn chair. He had been looking out at the lake. His ashes were scattered over his favourite fishing hole.
I started canoeing when I was tiny. A brother and I would go out on the lake to catch bullfrogs and to explore the lily pads around the cove. We would often harvest a few lilies for Mom who would float them in a bowl of water on the table…
Last night I had a dream about canoeing at dusk on Lake Cecebe in Ontario’s cottage country. (The Camp ⛺️) I was over by number four cabin and the dark, soft familiar waters were choppy. I was solo. Suddenly I realized there was a lot of water coming into my canoe and it tipped over. I was in the drink. In real life, I have never capsized a canoe, not even while standing and lunging and reaching to catch bullfrogs as a child, never once did the canoe overturn. But in my dream last night, it did. The current became unusually strong and, still holding on to the overturned canoe, I was carried way down the narrows and into big part of the lake by Echo Rock. I was not afraid. Suddenly, I was overcome with a feeling of foreboding….but…then, I woke up.
I have many fond memories of canoeing on Cecebe. Like the late summer of 1983 when my little brother Luke would canoe into ‘Mag’ to pick me up from my shift at June’s Diner. He would slowly and quietly walk up from the dock, having tied the canoe there, to the diner to get me. I would be in my simple cotton uniform holdng a carton of to-go food. I would follow him down to the dock and take up my place in the bow and eat, famished, while Luke would paddle and tell me about his day and usually about his struggles with Dad.
After I would finish eating, we would sing for the rest of the trip. We would sing. The echo of our combined voices off the water was entrancing: Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad by Meatloaf:
Baby we can talk all night, but that ain’t getting us nowhere, I told you everything I possibly can, there’s nothing left inside of here. And maybe you can cry all night, but that’ll never change the way that I feel. The snow is really piling up outside. I wish you wouldn’t make me leave here…
Yep, we would sing that uplifting song. For some reason we knew all the words and, of course, various Bob Seger tunes and the odd Bob Dylan tune.
Mom wasn’t at the lake that year. Dad and Mom had split up. We missed her very badly. Her light always shone so bright at the lake. It was her favourite place on earth. When Mom passed away in 2001, we sprinkled her ashes in the upper field of the camp, under a pine tree. Eva, Amy, Mark and I took turns saying a few words and Mark sang a song that he wrote for mom. It was simple but sweet. Rest in Peace, Mom. We miss you.
Mom loved to canoe the lake. She would gather us up and we would make a canoe convoy out around the point beyond number six cabin in order to see the sunset.
We would laugh and tease and splash each other all the way. On the way back we would sing various camp songs and Mom’s favorite: Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. As kids, we loved to go see the sunset on the lake. It was a big event. And Mom was with us, which made it extra special.
When my friend Ben MacNeil would visit (my neighbour from the city, see post: Let the Games Begin 🏀), we would go out in the canoe every day and usually we would canoe across the lake and then over to town. Sometimes we would take a fishing rod each and some worms and tie-up near the footings of the lighthouse and try for perch, sunfish and bass. Squealing with delight when we would catch a fish, pulling it into the canoe to be taken home where mom would clean it and add it to the other catches to be eating for breakfast the next day. She would roll each piece of fish in flour and salt and pepper and fry them in the big cast-iron pan with lots of lard. There would be a stack of fish and frogs on the table for breakfast —the most important meal of the day! Mom would say and then after grace, we would begin, with gusto. I have to wonder about the current trend toward veganism — there was nothing so natural and better than availing ourselves of the fruits of the lake for our morning meal and that flour and lard made everything extra delicious. Not to mention, we would have had to BUY vegetables. We didn’t have to buy our lake bounty. There were no children as fit as us as we bent to our chores, swam, tumbled and canoed the summer days away.
On calm days we would be beckoned by the still waters of Cecebe to adventure out for a day in the canoe. Luke and I, or Jobe and I, or Mark and I would head down the mysterious Distress River and follow all of its twists and turns seeing blue herons take flight as we rounded a corner or a beaver flapping its tail on the calm black bottomless water. The Distress was always so quiet and calm. There were stories about it and beliefs about the water because it was so black. People would say that it was bottomless. None of us wanted to swim in it, but mom would, no problem. Sometimes, just every now and then, Jobe would water ski down the Distress – My brother Jobe 🧡. He loved the challenge of it but, it did scare him, although he would never admit it. I remember being proud of Jobe. He was so courageous.
If you get a chance to canoe, give it a try and then you can say that U CAN CANOE!!!
This post features pictures by myself, my husband and my eldest sister Eva. The header shot is from google images.