High School Out Trip🛶🏕

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.

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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.

Loving this stuff would serve well in my future.  Of course I didn’t have any idea that in 22 months I would be at basic training in Chilliwack, British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast and that I would be struggling beyond belief…

 

(Pictures credit to google images and whomever took them – thanks folks!)

 

Bare Foot Summers 👣

Summers in the 70s lived by the soles of our feet, lakeside

My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents.  We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake.  At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around bare foot.  It was incredible.  We were fleet of foot.  We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.

When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.

Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen, EVER – we didn’t even know what that was.  No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.

Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy.  Patches that were warm and dry.  Tough prickly grass in the big fields.  Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1.  Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would pry an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time.  The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation.  The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2 cabin.  The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks.  The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.

I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer.  Once, riding on the shoulders of my eldest sister’s future husband Peter, he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged.  It was my normal.

I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed.  I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).

Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot.  We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.

My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away.  We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs.  Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin.  Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond.  Just the once.  We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was.  Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught.  (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though.  Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat.  The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)

These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then.  Mostly carefree.  Mostly enjoying the simple things in life.  We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer.  Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.

We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city.  S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’.  If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mail box at the top of the gravel road.  Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me!  Savouring its every word and studying the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city.  The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.

Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read world wide, in the blink of an eye.  I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.

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(photo courtesy of google images and the last one was taken by my hubby)

Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣

Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever, And if I had the choice, Yeah, I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life
~Bryan Adams
Summer of ’69

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 me.  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…

popcorn

I digress.

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.

cabin

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.man on tractor

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.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 projectile vomited 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…..

outhouse

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 hockey great 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 there were a few 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.

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