Family Day Fire

The Ontario government decided, a while back, that we should have a long weekend in February. It’s allegedly to spend more time with one’s family, but we all know it’s a) because we didn’t have a stat between New Year’s and Easter and b) everyone else has a stat in February… oh, and c) February sucks and is cold.

Our Family Days are usually pretty anticlimactic. I read something over the weekend that said, basically, most Canadians will be using Family Day to get away from their family and it made me laugh. We spent actual Family Day cleaning (OK, I cleaned, Matt shoveled for three hours) but we had fun the day before.

Let me back up, actually — see, we intended to go out on Sunday with crazy carpets and a GT, in search of a not-busy sliding hill. It was me, Matt, Ashley, Jesse, Bob and Kathleen, and we didn’t want to share our fun with the local kids at the popular sliding hill in town. So, we drove all the way out to the quarry (we weren’t planning to slide into the quarry itself, but there are less steep gravel slopes that seemed like they’d work). It was snowing a tiny bit when we left, but the longer we stayed out the more it snowed, until we were in a bit of a blizzard without even realizing.

By the time we were almost there it dawned on all of us that it likely wouldn’t be plowed out, and there was no way we were walking through three feet of snow with all of our stuff. Seeing that unplowed road was a disappointment, but Jesse thought we could try out a sand pit a few minutes back. This is what happened when Matt tried to walk up the hill (also pictured):

Sliding-Hill-Sioux-Lookout

Jesse and Bob tried to literally scale the hill, and that didn’t work either. So, we were off to find another hill… preferably one that was closer to the highway and didn’t involve trekking through so much snow, a tall order in the weather conditions over the weekend.

We drove around a few places — down a road here, through train tracks there — and couldn’t find anything. I was starting to get carsick. Everyone was a bit hungry. So, we stopped on a side road (traffic-free) that looked like it might have a promising hill, right on the road. Turns out that it wasn’t steep enough, but there was plenty of space to dig out a fire pit on the side, which we did.

Fire-Outside

We enjoyed hot drinks, hot dogs and smokies… and some of the gentlemen enjoyed a thrill ride on the GT, towed behind the truck down the hill.

GT-towing

(I stole the photo of me from Kathleen to prove I’m not a vampire — thanks Kat!).

As it got darker and we all got a bit colder, it was time to head home. It was a long, slow drive back thanks to the powdery snow accumulating on the roads, and I was happy to get home and get warm!

So, it wasn’t quite the day we had planned, but it was still fun. We just need to find a good sliding hill one of these days!

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Lake Superior Beauty

I grew up surrounded by water. I remember houseboating on the Montreal River when I was young enough that the memory is quite fuzzy, though I recall playing cards and trying to figure out how a vessel could be a boat and a house at the same time. I remember my Dad’s shirt flying off the back of his boat on the same stretch of water, and me thinking it was a duck, much to my mother’s merriment.

When we moved south my father moored his pontoon boat at a marina and we spent summers floating by the Mazinaw Rock in Bon Echo Park, me warily eying Nanabush. Later on, we lived in a house situated high above a lake, 60-something steps down to the water, where I swam, sat on the dock in water shoes, sometimes tried to fish without having to touch the bait, lazed around in the pontoon boat (and one time attempted tubing behind it), and watched our neighbours waterski, back and forth, back and forth, across the tiny lake. I could never figure out why my younger cousins from the city were enthralled with the lake — they had a pool in their yard, which in my mind, was way better.

Mazinaw Lake

We lived close enough to Lake Ontario that it was a commonplace sight, every time we had to do the kind of shopping that required more than a simple grocery store. I celebrated my graduation from high school by cruising the St. Lawrence through the 1000 Islands, listening to the musical stylings of a lounge lizard and eating stuffed chicken.

St. LawrenceIn university I stepped away from water for awhile. I suppose I lived near the Grand River, but I never set sight on it, really. The only way I know it exists is because my bus pass said “Grand River Transit.” In college, though, I found myself back at the water, crossing over the Moira River every time I had to go from my apartment to the bus station, to a restaurant, or anywhere else downtown. Sometimes I would walk along the shore or head out to a Bay of Quinte pier to clear my mind, snapping photos of seagulls and rapids.

Moira River
Now I live a stone’s throw away from one of the many lakes in this area. Every summer we waterlog ourselves, soaking up Pelican, Vermilion, Minnitaki, Abram, Lac Seul.

Home
Two of the places I’ve lived in my life even have the word “Lake” right in them — Pickle Lake, and Marble Lake. I’ve put my feet in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and countless rivers, streams and lakes all across Ontario.

Round Lake-25

Ottawa
But despite all this, my strongest affinity for a body of water does not lie with any of my stomping grounds, past or present — or splashing grounds, if you will. No, the place that tugs at my heart, makes its way into my dreams (which is why I’m writing this) and weaves itself into the narrative of my life is much more vast, more rugged, more beautiful. Lake Superior, Gichigami, has worked itself into my soul (and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had that happen). There is nothing quite like it.

Lake Superior3
I always urge people who are visiting us, or heading south from here — “Don’t take Highway 11! Take 17 and go through the park!”

Highway 17
Of course there’s a weather aspect to consider, but having suffered through the flat, plain boringness of Highway 11 I think I would rather be fogged out and only catching tiny glimpses of Superior and her bays and mountains and cliffs and shores than hurtling down the longest, most perpetually rocks-and-trees filled highway in Ontario.

Lake Superior2
When I moved here, driving alone from Ottawa up north, the park scared me. I crossed over its boundaries, noting the big brown sign that reads something to the effect of “LAKE SUPERIOR PARK — NO GAS FOREVER” and it was dark and foggy and there was only me and big logging trucks on the road. I didn’t move my head an inch left or right during that drive — I just saw slick roads and steep inclines and my own white knuckles on the steering wheel.

Foggy Highway 17
The next time we took that trip I was on the back of the Goldwing and equally terrified. Matt, naturally, kept turning his head to take in the open-air scenery and I envisioned us careening into one of those beautiful rock cuts. I wish I could go back, with the confidence I have now on the back of a bike, and actually enjoy it a bit more. On our way back through during that trip, it was dark, cold enough that we could feel the temperature immediately rise, thankfully, when we drove between two cliffs, and Matt was falling asleep, so we camped at Rabbit Blanket Lake (which I now know is only 30 kilometres away from Wawa). We had a big fight, and it was freezing, and we were sore and miserable but I still relished the chance to camp in the park.

Every time we go through there it feels like an adventure with some kind of gravity — the trip down to my grandmother’s funeral, when I was driving and desperate to get there fast, held back by the whiteness that enveloped the highway and forced me to wake up Matt to be a second set of eyes for me. The return trip, which is what really cemented my love for Superior — stopping and running our hands over rocks, our feet through sand, dipping our toes and fingers into the water.

Our honeymoon brought us along the other side of Superior, and I couldn’t help but compare and contrast — Canadian Superior is rocky, tough, foreboding. American Superior is sandy, coastal, inviting. But between those two coasts there are ships, sunk down to great depths, smashed open, tipped over in storms, drowning the secrets of mariners along with their bodies. Both coasts have warnings for kayaks and canoes — don’t go out on the open water unless you know what you’re doing. There are lighthouses, harbours of refuge dotting the shores.

USA Lake Superior
I’m campaigning for a real Superior adventure with Matt, one of these days when we find that mythical spare time. Maybe two summers from now. I want to hike on part of the Coastal Trail. I want to camp, this time in a more organized way that doesn’t involve unrolling the world’s thinnest bath towel from the bottom of a motorcycle saddlebag in order to shower. I want to see pictographs, and see the forest divide into two divergent eco-systems. I want to pack a lunch and eat it at Katherine Cove. Maybe we’ll be parents by then and I can pass my Superior love on.

Katherine Cove

In the meantime, I bought myself this little 5×7 from Poppy and Pinecone on Etsy:

Lake Superior

I don’t know where I’ll put it up yet — I hate hanging things just to take them down when we move — but I’ll be happy to see my favourite lake somewhere on my walls.

Winter Justifications

 

November

This is not technically winter, I know, but it should be. It’s cold. We begrudgingly turn on the heat mid-month, and keep cranking it up as the days go by.

“It’s not that bad,” I say. “It’s only November.”

December

It’s cold. But there are occasional days where the snow melts before it creates anything more than a light dusting of white, and that’s enough to keep me going.

“Maybe it will be a late winter this year,” I hopefully declare.

Then I realize it’s not even winter yet. Luckily, the month is busy enough that I don’t really realize how many layers I am piling on.

January

The snow pants and big winter boots come out of the basement.

“Okay, so January is the coldest month,” I say. “But it’s the last of the bad stuff! February is short and March is practically spring.”

I sleep with my socks on and wake up a 6 a.m. to utter darkness. It is -30 outside, not factoring in windchill. All of my Facebook friends from Southern Ontario are complaining about how cold -10 is. Sometimes, Toronto declares a state of emergency due to cold and I laugh and laugh and laugh and then cry a bit.

February

February is not actually that short. It’s only two days less than most other months. And it’s still freaking cold. What was I thinking?!

March

There is still snow on the ground. March is not spring.

April

Flurries. Flurries, flurries, flurries. Why do we live here? Why don’t we move to Bermuda? We could bring the cats and get a hammock.

May

Guess what? It’s still frigid. But now it rains, too, along with sleet and snow. Sometimes it’s hot and sunny and everyone in town runs around in flip-flops and shorts screaming, “THIS IS SO UNSEASONABLE! I BET WE’RE GOING TO GET MORE SNOW!”

All of my Facebook friends from Southern Ontario are showing off their gardens and patio drinking sessions. I hate them.

June

The blackflies descend and we forget about the past six months.

July

Summer is awesome! How did we survive without it?

“I wish summer lasted as long as winter,” I mope.

August

Summer is leaving, and we are clinging to it as desperately as we can, clawing it back with all our might, quaking in fear of long underwear and window scrapers.

September

I start bargaining.

“This is the year we’ll try cross-country skiing,” I plead. “Maybe I’ll get skates! Just don’t let it get to -30.”

October

All of the leaves fall off of the trees at once. We don’t rake because we know it will snow the minute we clean up the yard.

November

This is not technically winter, I know, but it should be…

New Years Day, 2013

Nothing like a solid trek to start off the year! When we woke up on January 1, the sun was shining and it actually looked unseasonably nice outside. Of course, the temperature revealed the truth — it was freaking cold — but it was still decent enough that I really, really wanted to get out of the house.

And so, we rallied the troops and decided to climb up Sioux Mountain. This involved a zillion layers — thermals, baselayers, fleece, cowls, gloves, hats, socks, boots — and a journey across the frozen, unsheltered lake when the temperature was reading -14C, but -30C with windchill factored in. Brr. The wind bit at our faces but by the time we were nearly there, jumping from snowmobile track to breaking trail in heavy snow to snowmobile track, we were plenty warm.

The cruelest part about climbing a mountain in winter is that, having hiked and sweated and exerted ourselves to get to the base of the snowmobile trail which we intended to climb… it was still all uphill from there. It was slow going as we neared the summit.

Turns out batteries drain really fast at -30, too, so I didn’t get many pictures. But we did eventually make it to the top, single file, slush-covered boots and all. We had a quick Scotch toast (transported in an empty Wisers bottle — keeping it classy) then took a different way down. The downward trip can only be described in the words I heard come out of Matt’s mouth as I imagined him falling directly INTO me, as I was ahead of him — “I’m not deliberately stepping. I’m just recovering from each step.”

No one was squished on this journey, luckily. We walked the tracks back home and I spotted an eerily quiet train making its way toward us, just in time that we could hang out in the ditch rather than being stuck on a bridge. We waited… and waited… and waited, until it finally passed and we could finish our hike. I was pretty excited to get into the truck and sit down, to be honest. That was a long, long walk! But it was great to start our year on a really social, active, fun note.

When we got home I cranked the heat, gave Matt his New Year’s card (same design as last year — that’s what happens when you have one card to choose from at the grocery store on New Year’s Eve! We also had butter chicken for New Year’s Eve supper again, so I guess it’s a tradition now) and enjoyed warm spaghetti while we watched Hunger Games on Netflix.

How did you spend your New Years day?

Three Years in Sioux Lookout

There’s something about the North that gets into your bones, seeps right through your blood into your very being. A lot of people try to deny it — “That place is freezing cold! I hate it there.” — but I really do think it’s a place that calls you back, whether you know it or not.

I remember travelling up to Sudbury in my senior year of high school to check out Laurentian University. Sudbury is really not that far north (now when we travel through there I’m either thinking We’re almost to Ottawa! or Ugh, so many more kilometres left in damned Ontario) but I don’t think I’ll ever forget stepping out of my guidance counselor’s van, taking a deep breath of clean air, craning my head up to look at the trees and just feeling right.

Anyway. Today is my third anniversary of taking a big breath and walking into my office, and my new life, after spending a few days on the road getting well-acquainted with Highway 17 (which I would normally refer to as my nemesis, but I think Highway 11 has moved into that role).

There’s this legend in town that I learned about after I had already been here for a year or two. They say if you drink the water from Pelican Lake (one of the big lakes right in town) you’re destined to come back here. What people who tell that legend to newbies don’t often mention is that the town drinking water comes from Pelican — the municipal website proclaims it so.

So basically, the first time you brush your teeth, you’re not getting away easy.

I hear a lot of stories, too, about people who were supposed to come for a year, two years, five years. I mainly hear them from elderly women and men who have since watched two or three more generations of their family grow up, drinking that water.

I’m not sure if we’ll stay here forever. Our long-term plan kind of fades into oblivion after the last tangible goal we have comes to fruition. When I try to picture our future kids running around and playing, it’s in a hazy blur that could be anywhere.

I’m sure they’ll have ingested some lake water before that point, though. If the North has made it into my blood it’s bound to be in theirs, and they aren’t even in existence yet.

I wonder if I’ll eventually stop counting anniversaries, or if I’ll keep marking this day until we end up somewhere else where I can start worrying about anniversaries all over again.

Anyway — I am here, still here, still happy. It’s a good day.