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