moss clings to my
spaces toured by ants and even
Motionless days pass
solid and sound in all seasons,
even this one, until my senses blistered.
Organized signals for help
unseen as my sedentary
service in subterranean
bass tones even
eluded that fir and birch and spruce and pine
who once stood beside me night and day.
Knowing boots rested on my back, even as I slept
as choked branches lay across my face, as I ate
soaked dreams drank my lineage
hardening the horizon–
Even until smouldering spells
struck nine and I waited to exhale.
Photo collection of Gereaux Island Lighthouse, near Britt/Byng Inlet, Ontario. My grandfather grew up in this lighthouse.
Most pictures were taken on the south shore, Britt/Byng Inlet.
There are much more interesting photos out there of the fire. It is a sad news story that I can’t stop following this summer. Each time we went out in the boat, we could see smoke rising up out of the bush. It’s heartbreaking to imagine the landscape I love so much in flames.
If you are looking for some sources of information about the fires, check out:
- CTV Northern Ontario News
- CBC News
- Follow Chris Ensing of CBC on Twitter (lots of great updates here)
- Follow the Key River Area Association on Facebook
Georgian Bay: July, 1988. The clouds feather high in the cobalt sky. When Evergreen floats near the shore, I climb out the nose and jump to the rock holding the rope. My feet splash into the water. I stumble. My cousin Michael laughs.
From the bay, dad slides up the slippery rock. I had never seen my dad water ski before. Usually the water is too cold. He grabs the yellow rope from me and ties it to a boulder. Water from our feet trickles along the hot, dry island to make it shine.
Uncle Bruce drops the anchor out the back of the boat.
In the shade of the cedars, Auntie Ann and mom pin the red checkered table cloth onto the folding card table. I spot a box of Tim Horton’s donuts, the blue thermos of red Koolaid, and bags of chips and cheesies. The steel blue cooler sleeps by my feet. I open the lid: macaroni salad, potato salad, bologna, ham.
“Did he bring the costume?” Auntie Ann asks, neatly stacking the paper plates.
“Can you believe it?” Mom says.
I snatch an orange cheesy out of an open bag on the edge of the table. Mom raises her left eyebrow. I slink away but she notices the Mug root beer. I slid it into my hat when she looked for the plastic forks. My smile drips with charm.
“You’re going to ruin your dinner,” she chimes.
“No I won’t.” I crack open the silver tab on the can and smile again.
She shakes her head and turns away. “Ann, where do you think we should put the cake?” Mom’s gaze drills a hole in my face. “To keep it from everyone until it’s time.” Then mom grins.
I fan my towel five times before it lies just right on the rock next to Andi. The blue jean coloured water and windblown spruces wave as I watch Uncle Bob and Chantell motor away to a secret fishing spot. The sun twinkles. I tilt my head into the brightness.
Madonna belts “Get into the Groove” on my red Sony walkman. My pen pal from Germany, Clemens, sent the cassette with his last letter. Andi lounges on the sun-warmed granite next to me listening to Def Leppard. She oozes coconut tanning oil.
I sip my warm root beer. “What do you think Lorel is doing?”
“Don’t know,” Andi replies.
At eighteen, Lorel looks just like Brooke Shields and sings the lead in a rock band.
“Do you think it’s because of the snake?”
“Nah,” Andi rolls over to tan the back of her legs.
I wonder how anyone could miss a family picnic. I close my eyes and lean into the ground imagining my ancestors picnicking on these rocks a hundred years ago. Sometimes when I am out in the bay I feel so connected to the landscape. Maybe I lived on these rocks in a past life.
Maybe I’ve even peed in the same bush as my grandmother or great-grandmother or great-great grandmother. Gross.
I always find a rock that slopes into the moss near a big tree. I try not to slip. I try not to pull my shorts down if someone else is nearby. I try not to wander too far and get lost.
At our last picnic on the island at Sand Bay, I didn’t see Lorel go into the bush, but we all saw her sprint out. Yanking her bikini bottom, she staggered, screaming “Snake!”
“Was it a rattler?” Uncle Bruce asked.
Lorel told us how she heard the rattling sound under her as she squatted on the rock. “Ticka ticka ticka ticka.” When she glanced between her knees a Massassauga Rattlesnake stuck out its tongue, coiled and ready to sink its fangs into her behind.
Dad, Uncle Bruce, and his cousin Wally marched into the bush. I wanted them to slice off its head.
My brother Colin jiggles a wet life-jacket over me.
“I’ve been swimming eight times today,” he boasts, shaking his soaking hair.
“I thought you didn’t have to wear a life jacket this year?”
“It’s Sarah’s.” He drops the drenched life jacket on my legs and runs to the other side of the island to give mom a big wet hug.
After dinner we sit by the campfire. I put on my red Roots sweatshirt and sit next to Uncle Ernest. His fingers are yellow from rolling tobacco. I like how he talks out the side of his mouth.
Uncle Bruce stirs coffee in a beat-up black pot. A cloud of tanning oil, beer, cake, smoke, and Folgers coffee dances just over our heads.
Chantell giggles at Colin when he makes a funny face. Mom chats with Aunt Bernice about the time dad ironed the living room sheers. Andi and Sarah snuggle up under Aunt Estelle’s beach towel whispering sisterly secrets. Uncle John shoves another log onto the fire. Everyone glows from family picnic magic.
Grandpa and Grandma are here too. Even though I can’t see them I know it. Grandpa died in 1975, the year I was born. Grandma died in 1979. Mom had lost both her parents before she turned twenty-five.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Uncle Bruce, and mom were smart. They decided to meet on a picnic island on Georgian Bay each summer. They wanted to keep close. They wanted to stay connected to the landscape of their childhood.
Our family history seeped into the moss and granite, whispered through the needles of the lonely spruces.
As dusk begins everyone talks at once. The juicy blend of hushed tones, deep belly laughs, and animated chimes weave and flourish in the spaces between us.
Aunt Bernice sits on a green plaid lawn chair. She crosses her long slender legs. “Yes, our only entertainment—”
“How did you get there?” Aunt Pat hoots.
“What?—That dance hall out on Salem’s island?” Uncle Bruce asks.
“Your father hated it. Muriel and Ernest came sometimes. Me, I danced for hours.” Aunt Bernice waltzes. “One two three, one two three…” She freezes.
“Would you look at that!” Aunt Muriel squishes out her cigarette between her loafer and the rock. Everyone turns.
Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live glides over the hill.
I recognize him instantly as my dad. He wears a black gown with a white collar, large brown sunglasses, and mom’s witch hat without the peak.
“How did a priest get all the way out here?” Aunt Bernice blinks.
“Anda how did you-a come to be all the way outta here? Sucha beee-a-uuutiful lady!”
“Are you here to see me?”
Father Sarducci’s head bobs. He traces his mustache with a finger. “Iva come with a verrrrrrr-y special message from the Pope. La Papa.”
Aunt Estelle rests her hand on Aunt Bernice’s shoulder. “Imagine! A priest!”
“In seventy years, I’ve never seen a priest out in the bay. He must’ve walked on water…” Aunt Bernice gasps.
“Ahhh..yes. Iva gotta some miracles to use onca in a while.”
The colour drains from Aunt Bernice’s face. Tears fill her eyes. She squeezes Aunt Estelle’s arm.
“It’s just me, Aunt Bernice. Dave.” Dad takes off the sunglasses and hat. Everyone laughs.
I’m assigned to the last boatload home. The hum from the motor on Evergreen’s floor mixed with the rocking of the waves make me tired. I sit at Auntie Ann’s feet wrapped in a large royal blue and yellow beach towel.
“There’s the lighthouse.” Auntie Ann pats my head.
I peer over the side of the boat at the red and white building, Gereaux Island Lighthouse. I imagine Grandpa climbing the ladder in the tower to change the oil in the lamp on a foggy night. And then I imagine Uncle Ernest and Aunt Bernice playing with giant turtles and waving at the passing oil tankers. I wish I grew up on a lighthouse too.
With the boats unloaded we settle into the warmth of the cottage. Outside, the black sky swallows the last bit of light.
We cram into the living room. Mom’s cousin Nancy passes out bright orange song booklets. The title page says ‘Lamondin Family Picnic, 1988.’
Uncle Ernest tunes his guitar. Aunt Estelle and Aunt Pat sip white wine by the woodstove. Mom laughs at something Uncle Bob says when he joins her on the couch. I lean on the grey stairs leading up to my bedroom in the loft. On the top step, Andi and Chantell flip through a songbook.
Toes tap. Hands clap. Together we sing “Green, Green Grass of Home,” grandpa’s favourite song.
When Dad was dragging his kayak away from the shore to store it at the end of the summer his foot twisted a bit on this rusty old metal piece hidden below some juniper branches. He said:
At first I thought it might be an old dock spike but was happy to see this was the metal component of what is known as a “peavey” log roller. I last saw one of these about 45 years ago at your mother’s home, your grandfather had one of these. He told me the name of this weird looking tool and explained it’s use. Grandpa’s had a stocky rounded hardwood handle about 5 feet long. So I attached the rusty metal part to a piece of pressure treated wood and have already used it a number of times to effortlessly roll and move logs at the shoreline.
Dad explained how this peavey log roller was from when the logging industry was in Britt/Byng Inlet. What a treasure for a piece of the area history hiding on our property! Byng Inlet had one of the largest sawmill operations in Canada in the late 1800s. During the logging days the population in Britt/Byng Inlet was larger than Sudbury at the time, with over 4000 people. There was even a theatre!
On my mother’s side, my ancestors were drawn to the area around 1860 from Penetanguishene likely for the work. On my father’s side, my ancestors came in the early 1900s and worked on the railway for CNN.
A few summers ago, Dad and I looked along the Magnetewan River and into Georgian Bay for rings and spikes that were used during the logging days. We found so many. It surprised me that I hadn’t noticed them before. Were the rings used to attach log booms? How did they decide which islands to attach these rings?
Some people might call it the woods, but our family has always called it the bush. Rolling granite, moss, and long grasses topped with juniper bushes, birches, maples, and pines extend for many kilometres from my parents’ place across Crown land.
Fall is the best time to go for a hike in the bush. The deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitos are gone. The bears are preparing for winter and most have gone deeper into the bush, beyond where our feet would take us in a day. I’ve never seen a rattle snake in the fall but we have seen other kinds of snakes–grass snakes, water snakes, fox snakes. We know there are wolves in the area but we’ve been lucky. It’s rare to see a wolf during the daytime. Usually it’s winter when the wolves are spotted by the residents. The most worrisome is the hunters. Dad always encourages us to wear bright colours when we go out in the bush in the fall.
Our hike is about 45 minutes each way. It follows a one-lane path or dirt road that cottagers use to get to their remote places. When my dad was a kid he had a family camp at the very end of the path. He remembers when the narrow road was made in the 1960s. Before that they would hike in, walking 45 minutes to an hour with their food and gear.
Sometimes at Thanksgiving it’s just dad, my brother Colin, and I making the trek out into the bush. Other years we have a big group of 15 going. It all depends on the weather, who is visiting, and the timing of Thanksgiving dinner.
Yesterday there were five of us. We decided to drive most of the way. Not everyone is able to hike that far these days.
Usually when we get to “our spot” it is quiet and the silence is the kind that fills you from your feet up through the top of your head. But yesterday was different. As we approached the beaver dam we heard gunshots. Lots of gunshots. Too many to be hunters.
Dad and Colin got out of the car to investigate. I shouted, “I have First Aid but we didn’t cover gun shots!”
Dad said, “Don’t worry. I’m wearing a red hat. They will see me.”
It was skeet shooters. Across the marsh was a big group of young people, as disks shot up into the air they shot at them with a rifle. We could see them. They could see us. They were shooting out in the other direction. It was safe to explore. But the sound of gunshots changed the peaceful silence I love.
Eventually the skeet shooters were done. We were able to soak in the beauty uninterrupted–just as it should be.
Not everyone has a chance to go for a hike in the bush on Georgian Bay in Fall. So I put together a slide show to share some of the photographs I took yesterday:
I remember going blueberry picking in the bush near the cottage in Britt when I was eight or nine. Mom carries baskets. Dad carries peanuts in shells. We always bring Princess with us, my great-Aunt Irene’s German Shepherd. Princess leads the way over the granite and moss, into the desolate, dense back bushes on the coast of Georgian Bay, guarding us from the possibility of walking into sleeping black bears or sunning massasauga rattlers.
We find a clearing with smooth, warm rock bordered by thick, low blueberry bushes. Mom gets to work right away, kneeling by a bush, filling the basket with only the good luscious blueberries, not the shriveled or mangled ones.
Dad lays on his back on a rock in the sunshine, his arms spread, soaking in the fresh air, settling in for a nap. My little brother, Colin, runs around the area with Princess. He carries a big beaver-chewed stick that he uses like a bat, whacking piles of rocks and dead, grey trees while Princess barks with excitement.
I sit near Mom, eating the berries she places in the basket—too scared to put my hand in the bush and pluck them, imagining fanged snakes will chew my arm to bits.
“Do I need to tell you the story of the Little Red Hen?” Mom notices I’m eating her berries. “These are for pies.”
So I make a fist, plunging it into the bush real fast, hoping to punch the imaginary snake in the fang.
“You do it like this,” Mom says. She reaches into the bush with her right hand, holding some leaves back with her left hand. She gently plucks the berries off one by one, carefully placing them in the basket.
I don’t like moving so slowly, being so gentle. It takes too long to feel like we are making progress.
Dad starts to shell peanuts, still lying in the sun, throwing the shells by the tree line. Colin and I run over to Dad and grab a handful too, pulling the shells off. We sit side by side, waiting with anticipation for Chippy the chipmunk to appear while Mom works steadily in the bush, filling the basket with berries for pie.
Eventually I return to sit by Mom, picking berries and placing some in the basket, but mostly I eat them.
Mom grew up picking blueberries. Grandma would send her out into the bush in the morning with a basket and say, “Don’t come home until it’s full.”
Mom said she often got distracted in the bush too. She spent most of her time in the bush making houses out of moss by peeling up layers of moss off the rock and repositioning them, making floor plans on the granite, then playing ‘house.’ She waited until the last minute before frantically filling her basket with blueberries for Grandma.
I like to think that distraction is a natural part of the process of getting things done.