The Canadian shield appears slowly, patches of granite flooring alongside the road. Then tables. Then shelves. Somewhere north of Port Severn the low walls begin to climb until fortified corridors become two-story faces with dynamite-scarred cheeks, the ground below littered with their pre-cambrian stubble. I feel safe here.
No matter how old I get, driving north from Toronto elicits the same memories: a palm full of rich, dusty blueberries- the spoils of hunting and tugging scraggly branches- and the promise of their sweet-tart taste, the soft step and deep smell of decaying pine needles, my tea-coloured limbs emerging strangely white from brown water and a deep warmth holding my back to the rock as the summer breeze pulls goose bumps from my arms.
I’m making the trip with my step dad, Terry. The cedar canvas canoe we made together when I was 15 is strapped to the roof. We’re looking for a place to paddle and relax.
Like me, Terry has very specific ideas about ‘up north’. It should be free of noisy powerboats and water toys. Granite shores are a must. Cottages are OK but they should be humble, none of these palatial Muskoka mansions and, without doubt, it should be free from the noise pollution we take for granted in the city, which precludes most parks and their car-accessible campsites.
It’s a lot to ask of a day trip, which is all we have. Pretty much everything within range is well populated and Terry’s ongoing fight with prostate cancer has greatly diminished his physical strength. Wherever we put in has to be close to the road and a relatively easy paddle. Crown lands, portages and parks off the beaten path are not an option and our tippy canoe makes open water crossings pretty stressful. Admittedly I was anxious.
A late start had us looking for something closer so I turned off the 400 well before Parry Sound at Gibson Lake, where we quickly found a small area to park and launch the boat. Paddling away from the highway we cut across the open water and around the first point into a short narrows and, quite suddenly, we were there.
“Let’s stop and have lunch here!”, Terry said for the both of us.
Terry was always a strong swimmer and it killed him to not have the strength or endurance to stay in the water for long. Our first dip lasted only a few minutes and I could feel his disappointment. We spent the next while sprawled out on the sun-baked granite talking about our lives, tucking into cheese and arugula sandwiches and fresh tomatoes. After a time I suggested we try swimming again only this time he don a lifejacket and just let the current move us around.
Floating amongst the lily pads Terry let out a sigh. “I wish I could just do this”, he said, “just be in the water”. “You are”, I said. The words struck us both at the same time. We were here. And it was great.