I lower my canoe into the water at the end of a short portage from Ruth-Roy Lake into Johnnie, and it takes me a few minutes to register how smooth the water is. Every time I paddled Johnnie Lake in the last couple of days, it was choppy with a generous helping of a strong side wind. This unexpected calmness looks like a minor miracle; I do a quick happy dance. The night before I passed beautiful cliffs but couldn’t pause for photos for fear of being turned back or, worse, flipped over. With waters finally calm, I decide to take a quick detour from my trip back to the parking lot and make a stop by those cliffs for a few shots. The sky doesn’t look particularly supportive of this endeavour. Dark and heavy with copious amount of tears, it is threatening to unleash its pent-up sadness at any moment. I know rain is inevitable; I just hope it will hold off for another 30 minutes or so.
My attempt to ‘outpaddle’ rain to get a few photos of the cliffs on Johnnie Lake fails spectacularly.
Time stands still during the last few moments before sunrise; the world holds its breath awaiting the sun’s big entrance. It is my favourite time of the day. I steer my canoe into the middle of the lake and just sit there watching dark silhouettes of the hills framed by the soft glow of the sky above and the lake below. Over the past few months of being homebound and unable to leave the city, I’ve been craving this silence – the absence of that permanent urban hum that even COVID hasn’t been able to extinguish. Here, in the middle of Nellie Lake, everything is quiet, so quiet that I can hear blood rushing through my head. Or is it the heartbeat of the Universe? I listen to its rhythmic beat punctuated by a bird song bouncing between the hills.
Waiting for a sunrise on Nellie Lake Continue reading
“…when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.”
Mary Oliver “How I go to the woods”
I spot two loons gliding across the lake as I push my canoe off the shore. The sun made a grand entrance about half an hour ago but then slipped behind the clouds. The lake is so smooth I am almost hesitant to break its surface with my paddle. I follow the trail left by the birds, and as I turn around the bend I drift into what looks like a loon party.
“One, two, three…,” I start counting under my breath. “Eleven?!” A camping trip is never complete without seeing loons, and their calls are a perfect accompaniment for a backcountry experience. They, however, usually show up in pairs, occasionally there are three. Last year, we ran into a family with two chicks. Eleven seems like a minor miracle. I am bursting to shout, “Do you see this?” But I am by myself and no one around can share my excitement.
Waking up early has its perks: getting to see a crowd of loons is one of them
We scramble up a hill, through a thick forest, in search of a rock. In a sea of boulders, stones and pebbles of various sizes and forms, the mission may seem strange, not to mention futile. This, however, is no regular rock. Known as Carmichael’s Rock, of Franklin Carmichael fame, this particular chunk of Killarney’s signature quartzite was immortalized in a 1934 photo featuring the Group of Seven artist perched on a rocky cube against a magnificent backdrop of Grace Lake framed by La Cloche Mountains. Even though numerous Group of Seven aficionados have made this trip before us, there is no actual trail leading to it. With no directions, apart from a starting point the host at Widgawa Lodge showed us on the map and some stacked rocks along the way, we stumble along determined to find this piece of Canadian art history. Lots of sweat later, some blood, but luckily no tears, we finally arrive. The rock in front of us definitely looks like the one in the picture. But what’s even more telling is the view that opens up behind it. I can see what Carmichael meant by “a landscape … rich in inspiration … and full of inherent possibilities…”
Carmichael’s Rock overlooking Grace Lake in Killarney Provincial Park Continue reading
“Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!”
The Song My Paddle Sings by E. Pauline Johnson
If you read my previous post, you know that for my 40th birthday I decided to go on my first solo canoe trip in Killarney. Or should I say ended up going, because originally I planned backpacking in Algonquin. I even had sites booked on the Highland Trail. Backpacking seemed easier to execute and required less gear – just two feet and whatever fits into a backpack. Then, after our Killarney trip at the beginning of July, it became clear: I love canoeing way more than backpacking, I love Killarney, and hence I should go canoeing in Killarney. So two weeks before the trip I changed my reservation, got in touch with Killarney Kanoes to book my mode of transportation and started watching Bill Mason’s videos on how to paddle a solo canoe. After some deliberation I decided to go with a solo canoe instead of a kayak for a number of reasons: I prefer canoeing to kayaking, a canoe is easier to portage and easier to pack, i.e. you can just throw stuff in. As a bonus, ‘paddling my own canoe’ works as a figure of speech.
Part I of our canoe trip to Killarney ended with a beautiful night by the campfire. Part II starts with some rain. Three millimetres of it, to be exact.
As I stand on the corner of Dufferin and Lawrence waiting for a bus, cars whizzing by, people hurrying across the intersection, I find it hard to believe that only a few days ago I was paddling through Killarney’s backcountry. In fact, if it wasn’t for the bruises on my shoulders from schlepping the canoe around, bug bites around my ankles and a slightly darker complexion, I would think I dreamt it all up: Killarney’s signature white cliffs, blue lakes and mournful loons. A beautiful dream, one that keeps me going as I try to elbow my way to the back of 52A bus.
Where do I even find the words to describe the beauty that is Killarney Provincial Park? It is often called the crown jewel of Ontario Park system, and deservedly so. Over 600 square kilometres of iconic wilderness, these striking landscapes of pink granite and white quartzite ridges peppered with jack pines and interspersed with clear, sapphire lakes were an inspiration for the Group of Seven artists. In fact, they were so captivated by its beauty that they persuaded the Ontario government to turn the area into a park. The birthplace of Killarney, formerly known as Trout Lake, is now called O.S.A., which stands for the Ontario Society of Artists, to recognize their role in the creation of Killarney Provincial Park. And that’s where we got to camp this past weekend.