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.
“…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
“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.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” said my husband as I was preparing for my first solo canoe trip in Killarney.
“I know,” I replied, “but I really want to.”
Good thing he didn’t ask why because I am not sure I would be able to explain.
In books and movies, protagonists usually set out on a solo trip because they find themselves at metaphorical crossroads and feel stuck/confused/lost hoping a solution will reveal itself during those solo nature pursuits.
That wasn’t my story. Apart from occasional detours, the road ahead looked clear if not always level or straight. Sure I was turning 40 but I wasn’t losing sleep over it. I made peace with getting older long time ago. Occasionally I would turn around and think, “Where did the time go?” But then I would look at my children, my husband, my friends, think of all the wonderful things I’ve seen and learned, great trips I’ve taken, and beautiful moments I’ve shared with the people I love and knew: that’s where.
Although, I should say, my 40th birthday did have a role to play in my decision. I felt this important milestone required something bigger and more special than the usual sunrise ritual. So a solo canoe trip it was.