Take seven hours in a four door sedan with two children, ages six and three, add one stop for lunch and one stop for fuel and thirty roadside potty breaks. Now multiply that several dozen times. That’s not the sort of mathematical problem many folks look forward to solving. Yet every summer for the past four years, Dear Hubby and I have made this very trip from our home in the Twin Cities to a cabin on Caliper Lake in Northwest Ontario. They call it Sunset Country and this is why we make the trip over and over again.
Isn’t that enough to make you swoon with gratitude and break into song. You know, maybe Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World. I know my tendency towards the dramatic borders on the ridiculous sometimes, but seriously, this place has been one of the great blessings of my life. To me, this photo fairly shouts, “Thanks be!”
It’s a modest lake, smaller and shallower than its neighbors, especially Lake of the Woods and Lake Kakagi. The shore line is rocky and the water not so clear. Some mornings the duck weed appears out of nowhere and gently blankets the surface for the day and then disappears again. If you stand still long enough the leeches will nestle between your toes. I know none of that sounds particularly appealing, but really, this little lake has so much to offer. For instance, the rocky shoreline stands in as a stage for all of Bear Boy’s stories and imaginary play.
On any given summer day, he probably climbs five miles of shoreline without ever leaving the fifty or so feet in front of the cabin in which we stay. In the morning Bear dons a raggedy pair of rain boots, his life jacket, whichever hat suits him and heads out to the rocks. He climbs and scampers like a sleek woodland creature, all the while narrating a grand adventure – the travails of an ice-age, mammoth hunting clan or the toe curling tales of dreadful pirates. He calls this “working on my speech.” Many mornings, I’ve watched from the deck as Bear has unsheathed an imaginary sword and, so distracted by the lure of his own storytelling, has walked straight off the rocks and into the water. He’ll come in wet to the waist and ready for breakfast. You can only imagine one tenth of the adventure this rocky patch of shoreline has witnessed.
True, Caliper may be a shallow lake, and, as such, not conducive to fishing for that trophy trout, but Goose cares very little for the species of the fish. That she catches anything is the great joy.
And if she catches nothing, she always has the poor little minnows to fuss and cuddle. She reminds me of the Bugs Bunny episode with the abominable snow man that loves poor Daffy near to death – “I’ll hug him and squeeze him and name him George.” Because Caliper is shallower, it warms earlier in the season and stays warmer longer. This is a boon for swimming. If you’ve ever heard the giggles of a little Goose Girl jumping into her mama’s arms from the end of a dock, you’d know what a great gift this is. Goosie is a big fan of the one, two, three, jump! The bigger the splash the better. In her bright orange, garage sale, hand-me-down life jacket and her blue gingham one piece suit she is a picture of youthful perfection – the sort of perfection to which people refer when they speak of God’s Grandeur. After each jump she cries “Again!” and grapples her way atop the dock once more. She waggles her little bottom like a Labrador shaking water from its pelt and she’s off again.
There is no end of observation and exploration to be had here. There are several eagles’ nests situated about the tree line and we watch all summer to discern which of them is inhabited by young. We follow the growth of the merganser and loon families as the parents shuttle their young along the shore and under our dock. We marvel as the pelicans land in the splashiest, clumsiest display of misguided flight ever imagined. We catch and release countless frogs and crayfish after examining their powerful little legs or pinching claws. We listen for our elusive little otter friends, the couple with whom we share our fish cleanings. There are chipmunks and snakes and turtles and ant colonies. Even leeches, hiding between toes or on our ankles, provide an opportunity for a salty science experiment.
When the wildlife is scarce, we paint rocks, pick wild flowers, braid grass bracelets, collect stones and sticks, create paper and twigs flower bouquets, and transform twigs and pinecones and shoreline ephemera in fluttering mobiles. This past summer, Bear and I were reading the Spiderwick Chronicles together. He found a flat little pebble with a sharp edge and a sturdy twig and then requested my help to fashion a miniature hatchet. With some fishing line and a bit of finesse we came up with this.
Bear’s plan was to leave the hatchet in the grass. If it was gone in the morning, he would take it as proof positive that house brownies and goblins lived in the vicinity. The hatchet disappeared!
If the children require a small change in scenery, we head to the playground at the Provincial Park across the lake, or stop by Phil’s bait shop to peer into the minnow tanks where the little fish fodder wriggle and dart, or pause to say hello to the water as it tumbles over Nestor Falls from Kakabikitchiwan to Lake of the Woods, or treat ourselves to the sticky, drippy pleasure of an ice cream cone at Helliar’s Resort, or simply walk up the hill behind the cabin to visit the neighbor’s children and their cat who is named after the lake.
My mother-in-law and her beau join us for one weekend each summer. Last summer, after the interminable drive north, she thought aloud about how lovely it would be to find something so much closer to home. True, the trip is a daunting, but nowhere nearer the Twin Cities could we spend a whole day without seeing more than one other boat or suffer the noisome bother of jet skis less than a handful of times all season long. Dear Hubby and I are never more relaxed and at home with one another than when we are here, on this glorious bit of earth, near this glorious bit of water and under this glorious bit of sky. Give me a wee Canadian Lake and a quiet sunset with wine and a book and I’ll be forever comforted.
*Thank you to the Weekly Photo Challenge for the inspiration for this week’s post.