A few days ago, I was complaining about how hard it is to be a vegetarian among meat-eaters, and I realise I probably gave a misleading impression of my weekend at the lake. It was fantabulous! The food issues were a very small part of the whole experience, and I was pleased and grateful to have had the chance to head out to Lake of the Woods for a lovely weekend.
I’m absolutely a city person. I want to be close to everything, can’t abide the idea of not having quick access to grocery stores and art galleries and friends and work. But at the same time, I really hate the city. I hate having neighbours so close, I hate the noise, I hate the light, I hate the compromises and disruptions.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to go to the lake, so when my friend R. invited me to go to her sister’s cabin for the weekend, I was thrilled. The Canadian Shield is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so any chance I get to go to Lake of the Woods or the Whiteshell or any place on the Shield where the soil falls away from the gorgeous lichen-encrusted bones of the earth, where the trees grow bent from the wind, where the water poplars eagles stones bogs dragonflies deer blueberries wind pines lakes moss loons go on mile after mile after mile until it seems impossible to remember cities, well, I jump on that chance.
Okay, “jump” is not exactly what happened. I’ve never met R.’s sister, or the sister’s two friends who would also be there, and the prospect of being around strangers in the enforced intimacy of a cabin and a girls’ weekend was daunting to me. People are not my favourite creatures, and my anxiety almost caused me to turn down the invitation. But I thought “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I hate them and they hate me and I spend the weekend reading or drawing or going for walks by myself. I can manage this! I can do it!” And so I said yes, with anxiety, trepidation, doubt—and also with excitement.
Oh, I am so glad I went! R. and I first met up with the others in Kenora and had dinner at the Boathouse, and then went to see an art installation in a little old church. Kris Goold’s “On A Silver Platter” exhibit. It was really amazing. Goold has taken animal skulls, and decorated / enhanced / reconstructed them with solder in intricate detail. It was a very moving exhibit, although I would have preferred to see it by myself in silence. I think Goold is planning to take the exhibit on tour, so if you have a chance to see it in your area, it’s worth the time! I was going to link to an image, but none of the images I’ve found online can do the work justice. Up close, the delicate bone and fine soldering are so lovely and powerful. One skull showed evidence of a tumour or tooth abscess; the bone was damaged in a spongiform way, and Goold emphasised it with a gorgeously detailed ring of solder. Another skull (the lynx, I think) was reconstructed over bullet damage. The detail was incredible, and the intersection of imagination and technical skill was impressive.
After lunch and the art show, we went off to the cabin and spent the next hours with our deck chairs right in the lake, sitting in water up to our waists (roughly, depending on chair placement and slow sinkage into the lake bottom). After a while, there was cocktail hour there in the lake. The interpersonal stuff was kind of hard for me, all the getting-to-know-you, what-do-you-do-for-a-living, let-me-show-how-cool-I-am stuff, the little one-upwomanships and displays of tailfeathers, but mostly I cope with this stuff by trying to remain non-competitive (sometimes hard) and say little (always hard). But the point is, we were in the lake. And across the lake was an island, all trees bent in one direction and rocks and a few little tucked away cabins and boat houses dwarfed by trees and sky.
The first morning, I woke early and went down to the dock to sit quietly and watch the sky trees water. I sketched the trees and cabins across the water. I took a couple of pictures. I sat and looked. I listened to the water and the loons and the birds I don’t recognise. I breathed. I relaxed.
That weekend, my shingles were at their worst. I had already started on meds but was still in a fair amount of discomfort. So I didn’t go kayaking or hiking or canoeing, which was just fine. On the second day, sunny and hot and bright, I wanted to go sit in the lake again, but was outvoted by those who wanted to go into Sioux Narrows for lunch and a shopping trip. I was aghast. Shopping???? We were at the lake!!! But I felt it would be rude or antisocial to stay behind or even object too strongly, so I went along, thinking it won’t take too long, after all…
Five hours later, by which point the lidocaine cream on my shingles had long been sweated off and I was very uncomfortable, we made it back to the cabin. It was past 5 pm, and I was anxious to get back in the water. R. and I were already leaving the next morning, and I saw my whole Saturday slipping away with no nature time. So while the rest of them kept moving at a leisurely cabin-type pace, I whipped into the little guest cabin where R. and I were staying, jumped into my bathing suit, tucked my “cocktail hour” coolers into my beach bag, and made it down to the water before the others had even finished hauling out the air pump for the new inner tubes acquired on the shopping trip.
That was the most amazing half hour or so. I was back in a deck chair in the water, deep enough so that the cool water was covering my patches of shingles and soothing them, with sunscreen on my chest and shoulders, and a Bacardi Breezer in hand (specifically chosen because it has a screwtop so I could close it between sips and avoid wasps and waves—I plan this stuff, people!).
While I sat there in the late sun, there was a sweet duck with teal-blue underwings who was napping on the little natural sand beach when I first came down, but who shortly woke and puddled around in the water. Even though birds kind of freak me out, it was very soothing to watch her calmly swim about. When she got to nearly within arm’s length of me, I made a small noise and moved a bit so she’d notice I was human. She paddled away with little concern.
Further out on the water, beyond the shelter of the tiny cove and the docks, a family of loons—two adults and an adolescent (slightly smaller and browner)—sounded a noisy alarm as an eagle swooped across the lake above them. Once the eagle was gone, the loons returned to their diving and bobbing, but when the eagle came back for a second look, swooping even lower above them, the loons were pretty upset. I was thrilled to see all of this action so close up!
The water lapped at the shore and creaked the dock and the little boat tied up there. When motorboats occasionally sped by out on the lake, I’d screw the lid back on my drink before the little waves reached me and half-lifted me out of my chair a few times. Such perfect sounds: water, creaky dock, bird calls, the very distant murmur of voices and laughter from the cabin above, the poplars swishing in the breeze.
By the time the others wandered down to the dock, my mood was completely restored. The sky was starting to cloud over but the day was still warm. We all grabbed flotation toys (I took a pair of noodles, blue and teal to match the duck’s wings; others took noodles or inner tubes), and drifted around for a while. There was a sporadic attempt at choreographed noodle-lympics accompanied by singing, but mostly we drifted, chatted, fell silent, floated out into the lake and paddled back to shore, aimless and content. After a while the wind picked up and the first rain started to fall and that was our prompt to head up to the cabin and start preparing dinner.
We ate, played cards, and then R. and I went up to the guest cabin and changed into our PJs and sat up talking for a couple more hours. Lovely!
The next morning I woke up ridiculously early to hear the wind howling around the little guest cabin. The temperature had dropped dramatically. It wasn’t raining, and I was eager to get down to the lake to see it in this wind. Because the previous days had been so blisteringly hot, I didn’t have a lot of warm clothes with me, but I just added layers and tied my beach scarf around my neck, and bypassed the main cabin so I wouldn’t wake anyone up.
It was so beautiful! The treetops were whipping about, and the lake was frothed with little whitecaps, and the loons were still out there, just a bit closer to shore. The wind was cool and strong, and I was goosebumped, but it was so beautiful in the overcast morning, the trees across the lake softened and blurred. In not too long, I went to get a hot mug of coffee, and the cabin’s owner (R.’s sister) came back down to the dock with me to sit. She told me about yesterday’s duck (nicknamed Cuddles), and the turtles whom I didn’t see (three painteds called the Michaels, and a snapper called Killer). And I told her about the loon family and their eagle encounter and she said “Oh! I wondered why they were so noisy yesterday!” I love that she is so familiar with the animal people around her cabin.
All in all, it was a great weekend. The people didn’t hate me (as far as I know) and I didn’t hate them. I really like R. and was delighted to have this chance to spend more time with her. And her sister was also lovely and generous. I really appreciated the chance to be out of the city, on the Canadian Shield, near and in the water, with nights that were utterly dark and utterly silent except for wind and the little creatures in the woods. I could feel little pieces of me healing up every minute that I spent in the lake or on the dock or listening to the wind in the trees.
I am absolutely a city person. But I think I am also absolutely a not-city person.