It comes back, like riding a bicycle. The instinctual rhythm, the matching strokes, the soundless, splashless dip of the paddles.
At first there is talk, there is laughing, there is goofing around. The canoe wobbles as one of us makes adjustments but, at some point, as the adventure progresses, without any words, without any notice, it all smooths into a quiet fearsome strength. The canoe pushes fast across the impossibly clear, jewel-toned water of George Lake. Breeze cools the sun beating down on our shoulders, muscles clock roundly in an effortless circle; up, down, thrust, push, all in one motion, one beat. There is ancient beauty in the fluidity of the movements – spare, simple, exquisite.
It is the perfect summer day. The kind of day we will look back on and say, yes, that was summer; summer as it was meant to be; summer as we think of it, with longing, on the coldest days of the year. There is no better summer than that remembered in the snow of January.
Killarney Provincial Park is new to Dave and I. We'd heard it described as the "jewel" in the crown of Ontario's many fabulous parks and yet it took us this long to finally get there. It's a solid four hours northwest of Bracebridge, at the very top of Georgian Bay. I always think of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, as a native woman, hunched over with the weight of Georgian Bay, her papoose. Killarney Park, while only a few minutes drive from "the bay" and the village of Killarney (population 500), has little to do with the big lake. Its claim to fame is the backcountry canoe routes and hiking trails that deliver people from the civilization of their daily lives into a true wilderness experience.
We met up with a garrulous guide who was leading a family on their first backcountry camping trip. He had been travelling Killarney's backcountry since 1974 and loved it fierce. I asked him what he thought of Algonquin, a park also famous for its backcountry canoeing, and he sniff-snorted his reply. Killarney's crystal clear lakes far outshine Algonquin's dark beaver water, he pointed out, and he doesn't like how busy Algonquin has become. "Too many amateurs," he said. Yes, he really said that. "I'd far rather be here."
Dave and I are experienced canoeists and campers but we've never done the backcountry without fishing motors. And we'd never been to Killarney so we were the kind of amateurs this man haughtily tried to avoid. We were just there for the weekend, camping in the relatively comfortable George Lake campground, and venturing out into the park by canoe for only the one day.
Oh, but what a day it was.
We packed our lunch, the dog and some fishing tackle and headed out early in the morning. We passed all kinds of other friendly canoeists and kayakers as we made our way around George Lake. Everyone greeted us with wide smiles and "good mornings" and "wonderful weather" and we felt as warmed by their presence as by the morning sun and the scenery.
The scenery. I've never seen anything quite like it. The rugged, glacier-carved hills are made almost entirely of quartzite. The whiteness of it is dazzling, like snow-topped mountains scattered with only the scrubbiest and hardiest jack pine. Imagine white mountains dropping down to the turquoise lake. Imagine a blue sky and a gentle wind carrying the lonely screech of a hawk. Imagine looking down through 20 feet of clear water and still seeing the bottom.
We canoed close to shore, investigating every nook and cranny of the cliffs before we settled on a lonely granite outcrop, polished smooth by millions of years, and pulled up. We swam, just the two of us, like we were alone in the world, in water warmer than a swimming pool. There was no "getting used to it," we just swam in. We ate ham and cheese sandwiches on the shore, then tried some fishing. The bass couldn't wait to jump on our hooks and we had two double-headers, where we each had a fish on at the same time. They weren't huge fish, and we threw them all back, but we had so much fun watching the bobbers go down and shrieking as the feisty bass gave us a fight. Then we swam. Then we paddled. Then we came back to our campsite at dinner time and we napped.
There are only so many days like this in life. If we're lucky, we can recognize them as we live them. And if we're really lucky, we'll never forget.
|Our campsite at breakfast time, Saturday morning.|
There were bagels and cream cheese and fruit cups.
Oh, and a chelsea bun from the Gravenhurst bakery. Yum.
savouring my morning joe.
Dave always has a smile on his face.
Here, he toasts some bagels over the camp stove. They were delish.
|See how the cliffs come right down to the lake?|
And how, despite their age, Mother Nature continues
to break up the rock, sending gravel down into George Lake.
|More scenery, slightly hazy in the summer heat.|
|This is where we spent a couple of very happy hours,|
swimming, fishing and stuffing ourselves with lunch.
Even Misty joined us in the water.