Sunday, July 17, 2011

Killarney by Canoe

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.

Talk about your bad hair days... me and my  Life on the Muskoka River mug, 
savouring my morning joe.

 Dave always has a smile on his face. 
Here, he toasts some bagels over the camp stove. They were delish.

Doesn't Misty look like a little bear cub with her new haircut? 
There were bear warnings at the park when we were there but
we didn't see one. Thank goodness. Still, the park staff claim
Killarney "is famous for our bears." Luckily she says they are nothing to worry 
about because "they're all wimpy." Misty is a very good
canoe buddy; she gets underneath my seat in the shade and snoozes.

The pink granite cliffs around Parry Sound are common.
These  rocks are what inspired some of Canada's greatest painters,
including Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven.
As you can see in this photo, right behind the pink granite are the incredible white
quartzite hills. Breathtaking, literally.

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. 


  1. Sounds like a perfect weekend. Spectacular scenery!

  2. Looks like a magical place. You described it really well (in fact, your first three paragraphs were like I was reading a descriptive passage from a novel). The first thing I thought of was the Group of Seven as well.

  3. What an awesome weekend and description Cathy! I haven't been to Killarney in years but I still fondly remember the memories.

  4. Gorgeous! I want to go there. You are an excellent marketing rep for your part of the country.

    There is something so relaxing about being on the water, the mindless rhythm of paddling, like you said. It just frees your mind. I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip.

  5. Nice little write up... and great pics. Reminds me of the trips I've had there... Did close to a 4 hour canoe trip into the interior one tirp, portaging, and all that fun stuff... it's a awesome place.

    The site we had, sat across from the one of the big white mountains like in your photo up there... we paddled over and spent a half day climbing to the top - the view was awesome. Sounds like an amazing perfect trip. They don't get much better than that. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Lucky ducky. What a great weekend trip. I hope the bugs weren't too bad.

    Your doggie is the cutest thing ever!

  7. What a lovely weekend! I am jealous but only because I wasn't there - glad you were though! I absolutely love the Canadian Shield countryside.

  8. I'm a city girl. Those are beautiful pics but I started itching while I looked at them, thinking about all the bugs! Can you tell I don't like camping? :D

  9. Laura Eno! I'd much rather deal with a few mosquitoes than some of the scarier bugs you find in the city! At least a bit of OFF! chases away the mozzies... I gotta take you out camping, girl.

  10. Looks beautiful! And my kids want your dog.

  11. Thanks for taking us along through the photos.

  12. Cathy I love your adventures! This one sounds like absolute heaven; finding a place where you feel like the only people on the planet is so difficult these days. I may have to give my canoe a scrub and go for a spin. Thanks for this wonderful travelogue!

  13. Oh, and great pictures too! You hair looks fine, I forgot you were a blonde these days!

  14. OK, Harry, now I KNOW you're kissing my ass... "your hair looks fine..." Maybe on Planet Bedhead!

  15. Looks and sounds like so much fun, Cathy. I'm decidedly a non-city boy. Would enjoy drinking hot cocoa and swimming in that lake with y'all.

    Unrelated, but is there a reason you don't double-space between paragraphs?

  16. John, regarding the double-spacing - I DETEST the lack of type manipulation in Blogger. At work I use InDesign to make words sit, lay down and beg, do anything I want. I can't believe there is no leading adjustment in Blogger; no tabs; no indentation. Drives me crazy. I don't have Microsoft Word, either, and the Mac program I have for word processing, Pages, isn't really compatible with Blogger. Stories come in wonky.
    People have mentioned this before so, generally, when I write #fridayflash, I use the quotations to make the type a little more legible. With regular posts, I write them directly on Blogger and don't worry about it. Maybe I should.
    Tell me, do you do a hard return for every new paragraph?
    Another reason I don't double space between paragraphs is that's a huge no-no in the publishing business. When a writer sends in such a document the first thing we have to do is take them all out. So I'm not in a habit of putting in extra spaces.
    I take it my blog is a little hard to read because of spacing issues?
    Anybody got any ideas or opinions?

  17. Stunning scenery! I'd love to try out canoeing, even though I'm a total amateur. ;-)

  18. I agree that there should be more type justification in Blogger. It's obnoxious and makes working in the box itself just a little more of a job.

    It is a little harder to read, but that's why I thought I'd ask and help you fix it if possible.

    I tend to write my flashes in a Word document and hit enter after every paragraph. If I don't, though (and I often don't because every other kind of prose has more formal formatting), I'll copy and paste it into a Notepad document. These turn every paragraph into one line. Then I hit Enter, go down, Enter, down, Enter, down. Takes five seconds at the most to separate the paragraphs of even 5,000-word short stories.

  19. Stoopid Blogger. I will definitely try to make posts easier to read.. cause otherwise, what's the point? Thanks, John.

  20. Cathy, you need to brush up on CSS style manipulation. You can make your text sit up and bark without too much effort. To do it *really* right, you need to edit the style sheet for your Blogger template, but you can do quite a bit right in the Edit window. For example, do this with your paragraphs:

    <p style="text-indent:3em; line-height:150%; margin-top:0.75em;">One paragraph here</p>

    That indents your first line 3 ems, and puts a little more space between lines.

    For a permanent fix, go to your Dashboard and click Design, then find & click the Edit HTML link. At the top of that page is a "Backup/Restore" section, click "Download Full Template" so you can restore what you have now if something goes w0rNg.

    Scroll down through that mass of text and find the line ".post-body {" — it's the lines immediately following this (between the { } brackets) you want to fiddle with. To control leading, add a line like "line-height:1.6em" — that's the total height of the line, not the space between. The line that goes "margin: number number number number" controls paragraph spacing: top right bottom left. First line indent can be fixed with "text indent:3em;" (adjusted to taste).

    Yeah, it's not a dialog box or anything, but you can definitely control things with suitable motivation. :-D

  21. OH MY GOD, FAR,... you must have me confused with somebody who knows how stuff works!!!!

  22. Really awesome! Sounds like a great time; I have yet to have a "summer" day in that way. I need to get out on the trail.

    Very nice pictures too!

  23. You write so beautifully about your fun experiences. Looks like an incredible place with great views.

  24. I have to figure out how to get my canoe onto the car. Hubby cannot lift. Thanks for sharing YOUR trip!

    Cheers from SE Cottage Country!

  25. wow amazing trip you had made, i remember that i made one a few years ago to the yellowstone park, was awesome we get permission to do camping, was pretty awesome to be 3 days without a computer.


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