The wonderful Toronto Publisher, Pajama Press - who produces fabulous books - and I have signed a contract to publish my latest young adult novel. The new book will make its debut next spring! Title coming soon!
(I imagine this is what the recent fire in our area would have looked like if it had actually made it to the shores of our lake. So glad it didn't.)
We were not allowed to return to our cabin until just a few weeks ago because of a fierce wildfire that came very close to our lake. The fire was caused by something called dry lightning - striking an old part of the forest which had many old decaying trees - waiting, like tinder, for a chance to explode into flames. Dry lightning is just what it sounds like. Clouds full of fire and no rain. The photo below is not mine, but was taken by someone at a nearby lake and used in the media (no credits given that I could see) to show the wild fire moving closer and closer. This photo has almost a painterly quality to it. We were, of course, extremely concerned for almost a month. Not just for the wildlife, and the destruction, but also for the looming possibility of losing the old log cabins my dad and grandfather built, my paintings, our gathered treasures over the years, the journal my husband has kept about the lake since we were married, and many more things that meant so much to our family. Eventually the fire stretched to about 20 miles in length and licked against outbuildings on the lake next to ours. At first the fire was too hot for water bombers to get close enough to spray it - and of course ground crews were not allowed near it. People were evacuated from four different lakes, including ours. But eventually with cooler weather and some rain, water bombers were finally allowed to fly over. Ground crews then moved in and used water devices to pump water from the lakes onto cottages, cabins and the homes of permanent residents in the area, as well as trying to clear-cut areas to keep the fire at bay. Finally, after weeks of worry, the all-clear was called for the lakes, including ours, even though the fire was still burning in an uninhabited area.
When we arrived at the marina at the end of the lake we were so happy to be back! We were told by another camper loading his boat, that they had had what is referred to as a"pollen" storm a few days before we arrived. A hard winter, a slow spring, and many of the species of trees released their pollen at the same time. The pollen waves covered homes, cottages, boats, docks, and waterways. When we arrived at the end of the lake in our boats, remnants of it had been driven by south winds into one of our small bays. The next morning, I took a shot of it. It covered everything in the marsh, beaver dens, trees, lily pads, the water .... and as the wind picked up, me! I sneezed my way back home in my canoe!
As soon as I could, I explored my usual paths, and paddled my canoe each day checking out my favourite places and celebrating that we still had our beautiful lake intact. Early that first evening, I paddled toward the largest beaver lodge I have ever seen. I had noticed the previous September that an energetic beaver was starting on a new den. And it appears that during the nice autumn weather, he worked diligently to show the other beavers how it is done! It's huge.
Usually in that bay the lily pads are so thick I can hardly paddle, but in early June they are rising up from the clusters of leaves growing on the thick layer of mud about four feet below the surface. The beavers create these wide ledges of mud as they groom and plan their own deeper secret waterways - something that I have learned how to find so I can move more easily on the water. Most of the lily pads are red below the surface but once they rest on top of the water, they turn green.
Everything seemed to be in bloom in both bays. After a good rain most of the remains of the pollen had washed off the plants. Bog Rosemary below is a sturdy and pretty plant - and its buds are round and a pale pink shade with tips that look like pursed lips (with a darker lipstick). Sadly it does not have the fragrance of domestic rosemary.
I suspect that a lot of of the pollen on the lake came off big Jack Pines like this one in Bay One. In spring the cones from the previous year are hard and dry or cracked open and seedless. In spring, however, the new male ones look like pale baby corn or teeny bunches of bananas. It is the male cones that create the ripe pollen. Apparently there are also female cones on the tree. I did not know this until I read up on it. As a kid, I wondered at the sight - on slow blowy days - of gusts of yellow pollen wafting off Jack Pines trees and drifting over the water. From the centre of this bunch of cones, you can see the beginning of the new needle growth in the middle,which will soon grow long and more upright. They call this stage "candling" and when they are all pointed skyward, they look like candles on a Christmas tree. The females fruit in May and look like tiny reddish pink pineapples.
Below is the lovely Bog Laurel. One of my favourites. They are gorgeousflowers and the buds are as pretty as the flowers. These plants were all around the edge of the marshes when I was a kid, but one year, the trappers were allowed to trap the beavers on our lake because they kept rebuilding a dam that interfered with the level of the lake. After that, to my eyes, the marsh became static - the lily pads slowly began to thin more and more. After a few years, we rarely saw laurel bushes. Now we have a different way of keeping the lake level, the beavers are not being killed, and with four active beaver dens in our twin bays, the bog laurel is appearing again, as are other plants that I haven't seen for a long time. The marshes are clogged with huge and varied lily pads with their white and yellow flowers. It is as if the marsh has come alive again. We now have muskrats, and swirling families of otters as well. The beavers are cutting into the marsh, moving it around and refreshing it. I sometimes wonder if the beavers will be taken again - but so far, they are left in peace. I think the awareness now, that beavers actually keep lakes and marshes alive, is part of the reason why. Live and let live seems to be the consensus - which makes me happy.
The flowers below belong to the Leather leaf plant. Its leaves are thick and leathery. It blooms very early in the spring , so these blossoms are almost ready to drop their petals. And when they do, they leave rather attractive seed pods behind. This plant is at its most beautiful in the fall - when its leaves turn a variety of beautiful subtle fall colours. The third photo in this line up I took last fall.
When you walk past an old stump, stop and look closely at it. It can hold some amazing little treasures that look like they come from the bottom of the sea. I paddled past a stump that I've watched age and break down over the years. As I drew closer, I spotted a sun dew plant smack in the middle of it - which means the wood is succulent enough now to carry a water plant! It is also encrusted with various lichens, as you can see. I usually search and find sundews embedded in the wet water mosses along the marsh. They are a carnivorous plant, with sticky tipped "tentacles" that trap small insects. The tentacles are highly sensitive and the leaf will then fold over, bringing the insect into contact with the sticky balls of the plant's digestive secretions.
Sundew plant and lichens on an old dead (but very alive!) stump.
After my canoe visits around the bays, I went for walks in the woods. I almost stepped on this tiny cluster of mushrooms fruiting across the old trail. I recognized them, but didn't know their name. I have a new book I bought about Ontario mushrooms and after some discussion with my daughter, and a bit of an autopsy on a few I'd removed, I am sure, now, that this is the Omphalina ericetorum mushroom. No common name that I can find. Like pretty little umbrellas in the misty rain. It had been raining for a couple of days, so they are quite translucent. They fruit on moss and wood. Not edible. Apparently they are very bitter.
This is another fruiting plant I found on the same day as the umbrella mushrooms. The rain that day brought out all kinds of surprises - mushrooms, mosses in seed and more. These are the seeds or fruiting bodies of the pretty juniper moss. It is called Juniper Polytrichum or Polytrichum jiniperipun. They look like lit birthday candles to me! Eventually the white and orange tips will dry and send out seeds with long white tresses. This group of seed heads has a thread of water drop silk from a spider swung across them - if you look closely. It was so quiet in the forest. No wind at all. Just the sift of light rain.
There seem to be a plethora of moccasin slippers (also known as lady slippers) this year. The one below is in its early stages of growth and is a soft green and looks fragile and new. I almost missed it because it blends so well into the foliage around it. But further along the higher path, I found a few more - dotted with pollen - and wearing their grandest colours.
Later, I slowly paddled into Bay One again. It has some logs laying half in and half out of the water. I took photos of a male and female Mallard standing side by side on this very log last year, looking rather like an old married couple posing for a photo. But this time, I found someone else visiting the log. I call this photo "A Reflection on Turtles". Heh, heh. "I've looked at them from both sides now from up and down and still somehow....." sorry Joni Mitchell! .... I really don't know turtles at all.
We have a friendly turtle with a deep gash in his shell, clearly from a propeller accident, who comes to visit us when he feels like peckish, but he also comes up to us if we splash the quiet water with our hands. He's been floating into our shore for many many years. You see his head go up and down as he moves in for the food. He gets oatmeal and whole meal crackers.His name is Timothy. But this sleek beauty has a lovely shell. I wonder if they know each other? And if so, do they swim together? Have baby eggs together? She was clearly reflecting on me, too. She slipped off her log after I passed her by.
I spend most summer mornings and evenings paddling around the two bays on either side of our small peninsula and its small island. I take photos of the long vistas, close ups of the critters, the marsh, and anything that catches my eye. In the winter I also paint scenes from memory and a few of the photos. It will be a few weeks before I can get to the cabin. But soon.....
For this blog I am focusing on sunrises I have caught on film and one painting finished this month.
arise and go now, for always night and day
lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
"Arrival" - Oil wash and pencil: from a photo c 1952
Cut off as I am from seeing my cabin in Northwestern Ontario in winter, (we have no road access and I am not able to ski in anymore) I find myself longing for "The Word". We are always eager to get there, and we start packing as soon as someone says the word. And that word is, "thelakeisopen!"I love the first frigid trip down the lake in the boat, leaning over the gunnels and pushing aside slush on the water; hearing the candling of the underwater icicles tinkling as we stop the engine to push our way through the melting surface. It's not that I am anxious for time to pass quickly. I guess what I would really like is the time travel from a couple of my novels - so I could come and go to the lake any time I wanted. I'd love to see the snow through the wrap around veranda windows once again - while a fire snaps and crackles in the Franklin stove in the main room - and the cook stove fires up in the kitchen. Once we arrive, the floor will be icy cold, but that's what moccasins are for. And we will heat the beds with heat packs before turning in. In less than a month, I'll be there. I hope. I call the lake our legacy - given to us by our English grandfather who often passed by the sparkling water when he traveled with my grandmother and his small children to the Canadian Pacific Railway's holiday camps at Laclu, Ontario. On their way to Laclu, they always had a stop at a small train station that served the miners at Star lake who used the railway as a starting point to portage to the mines. One year, Grandpa, when his own kids were still small, decided to make a special trip with some work buddies to take a closer look at the lake at the bottom of the hill. Perhaps the railway people would give them a boat in order to take a look around if they arrived for a camping weekend. He liked the fact that this little station offered comfortable access to the shining lake below. So, he returned with some work buddies a few weeks later - and in a borrowed row boat, they traveled the three miles down the lake to the three bays at the very end. He and his friends felt a connection to this long, narrow lake with intriguing bays breaking off the main body - and together they bought an entire shoreline on a stretch of land facing all the bays. The land they chose had a narrow sandy beach that would allow for docks and, eventually, boathouses. In the photo below you can see my mother, (in the white shorts), my grandmother (in the polka dot dress) and others waiting for the supply train. I remember standing waiting for this as a child. Mind you, we didn't arrive by train. No free railway passage like my grandparents, so our Dad drove to the lake with all of us piled in - each with a backpack to carry. He would park the car under trees near the Manitoba fish hatchery road, and we would walk the two mile trail to a narrow inlet of our lake where we kept an old boat that would ferry us to our own log cabin - if the little Champion 1 1/2 horsepower motor - kept in a tiny rough shed would start! Otherwise it was a looong row.
Waiting at the station, c 1935
There were a small group of homesteads dotted along the the lake in 1918 when my grandfather bought his land. One homesteader, halfway down the lake, had a couple of heavy horses that used to carry workers and equipment at the other end of the lake - across the long portage to the next lake - heading for the The Penniac Reef Gold Mine on Star lake. The mine became inactive in 1918, not long after my grandparents built their place. There was even a murder on the lake not far from the station. The wife of the murdered man ran a small camp for miners. A fellow, in one of the narrow bays who lived right beside the portage to the mines, shot the woman's husband for trespassing and he died of his wounds. But the story was was much more than that. I hope to write that story one day! My grandfather suggested to the widow that she open a store for the new holiday arrivals building summer cabins along the lake. And being a canny woman, she did just that. This was eventually expanded into a pleasant clapboard inn - still active as a local store for the campers.
In the early 1900's the long stretch of land that sloped away from the railway toward the lake already had an interesting past of failed farming; but the station itself was an active one, with a water tower, and two houses one for for station family and a larger one for the foreman of works and his family. And of course there was the stopover camp for the busy movement of miners.
Much of it's energy slowed down when the mines closed, so my grandfather paid the owner of the old sway back horses to have them drag logs across the frozen lake one winter. He had cut down many fir trees the previous autumn, for building his cabin the next spring and summer. He had been told it was easier to strip the bark off the trees after a good long freeze. The advice was good advice. But a few years later the horses and their owner were gone.
But, things took a different turn. The train began to deliver more campers - a few families at a time - and cabins began to pop up here and there along the lake. Most of them were railway workers. The children from the railway homes loved to see more children arrive. I can't imagine what it was like in mid-winter to teach in a one room school house in the back of nowhere and to board in a miner's camp. I am sure the teachers who worked there didn't stay long.
The school behind the railway station
My grandparents would always arrive by train as George had free family passes. No one takes the train there now. A road was built by the camper's association in 1858 - one year after my father died at age 47. There is no longer a station there, of course, and the trains rush right past the once tiny hamlet with nary a look back. My grandparents, with the help of friends, built a log cabin on a piece of the land they had all purchased, as I said, around 1918. I think my grandfather loved the pioneering spirit of it all. And the place became very handy during the depression when he and one of his sons had to work part time in order the share wages with fellow workers - and my grandparents spent quite a lot of time there, living off the game, fish, blueberries, and mushrooms - plus special orders sent by train to Eaton's for flour, sugar and other staples. My grandparents and their three children lived in tents for the first summer. I am sure my grandmother loved that! She looks pretty weary sitting sitting in that deck chair.
My grandfather is the proud one with the pipe in his mouth. His three kids are in front and two friends beside him. My mother is holding a doll. She got an Eaton's beauty doll one year. That may be it.
The cabin still stands and one family member, a cousin who is the last one to live there rarely does so, as she lives in California. Hopefully one of our family will buy it one day.
My parents bought land across the lake on a small peninsula with a pretty island at the point. We can see this old place from our docks. Before 1920, my grandfather had built a cabin, a boat house, and at least one flat bottom boat. He bought a transport canoe and in a stroke of what he believed was genius, he added a sail to it, thinking they could sail the miles down the lake to the station, rather than row all the way.
On the first trial test, the wind caught the sail in the middle of the bay and pushed my grandparents across the lake at a very fast clip. It ended when they were pushed up onto the sandy shore. My grandfather had no control - except he did use his paddle as a rudder. My mother told us that my grandmother got out with great dignity and refused to ever get into it again. And she was true to her word. So my grandfather built a canvas covered frame at the back of the big flat-bottom boat and there my grandmother sat on pillows - riding in state down the narrow lake just like the queens of Egypt.
Coming up in my next post - the many moods of our beautiful bays - from my canoe