A Risk Not to Repeat When Canoeing in Canada
“Pull for all you are worth, David!” I instructed my newly minted six-year-old. The wind had blown up as it does just before a storm. We had been picnicking at the end of the lake with nearly two miles to get back to our primitive hut.
It had been a beautiful morning when we’d set out, as it had been for the three days my children and I had been here. We’d enjoyed canoeing gently down to the end of the lake, pulling the wooden canoe onto the shore, hiking in the woods, and building our appetites for lunch before paddling back. I had spent my honeymoon canoeing in Canada, portaging over the hillocks between the lakes. So, when the friend who had taught my ex-husband and I to canoe had invited us to this remote hut on a lake further north in Ontario, I took him up on the offer.
We were staying in a two-room hut with a wood stove inside for heating. We cooked on a wood-fired grill outside, and there was a path up to an earth closet in the woods. I thought it would be a good chance to introduce my kids to the real outdoors. My friend, who was away in Scotland, arranged for the shopkeeper further up the lake to tow us in his canoe down the lake, returning to collect us five days later.
I couldn’t find a place we could possibly take shelter. The trees came right down to the water’s edge all along the shore, and I didn’t want to be under a big tree if there was lightning.
It was our last day and as we were paddling in the building storm, I had visions that we would never make it. The wind would have blown three-year-old Caroline over if she had still been on the pebble beach. I couldn’t find a place we could possibly take shelter. The trees came right down to the water’s edge all along the shore, and I didn’t want to be under a big tree if there was lightning. There were no other cabins on the lake, or places to dock.
The rain started. Huge, heavy raindrops, soaking us and gradually filling the canoe with water. We were all wearing life jackets, but David was tiring with pulling on the paddle. I shouted to him above the wind to put the paddle down and rest. I wanted him to use the half-gallon milk container tied to the canoe to bail out the water that was building up. He was a big help.
My heart was racing, partly from the extra effort I was putting into paddling against the strong wind, but also because I knew I had taken risks with my children’s lives. I had to remain calm, I told myself. I knew they would pick up on my fear if I didn’t. We were making progress in inches, not feet. Just to stay still required super human effort, but I knew I had to make it. This was Labor Day weekend, and two days earlier we had seen one boat with people fishing on the other side of the lake. Otherwise, we had not seen anyone since we were dropped off with our provisions for five days.
I didn’t know how I could protect my children if we capsized, or sank, or if anyone would know until noon the next day, when we would be collected.
David was a good swimmer for his age and Caroline was learning, but they were clothed in t-shirts, shorts and bathing suits. I didn’t know how I could protect them if we capsized, or sank, or if anyone would know until noon the next day, when we would be collected. I just prayed that God would be with us and we could make it safely back. Even though it was harder to both paddle and steer with the wind coming straight at us, I was thankful the wind wasn’t coming from the side, as that would have increased the risk of capsizing.
We usually left the beach after lunch about 1.30 pm and were back by 3 pm, giving us time to swim and play in the water by the cabin. Today, it was nearly 5 pm when we finally reached our dock. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. I cried as I hugged my children and held them close as we took off our life jackets and wet clothes and hung them up to dry.
The sun set very soon after we had tied up the canoe securely, and I wasn’t planning to use it again before we were collected before noon the next day. We warmed ourselves by the wood stove inside, and ate canned soup and one-pot stew heated on the outside grill before settling down for our bedtime story by the oil lamp, our night-time ritual. Neither David nor Caroline seemed to have come to any harm, and as we took the flashlight to go up the path to the earth closet in our pajamas, sweaters and coats, the rain had stopped, the clouds cleared, and the stars overhead were magnificent. What a day it had been, one to remember if not repeat.
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