Rainy Lake is my own medicine

If you grew up in Saskatchewan or in the middle of Toronto, water is something you undoubtedly admire but daily interaction with lakes and rivers wouldn’t have been common.
If you grew up in Northwestern Ontario, specifically Fort Frances, lakes are a necessity; an addiction that has no remedy.
Even when we move away from our roots and our wandering finds us on the ocean, it’s not the same—the salted magnificence does not satisfy the “need” for the rocks and lakes of Northwestern Ontario, that earthy dark from which all life seems to come.
There simply is no cure for the love we bestow on Rainy Lake.
When I am hot and suffering with the heat, I almost can taste Rainy Lake, can hear the sound when her waves bump up against the shore, and I can conjure up her amazing aroma. There is nothing like Rainy Lake anywhere on Earth.
Being a farm kid and making hay while the sun shone didn’t allow for non-stop lake fun. But when trips to the lake happened, I knew well enough to tuck those moments away for safe keeping. I can lie on the grass in the shade—even now wherever I might be—and listen to the poplar leaves applauding summer and I can pretend I am on Reef Point at Aunt Helen’s cabin.
Everyone from Northwestern Ontario knows it is not a cottage or a camp; it is a cabin.
I can hear the cabin’s screen door banging, the thudding of bare feet on the smooth mud paths that led down to the water. I can hear the sound of the canoe bumping against the dock. I can feel the cool water on my lower hand when I plunge the paddle into the wave.
The wind that blows off Rainy Lake is like no other wind; it purifies the soul, cleanses out the worries and regrets and if onlys.
If I had to list my Rainy Lake memories in order of their being precious, I would struggle to separate them. One of those memories was being in a boat with my dad, a small aluminum skiff, just floating or trolling very slowly.
My legs were draped over the side of the boat, my toes barely touching the water. The motor was purring with a few chugs thrown in occasionally. My dad had on a short-sleeved blue plaid shirt, his favourite, and some kind of cap, though I can’t remember its exactness.
I can hear the zing as he cast out his line and began to turn the reel slowly. He looked utterly relaxed as if every burden, every financial worry, all the troubles that go on in a grown-up’s day got caught on the breeze and lifted away.
And as I watched him from under my floppy sun hat, I wished the day would never ever end.
The summer memory of Tina and I camping up near Red Gut Bay for a couple of nights. We caught fish, and cleaned them and cooked them over our little fire. We pulled the canoe up on the rocks and Tina leaned against it and played her flute while I listened to that wonderfully-gentle sound floating out over the water.
To cool down, I slipped down the rocks and pushed off into the water, the dark and brown not worrisome, to float effortlessly, and the water was cold and delicious and made me shiver and then it didn’t.
Something cold on Aunt’s dock, the sound of life swirling around, the sense of history and belonging and all that happened on that particular bay on Rainy Lake, the discoveries, the joy, the connection to the past, family.
The centre of all these memories is the lake; is Rainy Lake’s water. And no matter how far away I am, I can reach back into the past and see the sun sparkle and dance on her surface and I am home.
“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” (William Wordsworth)
wendistewart@live.ca

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