Lake cabin focal point of family unity

When Glen Gunderson retired from teaching in Fort Frances a decade ago, he and his wife, Sylvia, were looking forward to spending time with their ever-growing family.
Their four children were growing up and starting families of their own, scattered all over the country and beyond, but somehow, they all seemed to find a way back to where it all began when it mattered.
This past Sunday saw nearly 40 people, from as far away as British Columbia and Scotland, return to the family cabin at Rocky Inlet on Rainy Lake to welcome the newest member into the family fold.
Von and Cara Gunderson of Thunder Bay decided they would combine their annual summer visit to their parents’ cabin with the baptism of their baby.
But this was not your typical baptism. After consulting with their pediatrician, they persuaded Pastor Brian Keffer of the Zion Lutheran Church here to perform a full-immersion baptism on their three-month-old son.
Although this particular ritual generally is confined to evangelical sects and is administered to adults, Pastor Keffer said the practice actually is available to anyone who requests it. And as far as he knew, most denominations will perform it.
It was, however, the first time he ever did it.
And as Pastor Keffer noted in his prayer before the ceremony, Rainy Lake was the perfect place for it as an example of some of God’s most beautiful work.
The prospect of dunking an infant and holding it under water is not as risky or outrageous as it may sound, according to aunt and godmother, Lynda Gunderson, who stood with her sister-in-law while Pastor Keffer and Von plunged the infant into the comfortably-warm water of Rainy Lake along the shore below the family cottage.
In fact, most healthy infants can be safely immersed in water as long as it isn’t too cold.
Sure enough, Gabriel Karl Runnar Gunderson emerged a few seconds later crying, but not coughing and seemingly no worse for wear. Within 10 minutes, he was in a dry diaper and fast asleep.
The secret is something called the mammalian diving reflex—a physiological reaction that takes place as soon as a baby finds his or her head under water.
Several things happen when this occurs. First, the baby instinctively will hold its breath while, at the same time, its heart rate and blood pressure drop as various blood vessels constrict, or dilate, diverting blood flow away from the extremities and towards the vital organs.
As the name suggests, this phenomenon is common to all mammals and is most highly-developed in marine animals like whales.
However, if you are contemplating doing this, be sure to check with your pediatrician to make sure there are no medical issues that could make it dangerous for the baby, Lynda Gunderson stressed.
It also is a good idea to get the baby accustomed to being underwater so it doesn’t panic.
But this baptism was by no means the first religious ceremony performed at the cabin.
Three of the couple’s children were married there, including Karl and Lynda, who had a medieval ceremony in October, 2003—complete with costumes, swords, and a roasted pig on a spit.
Unfortunately, it rained the whole time so much of the proceedings took place in a big tent instead of in the open with torches lighting the scene.
This year, Karl and Lynda drove in from Penticton, B.C. with their two children on July 3 and plan to stay until July 29.
“We try to make it out here every summer,” noted Karl Gunderson as he watched his daughter, Isabella, cavorting in the water with her cousins.
Others came from Owen Sound and Ottawa, but the one who travelled the farthest was Shona, who came out with her four children from Fort William, Scotland on July 3 while her husband, Robin Gillies, stayed behind to do some renovations on their house.
“I got lots done without the wee ones there,” Gillies said.
He followed them here July 19 and will be going back Aug. 3 to complete his chores while Shona and the kids remain for another two weeks.
Fort William is a fairly isolated town on the northwest coast of Scotland and according to Gillies, it is most famous for a superb single-malt whiskey called Dew of Ben Nevis—named after the mountain there that is the highest point in the United Kingdom.
The word “nevis” comes from the Gaelic word for heaven and the mountain’s name can be translated as “the mountain with its head in the clouds.”
It also is the place where Britain’s elite troops, such as the SAS, do some of their training on its misty, wind-swept slopes.
Shona is the only member of the clan who was not married at the cabin. After graduating from Fort High in 1987, she decided to take a year off to work at her aunt’s bar in Scotland.
It was there that she and Robin first met.
“Our eyes met across a crowded room,” Shona recalled, laughing at her own cliché. “It was pretty much love at first sight.”
But Shona was still quite young and not really sure if she was ready to settle down in a foreign country, so she came home a year later to sort things out.
Meanwhile, Robin was left on pins and needles since by now he was completely smitten. “I wondered if she’d ever come back,” he admitted.
But come back she did the following year and in 1994, they were married with the whole family present.
Sylvia Gunderson said the cabin was built by her husband’s parents back in the 1960s and has been gradually enlarged over the years.
“My father-in-law was not a materialistic man and when it came time to decide what to do with the cabin, we asked him to leave it in the family and he did,” she recalled.
Since then, it has become the focal point for family gatherings of all kinds. The Gundersons now have another cabin to themselves on an adjacent island and other sleeping cabins have been added to accommodate grandchildren and guests.
But whenever the family gets together in large numbers, they always seem to congregate at the original little cabin, which is exactly what Glen and Sylvia always hoped for.
“Things worked out pretty well,” observed Glen as he surveyed his children and grandchildren enjoying a lavish barbecue and salads as a warm wind blew in off Rainy Lake.
“When I retired, I was hoping to be able to spend lots of time with my grandchildren and now it seems the timing was pretty good,” he added.