Promises to Keep – the story

I did another little canoe solo this week and returned to my favourite campsite to keep a promise. My wife was busy at work, my youngest son was off to high school, and I was free to take the path of the paddle again. This week, the lake was quiet with only the occasional fisherman trolling by slowly. The week before I had to deal with the regular end-of-summer folk buzzing the lake with skiboats and wakeboarders and the insidious "personal water craft" that have allowed a motorcycle gang mentality to take over summer waterways. Add alcohol to the mix and you have stupid people on powerful machines just waiting for an accident to happen or a campsite to trash.

On the other hand that week, I met a wonderful family from Oakville – Ed and Sheila and their children and dog – who had motor boated in to the campsite opposite mine and were having a hearty week of family camping. I paddled over to their site to say hello and ask them about the condition of their campground. They were delighted that I was cleaning up the other site, they had tried to do the same with theirs, and we ended up talking about everything under the sun – responsible camping, values and ethics, climate change, school, and even dog training. We had established a camping community of like minds, they in their motorboat and me in my canoe. All good.

Then on the way out, I stopped at my favourite truck stop near Waubaushene, topped off my Prius, and sat down for a coffee. The woman serving me had noticed my canoe and was suitably impressed (Chester IS special). When I told her where I had been camping and cleaning up, she gave me a big smile and said, "I got married there. In February. We walked across the ice to the rock shelf above the second pool." Now that is truly a small world. My wife and I were also married in the great outdoors.

It turned out that Wendy had been born in Atlanta, moved to Missouri, and vacationed every summer on our northern Ontario lake, eventually moving up to live here permanently. Although the man she married had lived all his life on that lake, they didn't meet until she was in her thirties as fate would have it. We chatted on for several minutes, another like mind who loved canoes, cottages, and clean campsites. I promised Wendy I was coming back to finish the job and to post a notice to future campers. It was a promise I was keeping both to all those who lived in and loved our northern lakes and sacred spaces, and to my father. 

From my youth until his passing, we went fishing and camping often during the summer. From Georgian Bay to Rice Lake to Temagami, we fished and camped our way to an unbreakable father and son bond. Whenever we left a campsite, he would make a final walkabout, ensuring that the fire was dead out and that a little pile of sheltered kindling was tucked away discreetly for the next camper. Then he would turn to me and say, "Son, always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it."

I put that saying up in a small sign on "my campsite" yesterday. Then I canoed down the channel and cleaned up three more. An endless quest along the path of the paddle. Thanks, Dad, for giving my retirement a purpose. I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

2 thoughts on “Promises to Keep – the story

  1. You and I were both very lucky young men because we had the fathers that we did. My father had a number of sayings that I am reminded of every now and then: "Never let school get in the way of your education"; "Never pass up an opportunity to shut up and listen."; "You can be right and you can be dead right."; "If you're going to be rude be rude to strangers but save your company manners for your family.", and "You don't always have to be the best but you should always give your best."
    Dad passed away at home on April 19, 1989 at the age of 67. Mom had been a registered nurse all her adult life so she took care of him in the place he wanted to be when he passed into spirit. He loved to travel by: paddle and canoe; dog team; snowshoe; outboard motor and square stern canoe; cross country skis, and on foot. It's the elders in our life that have the wisdom to pass on if only we will let them. Give them the opportunity to talk with our young; sew with our young; dance with our young; carve with our young; sing with our young; hunt with our young, and travel with our young.
    Please keep telling those stories Skid – they're great on so many levels.

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