When I was little, Point Pelee was a park that was a long drive from home. We would go there once or twice every summer for the afternoon, cooking hotdogs on the little grills scattered through the picnic areas, sitting on sandy towels on the narrow beaches, playing in the dune grasses.
When I was in grade school, Point Pelee was a popular field trip site. We’d go on nature walks through the forests and along the boardwalks, peering down into the murky water, delighted when we spotted fish or frogs, proud when we could identify a red-winged blackbird or a blue heron. We’d travel to the Nature Centre on the little trolley and make the long trek out to the point, dodging the dead fish scattered on the sand. And we would daringly dart out past the ‘DANGEROUS CURRENTS’ sign, to impress one another, while still only in the water up to our calves. We’d talk about the “friend’s brother’s friend” who tried to make it out to the sandbar a couple of summers ago, and was sucked into the deadly cross-currents and never seen again.
When I was in high school, Point Pelee was our Sunday afternoon destination. We’d all pile into my boat of a car (how I loved that ’78 Fairmont) and toss swimsuits and towels into the massive trunk. Now the drive seemed shorter, and was half of the fun of the day, always trying to find a different route, stopping for slushees and ice cream in the heat of the July summer. Our favourite thing to do was rent canoes, and paddle out past the marsh and into the “big” lake. It was a ride filled with so many different sensations and experiences that it was almost overwhelming. First it was time to giggle and mock one another as we all tried to find one of bright orange life jackets that would fit and wasn’t too crusty, and to find a paddle that wasn’t taller than we were and would hopefully give us the fewest number of splinters. Next it was time to clamber carefully into the canoe, decide who was least likely to direct us into a reed island (that happened a lot) or into an oncoming canoe (that only happened once) and have that person sit in the back, poised to steer. Another person in the front, and then finally, if we were an odd number that day, the sad sack in the middle, sitting on a spare lifejacket in the bottom of the canoe, amongst the rolling water bottles and in the cold, little puddle of water that never dried up.
First, through the marsh by the boardwalk, gawked at by the children clomping along the boards, then through the tall reeds, where we could see only as far as the length of our paddles, and then later, the lilies were under our paddles, and the reeds brushed the sides of the canoe. The best moment was always when the reeds suddenly and almost startlingly would part, and we were outside again, with the lake spread out before us, ripples showing where the hidden clumps of marsh grass lay just beneath the surface, the walls of reeds teasingly showing hints of other paths through the reeds. The need to find out whether we were discovering a new path through to Lake Erie, or if the path would continue to narrow to the point where our only recourse was to paddle out backwards, the way we came. Most often, we paddled across the little lake to ‘our’ spot, a gentle slope where it was easy to pull up the canoes, even with our tired arms. It was only a narrow divider between our little lake and Erie, so we would cross the sandy hill, and wander the wider beach, sometimes venturing down to the point itself.
Those were good days. I’ve never been so sunburnt, or so tired, or so content since, I think.
But that’s not what I came to talk to you about today. I think I’ll make that another entry, though.