Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Great Escape

Scribbit – a blog about Motherhood in Alaska is having a “Write Away” contest, with the theme being “The Great Escape”. The contest looked fun, and so I decided to give it a try.

The summer of 2007 was special to our little family, because it was the first time our two children ever got to visit (and spend a couple of nights at) the place I spent my summer vacations for 8 years, beginning when I was six - Nixon Lake, in Ontario, Canada (5 miles from Vermilion Bay). I enjoyed sharing my childhood memories with my kids and showing them all the memorable spots… “Beaver Bay”, “The Rock”, “Loon Lodge”. Most of the original buildings were gone – but the places were still there – and so were the sweet memories.

The story of my great escape, happened the first year we were on vacation.

My Great Escape

I was about six that year we first visited Nixon Lake in Ontario, Canada.

I didn’t understand the brevity of life back then. I was going to live FOREVER! And I wasn’t scared of anything! Each hour, each minute was so filled with newness, excitement and activity that I didn’t have the time to be afraid. At least not until I lay in bed at night and the fears came to me. My fears were the things my nightmares were filled with - monsters, bogeymen, girl-eating-dragons and the like.

Our grandparents lived out at the lake in a big old house – and we stayed in a cabin right in front of the water. Cabin Number 3. It didn’t have a name – just a number. We eventually made our way up to staying in Cabin number 2 and then Cabin Number 1 – but that summer it was Cabin Number 3.

The “camp” (as we referred to the property where the house and cabins were situated) was bordered on one side by the lake and by the bush (woods) on the other sides.

Nixon Lake - Summer 2007 (view from original site of Cabin #3)

When we were not swimming in the lake or traipsing after our teen-age uncle, we were picking and eating berries.

Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and Saskatoon berries. Everyone enjoyed eating them – picking them? Not so much a favorite activity of mine.

There were berries all around us. We didn’t even have to walk into the bush in order to find them – they were literally under our feet. We’d be playing “Kick the Can” or “Hide n Go Seek” and we’d have to stop for a moment while we picked the juicy strawberry we had just about stepped on. A good hiding place was in the raspberry bushes. Get tired of waiting to be found? Could always keep busy eating the raspberries. But we always remembered to look inside the raspberry before eating it, because often there would be a tiny white worm hidden inside.

Sometimes we would go out with empty ice-cream pails and try to bring back a whole pail filled to the brim with blueberries. My two older sisters were able to fill a whole pail and even sold them to friends of my grandparents. Usually I’d get only the bottom of my pail, and my stomach filled. Sometimes we’d go out early in the morning with only a plastic cup. Our mission – to find just enough berries to top our cereal that morning, or we’d just eat the berries with a little milk, a sprinkle of sugar and a spoon. Wonderful! Could any summer breakfast be better than that?

My dd picking berries at Nixon Lake last summer

There were some rules for us kids out at the lake. We couldn’t go swimming alone, we couldn’t go up and bother the grandparents before 8:00 am, we needed to keep an eye out for bears, and if we went picking berries in the bush – we needed to always keep the lake in sight, to avoid getting lost.

Bears? I wasn’t afraid of bears – in fact I’d love to see a bear up close. The only bears I had seen were in books or behind fences at the zoo. A little cuddly bear cub would be so cute!

One morning my dad asked me if I wanted to go picking berries with him. We were not going to stay close to “camp”– but instead we planned to go deeper into the bush to see if we could find a new blueberry patch. We were always on the quest for bigger, bluer, sweeter, blueberries. We wanted a patch no one else knew about so it wouldn’t be “picked over”, and we could sit down and pick for hours.

My dad carried a couple of buckets. I carried a little red plastic cup. I still see those cups from time to time. Maybe at a thrift store or at a garage sale – they are opaque hard plastic and have a gritty texture to them. When I see those cups – I remember our time at the lake and my little red cup brimming with blue.

Dad and I headed out past Momo’s (the affectionate nickname we had for our Swedish great-grandma) cabin, past the outhouse (used only in emergencies – we preferred the scent of the modern shower house), and out onto the so-called "trail" that lead to “Beaver Bay”. We walked for about ½ hour, wandered off the trail, and went further into the bush. Eventually we found a “bumper crop” of blueberries and sat down to pick. I was able to fill my cup in a short time, so I proceeded to fill the only other container I had brought along - myself!

Momo's cabin as I found it last summer

I was happily exploring, eating berries, and daydreaming. My dad, just a little ways off from me. The bush was pretty dense, the wild grasses high, so every once in awhile I would call out to him or he would call out to me, to make sure I didn’t get lost.

As I walked around, I held tight to my cup full of treasure. Wouldn’t my sisters be envious of the HUGE, SWEET berries I had found, I thought to myself with a smile? Suddenly, I looked up and saw dad running towards me. He picked me up, held me sideways under his arm, and ran like wild! I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t good. Out spilled my blueberries – oh no! Dad ran and ran and ran. He ran until we hit the shore of the lake and then he ran some more along the edge of the lake. If you’ve ever been in the bush, you know running isn’t easy. Branches dangle in your face, roots, dead trees and “pot holes” try to trip and knock you to the ground. Tall, thick trees block your path.

The Bush

Dad finally ran out of steam. Breathlessly, and hurriedly he told me the story. He had almost filled his pail of berries when he heard a loud snuffly-grunting noise nearby. He looked up and saw a black bear and her cubs not more than 10 ft away. Dad said, “They might have just been interested in picking blueberries, like us, or perhaps they were interested in picking us!”

There was no way we were going to be able to get back to camp the way we came. We were going to have to make our way back along the shore. The shore area where we usually swam had a small sandy beach where we could play, but here out in the bush, there really wasn’t much beach at all. We partially walked in the water – partially on the rocks and sand – and sometimes when the water was too deep – we had to go back into the bush a little ways.

It wasn't easy. Our shoes were full of water. Our clothes were wet and sandy and were weighing us down. Our arms and faces were covered in scratches, and worst of all, my nightmare had come true. It wasn't a girl-eating-dragon, but it was close enough! I was scared. Really scared! What if the bear would come back? What if dad couldn't fight off the bear? What if dad left me behind? How long would it take for me to die if the bear attacked? Things like this are not supposed to happen in "real life" to little six year old girls. Would I never grow up? Would my sisters get all my toys? My eyes were often filled with tears.

After a couple of bone-wearying hours, camp was in sight. I could see the edge of Momo's cabin - we had made it!

By the time we were back at our cabin, all thoughts of my dying, vanished. I was now "the star". Dad soberly, and I excitedly, told our story to my mom and sisters.

I’m sure for my dad it was one of his most frightening moments. With the instinctive protectiveness of a parent – dad didn’t hesitate to react. He just grabbed me and ran and ran – and never dropped me. Never fell. He was only concerned with getting me (and himself!) to safety.

Even when I didn’t realize my peril –my father was looking out for me. I doubt I ever said it back then, so I’ll say it now. Thanks dad! Thanks for being my Steve McQueen. Thanks for engineering my “Great Escape”.


Scribbit said...

Boy that looks lovely--and the name? Vermillion Bay just evokes romance like crazy.

Edi said...

The name may sound romantic - but unfortunately the town is anything but.

I was so disappointed after returning there for the first time in about 12 years - to find the town run down, all the old fun places closed/dilapidated or for sale. It was sad.