In Journeys
A picnic voyage with my extended family in Georgian Bay, Ontario Canada, exploring the relationship between nature and family and how the two can come together.

I woke to the smell of cabin wood, fresh air, and sunlight pouring through the screen door of my bedroom. I climbed out of bed and pushed open the door to the deck. From a lawn chair I watched the water glisten off the rocks for a while, letting the sun gradually warm my joints. Despite wanting to stay in the chair for eternity, I willed myself to get up and satisfy my rumbling stomach. I stepped off the deck and onto a smooth rock pathway, eventually approaching the small bridge connecting one of the small sleeping cabin islands to the main cottage island.

The main cottage is large, housing just two bedrooms but plenty of living and social space. The winding steps are taxing but worth it for a good breakfast. The front door was squeaky as always, loud enough to let everyone know you were entering, although at this point I likely woke no one. It was probably 11 a.m., judging by my acute biological clock that was attuned to a relaxed summer schedule. I went right to the kitchen, and the table was littered with a slew of crackers, PB&J’s, and some of my favorite sodas. I knew what this meant: while I was asleep, it was decided that today was the perfect day for a picnic excursion.

Over the next half hour my cousins and I took the goods outside the cabin, down the winding steps, onto the dock, and into the boat. We gathered our life jackets, towels, and sunscreen, eagerly awaiting the clan of adults to start our journey. It was mid-July in Pointe au Baril, Canada, the site of our extended family camp on Georgian Bay.

In the early 1920’s my great-great-grandmother voyaged up to Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada with some friends, only to fall in love with the location. She came back up several times and eventually was so enthralled with the beauty of the area that she purchased three small islands near those of her friend’s. Over time she had cabins built on each of the islands which allowed her and her family to come up every summer and stay on the bay. It has been almost a century now, and with each passing decade the size of my great-great-grandmother’s family grew, now up to almost three hundred direct descendants. At this current time, my Dad, brother, Mom, her two brothers and their immediate families were housed in the various cabins located on the three islands. Our families were very close, and there was no better activity to share together than a boat trip to an unexplored island.

My uncle Dave, captain extraordinaire, seamlessly started the boat motor down on the dock. We pulled away from the island, my cousins and I fighting for the ever-coveted bow seat. It was a beautiful day, just shy of eighty degrees with a slight breeze. The pine trees seemed greener than usual, cast against a backdrop of blue sky. As the boat accelerated, I gripped the aluminum railing as a brisk wind caught me off guard. We were off.

Our destination wasn’t clear. My uncle Dave, an army veteran who also hiked the Appalachian Trail, was somewhat of an explorer. He enjoyed excursions without a destination, believing the purpose lies in the journey. We glided past island after island full of cabins and pine trees, waving to the inhabitants we saw. Our captain entered a stretch of open water, which allowed him to make a quick “S” shape with our path, much to the amusement of my younger cousins. After the open stretch of water we approached a tight rock channel, maybe twenty feet wide at most. We slowed, and just as my hands tightened around the rail, my Uncle Dave shouted from the back of the boat.

“Charlie, come back here!” I wasn’t sure what he wanted, surely I couldn’t steer through the channel on my own. I reluctantly made my way to the back of the boat, where my uncle put his hand on my shoulder.

He asked, “Can you get us through this channel?” I nodded, completely unsure of what was about to happen. I traded places with my uncle and took ahold of the wheel, feeling the nervous anticipation of everyone in the boat. My uncle stared ahead, not even considering the fact that I could crash the boat. His confidence in me was reassuring, and I accelerated slowly. My Uncle Dave had a way of making you feel important, the sort of personality trait that made you think you could do anything.  

As we moved through the channel, the wake from our boat reverberated off the rocks on either side, causing the waters to become choppy. After a tension filled minute, we escaped from the claustrophobic setting into a small bay. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at my Uncle, who winked and fist-bumped me. My job was over, and I strutted to the front of the  boat having accomplished something new.

After exiting the channel we entered  a marsh of sorts. Tall, thick reeds occupied a space similar to the size of a soccer pitch. To the right was an island with a dense population of trees that seemed to be centrally located. It had a beautifully peculiar aura about it-gray and brown rock sparkled in the sunlight, seemingly inviting our boat to the smooth rock line.

I looked back to my uncle, who had a look of intrigue while simultaneously keeping the boat steady between the marsh and the island.

“What do you think,” I shouted from the bow. He paused, examining the island more closely. Just as he began to answer, one of my younger cousins yelled and pointed to the marsh behind us. A Great Blue Heron emerged magnificently from the depths of the marsh, circled our boat, and proceeded to fly away against the blue sky. At that moment, I knew we had arrived.

Parking the boat is always the tricky. One person is always designated to jump from the bow onto the island with rope in hand, an important and slightly dangerous job. This time, my brother got the honor. After parking the boat, we primitively tied the rope to a nearby rock to ensure our journey home. Everyone began exploring the island, and I started by walking away from a small marshy area and towards a lot with shrubs and trees. I stepped carefully on the steeply sloped rock,  listening to my cousins laughing and exploring behind me, enjoying the small piece of paradise we had found.

As I rounded the shrubs the island opened up. There were no trees or grass, just sloping rock and water. The wind seemed to pick up in the absence of any blockage, and the open waters of Georgian Bay rippled vigorously. I called out to my family as I knew that this view couldn’t be beat. As each family member rounded the edge to reveal the panorama, their faces lit up with delight. We gathered together and set up the picnic, all of us laughing and basking in the view that the world had presented us. I couldn’t help but think that moments like these are what family is about; experiencing the beauty of nature together, especially on a journey where the destination is unclear.

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