Georgian Bay Odyssey: Outward Bound

Around me a pod of kayakers lies beached in their sleeping bags as the drama of moon and stars and clouds play out overhead, and I wonder what this ever-changing weather will have in store for us tomorrow. Part-way into this week-long trip hopping among Georgian Bay’s 30000 islands, I’ve reached an important milestone: lying on an exposed piece of pink granite, water to the horizon in front and behind, I can’t for the life of me think what day it is.

Can’t sleep, either. The muscle memory of paddling a kayak through jade water, under scudding clouds, past islands of stunted pines have messed with my nerves — still wired to the city’s neon heart. Now here I am, vulnerable on a speck of rock as smooth and bare as whalebone in a sweetwater sea. The places I have come from seem a lifetime away.

The next morning, and for all the days left in the trip, our kayaks carry us into a world measured in geologic time as we pass rocks older than dinosaurs. We wake with the sun and linger over breakfast. Instead of a daily commute, we load our boats and travel just as far as conditions allow, with no To Do lists or timetable to rule our days. When the wind whistles in the trees or lightning flashes along the waterlogged horizon, we dash for shore and squat on our life jackets. When the sun shines, we play in the water like kevlar-skin seals.

It can’t last, of course. Sometime around the coffee running out, thoughts turn to the conveniences of city life: a Starbucks on every corner; toilet paper instead of pine cones; no leeches in the bottom of your boat.

We invented time to describe experience. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In class, my students read Robert Frost’s poem “Nature’s First Green Is Gold” as an allegory of the seasons and the stages of life: spring is childhood, the shortest and best; followed by summer and autumn, and all too soon the short, dark days of winter. We measure everything this way: holidays, careers, relationships, lifespans. This sense of inevitability, the relentlessness of time, makes it hard to get older, with summer over just as we start to enjoy it. All we have to look forward to, we imagine, is the long, hard winter lying in wait for us. But watching the flux of weather under the stars and on the water reminds me that the world constantly changes, and so do we. There is no real beginning or end. Rain gives way to sun; wind and clouds are replaced with a preternatural calm — followed by a line squall blowing in from somewhere else, over the horizon.