Don’t miss the Signs…

My inner reflection took place this past summer after another successful championship Lakers season, giving more proof to the What is Next strategy of the team, sweeping the visitors from the Canadian West coast in four games thanks to our focus on the small details of each shift.  I took some time with my dad to stay a couple nights at a remote cottage on beautiful Faraday lake just outside of Bancroft Ontario.  For those that don’t know where this is, Bancroft is the “Mineral Capital of Canada”, a small town between Peterborough and nowhere, about an hour and a half North of my little home town.  The cottage belongs to long time family friends, Ken and Debbie Fraser.  Absolutely beautiful and inspiring people who have run The Main Ingredient, a successful bulk food store in Peterborough tha tjust celebrated their fortieth year in business.   Heated by a wood stove and over looking a serene, tranquil lake, the cabin we were staying in sat a top a small hill, so the view of the water was a simple glance out the screened in porch.  Although occluded a by a few evergreens, the view was still exactly what my soul needed.  It was a chance for me to turnoff for a change.  To recharge my empty battery, to fill my empty and dry tank. Spending time with my dad is also time I would never trade.  As we get older it becomes harder to find the time to have that father-son connection that I desperately need and only hope to have with my boys. 

Ever since I was a young, dapper eight-year-old, my dad and I would go back woods camping, progressing further and further into the brush each year.  We started in Long Lake, just outside of Apsley Ontario.  The older I got, the further we went, the more challenging the voyage would become.  Long Lake turned into Loucks Lake, with a portage to Cox Lake, portage to Triangle and the final portage to Cherry Lake[1]. Our years of woodland excursions had culminated in our preparation for one last epic journey to Cherry Lake when I was eighteen years old.  A decade of preparation, a decade of surviving in natures unpredictability, eating a substitute meat product from a can, suffering from wounds inflicted from improper hatchet handling, punching the earth on a throne made of splintering wood, aptly called a Thunder Box, sleeping under the beautiful night sky lit with millions of stars,so incredibly visible without the iridescent glow of city lights.  This, to me is the most beautiful of God’s creation.  One can spend hours having a euphoric ocular experience finding new designs and countless expressions of stunning and mesmerizing glows from these million burning suns.  It is hypnotic and seems to cause time to stop entirely.  As long as there is a small breeze in the air to push away the dreadful Canadian vampire insects that pray on any exposed flesh,then it can seem as though the world and its problems become meaningless to the grandeur and splendor of the sight million of miles away.  I become insignificant and trouble just goes away.  Obviously, I am not as oblivious and am not insinuating that all problems literally vanish from our lives when we gaze upon the stars while camping during the summer months.  If that was the case, I would never leave,and the cost of admission to these parks of personal freedom would be astronomical.  In the moment however, not much else matters.  When searching the sky for answers to life’s quandaries, there is something that seems to magically take my mind from distress to distance; from worry to wonder. 

Of all the years we challenged the wilderness, one trip in particular remains seared in my memory.  It was our last trip.  After a decade of summers, this would mark our finale.  I was eighteen, about to enter college and begin the next season of my life as an “adult”.  So I suppose it was only fitting that this summer in particular would be the most memorable, and have the most to teach me about the challenges of life.    It still amazes me that these experiences we have in our younger lives reveal their depth of meaning later when we most need it.   

We had been in the canoe for several hours at the point we reached our third and final portage of the day.  Already exhausted from the long paddle and the burning sun that only increased the heat of the late July summer,we made it to the edge of our portage which was the path to our destination only to be met with a serious obstacle.   Upon close inspection of our new-found conundrum we quickly realized the difficulty we would be facing.  For about the next two hundred yards we had to navigate and traverse several beaver dams, make our way cautiously through a shallow boggy summer stream that smelt rather putrid, like a rancid combination of decay, rot and depression.  Due to the shallow nature of the stream we had to pass through, we found ourselves becoming wedged on the bottom and unable to dislodge the canoe simply using a synchronized forward rocking motion.  I believe I drew the short straw that day, as I was in the bow of the canoe (the front for the non-nautical readers), so it was my unfortunate duty to carefully exit the craft and pull the canoe until we were at an acceptable depth that I could re-entre and continue the trek.  However, due to the murkiness and dark sewage coloured water I lost sight of my feet and with each step simply prayed that I would have a solid footing with the next step.  It was the fourth or fifth step that I quickly realized that God has a sense of humour and didn’t answer my previous prayer.  In an instant I found myself neck deep in the foulest stench and vomit inducing liquid that to this day I have thankfully not had the privilege of experiencing again.  

Somehow managing to bring myself from out of the depth of this predicament, all the while fully certain I will experience the dreaded Canadian “Beaver Fever” in a few short hours, hoping that I did not have any open wounds on my person that would succumb to infection, we struggled forward, continuing to push through the uncomfortable circumstances.  Drenched, tired and absolutely foul, we finally made it to our site on Cherry Lake. We arrived, exhausted but alive ready to finally enjoy our hard-earned travels.  What this journey will teach me later, I certainly did not know at the time. The treacherous and humorous in hindsight has served a completely different purpose than that of the moment.    

I sat with my dad the other day at the Starbucks where I’ve written most of these pages, and remembered together this experience.  The moment that makes this journey somewhat laughable, was that as our trip came to a close and our time on our retreat in the summer of 2000 came to its inevitable end, we began our paddle back and upon reaching our first portage, which would have the same treacherous obstacles we had faced several days earlier, we both began to hysterically laugh.  With tears of joy and embarrassment, we gazed upon a bright yellow sign pointing to a slightly overgrown path leading around the shores of the creek with which we had taken hours to navigate.  When we reached the shore of Triangle Lake, we turned to find the sign we missed.  A weathered, cracked and covered in foliage sign was barely visible, but was there.   We missed it.  As hard as we both thought we had looked when we first arrived, we couldn’t see it through the thick green leaves and branches that covered it. 

As a writer, I can pull many learned lessons from this one trip and could likely write another book about these four days almost twenty years ago.  We can talk about the stars, and how that beautiful canvas of white lights are the same today as they were twenty years ago. We can talk about how those we count on for direction, if they have not navigated that path, may also miss the obvious. I would rather not discuss the trauma of being near drowning in nature’s septic system, but for the purposes of my current journey and struggles through ‘What is Next’, I will focus on the sign. That even though it was there, we missed it.  We had never been this far before, and as much as the previous years had prepared us, we still missed what would have taken us around the creek of odor and sadness and would have saved us time,energy, and possible infection. 

When asked why I’m writing this book or what it is about, this is it.  Making sure that with every step in our journey we are able to see the signs, we can navigate around what will cause us the most difficulty along our path to our destination.  That when we finally reached the goal we set,we can lay on the rocks looking up at the beautiful bright, endless stars and know we made it.  There is always work to be done and struggle will find us along the way, but my hope is that these pages provide a sign for you that will save you from diving neck deep in nature’s sewage!! 


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