Grace lake

LAUNCH – Killarney Provincial Park 2016


“There’s a place, a garden for the young
To laugh and dance in safety among
The shimmering light in the shade of the trees”
(Josh Garrels / Morning Light)

For the past eight consecutive years, I have taken my kids on a canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park. This place is truly “a garden for the young” and the young at heart. We spent four nights and five days, away from our daily routine, with just our canoe, paddles, backpacks, a bit of food, a few clothes and a heightened sense of adventure. The air was fresh, the lakes were glassy blue, the forest alive and the company – simply perfect!  There are moments for contemplation and solitude here, but away from the distractions of our day to day lives, we have so many opportunities to connect and strengthen relationships. This is one of my favourite ‘playgrounds’ and we have many fond memories of time spent here.

“The times are changing, I can feel it in my bones
Cause I’m standing on the edge of the other side of all that I’ve known
It’s been a long time coming, I take one last breath
With my eyes open wide, smiling up into the skies, it begins with a step”
(Josh Garrels / Run)

As a Dad, I could sense that times were changing and if I couldn’t feel it in my bones, I could feel it in many other ways. It seems that not that long ago I held my kids until they begged to be let down to run off to their next adventure. My son had recently turned eighteen and is no longer a boy. Picking him up and holding him for any prolonged length of time is now unfortunately awkward. I know there is nothing magical or religious about the moment you turn a specific age, but at some point in a boy’s life, things must and will change.

A launch: is a point at which something begins, or to launch: is to put into operation or to set in motion. So at the launch of his voyage into manhood, we decided to embark on a new place in the park to celebrate the occasion. We have never been to the infamous Grace and Nellie Lakes in all the years of canoeing in the park. At first, the long paddle into the park and the 1000m+ portages kept us away when the kids were younger. Later on the excuse was it added so much more time onto our already long drive. It was finally time to take that metaphorical first step and journey into the unknown. This particular unknown was not necessarily scary, but when you have loved the past canoe trips so much, the unknown can be a bit intimidating and exciting all at the same time.

I have the same sense with my kids growing up and becoming responsible for themselves. It is a bit intimidating and yet there is the potential of so much that I am excited for them. May you take that first of many steps toward all that God has created you to be. It has been a joy to have had the responsibility of setting the stage for this launch into the next stage of your journey. May the fires that burn inside you provide for you more than mere warmth – but purpose, direction and meaning.

3 MONTHS – Algonquin Provincial Park 2012

I had always exposed my boys to the great outdoors since… well, since the chord was cut.  We played in the streams that flowed over the Niagara Escarpment, swam in the frigid waters of western Georgian Bay and the warmer waters of Lake Huron, canoed in the local town river, snowshoed in the back bush and camped as often as was possible.  At the earliest of ages the kids showed a strong desire to ride a bike, push a wheel barrow, help build a tree house, and paddle the canoe by themselves.  You couldn’t pay them to play inside, unless they wanted food.

So with my daughter at 3 months old, I did not hesitate to say to my wife, “let’s go camping this weekend.”  Most people we told thought we were brave, ambitious and other code words which meant “you’re crazy!”  My daughter was fine and more relevantly, we were fine.  She had her 1st swim in the lake, 1st kayak ride, 1st campfire and 1st sleep in a tent!  The hardest part was the 5 hour drive to the park.

Killarney-Johnny Lake

WILDERNESS CAMPING – What’s That All About?

There is nothing quite like the experience of wilderness camping.  To fully enjoy this kind of adventure you must: leave behind all that is not essential, enjoy your own company, abandon looking perfect, cooperate with your fellow travellers and have a healthy appreciation for God’s creation.  In wilderness, you will discover who you are – both the good and the not so good!  This is the place where relationships are deepened.  Personal interaction is done face to face and in real time.  Everything out here is done with purpose, there are no social niceties making decisions for us.  The trip takes a bit of planning ahead of time, since you are essentially setting up a tempory home where ever you decide to set up camp.  Following your route and schedule is important, but flexibility is a must when the unexpected inevitably surfaces.  In wilderness, it is much harder to hide from your own thoughts.  Out here we have fewer distractions to keep us from wrestling with those questions many of us attempt to avoid.  Enjoy the photos and keep wrestling.

While writing this I am listening to Josh Garrels’ newest CD, Love & War & the Sea In Between.  If you are interested in a sound track for this post click here and play.

Welcome to our front porch. This is where things happen in the wilderness. We come here to pump our drinking water for the next day, to read a book (if we are having a rare lazy afternoon), to swim, to enjoy a hot meal at the end of the day, to talk (yes men do talk – occasionally), to watch the loons swim by, to watch the sun set and then lay on the smooth rock, pick out constellations and watch for shooting stars. It may not be the most exciting place to be on these trips, but it is one of the most satisfying places.

Making meals can either be drudgery or a culinary delight, depending on your frame of mind. For us, supper is an event. Because we don’t have to rush out to a meeting after dinner we can take as long as we want to cook and enjoy our food. This supper prep gave my wife time to read while our soup was rehydrating. My sons and I were probably out doing something manly, like hunting for marsh mallow sticks!

I think we have lost the ‘fine art’ of playing. Out in the wild we have the chance to explore new things, on land and in the water. Sometimes an afternoon swim is exactly that – an afternoon of swimming. You can’t shove a ‘pool’ like this in your back yard!

There is no need for lawn chairs here! After a swim, leisure time continues with a snack, maybe a rest or possibly……………more swimming.

If you are an exercise freak, like my wife, this is the place to be. Not only can you hike all day up and down the mountains, swim back and forth across crystal clear lakes, you can paddle and portage until you fall down from exhaustion. There is no shortage here of physical activity to keep you healthy and fit. I have a dominant side when it comes to paddling, but after a while even it gets tired and I ask my wife if we can please switch sides.

My son took this photo of me while I was wading in knee deep water, photographing a rock wall (see second photo from the end). I mentioned earlier that it was important to cooperate with your fellow travellers. I am always conflicted when I come to places like this. I want to spend every waking moment photographing and filming and yet I want to be fully present with my wife and kids. I believe we have found a balance in cooperating with each other by respecting each others individual time and desiring and initiating group time.

I once saw a group of young men loading their canoes with water cooler jugs of water. They obviously knew the essential ingredient of a wilderness trip. I don’t think anyone told them that it wasn’t necessary to carry a few hundred pounds of water with them. Then again, maybe they like exercise a lot more than I can imagine. One of our after dinner rituals is to filter some water for the next day. None of us find it a chore to do this, especially sitting on shore with a view like this!

When my sons were old enough I bought them each their own camping knife. I had one when I was their age and I’m certain my Dad and Grandpa, each had their own as well. I think this is one of the preliminary rituals of a boy becoming a man. I still find it fascinating that a knife and a stick can capture a boys imagination when it has to compete with all of their electronic devices.

You know that your sons are getting older when they can jump off cliffs like this (or your 5 year old has an unhealthy lack of fear). You also realize that you are getting older because of that hint of hesitation in your brain telling your body to jump off the cliff.

Seeing this photo would make your terrified to throw yourself off of the cliff or compel you to climb back up faster so that you can do it again. I’m not sure which we like better; the falling or the impact of the water and making a splash?

While you are out on the water, you get a different perspective on your surroundings. You see things that you could never see when you travel by land. The only way to explore this rock wall up close, was to do it from our canoe.

In the introduction I had mentioned about being flexible. At the end of a portage we found this small waterfall. Stopping to enjoy this was not on the schedule. It was far too tempting to pass up the opportunity to play here for awhile and especially cool off. Two years later, we find ourselves back at the same spot. After having anticipated resting here and cooling off, we were disappointed when we saw the water level had dropped and there would be no ‘freshening-up’ here!