Having docked a friend's sleek motorboat for the first time earlier in the day, I was lucky enough to take the wheel on a sunset ride on Lake Muskoka on Thursday. From Miller Island we went south to get the last, golden, orange and pink sparks of the sunset and then motored around Browning Island, then ducked back past Walkers Point as the sky deepened to purple and grey behind the row of darkening trees.
My friend, who grew up in the U.S. and is very well travelled, turned to me as we banked towards the setting sun and said, 'You've been all over the world, what do you make of this place,' or words to that effect.
I'm not much for poetry, but I think I said something about how the rocks and the trees and the water and the wide sky seeps into your soul. Muskoka isn't the most spectacularly beautiful place on earth. There are bigger lakes; wider rivers, higher hills and taller trees in many parts of the world. But there's something magical about a tiny group of purple irises clinging to a heft of Canadian shield four inches above the waterline. There's something magical about pink granite and pale green lichen-covered boulders spilling out into the water and spindly trees eking out a living on the poor soil that drove settlers crazy up here until they discovered they were sitting on a tourism gold mine. There's something magical about the light that plays across the deep, dark waters of the lakes up here.
We stayed at The Rosseau by JW Marriott the other night. There was a wedding party, and they came crashing down the hallway around 2 a.m. I got up and watched them parade harmlessly past our room and into their own (we trust), then opened the curtains to see a spectactularly full moon cascading light the length of the lake. It was truly spectacular; huge bands of bright light dancing for miles.
I'm typing this little note on our friend's dock, sitting on a recliner and watching the sun sparkle on the bay. The water is making those lovely lapping noises as it bounces on the rock-strewn shore, and it makes a wonderful "gallumping" noise when it finds a particularly deep crevice. There's a wooden rowboat sitting just so a few feet away, and it's bobbing in the gentle water and beckoning someone to take it for a nostalgic spin.
A couple hundred yards away there's a tiny, sagging, perfect brown and white and green boat house on Tiffany Island that I just adore. I've probably taken a hundred pictures of it over the years. It looks like something from the 1920's, and I pray it never disappears as it's such a perfectly placed little building and so wonderfully echoes what I'd like to think is a gentler era, before the advent of jet skis and wakeboarding.
There's nothing wrong with those, of course. I've done my share of waterskiing (shield your eyes, folks) and taken our kids out on tube rides, so I can't complain when someone else does the same thing. Still, I much prefer to paddle quietly around the bay in the stillness of the late afternoon sun, watching turtles warm themselves on a small log that sticks up a foot or so above the water and looking for chipmunks scampering on the rocks or loons silently paddling on the water. The other day I spotted a really large pike scudding through the shallow end of the bay. I thought briefly about going for a fishing rod but I don't have a license anymore and, besides, I preferred the idea of letting it stay free and not running a hook into its mouth just to give me a moment of excitement. It was thrilling enough to see it in the water, lazily swishing its tail as it skimmed alongside the canoe and knowing I wasn't doing anything to harm it.
A good friend of ours in Toronto told me a couple years ago he's lived in the city for decades and never been to Muskoka. He's a golfer and has family in Montreal, so he naturally tilts his car in other directions on a Saturday morning.
But I can't imagine not having time up here every year. We don't own a cottage but we're lucky to have friends who put up with us in exchange for rent or dishwashing or cooking dinner to the sounds of Bruce Springsteen or even the B52's, and I'll be eternally grateful.
I love Hawaii, and it's a thrill to roam the streets of Hong Kong or Paris or New York. But I'll take Muskoka in the summer over any place in the world.