This has been a week of many firsts for me. It has also become a week of memorable first time happenings for people around me.
I enjoy going out on the land to take in the fresh air and to enjoy quiet moments or even just to listen to the sounds in the forest and the many animals that live and thrive in the wilderness. Most of us northerners just take for granted that we can merely walk into the forest and enjoy these pleasures whenever we feel like it.
This week I took some southern friends for a canoe ride. I knew my friend Jack Vokes would enjoy the new experience but I was not prepared for his reaction to his first canoe ride.
The sun shone down on us and as he stared into the water, he seemed mesmerized at what he saw. He turned to me and asked what all the lights were. I was confused and wondered to myself if there was anything wrong or if there was anything strange in the water around our little canoe. It took a few seconds for me to realize that Jack was talking about the sparkles of light from the sun reflecting off of the ripples of water. I was happy to explain to my three-year-old friend that the bright blinking lights in the water were reflections of the sun. I told him the sun was actually dancing on the water.
What seemed like just another canoe ride for me was indeed a magical and memorable ride for my friend Jack. He pointed out every strange new thing he saw including bull rushes, beavers, loons, fish and the many reflections in the water. At three years of age, Jack’s vocabulary has a lot of whys, whats and wheres. Between myself and Jack’s dad Rob we spent a great deal of time on our canoe ride answering our inquisitive Jack.
Everyone in the remote north grows up becoming very familiar with the wilderness, the sparkling water, the white snow of winter or the green hues of a forest in the summer. We are led out early in our development to experience the colours, the smells, the sights and the sounds of the land even before we are able to understand what we are seeing. It is normal for northern parents to involve their young children in traditional activities such as camping, boating or even fishing. I don’t remember my first boat ride but I am sure that it must have been a very comforting experience for me.
This was a week of many firsts from my friend Jack and his two-year-old sister Brynn. I sat down with them to enjoy their first open campfire in the woods and we roasted marshmallows with their parents Brooke and Rob. I think my two young friends enjoyed the serenity and quiet of the wilderness. It must have been a big change for them compared to their lives in the city suburbs of southern Ontario. They had a few complaints about the mosquitoes, though.
I also got the chance to spend some time with my nephew Willie Wesley. We took a long car ride so that he could attend a hockey camp. On the morning of our ride, we woke up to the sound of pounding thunder over our heads. Howling wind blew through the trees and visibility was down to a short distance as the rain poured down from heavily laden dark clouds. I have seen serious storms but this powerful tempest was new to myself and to Willie. We waited out the storm and then started our drive south. As we approached North Bay, the highway was lined with huge fallen trees here and there. We had never before seen tall trees blown down and their bases completely uprooted. Some had been bent in two and splintered trunks of wood sat along the highway.
When we arrived in North Bay, the city was without any power. As night crept over the city, finding gas for the car and getting groceries turned into a long difficult chore. Cars lined up at the only open gas station and lines were long at the sole grocery store open in the city. We found ourselves in the middle of an emergency. People drove and walked along the dark streets and police were on patrol at intersections and major points of interest as the city ground to a halt.
This was an exciting first day for Willie and full of firsts. It was his first hockey camp and first dramatic storm. Hanging out with Willie reminded me of my early teen years. I knew he was a little anxious out here in the south away from his parents and sisters and in the midst of a crisis in a big city.
Thankfully, the hockey school staff was on hand to reassure him that things were going to be just fine. As luck would have it he was also fortunate to bunk in at the college dorm with two great fellow hockey school participants, Matt and Quinton from Manitoulin Island. I was happy to see the boys strike up a friendship as I was preparing to head back out into the night for the long ride home.
The trip home was grueling but I filled the time thinking about all those firsts that Willie, Jack and Brynn had shared with me. There is nothing better than being reminded how wonderful life is through the eyes of children. Meegwetch awashishuck … thanks to my young friends.