My parents have a cottage outside McKellar on Lake Manitouwabing, just east of Parry Sound. Thanksgiving weekend seemed a great opportunity to test out the cottage’s capacity as a writing retreat.
There’s nothing that feels more Canadian than a trip to the cottage in the fall. My favourite activity is a morning walk along the gravel road under arching canopies of red and gold leaves. If you’re lucky, you can spot a deer by the hairpin turn at the causeway.
It’s a rustic spot with most of the mod cons but reminders that you’re just encroaching on the wilderness outside. There’s ceramic tile in the bathroom and HGTV by satellite, but you can’t drink water out of the tap and you can’t leave garbage out in the open for fear of bears.
My first thought was that there was no comfortable writing spot. No expansive pine desk positioned to get the best view of the lake, and definitely no ergonomic chair. Just the kitchen table or the patio furniture on the deck. If she’s not careful, a person can succumb to the nostalgic charms of the Moose FM or the stacks of old Harlequin novels moldering in the basement.
It was quiet, though. While my mom and dad were taking the old kitchen cabinets to the dump, I sat peacefully on the deck in the pale afternoon sun, listening to the loons.
The peace brought a gentle revelation. A sense of place—of being embraced by the permanence of the rocks of the Canadian Shield. A couple of crows flew against a rising breeze. A bank of evergreens swayed gently. The incessant lapping of waves against the tied-up dock gave my afternoon a rhythm. There was a thrum that couldn’t be attributed to traffic on the roads. Could it be a heartbeat?
Fall is a magical time in Ontario’s near north. It’s when the land shows its bones. Leaves are stripped bare. Summer’s haze dissipates and a sharpness outlines the land’s dips and hollows. A brief snow flurry reminds me that autumn is a transitional time here, the calm before the hard slog of winter.
I grabbed what I could of that restful afternoon. I thought about Jospeh Boyden, of Giles Blunt, of Andrew Pyper. I thought about Sloan and Big Sugar. I thought about how some of my favourite authors and songwriters seized the essence of this great land.
I picked up my pen and tried to capture my place in the world.