The Second Last Lake by Elizabeth Moore
I am returning to Canada to visit an efriend. I am not even sure if that’s a word but it is how we met – on a website – and we have been close friends for over ten years. When she first visits me in Australia, our friendship simply translates from emails to warm hugs and we really do like each other as much as we thought we would. Now it is my turn and I fly into Toronto. It’s as though my friend and I have been apart but a few days. As we drive, I notice the afternoon sun is blood red. It’s summer and wintery Sydney dissolves as I see Canada at her finest.
As I sip the first of some beautiful Niagaran wines, several cats patrol the deck, checking the night and mounting perimeter runs of the garden. Lake Huron is mentioned as our first destination. I am excited as I have always wanted to head to a lake cottage for the weekend. Australia has lakes and some people repair to them for weekends, but it’s not a regular thing. Neither is a log cabin in the woods. These seem essentially North American destinations. We head to “down the coast” in my country. I am heading to a cottage by a lake!
The small house is situated one row back from the lake’s edge. It nestles beneath a summer canopy of deciduous trees and it’s my idea of a classic American style cottage. I am thrilled. We are greeted by my friend’s extended family. I do not know any of them but if she likes me – they do too - and I feel welcome.
We are to eat poutain for lunch. I am to be introduced to the traditional gravy laden potato fries with cheese curds. We sit at circular tables, hiding from the heat and I decide I like this national dish. I even enjoy the soda and pause to watch the life at the adjoining tables.
Then there are drinks on a backyard deck. The floor show includes chipmunks and woodpeckers. This is everyday wildlife for local residents – I am overwhelmed at meeting the characters I have only seen in books. The plan is to walk along the shore and then have dinner. I have to remind myself that this is a lake – it feels like a beach by the sea, complete with sand and tiny waves – freshwater waves! There is a wharf extending into the lake bearing the stern words “No Wake”. The sandy shore proudly shows off its current collection of sun-baking bodies, shade tents, umbrellas, buckets, spades and floaty toys. The maple flag assumes guardianship of this setting from on high, taking care of all the characters onstage, watching the unfolding of the late afternoon script.
We climb dockside and I notice a classic yellow school bus parked beneath a tree. It is summer, so this vehicle has been called into service from its seasonal hiatus and waits patiently for its rowdy cargo to return. Two jets skis proceed to open water, ignoring the “No Wake” sign. An incoming cabin cruiser is far more cautious and carefully heads to its slip. A flag laden sign announces that this is Grand Bend. Apparently these are municipal docks – visiting boaters to the office. The red and white observation tower of the yacht club supervises the entrance to the restaurant. The taphouse is crowded but we have a waterfront table.
I am undecided, but the summer residents insist I try the local fish and chips. It comes with coleslaw and tartar sauce and simply melts as I eat. The wine is chilled and the company perfect. I am challenged to a trivia showdown. I fail at American sport but hold my own when it comes to Aussie cricket. I take pictures of the Canadian flag and watch the “Schipperke” cruise by beautiful lakeside homes. We head back to the cottage under a late summer sunset but I linger just a little – loving this tiny corner of Canada. The evening is extended with board games, wine and laughter. I met these people just this morning. They are already my friends.
Early morning and I stir, hearing noises from the kitchen. It is my hostess and she wants to walk. I decide to join her, so we abandon the sleeping household and set off. There is a small inlet from the lake and we walk the newly mown grass path. The water should be still and stagnant here, but there are regular water fountains set to aerate and maintain the health of the small waterway. There is a tiny landing with two white chairs and an iron cauldron full of yellow daisies. In a perfect world I would live here and drink sunset wine by the water.
A family of woodpeckers announce their presence in the trees above us. I hear them and then I see the mother and her brood. The raucous childhood cartoon character I remember laughing from my television screen is not sitting in these branches. The babies are grey, I catch just a glimpse of the parent and I nod quietly at their early morning gathering.
We walk on and find a forest playground. Used car tires strung from safe taut chains encourage us to wobble and sway. We remember the crazy sky-soaring equipment of our childhood - swings that defied health and safety and helped us fly. The walk also reveals houses of the very wealthy. The large white residence belongs to a famous baseball player.
We return to the cottage, welcomed with coffee and breakfast. My time in the cottage by the lake is drawing to a close. We will head home in an hour. My childhood dream of visiting all the Great Lakes is now a little closer. I am yet to see Lake Superior, but the beautiful Huron has just become my second last lake.