Up North and Off the Grid: Winter’s End

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Life is colder in the north. Winter lingers three to five weeks longer than in southern Ontario. This year, ice-out for our area is happening in May, which is not unusual.

The melting of the ice marks the end of winter. This is one of the two most miraculous events of the year. The other, of course, is when the water changes to ice in late fall.

For days now I’ve been watching a narrow band of water at the shoreline get a little wider each afternoon. Is there enough water to float the canoe yet? Can I go more than three paddle strokes before the gap ends?

One day, not wanting to wait any longer to get out on the water, we loaded the canoe onto the car and drove four kilometres to the nearest creek. Moving water opens early, even when it is very slowly moving. We knew we could paddle for hours up the creek, and back again.

The sun shone warmly upon the land as we carried the canoe down to the water. I was prepared for cold; after all, the water would be just a few degrees above freezing. The heat of the sun soon convinced me to take off my fleecy sweater. The breeze felt great. After the long, icy winter, it sure felt good to be in the canoe again and in the sun! Creeks are especially nice for paddling in early May. The bugs are not out yet, and the scenery is great. We could see deep into the forest in many places, as the deciduous trees have not yet put out their leaves.

We quietly paddled downstream with the morning breeze at our back. Rounding a little point of land, a shallow bay widened out to the west. Turtles were all around! We saw ten painted turtles spread out on several logs catching the sun, their little necks stretched up as we paddled by at a distance. They looked at us as we looked at them.

We stopped at many places along the open water. On the eastern shore we found several places where patches of snow hid in the shade, and several more where masses of ice clung to the rocks near little streams. I found an empty turtle shell, with bones still inside.

The sound of water caught our interest, and we stopped under a grove of large cedars to walk in the shade. Though the stream was only a foot or two wide, it made a loud and joyful sound as it rushed down the hill.

It was a lovely stretch of open water before we came to the end of the creek. The lake it fed into was still ice-covered. We climbed to the top of a large bedrock hill, and had lunch overlooking the lake. Paddling south again in the heat of the mid-day sun, we knew it would only be a matter of days before we would be out on the lakes again.

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