One of the joys of Christmas is time to read and a book which I can enthusiastically recommend to anyone who lives on an island in Lake of the Woods is Joy Davis’, “Complicated Simplicity” (Heritage, Victoria, 2019) about life on an island. Based on her experience of living on one between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland, it sums up the dream – and the reality. Everything you ever wanted to know – and ever experienced on a piece of land surrounded by water – is here.
Throughout my life, I’ve lived on or near islands. Beginning on Lake Couchiching south of Muskoka, PEI, Cape Breton Island, the Thousand Islands, Vancouver Island as well as here in Kenora, I’ve been bewitched. My mother said Couchiching and its islands ruined me: I loved them too much. Not surprising, throughout journalism and ministry I’ve always been close to water and the happiness it provided.
As a boy who read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, as well as having seen the theatrical production when it came to the brand new O’Keefe Centre with its revolving stage, I was hooked.
My island of choice was Chief. It was the largest in the lake and was blessed with a glorious sandy beach. Long before it was discovered by the Toronto crowd, it was off the beaten path, a favourite place to drop anchor and have a picnic. My father and our family spent many happy hours in the sunshine in the lee, protected from the prevailing winds, never mind endless hours swimming and walking in the water on the sandy bottom.
So much so that during the summer of 1966 my favourite chum, Chris, and I spent the night anchored on the reef aboard Raven, my go-anywhere, displacement hull, cedar strip boat. Sleeping on the floorboards didn’t inspire sleep but we were away from the mosquitoes and engulfed in the freedom and stillness of the warm, humid night. Overhead the stars gleamed brightly before being drowned by a rising full moon. It was paradise.
Later we spent another night on an offshore island directly opposite our house. Not as well favoured as Chief, it did have a handy firepit directly up from the beach. We were accompanied by my family’s basset hound, Belle, who not only provided canine support but was a hit to three visiting guys who had come across to drink.
Her length inspired the comment, “Did you buy her by the foot?” Even though she ate all their hot dogs, they took it in stride. After they had gone, we bedded down, beset by mosquitoes and the shadows from the flickering embers.
We also had our version of Treasure Island. Further up the lake was a small island where my parents buried all their currency from foreign islands in the Caribbean, complete with directions: find the big rock and taking 10 steps to the west, in the noontime sun, proceed south to the little rock. There, if you lift it and look carefully, you will find the gold of memories.
I know. It sounds pretty tame now but, when you still believed everything your parents told you, it was a big deal.
Another island close by was a favourite for swimmers and one day I surprised two teenagers in their birthday suits. While the girl scrambled for her clothing, the guy simply glared at me.
My mother captured his disgust when she and my father were almost caught naked by two passing fishing men, forcing them to climb into their boat and scurry behind the cabin door. “How dare they invade our privacy?” she sputtered.