Monday, September 13, 2010
I’m so happy to be with very good friends from the past in Sarajevo, here in Toronto. We’ll attend a wedding next weekend and before that travel to their cottage for a few days together fishing, swimming (I hope) and hanging out on the deck by the lake. But everything I do takes me back to Seguin. Even simple things like brushing my teeth. I’m not doing it here in Toronto in the tiny windowless bathroom on the twelfth floor in my friend’s homey apartment listening to a tired exhaust fan. I’m in a bright room with two glorious windows looking out 150 feet above a rolling Atlantic, hearing the gulls find morning fish and the waves crash against Cobblestone Beach; the flag flapping in the wind and the hum of the composting toilet. I’m fortunate in a way. I can imagine this and it will make anything I do a little more bearable. I’ll always have that even though it might fade away with time.
Already Thursday, September 16, 2010
Deep in the Land of Lakes in Canada somewhere between Otawa and Toronto I’m without internet or cell phone service, but enjoying the company of friends I haven’t seen since the last visit to Sarajevo. Bobo’s wedding this weekend will be a blast and his lovely bride Hana was a joy to meet. They have a small apartment on the 34th floor of a high-rise near the lake with a small balcony that overlooks the stadium in Toronto. What a marvelous perch: free admission and all the comforts of home.
This is truly beautiful country in Eastern Ontario called The Land of Lakes. The cottage is on Lake Mississagagon. We visited Upper and Lower Lakes Mazinaw yesterday in Bon Echo Park where a fault occurred millions of years ago causing one shore to rise hundreds of feet up in a sheer cliff plunging deep into the clear clean cold water. Some of the small cedar trees that have managed to grow in the crevasses are a thousand years old. There are Indian drawings on the faces of rock near the waterline. The lake where I’m writing from is peaceful and calm and beautiful, heavily forested so that you can hardly see the cottages, with an island big enough for one house in the middle. I’m very attracted to islands. The weather has turned cold and I don’t think we’ll see the sun today but for now, there’s no rain. I think the blueberry muffins are cooled enough to try with a cup of black coffee.
Have I had my say about fishing? I’ve thought a lot about it lately. I brought a pole and what little gear I still have to Seguin and never used it. When I was a kid, my brother and my dad and I used to fish all day every day of our two week vacation while my sister kept our mom company in whatever cabin or trailer or cottage we had rented for the time our dad had off. And when we went to Michigan to the town they were both from and stayed with grandparents on the lake, cousins and uncles would join us and we’d fish every day all day and most of the evening after sunset. It’s only in the last few years that my sister has questioned this routine. Why was it a given that she stay behind with our mom and my brother and I go out in the boat or on the dock and fish for hours on end? Mom spent most of vacation behind a portable sewing machine making clothes for her and Sue. I’m sure she appreciated the company but it could just as easily have been me or John, or both of use, while Sue had some quality time with Dad in the boat. I’m not sure that’s what I provided. My brother and Dad were driven crazy by my distractions from everything fish, while they cast in earnest. Sure I got into it on a certain level and reveled at the first Great Northern Pike I landed on the St. Lawrence Seaway after a half hour fight. These are great fish, sometimes 45 inches long. And we took on big water in Dad’s rented rowboat with a ¾ horsepower Evenrude motor lugged in the perhaps only one wheel wooden trailer ever built. He packed more gear in that box than you could imagine. John always got the seat behind Dad at the wheel and Sue sat at the other back window. So I being the youngest had to make do in the middle in the back seat. In the ‘53 Olds and the ’56 Chevy it was a challenge for me to see over the hood of the car to experience the road as everyone else did. Dad put an orange crate under me with a pillow on top of it and I was elevated probably to the point where all he could see through the rearview mirror was my yapping face.
So back to the boat: there were times, like I say, when it was fun. But most of the time my head was anywhere but on the bobber or the line or the water. I sang songs and recited poems. I’m sure they wanted to throw me overboard at the slightest provocation. I’d cast out away from shore and snag the line in a tree behind me. We’d spend hours unsnagging from shore and from weeds I couldn’t avoid. Once I even managed to snag our dad’s hat and cast it far from the boat. When Dad had to help John pee into a coffee can he used for just such emergencies, while I was at the helm, in my grandfather’s boat on the small lake our mom’s parents lived in off Lake Michigan in full view of his father-in-law I’m sure, I jagged to the left and cast Dad overboard leaving my brother and me to our own devices moving farther and farther away from his flailing attempts to talk me back to his position in the water. Fortunately a passing boatman came to the rescue.
So what I’m getting at is that finally, approaching my sixtieth year of life, I have admitted to myself that I’m not a fisherman and I don’t really even like the sport.
The one time my cousins coaxed me into coming to the cabin Dad held court in every spring to fish for salmon, we awoke at three in the morning as snow fell outside in the darkness. We bundled up and trudged out to pack the jeep for a trip to a diner, where other similarly dressed men came to chow down on a hearty breakfast. After that the journey to park the car wasn’t far but the walk into the woods to the stream took another eon until we finally settled on a bank by water that would have been frozen solid were it not for the fact that it flowed so rapidly. It was still dark and snow still fell in huge fat clumps. Flasks were shared and spots secured. You could hear other fishermen up and down stream but you didn’t see them. Finally the sun rose and we began in earnest the days work of landing large salmon. I get the Zen of it on one level but really, life’s too short.
And when my best friend, one of my former students from Sarajevo, invited me to spend the summer on a lake near the Adriatic tenting and fishing and swimming I of course jumped at the chance to learn the language and live out in the open. We ate a lot of what we caught but they were the tiniest measliest excuses for fish one could imagine and it took such patience to wait until you could finally hook one on the ball of bread we used to fish with. There were good times but that part of the summer was lost on me.
Now I’m here in Canada with the same friend who arrived with his wife and daughter to attend the wedding of a nephew. At the cottage we spent four days in I baked chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins and a blueberry pie, paddled around the lake in a plastic boat and reveled in the quiet solitude of all that is great in Canada and nature while he fished from the moment he arrived until the moment we left. For the first time in my life I don’t feel guilty about this or that I’m less of a guy for not participating. Life is tough. Why should it take so long to figure this out and realize that none of it matters? Maybe I’ll never grow into myself. I guess we all spend our lifetimes trying to figure out who we are and how we can best express that. It shouldn’t take so long. I hope I’m still sane when I get there.
My camera took a spill in Lake Mississagagon while ensconced safely in the pocket of my cargo shorts while trying to help Mira into the paddle boat. She wouldn’t let one foot leave the dock and we both ended up in very shallow water. I’m putting in for a new on for my birthday in October. Meanwhile, here are some my friends took.
Hi, Michael. Didn’t know if you would see this, but I wonder if you would email France’s address to me. She sent us a post card from her mother’s town, but she did not put an address. We would love to write back to her. Thank you.
I enjoyed this blog very much. Hope you are doing well.
Hi Mary Ann,
Nice to hear from you. I haven’t posted recently but will very soon. I was back on Seguin last week and marveled at the change in season and the improvement of Ollie J. He’s holding his own. I’ll forward your e-mail to France and she will send her current address. I’ll be back in touch soon.
Thanks, Michael. Glad to hear about Ollie, Jr. Hope you write that children’s book. You’ll need a really good artist to illustrate it. It could be a best seller! Take care.
What a beautiful blog. I was really swept up in it this morning; thank you for putting it out there.
We’re publishing a story on our magazine’s Web site about caretakers of historic houses. Our writer interviewed the caretakers of Seguin Island Light from 2008, and I’d like to track down a photo of the building. Would it be possible to use one of your photos on our site so our readers know what the lighthouse looks like?
Thanks for writing and reading the blog and for your kind words. You are most welcome to use any of the photos on my blog. I look forward to seeing your piece.