Friday, February 19, 2010
Waiting for Summer
Winter on the lake is snow-shrouded silence. There’s no lapping of waves, no raucous cry of gulls or haunting call of loons. There’s no splashing of swimmers or drone of motorboats, only the rude roar of the occasional snowmobile as it rips across the white expanse of solitude. Trails of footprints beckon the brave to venture onto this ice-bound tundra as snow broods in the skies above. Two Muskoka chairs perch on the edge of a dock and dream of summer.
What you can’t see in the photo above is that there is open water on either side, caused by the turbulence of bubblers that keep ice from forming and damaging the docks. Some people use them around their boathouses as well. Ice can be deceptive - feet thick in some places and safe enough to drive cars across, and yet dangerous in others, where unseen cracks have formed or currents roil beneath a thin sheet. And every year there are people - snowmobilers mostly - who break through. Not far from this spot a mother and daughter drowned last winter while horrified family and friends on snowmobiles right beside them watched helplessly. I have crossed lakes on snowmobiles, but never felt comfortable doing so, especially since I’ve encountered frighteningly soft ice while skiing on a lake in bitter cold, which is obviously no guarantee of safety.
So it always surprises me when I hear of people who live on these islands year-round. In the Muskoka of a century ago, the wealthy often had caretakers who stayed over the winter to look after the property, and apparently some still do. I expect that these people are no longer so isolated, but in the days before snowmobiles and even roads around the perimeter of the lakes that now connect to towns and villages, it would have been a challenge to over-winter here.
After all, the creaking of frozen branches and distant howling of wolves is sometimes all you hear in this muffled and windblown black-and-white world.