Fishing Boats and Secret Ponds: A Riverkeeper's Watermark

Everyone has a Watermark. It's that special memory that connects all of us to our local waters, that moment when you fell in love with water. Waterkeepers from across Canada are asking Canadians to share their Watermarks with us. Here our Riverkeeper, Joe Daniels, remembers a magical summer day from his childhood exploring the lake around his family cottage in Ontario's Kawartha Lakes region.

"You ready, Spud?"

I looked back at my older brother sitting in the stern of the boat and nodded eagerly. Smiling, he planted the edge of an oar against the dock and gently pushed us off. Once we'd drifted out a little ways he primed the motor and pulled the cord. It sputtered for a couple seconds then fell silent. He pulled the cord again and this time the dusty old Evinrude roared to life. The boat shot forward with a sudden jolt. I tucked my hands into my bright orange life-vest and leaned into the wind. We were off.

Summers up at the family cottage were like a breath of fresh air for a pair of kids growing up in Toronto's suburban sprawl. My brother, Nick, had only just turned twelve; not quite ready to be trusted with the keys to Grandpa's power boat, a big white cadillac-on-water from the 1950's that still flew Canada's old Red Ensign flag. For now, he had been learning the basics in Dad's little flat-bottomed fishing boat; cruising around the sheltered bay formed where Pleasant Point, the finger of land upon which our's and a few other cottages had been built, reached out into Chandos Lake.

Nick angled the boat into the bay, past the little island where Dad would tie up the dock every Thanksgiving weekend to spare it the worst of the winter ice's beating. As we entered the most sheltered part of the bay, he cut the outboard and let the boat glide silently in between the lily pads alive with little speckled frogs and iridescent dragonflies. There were no cottages on this part of the point; the shoreline dominated only by cedars, maples, birches, and the occasional outcropping of mighty Precambrian rock.

"Hey! Check it out!"

I looked along the shoreline to where my brother was pointing. Half obscured among the bushes and shadows below the trees was the mouth of a tiny creek that neither of us had noticed before, flowing off into the gloom of the forest to who-knows-where. My eyes grew wide.

"Let's see where it goes!" I whispered, my voice full of excitement.

Nick nodded his agreement and guided the boat in slowly and carefully, keeping a sharp eye out for logs and other hazards lurking just beneath the surface. Once we entered the mouth of the creek, we cut the engine and made use of our oars. It was barely wide enough for our boat, and so shallow that rocks and sunken roots scraped the flat bottom as we passed over them. Tangled branches hung low over our heads, and lush ferns grew thick along the banks, making the forest seem to grow close around us. At one point we got hung up on a log, but with a firm push from one of our oars we were clear and moving again.

Up ahead the creek started to widen and the forest opened up, revealing a still pond, hidden among the trees. Tall maples, their leaves still a vibrant summer green, surrounded the little body of water and the late-afternoon sun filtering through the canopy they formed above us seemed to fill the place with a verdant light. Here, sheltered from the lake's unpredictable winds, the air was warm and filled with the sound of cicadas buzzing in the trees. An old snapping turtle laying on a mossy log slipped from his perch and disappeared into the dark green water.

My imagination ran wild. I was a child obsessed with dinosaurs and mythological monsters; spending rainy days curled up on our cottage's screened porch, pouring over natural history textbooks and dog-eared comics, filling my head with tales of adventure and discovery in uncharted lands beyond the map's edge. To me, finding this hidden pond with my big brother seemed like pure magic.

"It's like the lost world!" I exclaimed, half expecting the long neck of some relic plesiosaur to rise out of the water next to me. "No, Spud. It's OUR lost world" Nick replied softly, ruffling my hair.

We sat there together in quiet appreciation for some time, taking in the wonder of our discovery and dreaming aloud to one another until the gathering darkness beneath the trees and biting mosquitoes warned us that supper would soon be ready and Mom would start to worry. Once again, we carefully navigated that tiny creek back out into the bay. This time the engine started with a single pull of its cord and we cruised back toward home.

The sun had begun to dip below the trees on the western edge of the lake, painting the sky a vibrant pinkish hue. "Pink sky at night is a sailor's delight" I sighed to myself, quoting some of Grandpa's old naval wisdom. A pair of loons, spooked by the sound of the motor, vanished like ghosts beneath the surface while a great blue heron flew overhead, its feathers ablaze in the sunset glow.

Before too long we were back at the dock and tying up for the night. Leaving our life-vests in the boathouse, we climbed the stone steps up to the cottage, minds still abuzz with excitement from finding our little lost world amongst the trees. Dad, wearing his favourite checkered deck shoes and trademark moustache, came strutting down from the porch to greet us.

"Hey, you're back just in time! Burgers are ready and Mom's getting out the Rummoli board... What! No penny candies? I thought for sure that you'd gone up the narrows to the marina! Where the heck have you guys been all this time?"

My brother and I looked at each other and grinned.

"Just exploring." I answered proudly.

What's your Watermark? Click here to visit the National Water Centre's website and learn more about this exciting new initiative dedicated to reconnecting Canadians with the waters they treasure most.

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