No more time travel for me
You can’t go home again.
An oft-quoted saying, and one that I really should have had top of mind this past weekend. I attended a publishers’ retreat up in Muskoka, and had to travel through Gravenhurst to get to my destination. While at the retreat, I thought it might be kind of fun to take a little detour on my way home on Sunday and try to find a lake on which my grandparents once had a cottage. I remembered the name of the lake, and I knew that Gravenhurst was the closest town. I looked up Loon Lake on Google maps, and sure enough, it was just 10 minutes north of Gravenhurst, just off the very highway we had to travel down. It would be a breeze to find the lake; I just had to find the cottage.
It would be worth nothing here that I can’t even remember the last time I ever visited the cottage. I’m guessing about 35 years ago, give or take a couple. So I knew my task wasn’t going to be easy, perhaps not even possible, but I venture north so rarely, I thought I’d grab the chance.
My husband and I found Loon Lake Road, turned right, and my eyes began to search the shoreline, hoping to see sights long forgotten, to have memories come crashing back, helping me find the cottage, and my past.
We got to the end of the lake, and I didn’t recognize one single sight, save an A-frame cottage that niggled as a memory in my brain. We turned the car around, and crawled back along the road while I hung out the passenger side window, desperately wanting to recognize something.
I asked Grant to stop the car at the end of a driveway that led to a cottage that was under construction, just south of the A-frame I thought I knew. I asked a workman if I could just walk out on to the dock to take a look at the lake, and he gladly waved us through.
I hit the dock, took one look across Loon Lake and burst into tears. Everything was exactly as my brain had kept it for 35-odd years. The island where a strange little playmate whose name I don’t remember stayed. The bridge across the lake from which a friend and I had gleefully waved to my family while on a walk (we were trying to walk around the lake. The road doesn’t go around the lake. We got seriously lost. That story was legend for a long time. I digress.)
Once my eyes cleared a little, I looked back to the shoreline, still thinking I had a chance to glimpse the little red building that played a huge role in my childhood. Instead I saw big trees, and even bigger “cottages,” but none of what I wanted to see.
As I started to step off the dock, my eyes glanced to my right, and I stopped dead in my tracks. There, not five metres to my right, was a huge rock. I looked at it closely, and recognized a little niche in the stone where two little bottoms could fit quite nicely if they were planted just so. I searched for the rock handle that enabled little hands and feet to scramble up the rock with relative ease, when approached after a running start.
Echo Rock. It was Echo Rock. My brother, myself, and our friends had spent hours sitting on this rock at various times of the day, shouting all sorts of things across the water. When the atmosphere was just right, the echo was so creepy sounding it would send us running, but we always came back to shout some more.
A fence stood in the way, but I climbed through bushes to get as close to Echo Rock, and the property I had once known like the back of my hand, as I could. I could practically feel the energy it gave off, the same feel it gave so long ago. And I cried some more. I cried for a long time. I’m not sure if I cried because everyone, aside from friends and my brother, is gone. Parents, grandparents, some of my friends’ parents, even. Maybe I cried because the history of the cottage, and why it’s no longer in our family, is a bit of mystery to me, and it can never be solved.
I think I cried for both these reasons. And because it just really sucks when the pictures in your head don’t match what you’re looking at. The same thing happened, though not quite so emotionally, when I visited my alma mater, Carleton University, earlier this year. It was barely recognizable as the place I went to school. Some buildings were the same, but overall, not my university.
After our Loon Lake ramblings, over lunch, I asked Grant if he would please, in the future, not allow me to try and rediscover a place from my past. He asked me why, and I told him that I didn’t like discovering that things weren’t as I remembered them. I didn’t expect them to be the same, and yet I did. I didn’t expect the cottage that my father had helped build in the 60s to still be there, but I didn’t expect the mansion that stands in its place. I didn’t expect my university pub to be the same grunge hole it was, but I didn’t expect it to be moved altogether.
I sent a message to the friend that went on that walk around the lake back when we were 10. “Had a visit to Loon Lake today. It’s been 35 years – and you STILL can’t walk around it.” Nice to know some things never change.