This Great Society - Writing

 

 
Illustration: Joel Bentley


Kristin Fryer: Mowat Bay
Illustration: Joel Bentley

 
 

It's almost dawn. I check and make sure the car is in reverse and put my foot on the brake before turning the key. My old Hyundai starts quietly enough and I glance up at the rear view mirror, up the long gravel driveway. The early hints of light appear above the trees up the hill behind the house. I pull out slowly, coffee in hand, not expecting to see any other cars on the road.

It's a short drive from the house to the lake, just over the hill, past the school, the graveyard, Wilshire's General Store, and many quiet houses.

The streets are empty and there are no stop lights.

When I arrive at Mowat Bay, the clock on my stereo tells me it's 5:43. I park on the road outside the park gate, which doesn't open until 7:00.

Slipping under the yellow metal gate, I head down towards the water with my camera, a film SLR I just bought. It is second-hand but in good condition. This is its inauguration.

The lake is calm and dark. I am the only one here, but that will change in a few hours. It is the last Saturday in August and the weather promises to be warm and sunny.

I have been thinking about this day all week. I leave tomorrow for my final year at university, and I don't think I will be back, not next summer, perhaps not for a long time.

I'm not sure exactly when this place ceased to be home. It still felt like home after my first year at school, when I came back for the summer to work at my dad's office. Coming back was like putting on an old pair of jeans, comfortable and familiar, well-worn. The summer after my second year was much the same, though I knew fewer people. Unlike most of my friends, I had a job to come back to. But now there is very little to keep me here.

Over the last three years, one by one, my family has left this place. First me, then my two brothers, then my mom, and, just a few months ago, my dad.

This summer, I have been living with a family friend, an older woman whose husband passed away about five years ago.

Deciding where to spend my last day in Powell River was like deciding what I would have for my last meal. I wanted to visit my favourite places and Mowat Bay was at the top of my list.

Pausing just past the parking lot, I stop to think about where to go first. Off to the left there is the boat launch. A few boat trailers are parked nearby, waiting patiently for their owners to return. Off to the right there is a trail that goes around the bay, and at the end there are cliffs to jump off.

I decide to go left first. We used to come down here—me, my dad, and my brothers—and collect driftwood, usually cedar, which we would take home and use for firewood. It was a Saturday morning ritual, as much a part of our routine as church and corn flakes.

I walk down to the edge of the water and dip my fingers in. The water is not warm but it is not cold. I hold my hand below the surface and listen to the sounds the water makes when my fingers move. The water ripples and I notice a small piece of wood floating nearby. It is shaped like a boomerang, but I don't think it would come back to me if I threw it. This will be my first photo.

I pull out my small travel tripod and mount the camera. The light is coming over the horizon now and the lake is changing colour, reflecting the trees on the edge of the water, the sky and the thin white clouds above. I arrange the shot and hit the shutter release, holding my breath while I wait for it to close again.

I crouch down for a moment to touch the piece of wood. I flip it over so that the dark side, the wet side, is now visible. The wood makes a soft splash as the water accommodates its new position. I think about taking the piece of wood with me as a souvenir, but decide to leave it for someone else to gather.

I take a few photos of the lake and then start heading towards the path at the other end of the park.

A long line of logs, chained together, separates the boat launch from the main beach area. The line reaches all the way across the bay, curving slightly to form a near-perfect circle with the edge of the lake.

These logs were—and still are—the site of many contests. Challengers would line up to see who could get all the way to the other side of the lake without falling in. It was a difficult task, particularly when the logs were wet. Some of the logs are welcoming, wide and gently curved. Others are far more treacherous; narrow and knotty, these logs defend their territory, throwing intruders into the lake without a second thought.

Over time, you came to know which logs could be trusted and which logs could not.

I take off my shoes and leave them on the grass near the edge of the lake.

The first log, the one anchored to the shore, is large and stable. Nevertheless, I hesitate before placing my right foot on its rough, rounded surface. Seconds later, my left foot follows and I stretch my arms out for balance. Once I am sure that I will not fall in, I close my eyes and listen. It would be an understatement to say that it is quiet. I can hear my own heart beating.

Keeping my eyes closed, I step forward, gripping the log with my toes. I am glad no one else is around to watch me. Wanting to make sure, I open my eyes and glance behind me. The gate is still closed. I walk a bit further so that I am just at the end of the first log. I sit down on the log, careful not to bump my camera on the way down. I dip my legs in the water and leave them there, admiring the way the water distorts their colour and shape. I take a photo of this, my yellow-green legs in the water, my khaki-coloured capri pants rolled up just past my knees.

I swing my left leg over the log so that I am facing the other side of the lake and take a few more photos, some of the logs, some of the cliffs in the distance, and some of the lake beyond the bay.

I sit like this for a while, not willing to leave this moment. The sun is now completely above the horizon and the lake continues its colourful metamorphosis. Orange and yellow highlights flicker across the water, which is no longer completely calm. I feel a slight breeze through my hair.

I stand up and walk back to shore. I have one last place to visit before I leave the lake.

Shoes back on, I walk towards the path that leads to the cliffs on the other side of the lake. The path has been closed since May after a brushfire swept across the surrounding hill. I walk past the ‘Do not enter’ signs, hoping that no one will notice my intrusion. I am guessing it's close to about 6:30 now, so I should have another half hour to spend with the lake in solitude.

Walking along the path, I feel awestruck by how it has changed. Many of the trees are gone, burned to nothingness. Many fire-damaged trees have been chopped down and left at the side of the path. But some trees do remain, their branches and leaves filling the open spaces left behind. I feel somehow in debt to these trees, thankful for their existence.

I stop several times along the way to take pictures, mostly of the trees that remain. These are the trees I want to remember.

When I arrive at the base of the cliffs, I am warm. The last stretch of the trail is steep in places, going both up and down. My heart is beating faster than normal, partly because of the walk and partly because of what I am about to do. It has been years since I have gone cliff-jumping.

The cliffs here are named according to height: jack, queen, and king. I have jumped off of all three before, but that thought does not comfort me. I am just as terrified now as I was then.

I take a photo of each cliff, admiring the smoothness of the grey rock surface, the bits of moss growing in the cracks. I sit down on a stretch of rock just below the cliffs, put my camera on the ground beside me, and start taking off my shoes. Glancing back at the shore to make sure that I am still the only person here, I begin taking off my clothes.

“I can't believe I'm doing this,” I mutter to myself as I crawl up the side of the cliff, very aware of how naked I am.

When I reach the top, I place my arms strategically across my body and walk to the edge of the tallest cliff, the king. It looks much higher from up here. I rub my hands together and stare down at the lake.

This is not helpful. I know that the longer I stand here, the harder it will be to jump.

“It's just like a band-aid,” I say out loud. Just one, two, three, go. One, two, three, go. I jump up and down a couple of times, preparing myself for the moment.

“Okay, this is it.” I nod my head in agreement.

I back away from the edge of the cliff and close my eyes.

One. I breathe.

Two. I lean back slightly.

Three. I open my eyes and run, hardly aware of the loud noise coming out of my mouth.

Eyes wide, I watch the water come closer and closer until my feet legs arms head hit and I sail down and further down. The deeper I go, the colder the water. My skin tingles with exhilaration. I let my body come to a stop before I bring my arms above my head and begin pulling myself to the surface. Head above water, I open my eyes and take a deep breath, coughing slightly. I smile and I can taste the fresh water on my lips.

I stay in the water, floating on my back for a few minutes, staring up at the sky, at the wispy white clouds.

I get out of the lake and shake myself off, dancing slightly to keep warm. Goosebumps form on my legs and arms. I did not bring a towel.

As I start putting my clothes back on, I notice a man walking on the other side of the lake. Looking up past the parking lot, I see that the gate is now open.

The man sees me, stops, and waves. Holding my pants up to cover most of my body, I wave back.

“How's the water?” he asks, holding his hands up to his mouth. I think I can see him smiling.

“Cold!” I answer, laughing. The man nods his head knowingly and starts walking again.

I bend over to pick up my shirt.

“It's good,” I add quietly, looking down at the water, at my wavy reflection looking back at me.

“Very good.”

 

 
This Great Society - Contents

 

This Great Society - Contents