About twenty years ago my parents decided to build a cottage in the Haliburton Highlands north of Toronto. They chose a heavily treed lot with a steep but manageable walk down to the lake. Small but deep, the spring-fed lake was clean, unspoiled and seemed to exude life. The prevailing philosophy of the local cottagers was to keep things relatively undisturbed and to enjoy the peace and quiet of this pristine environment. In keeping with this philosophy, an edict had been placed on the lake prohibiting any combustion engine watercraft.
Up to that point, my entire focus had been on city life. I had grown up watching Toronto mature into a dynamic and lively city. It’s new found prosperity and sophistication was something to celebrate and as young man, I indulged fully. The idea of stepping outside the confines of my urban comfort zone wasn’t that appealing, but my parent’s project way out in the country had me intrigued.
I first set eye on the property in the fall of 1985. It was a crisp, clear day when my then fiancée, sister, father and I went up to check out the site and discuss options for the placement of the cottage. I still remember being awestruck at the beauty of the lake, the abundance and variety of trees and the vastness of the rugged, hilly landscape. The silence was deafening yet calming. In stark contrast to my then mid-town Toronto neighborhood, this place evoked a deep and serene spiritual response. I was transformed…
With site and design details finalized over that fall and winter, we were ready to start clearing the land by the summer of 1986. Construction commenced that fall and by the following Easter the cottage’s shell was complete. We moved in that Labour Day having spent almost every weekend that spring and summer enjoying the cottage as construction on the interior progressed.
Those early years were a time of new beginnings in many respects and for me the cottage came to symbolize the promise of a bright future where it seemed anything was possible.
In the years since my first visit to that beautifully sculpted piece of Canadian Shield, my family, friends and I have spent countless weekends and vacation time at the cottage. It has been a place to celebrate good times, while also being a place to find peace and spiritual renewal at other times. It has been a place to experience first hand Central Ontario’s deep and varied natural world undisturbed, in all its glory.
Many aspects of life have become ‘virtualized’ in the past twenty years. Thankfully, every visit to the cottage served as a reminder that another world of profound significance and intricate complexity was always within reach.
Yet it’s the simple things from that complex world that seem to stay with us. The chorus of peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) on a spring evening… The sound of the owls calling on a still night… The misty dawn and tranquil dusk canoe trips around the lake… The breathtaking star filled night sky… The evocative call of the loon… The dramatic fall colours accentuated by a deep blue sky… The joy in watching a fierce mid-winter blizzard while comforted by a raging fire and glass of wine…
That frigid Christmas Eve we all walked out on the frozen lake in a snow storm and swore we heard wolves howling in the distance… The food, the drink, the conversation and the silence… The ultimate sense of wholeness.
But its now time for the sun to set on this rugged and inspired paradise – at least for my family and I. As that last beam of sunlight sinks behind the horizon, I remain eternally grateful for all it has illuminated in the past twenty years. And I am thankful for how it has forever changed me.