Leaving the north shore of Lake Superior reminded me of what a vast and incredible landscape this Great Lakes Heritage Coast contains. Even though I had already spent months though our travels painting along the coast, I still have a list of places to explore that is much longer than the places that I have seen. I look forward to going back for years to come. For the time being however, it was on to Wawa, for a visit with our friend Dave Wells at Naturally Superior Adventures. A chance to recharge our batteries, both figuratively and physically. Even had a chance to try surfing the Swift solo canoe that we had brought along in the waves at the mouth of the Michipicoten River. Not exactly relaxing, but fun. It was also helpful to test the limits of what kind of rough water I could handle.
Meeting up with writer James Smedley and his family for a couple days of camping was next on the agenda. After a rain delay, which allowed me to finally paddle down the long beach at Dave’s and start a new painting, we headed out on what turned out to be our first real summer day of the trip. Calm weather, sunshine, and heat that drove you into Lake Superior’s frigid waters for refreshment!
For our daughters, this was probably going to be one of the highlights of this trip. They had become friends with the Smedley girls during the winter trip and were the same ages. The idea of camping with them was something that Andie talked about throughout the first half of this summer. James met us with his crew at Dave’s, and we headed off. Our destination was Lake Superior Provincial Park , where we had identified a section of coast that would allow safe travel by canoe to a secluded beach. This location also allowed us a way out on foot if it became necessary. Fortunately, it didn’t because I had, as usual, an extremely full canoe, and it would have become a torturous series of portages. The day was about as perfect as you could hope for as we canoed down the still, clear waters of Lake Superior. Rounding a couple of points unveiled a beautiful beach, with shallow sand leading up to it and rock points jutting out from shore on each side. It was quite ideal. The balance of our time was divided between swimming, making campfires, exploring and other stuff that goes along with family camping. The girls, with a little help from James, even built a working raft. Between all this, James was able to extract a couple of interviews from us for future stories, and I managed to get a couple of paintings under way as well. I feel kind of spoiled, because every time I look back at the pieces, it will remind me of the experiences that I shared with others who I was with at the time. One the personal benefits of the job, I guess.
The time passed all too quickly, and as they say, all good things must come to an end. I think in this case though, it was all good things must carry on, but somewhere else. Although we were leaving Lake Superior behind, we were now off to Georgian Bay, to explore, for the first time, the shores of Manitoulin Island.
ONTO THE BIG BAY AND MANITOULIN ISLAND
Making our way to our take off spot on Manitoulin Island, one could not help but notice the incredible contrast in the landscape from where we had come. The variety is certainly one of the highlights of travelling this coast. The land became much flatter, and more agricultural. We planned on canoeing a section on the southwest side of the island that was a little more difficult to access, and away from any tourist areas. A stop in at the brand new visitor centre of Misery Bay Provincial Nature Reserve gave us some fabulous background about the geology we were about to enter. I have to admit. I had never heard of an alvar before, but before we were to leave this region, I would become well acquainted with it and some of its inhabitants.
The visitor centre was also a meeting up spot for our friends Simon Bois and Paul Dryer. Simon had been joining us on previous trips to document the project photographically, andPaul, who I took my first 10-day-adventure-of-a-trip to Killarney Provincial Park with back in college, had a few days off and joined at the last minute. A real treat because Paul and I haven’t had the chance to camp together since that college trip.
Access to the water was a little difficult to find, but after some searching around, Mr. Purvis, of Purvis Fisheries, helped find a place to park and launch from. The alvar formations were clear from the start (alvar is a Scandinavian word used to describe natural communities found on flat limestone bedrock where soils are very shallow or absent). Being treeless, or lightly wooded, the barrens are subject to extreme temperature and moisture changes. Areas of flat, low and dimpled limestone extended along the shore with sparse vegetation, and into the water and only deeper at a very gradual pace. Cedar trees can be up to 300 to 500 years old. Although it is a very rugged looking terrain, it is extremely sensitive and globally rare plants are to be found in this unique environment.
We canoed to a beautiful back bay of open rock and set out our tents. A perfect evening was unfolding, with the campfire and stars to keep us all company. Jan and the girls had pulled their sleeping bags onto the clean rock, and we were contemplating sleeping under the stars. Andie and Sydney had already fallen asleep, and fortunately and a few mosquitoes came out and that sent Jan and the girls back in the tent in the end. I say fortunately, because, though we didn’t realize at the time, there are interesting critters that inhabit this moonlike landscape at night.
It was the “*#^+%%#$@&**+” from Simon the next morning that tipped us off as we were breaking down camp. I looked up to see his 6’ 2″ frame leap back from his socks with incredible speed. My eyes followed his to the ground, where a huge, hairy, brownish-black spider was recovering from his missed leap at our French friend. Apparently, his socks, which were left in the vestibule of his tent on the ground overnight, made a cozy bed for this eight-legged creature, and Simon had waken him up. The largest spider that any of us had ever seen in Canada turned out to be a Wolf Spider (we think). Not only was he big, but aggressive. Placing a stick near one caused it to rear up on its hind legs, and then leap onto the stick, racing up it with awesome speed. Of course we dropped the stick in a flash. A few moments later, as Janet and I were lifting our ground sheet, another scurried out and a third one was found a few yards away on the beach. Had we slept in the open that night, who knows which of us would have had some nice company in our sleeping bags. They were really amazing so I grabbed the camera for a few shots before we parted company with them, and headed out for the next leg of our trip.