When I was a year or two younger than Boi, my dad suggested to my mom that they take the kids camping for a week.
She laughed at him.
Nonetheless, that began a lifetime of camping for all of us.
Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m the world’s least sentimental person. I don’t form attachments to inanimate objects, since ‘stuff‘ is mostly just clutter we don’t need in our lives. Also, things are easily lost or taken away. Even with the Ontario Renaissance Festival, which completely rerouted the path my life was taking, the only souvenir I have from it that matters is still sleeping upstairs.
So I was surprised at how difficult this trip turned out to be at times.
Mom died on Oct 5. last year, two days after getting home from her last Algonquin trip. In recent years they’d taken to spending fall in Algonquin. At Rock Lake. Somehow it didn’t occur to me until I was crossing the park on Highway 60, wearing her hat, sitting in her seat, with my foot resting in the little groove worn in the door frame by all of her years of stomping on her imaginary brake pedal, that there would be more goodbyes on this trip. That isn’t to say it was at all a sad trip, far from it. Algonquin is part of the legacy my folks gave me. I knew how to paddle a canoe, pitch a tent and light a one match fire, even in the rain, before I was ten. Introducing my husband and son to my family’s pet obsession has been awesome, and both are turning out to be excellent campers. The point of this trip was making NEW memories with dad and each other, and we did it in spades. I think we explored more of the park this time than we have in years. Ok, the first time we went up together, Chris and I were on our honeymoon I don’t think anyone really expected us to be hiking or paddling all day. The wildlife was also very cooperative, and we got to see even some of the rarer ones, foxes, ancient snapping turtle, bears and even a wolf!
But there was no getting around that the family had changed shape. While Chris and I have been camping on our own for a number of years now, we’ve also tried to make time to camp with my folks. It was important to me that Owen have great memories of time with his grandparents being real people. Not just Christmas and Easter grandparents, but actual people. Mom and dad were in their element when camping, and I’m glad we got those days. But her empty chair against the side of Dad’s motor home was hard to ignore. Especially while wearing her hat, doing dishes (something we always did together) and listening to her iPod. Everything we did, one of us has done with her at some point. In 1999 for example, after her heart attack, she dragged Dad up Booth’s Rock for the last time, just to prove she could still do it. The picture below, taken far more recently, is her trying to get back onto the trail from below. It’s the second hardest day trail in the park, but Mom was determined to see it again, even if she couldn’t walk across a room without help anymore. The only thing that stopped her was the tree over the path. So yeah, especially here, at Rock Lake, there is as much of her lingering as there is at home. Dad had a moment or two catching glimpses of another woman on her scooter, doing all the same things they’d done.
So it was beautiful, in spite of all the rain, and night-time temps in the single digits. We had a great time, and got to celebrate Dad’s 73rd birthday on one of the most demanding trails in the park.
We also said a bunch more goodbyes.
That was the part I didn’t see coming.