Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Other Side of the Canoe


Today, the river that runs a few hundred feet past my house was in the news.

I've known this river since I was twelve years old. I sat on its banks to read my paperbacks on spring days when the grass was just dry enough to sit on without soaking my butt. The first warm rays of the late afternoon sun were so welcome after a dismal, cold and dark winter. Sometimes a groundhog poked its head out of a nearby hole and regarded me with suspicion before slipping back into its lair.

In winter, I once watched otters slither down a homemade snow slide into the frigid water. I saw footprints on the river. Ducks, mice, gulls, crows, and muskrats scampered across the frozen surface. Sometimes I saw slushy human footprints too, and marveled at the stupidity of the human race. Moving water doesn't freeze well.

When I was a teen, my friends and I traversed the banks of the river from Aurora to the border of East Gwillimbury. I fished off the old abandoned dam at the end of our street and caught a 'sucker fish', our name for carp. They weren't good eating, but I heard you could fertilize a garden with it.

Before they installed a proper bridge across the dam, we crossed via a narrow beam, but I often looked down at the churning waters and shuddered with trepidation.

My boyfriend had this brilliant idea. "Let's canoe from Cook Bay to your house!"

Being the love-struck teen that I was, I instantly agreed. We set the canoe in the water on a cloudy day and paddled upstream with the puppy he had given me. Quasi was so well behaved and she peeked over the gunnels, never attempting to jump out.

When it started raining we took shelter under the bridge at Green Lane. (I thought he was going to kiss me, but it turned out I had crud on my cheek. I thought that crap only happened in the movies). We then continued south. At times the water was so shallow we had to get out and carry the canoe, sloshing over smooth pebbles in our sneakers while Quasi stuck her tongue at us with glee because she was getting a free ride.

All in all, it was a pretty crappy trip and I chalked it up to my boyfriend's impulsive nature. (By the way, we didn't stay together. I married a very non-impulsive guy except for the time we drove to Niagara Falls on a whim.)

Today, I discovered why the helicopters hovered over my street and why the ambulance screamed across Davis Drive followed by a police car. A man had paddled his canoe southward on the Holland River and got caught in the intake valve of the dam at the end of my street. He must have struck his head and was swept over the falls along with his canoe. His body was recovered after some difficulty due to the violent undertow at the lower side of the dam. This is our local news report.

His name was Peter Stanton. He ran a school of dance here in town, and I remember watching him float across the dance floor with a fellow teacher during a night out with my girlfriends. He will be missed.

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