You, lake, were the mighty waterway of my childhood, artificial as I knew you to be. Dredged by depression-era optimists, you were centerpiece to end-of-school outings, family picnics, Brownie picnics, church picnics. Tour de vous the treat for out of town relatives, destination on interminable Sunday afternoons as my parents ambled your flower-bed displays, up one side and down the other, commenting on showy petunias, mounds of zinnias. You teased my grade nine classmates, Joanne and Shelley, laughed as you let their found barge of lashed logs float a few yards from your shore towards Snake Island, before you sank it and soaked their jeans with your pea-green algaed scum.
Later, for your amusement, you’d call us all to your well, teenaged dowsers from schools and dead-end jobs who’d pair up to watch the submarine races, or just hang out in clumps by your bandstand, or drink beer in cars or cover of bushes. My guy and I could trip around you for half or more of an eight-hour high, your pathways acid-etched, ever-varied. Tunnels beneath the old campus edifices, the spouting mouths of the fountain from Trafalgar, marble-grain of the towering columns inside the Leg (read ‘ledge’) yielding faces and phantasms we could have seen even without chemical enhancement. A bog of grass, mud and goose turds to navigate. We’d sit on the old abutment, remnant of the bridge that used to straddle you, feet dangling into the dark air over you, roaches or cigarette butts trailing sparks on the way down to be extinguished in your weak churn. The once or twice we walked in winter, ice thick enough that we could cross to Willow Island, the snow-leveled view from there felt distorted and alien.
Hello again, you pile of buffalo bones. Thirty, thirty-five years on, every rare visit back, I make time to circumnavigate you with the joggers, the dog walkers and cyclists. Your old abutment now a waterfall, you’ve been renewed, dredged deep once again by civic pride and corporate munificence. You sport new paths beside the queenly bridge of colour-washed pillars, but most of the old routes remain. The gallery has moved and grown but the power plant, spiral concrete washrooms, the swimming pool where we watched an eclipse through smoky glass are face-lifted but still there.
Just past your monument to surveyors, with its colonial tales impressed in bas-relief, a low path meets a high path. That’s where I start counting—fifty or so paces along, I look for a dirt divot in the grass, rut that zigs down to your edge, near-flat access to a lapping inlet overhung by branches of silver-willow. My last time here, your breezes bantered with my sister and me, and you opened up in this spot, accepted three loads of ash I tipped into you. My mother’s, my father’s, my younger brother’s, each different in texture, varied in shades of sand and volcano. You still like a laugh, insist on levity so we unwittingly clowned for you, my sandals slip-sliding on your dry sloped shore-edge, Janet braced and holding onto the waistband of my jeans as I leaned over you. We heard each other try not to giggle, dusty puffs blew back onto my toes, and the rest of the ash drizzled into your shallows.
This visit, my booted feet don’t slip. I count out my steps, photograph the tree, try to capture the luminosity of its reflection upon your water.
Frances Boyle is a Canadian writer, living in Ottawa. She is the author of two poetry books, Light-carved Passages (2014 BuschekBooks) and This White Nest (forthcoming fall 2019 Quattro Books), as well as a novella, Tower (2018 Fish Gotta Swim Editions). Her short story collection Seeking Shade will be published in 2020 by The Porcupine’s Quill. Frances’s poems and short stories have appeared in online and print journals throughout North American and in the U.K., including recent or forthcoming work in Vallum, Queen’s Quarterly, Riggwelter, Black Bough, Nightingale & Sparrow, Big Pond Rumours,River Heron Review and Savant Garde. She helps edit Arc Poetry Magazine and reviews for Canthius. Visit www.francesboyle.com or follow @francesboyle19 on Twitter and Instagram.