I left Burlington on the Fourth of July. I know because I remember watching fireworks that night off Valcor Island and imagining the American and British fleets fighting it out in the revolution. I also remember waiving goodbye to Doug, Lauren, and their son Eric, how they’d driven down to the water to see me off, and how that moment only happened because Doug leaned over the rail in Manhattan and asked how he could help while everyone else just took pictures.
They left Burlington this morning on their way to a cabin in northern Ontario. They stopped at the Atwater Market on the Lachine Canal in Montreal for breakfast and met me in North Bay by mid afternoon.
There’s something wonderful about familiar faces. As soon as I recognized Lauren walking toward me, Eric and Doug just behind her, the weariness of the La Vase Portages faded, the bands of thunderstorms and waves ripping across Nipissing felt less dire, and the world brightened. I had to show the cashier in the supermarket two forms of ID before she pretended to recognize me and took my credit card. Doug, Lauren, and Eric didn’t hesitate a moment, they just gave me a big hug and asked how things were.
We all stood by the water, watching the whitecaps and catching up for a moment. None of us could stay long, but we had a few minutes, just to enough to connect, to smile, to laugh. A day earlier and I would have been hip deep in the La Vase, a day later and I would have been across Nipissing, but sometimes things just work.
I watched them drive away as I packed food into the boat and thought about how much has changed in two-hundred years, how small the world becomes behind the wheel of a car, how it took them less than a day to catch me after a month of paddling.
It’s almost disheartening, almost, but distance doesn’t measure depth.
I think back to Montreal, to sitting at a table with Michel and Carole and sharing a huge bowl of salad while he explained the thousand details he has to remember to become a pilot on the St. Lawrence River.
He has to know every rock, every building, every swirl of current, every light, every dock, every rise, every point, every island, every turn of the channel, every inch of water, forward and back, night and day, rain and fog, sun and clouds, all by heart, all without hesitation, so that when he says to turn, he knows.
He unrolled his map of St. Lawrence and it stretched across the room. It’s only a hundred mile piece. It would take me four days to cover it. It takes a car two hours. A plane, fifteen minutes.
It will take him two years.
I finish packing the boat and slip a few miles south to a small island of rock where I set up camp, watch waves crash against the granite, and wonder what the next month will bring, hoping for more than distance.