I’ve heard many adults talk about returning to their childhood neighbourhoods or favourite haunts only to be disappointed that the reality didn’t measure up to the sparkling, magic-filled place of their memories. I knew this was a possibility when I had the opportunity last summer to return to a series of islands I loved, but I thought at least my children will be able to see the magic in my old Neverland, even if I had lost my fairy dust (and accumulated a little bit of grey dust on my head).
I was so intensely disappointed to find the once lush, green islands a veritable waste land, stinking of bird waste and dead fish. I teared-up and felt my heart break, realizing that my children would never sit on those shores, chasing the frogs, finding skipping stones, and collecting empty shells left behind by the raccoons. They wouldn’t lay out on the smooth flat little stones, sun-tanning with their friends, drinking lemonade and eating the cookies we had packed. My old snorkel and fins would be left hanging on a hook, never to be used diving for ship-wreck treasure (or atleast treasures that had been knocked overboard by other modern explorers to this beautiful oasis).
The islands, the first 3 islands (The Brother’s Islands) of the 1000 Islands (check out Gananoque, Ontario if you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear of this fresh-water North American boater’s paradise) sat directly across from our neighbourhood beach as children. We could sit on the limestone shore looking out at those islands and tell our friends stories of the enormous frogs we had caught, and that time when Pops ran us ashore like a bunch of pirates (he certainly swore like a pirate that day…the day we decided to buy charts!). Once bitten by the sailing bug my parents bought a series of sailboats over the years (day-sailers, cabin cruisers, racers and catamarans) all of which were big enough to get us to those islands (and more, but those 3 were our first and favourites). As we became teenagers our parents even trusted us out on the water ourselves and we would sail to the islands for the day, our chests swollen with pride at being able to bring our friends (and our backs sunburnt on the day we were too cool for life-jackets —those sunburns were a dead give-away of our recklessness however, which put our trips out on our own on hiatus for a while!).
Over the years we became true ‘Old Salts’, being able to judge the incoming weather systems by the colour of the water and the ripple patterns, the glow of the sky and the temperature of the wind (we hid this talent for the most part, as it bordered on nerdy to our friends!) We also learned a lot about invasive species and the fragility our the Great Lakes ecosystem. We watched as Zebra Mussels stuck to the hulls of ships invaded our lake and fed happily on the algae and seaweed that had found a home on our limestone lake bottom (stocks in band-aids and water shoes must have sky rocketed during those years, as those things were as sharp as razor blades and caught many a rookie swimmer unawares!).
We also watched with annoyance at the growing population of Cormorant (very loud water birds, with long goose necks) on the islands. They ate the frogs and the fish and their squawking drowned out the soothing call of the loons. But I never imagined the devastation they would cause to my precious Brother’s Islands. They roosted in the trees, creating huge nests and bullied the other birds off the island. What they didn’t eat was killed by the acidity in their waste (which also accounts for the horrendous smell that hits you, even hundreds of feet off shore). All of the vegetation is gone, and with it all of the smaller animals and frogs that lived within it. The trees, bared of their leaves and weakened, were left to battle the lake-effect winds, storms and winter weather , and lost!
I took a few pictures as we sailed by on our maiden voyage on my father’s new sailboat (beautiful 30 foot Nunsuch). The small picture is mine, the second one I pulled off the internet, as I was not the only one noticing the change in scenery. My children and husband had never been sailing and I was so excited to take this trip down memory-lane with them. We didn’t stop (and we held our noses as we turned about). My kids looked at me with incredulous looks…this was it? This was the Neverland of your childhood!?
I cringe as I think about the other places I had the opportunity to visit and experience as a child…will they be there for my children? Will the enormous trees in British Columbia be there for them to try to wrap their arms around? What about the hoodoos in Alberta? The mud in the Bay of Fundy when the tide is out? What will our generations ‘Eco-consciousness’ really accomplish, when our consciousness usually goes not further than recycling our beer cans and buying fuel-efficient cars?