The Wetter You Get, the Summer You'll Feel

A Piece of the Shore

May 30, 2001
Outside Magazine

Skinny-dipping under the stars, and other reasons to go cottaging in Ontario
In Ontario, "cottage country" is a precise geographical term, "to cottage" a common verb. The province has a pleasing ratio of 220,000 lakes to 200,000 or so private cottages beside them; about one of every 20 families owns one. And most of the other 19 families manage to cadge an invite or two.

Muskoka, Georgian Bay, the Kawarthas: The topography of the cottage regions changes from one to the next, and the cottages range from million-dollar showplaces to rustic one-rooms (like mine, where running water means hustling from the dock with a bucket). The uninitiated can't see the appeal of suffering through Friday gridlock out of Toronto, of returning to the same place time after time. "You have to do it to understand it," says a friend.

For me, the reasons come clear each time I arrive and slide my kayak into Mississagua Lake. I make a circuit to see what's new, knowing almost nothing is. But always discoveries await: the loon's nest on the edge of an islet; the heron stalking its supper; evening light striking the long fingers of granite that reach into the water.

Perched on Precambrian rock, our tiny, green-stained cottage is barely visible from the water, hidden among pines. The land around us belongs to the Crown and can't be built on, so the bay is almost ours alone. When the urge for greater exploration strikes, we pack dry bags into the kayaks and go, because Mississagua Lake spills into the Mississagua River, which alternately meanders and rushes into a lake a dozen or so portages downstream. At its other end, Mississagua connects to a chain of other lakes via a wetland where snakes slither in the shallows, frogs bask on logs, dragonflies mate, and platter-size snapping turtles paddle in deeper stretches.

Any cottager will tell you a cottage is a place stacked with memories of what you can't wait to do again. Skinny-dipping on a starry night. Devouring the season's first ear of fresh-picked peaches-and-cream corn slathered in butter. Screaming along on the Laser, hiked out, head almost touching the water, laughing out loud. Sometimes when I'm back home, caught in the city's hustle and hassle, the clatter seems to retreat and I hear instead the slap of the waves against the dock. I'm up north again, and all's right with the world.

Filed To: Water Activities

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