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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Remembering Stephens

It doesn’t exist anymore, but I’m sitting on it anyway, the front dock, my legs hanging over the edge. Like a junior camper, I’m swinging them forward and back and watching their reflection in the water below.

There’s a sheen of oil in the water that swirls lazily around the cribbing of creosote-saturated ties. It’s a gift from the old 25 horsepower outboard motor used to propel the ancient cedar-strip boat moored a few feet away. It shows its age, but there’s something eternal about the crafting of wood into a thing of beauty that nothing of fiberglass or aluminum can match. Both launches are there as well, ‘Y’s Men, and Canadianna with their ‘Captains’ in a row: Andrews, Alliston, both Cookes, waiting to do a ‘run’ with BB, Anglican and Kinnaird.

It’s September, late in the month, and one of those rare fall days that are a boon to Lake-of-the-Woods as it awaits the onset of seasonal storms, themselves presaging the freeze-up and long winter’s hibernation. I’m the only one in camp, although I don’t feel alone. There are too many sounds lingering in the breeze and the sun carries in its heat the warmth of friends that thronged the islands with me so long ago. Their ‘names’ pop into my mind: ‘Punch,’ ‘Hammie,’ ‘Rabbit,’  ‘Thumper,’  ‘Tuck,’ ‘McEwen,’ ‘Noz,’ and of course, ‘Davey.’ There are a score of others, all cherished, even the ones that were a pain at the time. Campers are there too, ‘Toad,’ ‘Tuckwell,’ ‘Adey,’…smiling faces, a few sad and tearful ones, but all fresh in my mind.

I take the grand tour of the five islands. After more than five decades, it’s a historical journey too: the old Dining Hall, with Dave leaning on the counter, the birch-bark canoe hanging in the rafters, the generator shack, Art’s, the birches, Pulpit rock and the 7 Come 11, those grand old cabins on the line, porches, wooden shutters, open walls catching the breeze off the lake, Grandview Point, now beneath the ‘new’ dining hall, the ‘out-of-bounds sand bar, the Council Ring with the biggest fire in Ontario and the sounds of drums in front of the totem pole, the 8-Holer, the log cabin, the Chapel and those good old hymns intoned, Brown’s and Chief’s Point, the old chapel site, Raspberry Rock and the grand vista of the Manitou stretch. I look out on the outer islands: Fleming, Sir George, Patton, the original camp site and tiny Ball, with Peanut awash next to it. I’m not sure what era I’m in.

As I look out again on the bay, I can feel a chill in the air. I walk across the island to the cabin line and sit on the porch of Dave’s. In front of me is one of God’s finest works, sunset, every colour possible and some never seen before or again. A masterwork. What a way to close the day, a brief prayer of thanks and the tune of ‘Taps’ in my head.

I come here often. It’s a visit anyone can take who has lived a part of their life at Camp Stephens. No need to take the car for the trip, just close your eyes and it all swims back into view. The sights, the sounds, the intensity of emotions engendered by experiences lived, good things accomplished, friendships cherished and the sense that this part of your life is with you forever.

For those of you who know the Stephens experience already, welcome back, build some new memories, make a difference again. To those who are here for the first time, welcome to what you may discover is the best journey of your lives, and make your own difference. - Hal Studholme