Tag Archives: Christie Lake


In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “In a way, I was raised by strawberries, fields of them.” She goes on to explain how wild strawberries gave her a sense of the world, and her place in it. She writes evocatively about picking and eating and celebrating with wild strawberries, and also about what the strawberries taught her.

We asked this question in the group of friends with whom I am reading and discussing Braiding Sweetgrass – what about the place you grew up in gave you your sense of the world and your place in it? It is a fine question and we answered with the first thing that came to our mind. It is hard question to answer, and as my first answer (birch trees) did not satisfy me, I continue to think about it.

I am at Christie Lake, one of the places I loved dearly as I was growing up. I return once a year if I can. Each time, I see aspects of the natural world here as if for the first time, or I remember something about the natural world that I thought I had long ago forgotten.

I love to get up early and come to the beach for a swim – usually before sunlight has fully crept into and transformed our bay.

I could watch the play of light and shadow and wind on the water, the sand beneath the water, the reflections from the nearby trees and rocky shoreline for hours. I suspect that I spent many a dreamy moment as a child doing just that. In this dappled world, everything is shifting and changing every moment…it is all glimmers, possibilities, dance. The felt sense I get here belongs to this particular place, and no other place that I can think of.

I can’t come close to capturing this feeling with my Smartphone – which wants to focus in on one aspect of the scene in front of me and give it prominence. As soon as I step into the water to try to take a picture, I create ripples, changing the picture. Even if I could capture some sense of it visually, I would be missing the smell of the wind off the lake and decaying seaweed, the feel of wet sand under my toes, the songs of the birds, the waves lapping, the distant drone of a boat engine, the CheCheChee of the osprey, the feel of this air on my skin, the sound that this wind makes in these trees at this moment. I would be missing the constant movement and interplay of light, shadow, reflection.

The play of light and shadow and glimmer on the water did not raise me, but surely, it played a part in the raising of me, in giving me a sense of the world. and how I see and experience it.

At Home in the Water

I like to think about home, about what it is to feel at home in a place, about what it is to feel at home in our own body. I  consider the question “Why do some places (and some people) feel like home instantly while others do not touch us to the core in this same way?” I have no answers really, it is a question I enjoy turning over in my mind, mulling over, asking others…

I am just back from my longest ever stay near my birth home – our family cottage in Algonquin Territory in Eastern Ontario, a place where the Canadian Shield is at its most southern location mixing lake, rock and white pine with maples, cedar, birch and farmland. It is a place where I am privileged to swim every morning in clear, relatively clean waters. I feel so at home in those waters and can easily evoke my childhood delight at the freeing and floating feeling of water surrounding my body, the joy of doing deep dives under the water, the beauty of water bubbles, the miracle of sun sparkling on the water’s surface, of arms slicing through water so easily. My body needs to swim.

IMG_1206Last year, I did not visit the cottage and while I swam last summer, I did not swim nearly enough. To swim is like a certain kind of breathing. Arriving this year, at the beginning of June, my body felt hungry for immersion in that beautiful water. It was very cold at the beginning of June. I often stood in the water up to my waist, just thinking about diving in for the longest time, putting it off, gazing out at the lake interminably. Thinking about the word itself, lake. My dad had a way of saying lake, a way of extending the “a” and holding the “k” sound in his mouth a little longer than most. Kind of how you would say cake if you were savouring its deliciousness as you spoke its name. When I learned the word lake, this was the lake. There was no other. That word lake for me is full of meanings and associations – the first view of blue as we came around the corner at the hill at Stile’s cottage, the ever changing panaroma from our vantage place the top of a high point of land, it was the feel of the water as you put your toe in first, the pungent odour of decaying seaweed and organic stuff that floated in over night.  It was swimming so much as a child that our skin wrinkled up and was fascinating to our touch, although it looked wizened and grotesque! The way my father said “lake” brings the particular freshness and moistness of a lake breeze to mind and to nostrils! I think I would know it blindfolded. In that lake air, something in my body relaxes, my edges dissipate….I am home.

Taking Flight #4

I think I remember hearing the sound of the loon  during the night as a small girl, and thrilling to it, rather than being scared. That might just as well just be a story I made up! It matches the feeling I have about loons – like many others I have felt a special kinship with loons for as long as I can remember.

My childhood memories of Christie Lake are interwoven with memories of encounters with loons, and with their cries, their keening and their laughter present throughout the day, but most especially at night. A vivid and unforgettable memory is watching a loon swim under our canoe.

The summer I was 17, I took part in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Junior Ranger Program. Along with twenty three other 17 year olds from all across Ontario, I went to McConnell Lake, somewhere outside of North Bay. I drank it all in – from steel toed working boots, to blueberries in an abundance I could not have imagined, to being away from home, to the friendships formed…and especially to a wilder lake than I had ever know…McConnell Lake  was home to somewhere between 24 and 30 loons. I perfected my loon call, and felt that I could commune with a particular lone loon. I remember being punished one morning during calisthenics because the loons were dancing in some kind of formation – and I left (oh horror!) our exercise routine to go and watch them. The young women who were supervising us were barely older than us, and knew that their authority was held by a very frayed thread indeed!

"Deep Diver"- Loon Photo by C. Westmoreland

“Deep Diver”- Loon
Photo by C. Westmoreland

All of this has come to mind for a few reasons. There are two families of loons at this end of the lake this summer. I have had some wonderful conversations at the Perth Farmer’s Market with people who see “Deep Diver” and want to share their own stories and love of loons. When my friend Mary was visiting, I  looked for and found a board I painted as a teenager with loons on it.

Much like my entry in Taking Flight #2 , which shows another sketch of  a loon diving, it reminds me just how formative my growing up years are in relation to creating art (and much else).

Loon Board , c1977

Loon Board , c1977

Detatl- Loon Board

Detatl- Loon Board

Detail- loon borad with Ottawa Point, Christie lake in the background

Detail- loon borad with Ottawa Point, Christie lake in the background

Last Saturday, at the Perth Farmer’s Market, I had a wonderful conversation with a woman spending time with her family at a nearby lake. One of her children made a peeping sound, and a young loon swam right for him on shore. Waters had been stormy so the loon was bedraggled and clearly tuckered out, so my friend was called and she cradled the loon in her arms for a while keeping it warm and offering some rest. For all of this time, no parent loons were in sight. As the small loon revived, they spotted a pair of loons out on the lake and decided to paddle her/him out. My friend sat in the canoe holding the baby in her lap. As they got closer to the adult loons, she put the baby into the water. The baby peeped…the adults did not hear. The adults peeped – the baby hightailed over to the parents and many loon sounds were heard. She hopes all is well with this reunited family.

Another group came by the same Market Day with a woman visiting from the States – from a place where there are no loons. Every time she saw a loon, she commented on the “duck” up ahead. The people she was with were quick to correct her – “Evvie”, they would say when she was looking at “Deep Diver,” “That is not a duck, it is a loon.” As Canadians, we are not usually so precise about bird nomenclature! Some of us call goldfinches canaries, for example. But for those of us lucky enough to spend time in Shield Country, for those of us lucky enough to share waters  with the common loon, it is vital to know the difference between a loon and a duck.

In May 2013, I had an art show entitled “Taking Flight – Exploring Birds and Oher Flying Creatures in the Art of Sue Bland”. I continue to want to explore the theme of birds, and of flight in my life. Previous posts are Taking Flight #1, Taking Flight #2, Taking Flight #3 and some reflections on the show.

Back at the Perth Farmer’s Market

In the Crystal Palace at the Perth Farmer's Market

In the Crystal Palace at the Perth Farmer’s Market

Alice visiting caught the back view of my head through the window.

Alice visiting caught the back view of my head through the window.


"Deep Diver" (Loon) and Water Snake #1 catch people's eye

“Deep Diver” (Loon) and Water Snake #1 catch people’s eye

"An Exultation of Larks" - I enjoy seeing how they look on different windows

“An Exultation of Larks” – I enjoy seeing how they look on different windows

"Fairies" with the market happening through the glass

“Fairies” with the market happening through the glass

Not at the market, but I could not resist. Some characters at the Bluegrass Festival that we arrived too late to enjoy

Not at the market, but I could not resist. Some characters at the Bluegrass Festival that we arrived too late to enjoy it

It is great to be back at the Perth Farmer’s Market! I set up my booth two years ago while spending time at Christie Lake, did well, met many interesting people and now I am back. I will be here for the next 2 Saturdays – July  27th and August 3rd from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. under the glass roof of the Crystal Palace. I have enjoyed two Saturdays here already – – many people said that they were drawn to my small corner full of colour and joy! Thank you for coming by.