Otonabee River, ON - Shawn Mosey
My Watermark is the Otonabee River, Ontario.
As a school-aged boy who grew up on its shores, Rice Lake was my playground; but more than once it was also my teacher.
One sunny and breezy morning in the Summer of 1998 I (18yo) organized a day trip of fishing and swimming. I invited two peers, who were unfamiliar with the lake, to join me. With our gear and a picnic packed we were about to depart when my mother suggested that I also bring my younger sister, Terilyn (10yo) for the trip. I knew that my mother's suggestion was more than a suggestion, and I knew arguing was futile.
The four of us embarked from Hall Landing and headed directly for Long Island, where successful fishing is all but guaranteed. After only a few moments of navigating the choppy waves from the South-West, my sister grew frightened from the bumpy ride in our 16' fiberglass Flipper. Immediately, I grew frustrated. We hadn't even gotten our lines wet yet and Terilyn complained that she wanted to go elsewhere to swim.
I had misjudged the wind, which angered me. My plan was to anchor on the leeward side of Long Island where casting our lines would be easier. But getting the boat into position proved tricky for the waves and wind gusts. The sun still shone and the nearest clouds we saw on the SW horizon were distant. So, still wanting to fish and wanting to please my young sibling, I veered the vessel toward the Otonabee River.
The Otonabee was an ideal choice to meet everyone's needs. The narrow corridor of the river had fish aplenty and the towering trees on its banks provided a perfect windbreak. We enjoyed the heat of the sun as we fished and swam, protected from the whistle of the wind.
Hours passed. Our stringer was full with bass, catfish and bluegill. My friends and I traded our fishing rods for float toys and joined my sister for a swim. It was a friend, someone unfamiliar with the lake and river, who pointed to the sky first. Above the leafy canopy was a rigid front of clouds creeping closer. I shrugged. My experience told me that we would have another hour before the weather rolled in.
I was wrong. When the afternoon sun was eclipsed by the incoming front, we frantically packed up our fishing gear, and headed back to our dock. As the wind and darkness grew I urged my 18hp to full speed upon the still calm water of the river. If the waves were any indication, we would make shore before the rain started.
I was wrong. When we wheeled out of the Otonabee the rain hit hard with frigid droplets on our faces. My friends sheltered their faces from the onslaught by facing the stern, while my sister retreated to the refuge of the small covered bow. Meanwhile, I resiliently faced forward guiding our vessel through the deadheads and weed beds. Once through the marsh, we would have a scant 500m across the open lake back to Hall Landing. We'd be home in minutes.
I was wrong. Emerging from the marsh, we were on the leeward side of Cow Island. A great willow tree crashed upon the shoreline. I pointed the boat north around the point of the island, forfeiting the shelter the island provided. Vicious grey waves wrapped around us. The water broke against us and the wind and rain whipped us like a flail. My friends ignored covering their faces with their hands as they now clung to the gunwales in the turbulence. My sister had it worse. While mostly dry in the small cavity of the covered bow, she was now bouncing violently and uncontrollably as if in a clothes dryer.
At that moment, I knew I had made many mistakes this day. And as I looked at the panicking faces and the relentless waves I knew that one more mistake could prove disastrous.
Seconds later, our feet were on solid ground. I had abandoned returning to mainland and made for the fallen willow. I figured that the safest place to seek refuge was under an already fallen tree. The violence of the storm subsided minutes later. It's duration a stark contrast to its intensity. We all made it home, welcomed by my mother with concern and scorn.
Rice Lake was my teacher that day.
And I will never forget it's lesson.