Ghosts Of The Bay

Waves sweep the shoreline and engulf my running shoes as they press out perfect impressions in the soft, wet sand. Across the bay an old friend is hardly visible. All that remains of the once mighty fishing dock, where I played with my brothers as a child, are the cumbersome slabs of cement which have slowly, over decades, crumbled into Lake Huron. 

Fragments long ago assigned to ice water graves, resembling giant tombstones, line the lake bed, victims of decades of decay. Mental images dance from every corner of my mind, colourful recollections from my youth. 

Each grain of sand, each curve of road, is delicately painted on the canvas of my mind; portraits pasted in the scrapbook of a thousand yesterdays.

I fill my lungs with the fresh air coming in off the lake and quietly head back to the warmth of the car. My pilgrimage continues back into town, past the campground, up the main street, past the Hardware store that has been in this tiny lakeside village since as far back as I can remember, to the Trading Post (which covers old bones with fresh paint). 

I stop and wander through the Trading Post. Although the place hasn’t changed much on the outside, the interior is completely different. Inside I comb my way along the narrow isles, past the never ending shelves of souvenirs: T-shirts with pictures of bears and fish on them, key chains with pictures of bears and fish on them and a very large selection of stuffed animals wearing tiny T-shirts with pictures of bears and fish on them. 

I come to a rather large selection of movies. It becomes clear to me that there is new ownership at the post. X-rated videos line the shelves right next to the new releases, sitting out in plain view of all who come in to browse. My heart sinks. The boney hand of moral corruption has managed to extended itself well beyond the city, infecting the rural lakeside communities with its mind-poisoning elements. 

There are no longer places of innocence; places where a man can escape the madness and sickness of the world.

My father was born not very far from here. His parents owned a small piece of land which they farmed when he was a young boy, before moving to the mainland. My grandparents eventually returned to the isolation and comfort of the Island, spending their final days in this small community cut along the shores of lake Huron. 

This place; this paradise rich in rustic beauty, filled with a strong sense of the past, always offers a consistent photograph. It is a place that in the summer months draws to its chilly shores urban folk longing to escape the distraction and heaviness of the city. 

As a young boy, I played on the beach, yet I don’t recall a single time when the water was even remotely warm. On the hottest summer day, it was still freezing.

After years of being away, I’m transported back in time to a more innocent age, an era of simple lifestyles. A place where neighbours left their doors unlocked and greeted one another other kindly. When “love thy neighbour” really meant something.

A boardwalk has been built along the waterfront, extending from a small snack bar, curving around the bay and ending near the campground, which is carved out among the trees and manages to remain well hidden behind a wall of pine. 

I marvel at the beauty, yet at the same time I wonder how the land has not yet been defiled by the ones who have the money to ‘improve’ upon her natural gifts.

Not far up the road is the modest house where my grandparents lived for many years. The place still looks the same, framed by green trees and old memories. 

I think of my grandfather Arthur Sterling, he was a good man. He passed away nearly forty years ago, but a part of him still remains. Years later my grandmother, Elsie – a God-fearing, and gentle soul – was reunited with her husband. She too, is still here. 

My journey takes me to the small cemetery where both my grandparents are buried. I was unable to attend the funerals, but I am now able to view their final resting place. The graves are not hard to locate. I think about the circle of life. 

One day, when I am ash, blowing in the wind – far from this place – perhaps on a distant shore somewhere, one of my family members might stand over my final resting place and contemplate the meaning of life and death.

On my way out of town, I drive past the trading post and the hardware store, down along the lake shore, negotiating the serpentine road as I go; past the campground and the sunken remains of the old dock. 

I glance in the rearview mirror and watch the ghosts of the bay quickly disappear behind trees and a painted blue sky. 

The narrow road unravels itself before me like a magic carpet as the sweet smell of the lake, which will remain with me for days, swirls around my head. I turn onto the main highway and slowly make my way back to the madness.