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By: Tyler Hargreaves, NWL Staff and Alumni
We left the campsite on the last set of the river and paddled through a light rain to where the Dumoine meets the Ottawa. The last ten days on the river had been filled with great adventure, grinning amusement and grim adversity. And with magic. At fifteen, getting cut free from ordinary life for three weeks doesn’t always sound like a win-win offer. Yet the mood that hung over the canoes, and was pulled reluctantly along with us to the end of the river, was one of solemn resignation. Luke, our leader turned and said “The land’s crying because we’re leaving it.”
On the face of it, it sounded like a somewhat ridiculous proposition. One which aimed at mitigating the assault our morale was suffering from both the weather and the fact that soon we’d spend our days somewhere rain wouldn’t bother us much. But it still felt right. The land was crying because we were leaving. For the last little while, we’d formed a happy partnership the land and us. We set out to discover and enjoy it, and it not only made us welcome but awed us with grace and beauty. It made sense that the sadness felt reciprocated.
After crossing the Ottawa, we made our way up to the baseball field that was our pickup point. We made camp there only steps from an unfamiliar highway and a gas station selling mediocre sandwiches. You wouldn’t mistake that spot for anywhere else we had spent time at since leaving basecamp weeks earlier.
We spent our last night on that gravel field in an emotional denouement. Despite its bland man-made origins, the baseball diamond manifested a special energy while we occupied it. The excitement and danger of the trip had dissipated, but in its place arose the camaraderie of those who have endured hardship and joy together. We sat around the fire savouring each other’s company and a last evening of sharing jokes, retelling stories, and binding ties.
More than ten years later, the diamond is a jewel of my youth. And as I’ve slid along the curves of time, I’ve learnt that the diamond won’t stay safely locked in the memories of that summer. It won’t because the foggy geography of my fifteen year-old mind has given way to a breezy familiarity with the roads and places of Northern Ontario. The diamond sits on the highway that runs between Temagami and Ottawa, my hometown. I’ve driven by it countless times. It sits only three hours from my front door. And I’ve returned since, either leading my own group of fifteen year olds or picking up someone else’s. But the flawless diamond that I reveled on at fifteen has disappeared, replaced by a forgettable, dull grey, small-town Ontario baseball field. Passing it now, I look over the wilting fence and dusty spot where I think our fire burnt and wonder if those memories are tied to real events or just part of a vivid imagination. Either way, as they slip backwards and shimmer with time, I remain grateful.