Since many of us can’t travel, let’s go anyway… Take flight or sail with words!
Here’s a memoir writing prompt:
Write about a trip you’ve been on. It can be to somewhere exotic or somewhere local. Maybe it was even a trip home. That’s where I’m going today. Since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to visit Nova Scotia.
Black River Lake, Nova Scotia
Black River Lake is an extension of my childhood home in Nova Scotia. Growing up, whenever I was asked where I lived, I always said, “In Black River Lake.” That made kids howl. They thought I said I lived in the lake. It didn’t make me laugh because I was sure something, something unnatural, did live in its depths.
Black River Lake is a long lake but not very wide. If you looked at it on a map, it’s a piece of lace from a collar. The lake isn’t a clear water lake where you can see straight to the bottom. It’s not a jade-green lake like Kalamalka Lake in the Okanagan. No, Black River Lake is the colour of tea: Darjeeling, without milk and sugar, and steeped just long enough for the perfect cup. Black River Lake’s water is brown because it’s full of tannins from all the trees surrounding the lake. Tannins are also found in tea.
Black River Lake isn’t a natural lake. It was made when the Black River was dammed for hydropower in 1919. Thus: Black River Lake was formed. The land that was covered by the water used to be hills and valleys and rocks and trees and plants and animals. Now it’s all underwater and under layers of silt. Well, almost all of it.
There are some water-logged pieces of timber that surface when the water level at the dam is lowered. The ancient treetops rise to the sky from roots that are sunk into the watery ground. Immortal boulders also make their way to the air and sun themselves like plump grey seals. The wood we call deadheads and the rocks are just rocks.
I spent a lot of time at the lake with my parents and sisters and friends. We swam in the water, paddled on the water and had bonfires under the stars and the occasional satellite by the water. Canoeing was a favourite weekend activity for my dad. He turned it into a regular family outing and we all had to go. Dad, mom, me, my two sisters, our large Golden Retriever Jasper, our picnic lunch and our fishing gear all fit into one alumni Grumman canoe I called Gary. (Gary Grumman is his full name.) Once in the boat, all of us, even Jasper, had to be on deadhead and rocks duty. We shouted out warnings (Jasper barked) to dad and told him about the sharp rock just about to bite a hole into our keel or the old log that was threatening to slice into the bow.
The things looming just above or below the surface scared me. It wasn’t the fact that the deadheads and rocks had the power to sink us. No, it was because they were ghosts – ghosts of another time and place. What else was under the water?
In shallow bays, in deep coves, I looked down into the water from the canoe. I saw shapes of a drowned forest slide under the boat. Were there houses lying at the bottom of the lake? Were there people in them that had been left behind? Were there bones of bears on the lake bottom crushed by the weight of the water on top of them? Were there monsters created out of the chaos of a drowning land?
What was making its home beneath the canoe? I pictured beasts with large mouths and sharp teeth and long claws. They were angry and hungry and ready to pounce on anything and everything that fell into the water. Including me.
Once my middle sister and I swam across the width of Black River Lake, not the whole length of the long lake, just across the Goose Neck, probably 600 metres. I was maybe 12 and my sister was 11. Dad canoed alongside us. I was a competitive swimmer and knew I could do the distance but I couldn’t stop thinking about deadheads and the rocks… and those monsters watching me flail above them.
I kept my eyes shut when I put my face into the water. If something was going to get me, I’d rather not see it coming. I also swam as fast as I could. If something was going to get me, I’d rather it had to work for its lunch. And well, since I’m writing this story many years later, you know I made it to shore. Without a bite. But what I wouldn’t give to be among those monsters today.