For the first several summers of coming to the Paradise Lake to camp, I stared at the floating dock. As the mother of two small children, I found myself tethered to the shoreline, staying close to the warm, shallow, pee-infested waters of the small bay.
All day, campers would squeal, giggle and splash, jumping off the dock, drying themselves in the sun, pushing each other off… always out of reach, 15 feet past the buoys that mark the point past which it’s no longer safe for weak swimmers to wade. I wanted to be up there, to be free, but the littles needed me. I let them push me around the bay in an inflatable dingy and built sandcastles until I got bored.
I finally made it, when the kids were in life jackets or had enough swimming lessons to make the trek. And those were glorious summers, beaching our exhausted bodies on the wooden planks, swatting horseflies to death, holding hands and plugging noses for running jumps off the boards, that mini moment of panic until the green water gave way to the light above.
One summer, when the girl child was attempting the dock swim for the first time without a life jacket, we took the inflatable dinghy with us as backup. It was breezy, and when I let go of it to grab the dock, the boat flipped over, trapping her underneath.
In those few moments, I panicked, imagining her sinking nine feet down like a stone. I called to her dad on the beach, but I got to the boat first. As I approached, I could hear her beneath the vinyl, legs and arms frantically treading—survival instinct. I got her safely to the dock and ignored the judging stares and comments of the other, more professional mothers.
We got to the lake this summer to find the beach had receded due to flooding and the dock gone. I had been looking forward to making the dock my bitch. But she wasn’t there. The other noticeable absence from this provincial park, which I consider my happy place, my forest home away from home, was the father of my children. A man who, until very recently, I considered the love of my life.
It’s been a year since he wielded the hammer on the second last nail of the coffin he was building for our marriage. Somehow, one horrible year behind me, I found the strength to pack and prep on my own, to get us up there (singing pop songs the whole way), using all that he’s taught me about camping. On a day when it was storming, I held him in loving kindness during a rare moment alone. I thanked him for all he’s taught me about living in the forest. And then I let him go a little bit more.
“Wish I was sharing a tent with you for a weekend,” said a text on Friday night. Someone’s lit a match to the kindling in my core. There’s no telling how big I’ll blaze once a beautiful birch log has finally lain on top of me. I spend my quiet moments in the tent, trying to imagine this. I can imagine the kissing, I can imagine what I’d like to happen next, but those images are vague. Trying to grab them is like trying to grab a wisp of campfire smoke.
There’s so much I don’t know. Does he cook? Is he squeamish about bugs? Can he build a fire? Does he even like me if he almost never initiates text conversations? A woman’s concerns are so often about security. But also, camping is sacred to me. The forest is where I shed my city self and allow myself to just be. That’s not something I’d willingly share with anyone ordinary.
To book a campsite in my region, one must plan five months in advance. This is how my life goes. I’m a woman and a single mom—there is little room for spontaneity. Little room for docks that just float and sometimes disappear. This year we jumped off the giant boulders on the side of the lake instead. I hoisted a canoe on the ancient stone and leapt into the abyss. And maybe that’s where I need to learn to play: at the junction of my strength and the unknown. Maybe I can get over my fear, my need for control and just jump. Perhaps the key is to give up on an ideal, to find lots of rocks to hurtle myself off of. Or realize there are lots of drops of water in the lake, and I can splash anywhere and any how I damn well please.
In the meantime, send me a hopeful thought the next time you’re roasting a marshmallow.