The evocation of emotion or past events by a breeze and mixture of smells from the fathoms of a personal sea is endless. It never ceases to amaze me what memories come alive at a moment’s notice, but how does one describe and relive the rich interplay between a freshwater lake and the autobiographical memories triggered by its physical cues and smells?
Writing. It is the only way. Essayist Anais Nin reveals what I have discovered about writing: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
This scene is my first attempt at describing the autobiographical memories evoked during the many days of walking and eating along the serene shores of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron’s North Channel, and Lake Superior.
— Eating Along the Shore —
In the distance there is a wavy mirage of heat rising from the tapering black road and thinning white line. These forty-kilometer days of walking aimlessly within the hot, dusty shoulder is monotonous and tests your will to keep going; thinking too far into the future about your objective will overwhelm you. Keep it together. There is an endless white line running East to West on the side of the road, and an equally endless swath of trees occupying the Northern to Southern reaches of my world for weeks on end. A strange sensation begins to present itself around midday as I walk on the side of road: an outer body sensation, must be dehydration and exhaustion.
After hours of dusty stone kicking, a final length is walked, and a distant blue bay awaits my arrival. With each step forward, the jagged, mossy stone walls of Lake Superior’s wild shore divides and a sandy beach comes into focus.
I soon arrive at the head of a narrowing trail that runs across a wispy stand of trees between the road and the beach. At its end, I untie my shoes, yank off my moist socks, and limp into the cold waters. Relief. While surveying the shoreline, a warm breeze ruffles my wet shirt, and the rhythmic washing sound of the shoreline mesmerizes me. Slowly, that unmistakable smell and filmstrip of memories from childhood are triggered by a fishy, algae and sand infused breeze. I imagine myself swimming from the water’s surface towards the keel of our sailboat when I was young; my hand running along the slimy hull; the treading of water above the bow anchor; and a smoky cockpit BBQ.
As I drift back into reality and clamber onto a nearby grassy dune with my cart, I open my cart’s bag, setup my kitchen, light my stove, and slowly empty packets of dehydrated food into a pot of water. Again, I drift into the past as the smell of teak oil, and a dash of mildew and fiberglass fill the air while I wait for dinner to finish boiling. I am in a dazed state as I look out over the lake and the sun begins to sink into it. Moments later, a wavy bouquet of alcohol, and the gurgling and bubbling sound from my pot and stove pulls me back into the present.