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In the Bush: Last paddle of the year is magical

'The quiet of the lake reaches into my heart'
(Supplied/Viki Mather)

When the winds of November die down overnight, the lake is so very glassy calm in the morning. I look out at the far shore and see the perfect reflection. 

Yet, the perfect reflection is interrupted by a narrow sheet of ice that lies in the lee of the big island. It is achingly beautiful.

The calm persists through the morning. I need to get out for a paddle. Opportunities like this are rare, and soon will be gone. It happens every year. I cannot resist.

Last time I paddled it was warm and sunny. A while ago. This day, the temperature is a mild -4 C. I dress in layers; long johns, sweater, jacket. Necky and toque, spare mittens in my pocket in case they get wet.

I should have shovelled the snow from the dock yesterday. Instead, I brush it away from the end, and with Allan’s help I launch the canoe. Fortunately, the wind took away most of the ice that surrounded the dock a few days ago. The bow just touches the remaining ice as I step down into the canoe.

A rim of ice hugs this western shore and I paddle along the edge. It has been there for a week. The wind pushed the thinner ice away, then lapped over the edge of the old ice, making it thicker. I could walk on it if I wanted to. But I don’t. I’m happier to be secure in the comfort of the canoe.

Because of the way the ice formed, and the way the wind blew over the past several days, the ice has curves. Sometimes it stays close to the land, and sometimes it sticks far out into the lake. 

At one end of an island, a long narrow peninsula of ice reaches 100 feet to the north. I let the bow of the canoe slide over the narrowest spot, and it breaks. Slowly, slowly the severed part drifts away. I paddle through the widening crack.

The ice cuts me off from the narrows that leads to the southern bay. Paddling opportunities diminish with each frigid night. I follow the ice edge in November just like I follow the edge of the land in summer. But it is a smaller lake now, and getting smaller each week.

As I round the northern tip of a peninsula, the rocky shore has no ice covering the water. Instead, magical icicles drip from shrubs and sticks. Strong winds and crashing waves left their mark with these crystalline sculptures. The next cold wind and waves will make them grow.

The quiet of the lake reaches into my heart. I feel I could stay in the canoe all day. 

Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984. Got a question or idea for Viki? Send an email to