My Watermark is the St. Lawrence River, Ontario.
I grew up along the St. Lawrence River, learned how to swim there and spent much of my childhood in, on, or around it. It was something that I took for granted because it was always “just there.” It was sort of everybody’s backyard; the river was how you oriented yourself to where the south was. One day I was driving across the Thousand Islands Bridge at Gananoque, I was sixteen years old, on the way to The States for a weekend, and on that particular day, the sun was glinting off the water so that it made the whole river look as if it was sparkling with diamonds. And from the center of the top of the International Bridge I looked eastward down the river and from there you have a really great vantage point of almost the whole of the Thousand Islands and it was just this moment of — gasp — oh my goodness… It really took my breath away and it was, I think, the first time I ever really noticed (was struck by) and appreciated just how gob-smackingly beautiful the whole area is and how blessed I was to live there and call it home. That’s the moment I started caring even more deeply about the river and having a more conscious awareness of taking good care of it.
As kids, we swam in the river every day. Friendships were born in that water. In our twenties, we spent every weekend out in boats. There was a place called Lake of the Isles—its actually in American waters, so people don’t go there so much anymore because 9-11 changed the way US Border Patrol monitored the goings on on the river—now folks gather on the south side of Grenadier Island in Canadian waters, moor their boats together, turn on the radios, and dance and play water volleyball, and while away long summer days It’s just great, simple, summer fun shared with friends new and old. In the Lake of the Isles days, there was a floating hotdog stand and the guys that ran it would come around to each boat and take orders and bring back Ice and mix and snacks. I still have this vision for creating one of my own and bringing that concept back to life. It was such a brilliant idea. There was a sense of community out there in the middle of the river. It was a place to go and have fun and swim and Sea-Doo and hang out and camp and… belong, really. There were so many all-nighters, sitting around campfires, singing until morning, with one or two guys on guitars. Those songs stick in my mind like the soundtrack of my life. Oh my gosh, it feels like every memory from growing up is centered around the water. Even funny things, like the local boater wave: this goofy River-Rat, bent-hand, high-sign thing we do. There is a language that is spoken by people who are water people and there is an understanding. There is a kind of hidden code and we care for the water because we know what it adds to our life.
That water was my swimming water, drinking water... hell, I fell in love in it! And, more than once. I’ve woken up on an island, groggy on a Sunday morning, and dunked a cup in the river and drank straight from the source. I don’t know whether that’s advisable or not. Some people cringe when I tell them, but it never caused me any harm. It always made me feel this incredible connection to this place I just love so much. I’ve joked since coming to Toronto in the 90s that the St. Lawrence River runs through my veins. It’s the place that I’ve always gone to when I need to find solace or grounding. When I sit by the water I reconnect with my center, I know who I am again. To this day, it’s my personal policy to never live anywhere that’s greater than a five-minute walk from a body of water.
And since becoming a mum, I’ve talked a lot about water to my son. He and I both are “water babies” and with a child, water takes on a different kind of importance. When you become a mum and you suddenly have a child around water, a baby in a bathtub, a toddler swimming at the beach, you have to be on high alert in a different way than ever before. My son has a seizure disorder, so while it’s our favourite place to be, it poses a significant threat as well—if he were to have a seizure in the water he’d drown. That being true, I talk to my son a lot about respecting the water. I tell him, “The water is more powerful than you”. That was a common thing that we said among the boaters, as well. You know.. don’t disrespect the St. Lawrence River because she’s a powerful body of water and currents are strong and there are under-toes strong enough to drown a man. There always had to be that reverence and respect for it—making sure that we were never fooled into thinking that we were more powerful than it. And then as a mum, I tell my son, “Water is life. Water sustains your life and water can take it away, so be mindful at all times that you’re respecting the water and treating it as the force and the precious gift that it is.”