The way through the forest to get to the cottage on Crosby Lake is definitely not a road, but it’s not quite a dirt track either.  Whatever you might call it, it has ‘gateway to wilderness’ written all over it in the form of chipmunks scurrying across the path, the hindquarters of deer disappearing into the undergrowth, and wild turkey strutting their comedy walk on clearings within the forest.  Those are nature’s signs for having reached a place of retreat, but, as if to emphsise that you are entering lake and cottage country, someone has added painted wooden signs and attached them to trees at around half mile intervals.  The first one reads, ‘Breathe’: an instruction to drop deep into nature and fill your lungs.  The second says, ‘Peace’: a gentle command to appreciate the serenity, to maintain peace at the lake, and keep it with you on your journey onwards.  The third sign is less of an instruction and more of a reminder, it says, ‘Gratitude’: something that if we were to remember to practice every day, the list of things for which we ought to be grateful would stretch to the moon and back.

This is my last full day in Canada and there is no better time to take heed of that sign in the forest and think of all those things for which I am grateful – people, places, sights, sounds and more that have come my way over the last three weeks.  In terms of people, there is no pecking order, but if there was, baby Q. might be top of the list and the image of her kicking her seven week-old legs free from her cotton blanket as her grandfather sang to her.  There were reunions and new friendships forged: morning workouts with P. and L. just like last year, and meeting sisters, J. and K. for the first time. My souvenir of time spent with these sisters will be the photograph of brave J. kissing a big green frog that K. holds aloft in a tightened fist (it’ll be one lucky prince that wins her some day soon!).  There are so many moments for the memory bank: singing the Everly Brothers with J.; lying on the raft with K. talking about life and dreams and plans for the future; going to the movies in the afternoon with C. to escape the oppressive heat; the laughter (and groaning) at J.’s jokes; the sadness of saying goodbye to P. and S.’s dog that had run out of life; giving Father A. unsolicited feedback on his Sunday sermons; late night garden games with A. and A. (and, by the way, for Canadians there is no such thing as a game, they are in it to win!).

I am grateful for the sights, sounds and experiences from both the city and the countryside: whizzing across the lake in the speedboat with the wind in my hair; the sound of the loon’s ungainly run along the water – pssh, pssh, pssh – staggering on the surface, looking like it’s never going to rise into the air; the tiny glowing balls of fireflies at night; jumping over snakes in the Gatineau Park; laughing like I thought my sides would split at Yak Yaks comedy club; the audacious smoky eyed racoon in C.’s back yard that decided it wanted to join my goodbye party; the cardinal that awakened me each morning at 4.30am, its high piercing whoops breaking the silence of the pre-dawn.  At every turn there was hospitality and delicious meals shared:  butter tarts, turkey pie, iced lattes, rhubarb and strawberry tart, baked apple cheesecake, key lime pie, barbeques and salads and freshly baked bread, pulled pork and grilled chicken, wine and beer and gallons of water to combat the heat, Purdy’s Canadian chocolates, and gelato from Stella Luna.  I know they say that a little of what you fancy does you good, but it may be time to practice some self-denial when I get home.

Then there were life’s fundamentals as I hopped from place to place: a bed for the night, a shower in the morning, tea and toast, cherries and watermelon and bananas, and – most importantly – having time to sit and talk; like I did with C. most mornings.  We would split up sections of the newspaper, swapping when we had read what we wanted. “Look up the obituaries and see if my name’s there,” she asked me one morning. I told her she had to do it herself; that if I came across her name, it would ruin my holiday!  I am grateful for the sun, the heat, the breeze, and the temporary respite when the rain came.  I loved the laziness of half-reading books, and flicking through magazines, focussing on pictures, not words.  I am grateful for the warmth of the Canadian people who bid me time of day as I walked the towpath of the Rideau canal.

So, to family, friends and strangers: thank you for the welcome, for your generosity, and for so much laughter.  And, even if you didn’t understand my lilting Irish accent (which seemed to be the case most of the time), we got there in the end.  Thank you and slán go fóill*.

*slán go fóill- goodbye for now (in Irish)

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