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Commentary: Summer Vacation on the Georgian Bay

By Walter Simpson

Buffalo, NY – It's September. Back to school. What did you do this summer?

In August, my wife Nan and I and our teenagers Jay and Skye went kayaking in the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Our adventure began in Snug Harbor, Ontario. As we looked out on the Georgian Bay, a strong wind was blowing and there were white caps. I doubted we could stay pointed in the right direction or stay upright for that matter. But, after an hour of hemming and hawing and thirty minutes of wrestling with our gear -- stuffing it into the kayak's small water-tight compartments and lashing the remainder on top -- we pushed off and were paddling.

Nan and Jay each had single kayaks and looked like pros as they cut through the water. I was a little nervous navigating the double kayak Skye and I had. We called it the Queen Mary because it was over twenty feet long and loaded to the gills. Two and three foot waves broke over the bow, soaking Skye but I never heard a complaint. She was the epitome of bravery and stoicism. Our anxieties got pushed aside by excitement as we paddled toward our destination, Franklin Island.

Sea kayaking, as it's called, can be dangerous as well as fun. You're far from shore in a skinny, tippy boat. Waves may be rocking, rolling, and drenching you. And as newcomers to the sport, you don't really know whether you are in danger, having fun, or both.

Lucky for us, we were traveling with our dear Canadian friends Ian and Sylvia - who are not the Canadian folk singing duo of the early sixties but are nonetheless very musical and, more to the point, are expert sea kayakers. These remarkable souls are always at home in nature -- on land or in the water. So as the wind and the waves whipped up worrying and wetted our brows, Ian and Sylvia paddled all around us, always smiling, making it all seem very safe and friendly -- in a challenging kind of way.

Our campsite was a picturesque rock outcropping where the views and swimming were great. We pitched our tent under a pine tree where there was soft moss to cushion our sleeping bags. At night, in that dark wilderness sky, the heavens opened up. I have never seen the Milky Way so white and full of a million stars. At home I rarely look at the night sky. There, it was hard to take my eyes off it. Even so, Nan kept telling me about all the shooting stars I was missing.

Ian picks up every creepy crawly that creeps or crawls by - so there were snakes, millipedes, and other creatures to catch, hold and talk about. Skye and Jay were the beneficiaries and could often be seen holding Ian's latest find.

We marveled over a leech that stretched to eight inches and felt like nothing at all when you pushed on the squishy sides of its body. A mink walked through our campsite, looking under rocks for crayfish and frogs - the same thing Jay and Skye were always doing. After dark we went with flashlights to the edge of the lake where we had been cleaning our pots only to discover 15 crayfish gathered around eating a few leftover macaronis. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed, and appreciated, all creatures great and small. We returned with a renewed commitment to protecting wild places.

This vacation was all about friends and family, being outside, and having a real adventure. I came away with an image of Jay kayaking tall and strong and fast, as though he was born in a kayak. I recall Skye telling me that she wasn't afraid when the paddling got precarious because life is about taking risks and she was enjoying it. This, from teenagers who at home would be on the computer, plugged into a CD player, hanging with their peers, or constantly distracted by the telephone.

Getting away from it all, even for a few days is so important. Of course, re-entry can be tough. It's not just going back to work and facing five hundred e-mails. It's the so-called "real world." It comes crashing back.

Like so many others who took time off during August, we came back to news of anti-war mother Cindy Sheehan trying to get an audience with President Bush. While I enjoy summer vacations as much as the next person, I am an amateur compared to the President who set aside five weeks for riding his bicycle rather than dealing with the war he created and the mothers and fathers who have lost their children and are now wondering why.

Yes, summer's over. It's time to get back to work.

"Reality Check" with Commentator Walter Simpson is a monthly feature of WBFO News.