One night I was sitting in my canoe on the edge of the lake, 55km/h winds and white caps breaking on the dark water. My second life jacket whipped in my hands as I placed it on the floor of the canoe to kneel on. I knew with one shove my boat would slide down the icy rocks and I’d land in the rough waters, and that getting back out would be impossible if I chickened out. Looking out, no lights were on at any of the other houseboats, and my phone would quickly lose battery life from the cold if I took it out of my pocket to call for help if I wasn’t able to handle myself on the water.
After I spent a few minutes kneeling in the boat, quietly praying and calculating where I might land if I wasn’t strong enough to get home, I did what any sensible person would do: I called a neighbour who had a big stable motorboat and left my canoe on shore.
As much as I love the adventure of living out here, there’s a line between thrilling and just plain stupid. I like to think my relationship with the land is healthy and I generally feel safer in the wilderness than I do cities, but at the end of the day a lake like this will kill you and in these temperatures, falling in isn’t about being able to swim to shore.
The next morning, I woke to what looked like still, calm waters, lit up by the pastel light of just before sunrise. I did a double take and realized the lake had frozen overnight, all the way to shore.
On the other side of the bay, there was still open water, with mist rising from it as the sun approached the horizon. Possibly one of the most stunning sunrises I’ve ever seen. And I got to enjoy all of it – it wasn’t safe to walk to shore yet, and I didn’t have my canoe to push along with me, so I had to wait.
My neighbour and friend Kuzman has been on the bay for close to a decade and knows the drill pretty well. Pushing an ice walker – a couple of pontoons with a platform across to hop on to if the ice breaks – we walked to shore around noon, listening for cracks and going carefully. Temperatures have been higher than normal and it’s also been windy, which has meant that the lake has been below freezing for weeks but still open water. And then suddenly, one cold night as soon as the wind stopped it happened just like that, and we were walking the next day.