There was an eerie silence, punctuated by the sound of my heart beating. The feeling of dread that had sent my pulse racing only a few minutes ago had suddenly transformed into stillness. Once I realized there was not much I could do about the situation, something inside me surrendered. I sensed a deep intuition that whatever transpired, it could not touch this dimension within me that was always peaceful and at rest. That knowledge alone put me at ease.
A few days earlier, I had flown into Toronto, to visit a cherished friend and on a prowl for a fresh adventure. My buddy and I saw each other only once or twice a year, when he would make the trip out to California. So I figured it was time to return the favor. I was also intrigued by the city of Toronto, and relished the opportunity to experience a brand new urban jungle alongside a local.
Over the next couple of days, my friend and I explored the city's rich cultural diversity through its culinary offerings...Indian, Trinidadian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese...and got to pick through its varied local produce at the St. Lawrence Farmer's Market. When we were not outside, we cooked delicious meals and dined leisurely on his second floor balcony, soaking in the spring sunshine. We took a stroll to the neighborhood park, and after waiting for an hour to find an open tennis court, we swung our rackets valiantly trying to return balls to each other, undeterred by their haphazard bouncing on the uneven concrete floor. At night, in my friend's basement that also served as my temporary sleeping quarters, we happily exercised our amateur music recording skills, as I lent my voice to a song I had composed while he showed off his GarageBand prowess. We celebrated the spontaneous unfolding of these activities, and the precious time we were spending playing like little kids.
The urban landscape provided unique thrills, but we both found ourselves yearning for a different experience...that of the wild. As the weekend loomed and we realized that our time together was quickly coming to an end, we decided to embark on a camping trip. Our chosen destination: Beausoleil Island in Lake Huron's Georgian Bay in Ontario. As we began our initial preparations, we discovered that special boating licenses were required for such an undertaking. Scrambling on the Internet to find out what that entailed, we were happily informed that all we had to do was take an online course and exam, and print out the license at home. Such relief! We proceeded to split, between the two of us, the three-hour exercise in memorizing obscure but essential boating rules, regulations, and terminology. We were intent on getting a full license at half the effort!
On a brisk Saturday morning, we woke up early, giddy with excitement about our upcoming expedition. We gathered all the food items we thought we would need as well as clothes, camping equipment, and everything else we believed would contribute to the outdoor bliss that we had already imagined. We carefully packed everything in my friend's truck, and began our two-hour drive to the lakeshore. It was a pleasant drive full of conversations about life, love, truth, and the nature of reality. As we got closer to our destination, our dialogue was replaced by a quiet sense of exhilaration.
We arrived at the lakefront around midday to find it busy with activity. People dining out or shopping at the little stores, boats of all shapes and sizes coming and going, and waves crashing against the piers. We joined the flurry as we signed a rental contract for a mid-sized boat, and loaded it to the brim with our things. As we stepped inside, found our little sitting nooks, and started the engine, the air of excitement about our upcoming voyage into the yonder was palpable...even our boat seemed to share in the fervor.
For the next half-hour, we bounced along on the shallow waves, my friend acting as captain and I as navigator. We followed the disappearance of the sun behind clouds that had been gathering all morning. As the rain showers finally came out to play, Beausoleil Island also started to come into view. We reduced our speed, approached the shore slowly, and used thick, sturdy ropes to anchor our boat.
Not far from where we had docked, we noticed a larger vessel enjoying a leisurely afternoon float. On the deck, with 80's rock music blaring in the background, three men were hanging out, drinking beer and having a great time. They were very courteous, and one of them informed us that they had been there for a few days, and they were in the midst of their final hurrah before heading back to their normal lives. "Be careful of the rattlesnakes out here" he warned, "and also critters that might come after your food. You should tie a rope or bungee cord around your cooler, or else, in the morning, you might find yourself in a pretty foul mood!"
We certainly heeded his warnings, myself in particular, with my slightly irrational fear of all things reptilian. Apparently, this particular island was one of the last refuges for the seldom seen Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, the only snake in Ontario whose venom is potentially dangerous to humans. But as we bid farewell to our new acquaintances, the thrill of having a whole island to ourselves was the primary sentiment. We then searched for a worthy campsite and found the perfectly raised platform for our tent. We took our time to unload the boat, singing to the sun and dancing joyfully, our everyday lives seeming so remote. We raised and staked our large tent, and blew up our inflatable mattress; for these two budding adventurers, comfort was priceless...even in the woods.
The rest of that sunny afternoon was spent taking dips in the lake as well as relaxing on the beach and staring into the horizon. We went on a short hike to collect kindling and firewood, enjoying silence and light banter, while staying vigilante to avoid rattlesnake encounters. As the sunlight took its customary leave for the day, we prepared for the evening's festivities by building a fire. We cooked a delicious meal: sautéed vegetables topped with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole, and sprinkled with lots of cheese, inside lightly toasted tortillas. We opened a bottle of red wine and sipped it out of plastic cups. As we slowly savored our dinner, we listened to music on a portable speaker, and then chatted for hours, gazing at the fire and eavesdropping on its crackling.
After what had been a joyous but tiring day, we decided to part with the night sky to continue our adventures in the dream world. We made sure to fasten a bungee cord around our cooler, apologizing to all the small creatures for our unwillingness to share in our abundance. We left the secured cooler under the bench that we had dined on, and entered our temporary abode, which was standing proudly on the platform nearby. Once we were inside and had found comfortable spots on our mattress, we fell asleep quickly, already dreaming of the next day’s feasts and activities.
Only a couple of hours had elapsed when we both suddenly awoke in a fright. Our peaceful slumber had been unceremoniously interrupted by a growl in the distance...and sounds of breaking branches; a wild beast was barreling through the forest, emerging from the depths of the dark night. Before we could gain our bearings and make any sense of the situation, the animal had approached the nearby bench, adding to our terror and bewilderment.
Although we were inside our tent, virtually blind, we heard the visitor inspecting our cooler, valiantly trying to open it and not succeeding. The bungee cord had certainly presented the beast with a mighty challenge. But that did not seem to faze the persistence of our uninvited guest. Seconds and minutes passed by, with the sounds of an almighty rattle reverberating loudly in the air, while we lay frozen in our bed, in complete silence except for the sound of our beating hearts. Even peeking our heads outside to inspect the situation was something we could not dare. My friend was able to muster up some courage, extending his arms out of the tent door to grab a log. Sweat spots beginning to sprinkle his forehead, he seemed reluctantly ready to protect himself and his dear friend, even though we both knew that a stick would not make a dent on whatever was lurking outside.
As we lay there, it was clear that we had no idea what was out there despite our many speculations, and whatever it was seemed to be sizable. However, amidst this confusion, something strange and remarkable happened to me…quite spontaneously. Once I had accepted our less than ideal situation, deep down, I somehow found myself relaxing into the whole affair. I could not help but find calmness and humor underneath our obvious predicament. I found a silence that transcended the fear...a silence that even elicited a quiet laughter about the ridiculous nature of what we were experiencing.
We then noticed that the sound of the ruckus had suddenly taken on a different quality. Instead of the relentless shaking and rattling, now, we heard the faint sounds of something being dragged on the sands. Our bemusement was palpable on our faces. The puzzling scenario brought up some curious questions begging for answers: "What animal could drag an entire cooler…full of pots, pans, and all our food…across the beach? What type of beast could perpetrate such a bold abduction?" A short while later, we heard more rattling and the banging of stainless steel. However, this time around, the sound was emanating from afar. It did not take us long to realize that someone else was in the middle of enjoying the next day's breakfast, lunch and dinner!
As the distant sounds began to die down, we slowly began to rediscover our senses. We were still in a state of shock as we began to come to terms with a hard, cold truth: an unknown assailant had suddenly canceled the next day’s exquisitely planned feasting sessions, and in the process, revoked our rein as kings of our own island. We felt that the best course of action was to go back to sleep, and to leave the investigation regarding the night's commotion for the morning.
The following day, we woke up early...to the warmth of a blazing sunlight, the sounds of the shallow morning tides, and the memory of a very strange night. We got up, dressed ourselves quickly, and went on a stroll to uncover clues about the previous night's mysteries. Our amateur sleuthing led us to large footprints and drag marks on the beach, and finally, to the resting place of our cutlery and groceries.
We found the cooler on a ledge, maybe 150 yards from our campsite. There were large bite marks on the lid, and it had been ripped apart at the hinges. Our food was strewn all over the place; the entire scene looked like a small tornado had passed through. Every single food item had been sampled. There were traces of lentils and beans, salsa and grains, but it was clear that the favorites had been the cheese, cookies and eggs, of which there were little or no remains. We sorted through the wreckage, picking up what we could salvage, and marveling at the whole affair. We returned to our tent with some tea bags and a mangled cooler, having concluded that we had been robbed by a hungry bear.
As we boiled some water for tea, we had to reluctantly accept that due to what had transpired, our camping trip would have to be cut short, and that any nourishment would have to be delayed...at least until the afternoon. We then sat in front of the glorious blue vista, soaking in the wonderful morning breeze, sipping on our tea, and appreciating our meager bounty. We contemplated the wonderful mystery of friendship, and the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world. We also digested a valuable lesson: when in the woods, hanging one’s food up a tree was always the safest thing to do, so as to not tempt hungry neighbors clad in fur.
Shortly thereafter, we packed up our belongings, loaded our little boat, and paused to think about how the surprising nature of this whole experience was what would stick in our memory. As we gave our thanks and bid farewell to Beausoleil Island, I said to myself, "Someday, I'm going to write a story about this!"