Turtles at Bottle Lake

This is a true story.
Written by Joel Varty on behalf of Gemma & Harry.
 
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It was eight o’clock in the morning at Bottle Lake, nestled deep in the Kawartha Highlands provincial park. The mist was still rising from the warm water, stirred from its glassy surface by the sharp coolness of the air.
 
 
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A hawk circled the beach, riding the currents of the wind. It spotted movement down on the sand, but there wasn’t much to see. It was puzzled, so the large predator bird of the northern skies banked and twisted up and down the shoreline, not wanting to give itself away, but also not giving up on a chance at a nice breakfast.
 
 
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In the shallow water, some clams moved slowly through the sand, pushing themselves along with a fleshy foot. Their siphons were stuck out from their shells like two trailing antennae, capturing water and filtering it for food and oxygen.
This wasn’t what the hawk had seen though; it was focused on something different.
 
 
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Harry was the first awake in his tent, as usual. He was seven. His sister Gemma was ten, and she, almost like a wily teenager, liked to sleep in as late as possible. Even when camping. Here is a picture of them from the day before, when they had boiled water for hot chocolate on the fire, and cooked dinner on the silent Trangia stove, which burned a tiny amount of alcohol for fuel.
 
 
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On this cool and almost frosty morning they were bundled up in their sleeping bags when their Mum and Dad went out in the canoe to take supplies back to their truck. They wouldn’t be back for at least an hour.
 
 
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The kids were free!
What would they do with the time?
First, Gemma noticed a dragonfly on the toilet paper. Then she got some water from the spring in the wash basin and coaxed Harry into washing his face with actual soap. This was not an easy task, as Harry seemed to actually like being dirty. Gemma attributed this to his being a boy and moved on.
 
 
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The first thing she noticed when she walked onto the beach was some strange markings made in the sand. They looked like lines drawn with a stick, and there were little dots running down either side of the line.
They led down to the water.
Harry followed the line of tracks from the water back up the sand to a hole not far from the grass.
They looked inside.
 
 
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Two little heads were poking their way out of the sand.
They were turtle heads!
The smallest turtle heads you’ve ever seen, for they had just hatched. Their eggs had been laid months ago, and they had finally cracked their way out, one by one, and in this case, two by two.
 
 
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It was a long way to the water, but the turtles seemed to know what they were doing, so Gemma and Harry just watched as the babies made their way down the beach.
 
 
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Overhead the hawk decided the little disturbances in the sand were too dangerous to follow, now that these colorful children had come out. He spun away on the wind in search of new prey.
 
 
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The children watched like nervous parents while their little charges made their first steps into their new, wet world.
Each turtle took its own little route down to the water, some slow, some hurried and bustling. Each one never hesitated, though, when it stepped into that vast new liquid body that would be their new home.
 
 
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When Mum and Dad came back, the two kids couldn’t wait to tell them the news. The grownups had missed everything!
Twenty turtles had hatched and swum while they were gone. The kids had taken care of all of them.
 
 
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Gemma and Harry showed the hole where the turtles had come from.
“Look!” Harry cried. “There’s two more!”
“Where?” said Dad. “I don’t see anything.”
Gemma carefully pointed out the tail and the head of the newly hatched babies.
 
 
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“This one seems a little grumpy,” Harry said. “He keeps stopping and tucking his head into his shell.”
“Maybe he’s shy,” said Gemma.
 
 
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When the last shy, grumpy turtle finally made it near the water, he seemed to turn his head, as if to say goodbye.
 
 
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Mum and Dad and Gemma and Harry stayed until they knew it was time to leave.
The sun was starting to set – they had left it maybe even a little too late, but it was hard to say goodbye to this enchanting lake where they knew some friends were swimming.
 
 
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The kids told their parents that they would like to come back next year.
Mum and Dad agreed.

Brave Girl

One of the things that sticks out for me this past year, one of the events that keeps popping into my head, is a canoe trip we took this summer. We went backwoods camping in Bon Echo park, at Joeperry lake. There is about a five-hundred metre portage and then about a click and a half to the campsites, depending on where they put you. Our site was one of the farthest from the portage, on the far side of the island in the middle of the lake. It took two trips in the canoe to get all of our stuff across – one with my wife, the two kids, the dog, myself, and a few backpacks. Then my daughter Gemma and I went back to get the rest.

It was a great camping experience, overall. Except it was really, really hot and the deer flies were nuts, but the fishing was great.

When it came time to get our stuff outta there, we made a trip with a bunch of bags and equipment the night before we left, to make things easier the next day. Gemma and I went with the canoe and hauled the stuff back to the car. When we came to paddle back with the empty canoe, the wind was playing havoc with us, so we decided to take the southern route around the island (see the map below).

Joeperry Lake

It looked about the same distance, and some people had passed by us on the lake saying they had gone that way without too much trouble. It looked less windy that direction, since it was sheltered by the trees, so we started out at about six-thirty. Plenty of time and plenty of light.

It was a totally bad idea, and I should have turned around right away. The whole place was a bog with barely six inches of water in a trough through a three-foot thick matt of floating sphagnum moss. My feet were big enough to hold me up after sinking to my shins in much, but Gemma sank right to her waist and probably would have gone right under if she hadn’t been smart enough to be holding onto the canoe and wearing a life jacket (as was I – always).

She never flinched. She was a little quiet, but no panic. She just hopped back in the canoe, and I pulled her and it along through the swamp.

The lake at this point was so covered in moss, that there were only a few spots where we could paddle, and that was in a mere eight inches of water at best. And it was WAY further than the map shows, since we couldn’t go in a straight line. After we’d been paddling and dragging the canoe for almost two hours, I did something stupid, again. I broke my paddle.

I was getting tired and more than a bit frustrated at the conditions, and I was trying to get more purchase against the wind that was picking up again as we came out of the swamp area into more of a low-riding bog with almost a foot of water and slime. My paddle caught on a flap of mud and snapped.

Gemma looked back at me, ignored my grimace, and smiled. She handed me her padding and took the useless blade and shaft from mine and kept them safe for later. She even paddled with her hands and tried to push off from the mud when stuck into it.

It got dark in a hurry. The wind picked up even stronger and I had a hard time keeping us out of the mud at the banks and in the right direction when we went out to the middle. Eventually we made it back to camp in the narrows, and my wife and son had lit a little fire. Luckily, Harry had found a roll of duct tape the day before and we were able to repair the busted paddle with metal rods from our fish-fry basket.

But the hero of the day was Gemma. Nine years old. She never complained, never cried, stayed positive, and worked hard to help out. A great kid, and a brave girl who should be mighty proud of herself, as I am of her.

More later – joel