Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception together.
I have always been deeply affected by the natural environment in which I exist; only I failed to cognitively make that connection until recent years. I recall a very specific moment wherein I peered across a flat, desolate field that was being prepared for residential development and felt utterly uninspired. My mind then succumbed to its natural inclination to reflect on what does offer inspiration. The strength and courage of the people that surround me. My adoration for the written word and respect for the lyrical genius of others. The relentless desire a child holds to please their parents. The inborn need of a parent to protect their child. Yet, while inspiration is found in many places, nothing influences my actions or motivates me in a way that the natural landscape does. It speaks to me intimately and engagingly, teasing and soothing concurrently.
When I summon up memories and revel in recollections, it is never without a beautifully illustrated backdrop. The colours, the textures, the contours are often more prominent than the moments themselves. When I need to escape the tedious details and obligations of life, I place myself upon the lakes of Algonquin, atop Bon Echo Rock or travelling along the dusty rural back roads of Eastern Ontario.
I fully understand my attachment to and affection for Bon Echo. Situated on the Canadian Shield, this provincial park is where I spent every year of my childhood and willingly return to each year as an adult. Dominated by the mixed deciduous and coniferous forest common to much of central Ontario, the park’s most notable feature is Bon Echo rock, a huge granite cliff rising 90 metres above Mazinaw Lake. Arousing the creative inclinations of artists and poets alike for over a century, its face bears a captivating memorial to the late Walt Whitman, while the frequent rock outcroppings and mixed forests shelter the spiritual importance of its aboriginal etchings.
I derive profound comfort from the knowledge that aside from the Great Lakes, Mazinaw is the deepest lake in Ontario. Contemplating the depths of the lake and the life found within never fails to fill me with a sense of childlike wonder. Each summer I can be found at least once, with my canoe floating effortlessly across the gentle waves, my paddle still, as I lean over the gunwale and try to see the bottom of the lake. I stare intently as life moves below me and conjure up all kinds of stories of the treasures that lie along the floor, of the many lives that have been taken by the lake’s wrath, of the many tears that have been shed into the waters by forsaken lovers.
My adoration of this wonderful expanse of tranquility in southeastern Ontario began as my life did. The cries of my infancy echoed amongst the same forest that now echoes equally my adult laughter and my moments of silent contemplation. Here, I am at peace. A peace that knows me and welcomes me back each season.