EDITOR’S NOTE: In conjunction with Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017, members of the Manitoulin Writers’ Circle are crafting stories and poems to pay tribute to our country on this pivotal milestone birthday.
A dark, blank window at four a.m. Switch off the alarm
before it shrieks. Stretch. Reach for piled clothes
placed for quick dressing. After taking quiet turns
with a hasty wash, our numbed fingers
empty fridge and freezer into the waiting coolers
softly close doors, lids, more doors. Slip away lightless
into the night until out of sight and sound.
Alone on the highway we glide through flatlands,
car sounds muffled in the curling mist eddying
around shadowless shapes etched in black
against an already indigo sky. The flashing
lights of a windmill or a line of hydro towers
blink company with headlamps pushing
through swirling, ethereal grey.
Dawn comes before you know it. The rising sun,
hidden behind trees in aureole, is a sudden pink gash
in the night sky; the mist moves off in slow streaks,
pearling grasses on the gravelled shoulders.
Suddenly that thin slice expands to clear whiteness,
dew-soaked fields glisten and trees slowly appear,
their branches forming through a haze of greening leaves.
A few more cars appear out of nowhere, heading our way
to the harbour. And then, amiably sleepy teenagers
are guiding us to the ticket booth, and to our particular place
in the far right lane of waiting cars. We join other travellers
eager for breakfast, blurry-faced under café lights, grateful
for those three perfectly poached eggs and a last gulp of coffee
as the approaching ferry’s whistle signals readiness.
The huge jaw of the Chi-Cheemaun slowly gapes open.
Waved within, we park inches behind the car ahead,
snatch pillows, blankets, books and hurry up the stairs
to the lounge deck for a place on the sunny side, by a window.
Another blast warns us she’s leaving Tobermory
and of our chance for a morning snooze, curling
awkwardly around chair arms (there used to be benches).
As the day warms, lolling heads and sprawled limbs
begin to stir. A wake-up stroll around the deck
to the bow to catch our first glimpse of the island,
a long, humped shape on the horizon. A final whistle:
“Will all passengers take their places inside their vehicles.”
Once more in the belly of the ship we watch, awed,
not quite believing that island dock and ship’s mouth will meet.
Released, we burst blinking into full day in a line of cars
surging ‘round the corner from dock to road. And stop. Pull over
to taste the cherished smells of this big Lake Huron sea; listen
to the cough of laden fishing boats labouring into port
gulls swooping and screaming around them, waiting, as we are,
to savour fresh fish, endless afternoons, and night skies
thick with stars in the summer now stretching before us.