Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
The island is a rocky place with a sweet glade of fir and maple trees on a downward slant of land. It sits at the confluence of a large lake west of Georgian Bay and the Moon River in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Water flows around each side of this gem, which is known as Turtle Island by some of the locals. A road passes at the top of the falls, stretching east and west, connecting the two sides of the town. A train bridge, busy with cargo-laden containment cars, parallels the highway. Investors in their greed want to blast Turtle Island apart and make a hydro-electric dam. They plan to build a five-story concrete bunker, destroying the falls, ruining it for present and future generations. There isn’t a better place to swim, catch pickerel, sun on rocks, or view a sunset. Until recently it was Crown land, and though an important historical portage, the reason cited for giving it to developers was because it was too dangerous. It’s been given to a private company which stands to make millions at taxpayers’ expense. The power generated here would not be used locally. It isn’t needed, or wanted.
The hydro project has been stalled because of the efforts of concerned citizens and because of an activist named Peggy. Peggy watches the island daily, ready to sound an alarm if bulldozers show up. No one in the community wants the island destroyed and they would come if she called. They are also concerned about their already whopping hydro bills and how this unnecessary construction would raise them even more. Peggy, and others, have been shining the light on the corruption surrounding the give-away of this Crown land.
The community is part of a sweet town which is very busy in summer months. A recent survey in an important Toronto publication named Bala Falls as one of the top five destinations for Torontonians within a two-hour drive. Cottages and summer homes sit along the lakes and the river above and below the falls. A famous environmental film maker who summered here is making a movie about the situation. How could this land be given away? It is hard to believe that something this overt is happening within a two-hour drive from Toronto. Unlike in Honduras, or other out-of-the-way places, like northern Saskatchewan, where Canadian and International companies regularly take what they want, this is happening in the middle of Ontario ‘cottage’ country. To the people here, as in those other places, it isn’t right and it doesn’t feel good.
Red no-trespass signs recently drilled into the rock. forbid the public to venture onto the Island. The canoe portage sign has been removed. Peggy, a friend, and I step on to the island anyway. We sit on a sunny rock, overlooking the river, and unpack a picnic lunch. The Moon River is a liquid highway flowing west to Georgian Bay. The considerable waterfall thunders past nearby.
We talk of many things as we eat: the recent closure of a local university, the governments mystifying plan to close two needed hospitals to make a mega-one, and the situation here at the falls. Protest signs that had been put up on the weekend remain. This encourages Peggy. A great blue heron flies overhead. The air is redolently organic, a good place for fish and other life forms.
“Ready for a swim?” Peggy laughs.
“No bathing suit,” I answer, looking longingly at the sparkling water.
“I’ll swim in my clothes if Mary Lynn doesn’t mind me getting her car wet.”
“I don’t mind,” she answers.
“Look- wear my bathing suit,” smiles Peggy. Her aquamarine eyes challenge me from beneath a black Western hat. It is tough and in sync with her fearless demeanor.
“I’ll wade in my shorts with Lucy.” Lucy, her dog, barks excitedly.
“Change down there,” she says, pointing to the lowest part of the island, hidden from the road above by trees. “No one will see you.”
I take the suit, and head down a steep path. At the bottom, I look about at the quiet glen. A bird song welcomes me to this woodsy cabana. Wrapping the towel around me I shed my clothes. If someone comes down…. I think.
Then, reaching the pebbles at the water’s edge my heart and soul expand as I look out. I will defy anyone who would destroy this. It is too beautiful, too valuable. Nobody can tell me that I can’t swim here. The heat from the sun-warmed rock comforts my feet. I think about the immense amount of time the rocks have been here and how a Toronto company could make them disappear forever. As I step into the water, the cool water covering my toes, I feel relief from the humid summer afternoon.
Wading knee-deep in water, Peggy stands watching. Lucy looks expectantly begging for a stick to be thrown.
I choose a spot to launch, hold my breath, and dive. Immediately I am freed from the weight of the world. Iam in cool, liquid darkness. I bob to the surface and dive again into the moving water. I imagine what it would be like to be a fish, maybe one of the walleye, that live in the deep pools of the Moon River. Their spawning grounds would be severely impacted if a hydro plant were built. Water bounces and bubbles around me. I dive again, listening for the voices of the Water People an African healer named Mendaza spoke of. ‘They are here. You must listen to what they are telling you,’ he’d said at a Water Ceremony. I believe I can hear them as I swim near the falls. They seem to caress my body, thanking me for the small part I have played in the fight against the corporate machine that threatens them.
Peggy has gone up the hill by the time I emerge. Across the river, sunshine glints on elaborate cottages. Brightly colored beach chairs are placed on verandas giving a view of the falls. Sleek motorboats are tied to adjacent docks. These homes won’t have a view if a five-story bunker is built across from them. Private property. I sigh. In my heart I wish there weren't such a thing. This is one of the few remaining beautiful places around here which isn’t privately owned. If it is destroyed where will people get to play with water spirits near a waterfall? If the hydro plant is built, how will canoeists connect points east of Lake Muskoka to Georgian Bay? There won't be a way to portage around it. The urgency to keep it available for everyone sounds in my head.
My feet are shaped and warmed by the rocks. Except for the sound of the waterfall, there is a hush over the glen. In its coolness I feel my solitude. City folk forget what it's like to be alone in nature, forget this kind of stillness. The memory of ugly red No Trespass signs flash through my mind yet Peggy has assured me that I can’t be arrested without first getting a warning. I’ve denied them, causing me to worry. The driver of the boat which had motored near as I was swimming saw me enjoying the water. I wrap the towel around me and start to change.
I tug hurriedly at the bathing suit. My bra becomes impossibly tangled as I try to budge it into place against my wet skin. I begin to panic, then give up and shove it into my pocket instead, anxious now to rejoin my friends. I button most of my shirt buttons and laugh defiantly as the last clothing disappears under the zipper. I start up the path.
A quiet call from above catches my attention as I reach the edge of the glen.
Martha! It is Peggy’s hushed whisper.
I shrink back into the trees. Heading briskly downhill is a man in an MNR shirt. He is on the main track, heading towards the beach. I watch him pass, then climb the rest of the way up.
“It’s an MNR officer,” Peggy says quietly. “Let’s go.” We cross the street to the car. If I hadn’t given up trying to pull my bra on he would have caught me in my underwear.
Ascending and following us to the road, the man was leaving, having checked the beach and found no one there.
“You’re from the MNR aren’t you?’ Peggy called out saucily. Without answering he continued to his truck.
“Maybe someone in that boat clued him in?” I ask.
“They’ve been doing this every day for the past three days,” Peggy says. I wonder why she told me not to worry.
“They can’t do anything,” she said as if reading my mind. “They’re just looking, trying to scare us.”
I’m shaking with excitement as we get into the car to go home.
I’m not scared, I say to myself.