Disappearing Corners

How far do you want to go?

As my original question boomerangs from the kayak behind me, I consider the shoreline ahead of me, and the butt underneath me.

Up to the corner of the bay. Then we can decide.

I wave my left hand in the right general direction, unnecessarily. I’ve chosen an obvious landmark clearly visible even at this distance of about two miles: a jut of land where Three Mile Bay merges into, or separates from, the main body of White Lake.

Making my wobbly way along the shoreline of this Canadian Shield lake, I paddle laboriously around drifting fishing boats, watch nervously for the wake from speedboats, and chase futilely after loons. Every so often, I look up to check my progress.

“This is the problem with using landmarks rather than time to manage a paddle,” I think.  “Just how far away is that dagnabbed corner?”

But that’s easier asked than answered because the closer I get, the less obvious it is.

From a ranger station with a map of an appropriate scale, maybe I could point to where Three Mile Bay becomes White Lake. From a helicopter, maybe I could point to adjacent properties, one fronting on the bay and one on the lake.  But from my kayak, even a supposedly obvious jut of land becomes just another bump in an inherently irregular line of trees and rocks, rocks and trees.

From my kayak, I can see no corner of the bay, even when I must be at or past it.

Shoreline of typical Canadian Shield lake

Eventually, of course, we do turn around, corner or no corner, or this would be a totally totally different post. As we head back to our launching spot, I try picking out other intermediate shoreline landmarks: other corners, if you will. Each seems perfectly clear when viewed from a given distance and a certain angle; each melts into indistinguishability as I approach.

And it is this – not getting tricked into paddling an excessive distance, as I had feared ““ that is the real problem with using landmarks to manage a paddle around a lake. Or through life. The turning or decision point that seems so clear from a distance can hardly be seen, up close.

View of shoreline of Lake of the Woods from canoe


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12 Responses to Disappearing Corners

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    There’s a positive side to that no-corner dilemma too. I hear people say something like, “If anything more happens, I just won’t be able to cope.” Although they don’t intend it that way, their comment is an admission that they are coping with the deluge of misfortune that has already hit them. And they will keep on doing so, even when they go around what seemed from a distance to be an impossible-to-get-around corner.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Excellent point. Milestones sometimes seem scarier in the distance than they do when we actually reach them. For 17 years after diagnosis, my father adapted to what he called the “new normal” of his ever-changing and degenerative neurological condition, and just kept going.

  2. Ian says:

    Kayaking as a metaphor for life…wonderful!

  3. Lorna says:

    We have a photo on our wall, as you know, of Gram and Grampa standing in their back yard in Calgary. They are very old in that photo. Recently I had a worrisome thought and looked on the back to see when the photo was taken. I then went to mom’s Grandma was a Davis book to see when Gram was born. To my dismay I realized I had sped past that particular landmark some years ago.

  4. Your observations are correct. They apply to a time when I was younger, stronger, had much better eyesight, and would paddle the very small lake where my parents had a cottage. No matter how many times I paddled to the river emptying into the lake, I usually would misjudge the entry to its mouth. I think the problem has something to do with the way the brain processes familiar scenes, filling in the details from memory without paying close attention to what is in view. For the same reasons, people will “see” things that are not present anywhere but in memory.

    Similarly, once a person at an accident scene has decided what they have witnessed, it is very difficult to dislodge their self-approval with the facts. I had that experience with a trusted friend, who interpreted a situation incorrectly. Nothing I could say to her, including the very suspicious behaviour of the vehicle owner, who I think caused the damage I was accused of, could dissuade her of the hasty conclusions to which she had come without enough data.

    As a researcher, I am constantly combing the data for checks and for new ways of looking at the reporting.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I won’t confess here how many years it took me to notice the lettered signs way up high at the end of each parking row at my local grocery store. Instead, I tried to pick (and then remember) a landmark on the building. So it’s good to know that others do weird or oddly unobservant things, too.

  5. Tom Watson says:

    I hesitate ever sure sightly to remember…what is that saying again…oh yes, “If you don’t know where you’re going any direction will get you there.”

    Not to say that applies here.

    Happy paddling!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Maybe we need some old saying that starts like this: “If you can’t see when you get there . . . “

  6. Barry says:

    “The turning or decision point that seems so clear from a distance can hardly be seen, up close.”
    . . Of course I have never been there!
    In 1976 Marg’s comment was that we will try Ontario for a year. Are we there yet?

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