This post is based on events that have taken place last summer (2019). Hastings County recommends the following of health unit guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Find a quaint cabin; invite good company; pack a cozy sweater; power down.
Outside all weekend? YES. Off-grid cabin? COOL! Lake swimming? Sign me up!
This spur-of-the-moment plan my husband, Andrew, and I decided on was shaping up to be the perfect getaway.
Five days later, Andrew and I jumped in the car and headed to Maynooth, in Hastings County. A scenic two-hours drive from PEC, where we live, and we found ourselves navigating through majestic corridors walled with trees so high you nearly have to stick your head out of the window to see the tops. I began imagining what it would be like in the fall with all the warm colours and changing leaves.
I was excited about the idea of turning off my phone, disconnecting from the rest of the world and spend more time connecting with my husband. Two days of guilt free disconnect… I couldn’t wait! At the same time, a mild anxiety set in and I began frantically working through potential negative scenarios.
The angst of being off-grid lasted only moments before I realized all my worries had easy solutions. None of which involved me having my phone on. I felt instant relief, my excitement built, and I put my phone away.
We arrived at the end of a long uphill driveway. More like a road, really. The Airbnb host led us to our cabin. This is where we met another couple, Divya and Arun, who were also staying in this off-grid getaway.
This was about to be a really interesting experiment. Two couples, strangers to each other, go up to an off-grid cabin on a private lake to be in the outdoors, fully disconnected…
For starters, I’m not a fan of small talk… My main concern having turned off my cell, was losing my ability to escape awkward conversation with other visitors by hiding in my phone. As it turned out lacking cell and Internet distractions meant we were highly focused on each other. This would be a good thing.
Within minutes, we breezed through small talk and pleasantries, and within an hour we were babbling on like old friends. There’s nothing like a healthy dose of nature and good company to help you remember what’s important.
We all headed down to the water and paddled out to the floating dock in the middle of the small lake on paddleboards and canoes. I was about to learn the power of true, undistracted connection.
We hopped onto the floating dock, smiling and relaxed. By now, we had all known each other for about an hour and a half. Arun and Andrew dove in right away, the glistening water was beckoning us! Just as I’m about to get in the water with Divya she blurts out “I don’t know how to swim!” She said she had never swam before nor stepped foot in a lake.
To our surprise, Divya came over to the edge of the dock and said with absolute confidence that she would get in. I slunk into the water holding onto the side of the dock anticipating her squirmy descent. She slowly sank into the water inch by inch, holding onto the dock with aggressive strength. I helped guide her down while Andrew and Arun cheered her on from a few feet out.
I truly don’t think this level of vulnerability and trust would have happened had we not been open and engaged with each other from the beginning. We forged a level of trust in an hour and a half that can take months to build. By the end of the getaway we would learn that Divya and Arun shared many firsts with us over the two days: first time camping, first time canoeing, their first time eating a picnic on the Canadian Shield, first time having a campfire and roasting marshmallows, and their first s’more. The list goes on but you get the idea, basically the quintessential Canadian cottage weekend activities. They enjoyed each experience so genuinely that we probably wouldn’t have known any of these were their firsts if they hadn’t told us – except for swimming.
Our first evening ended with classic camping food -hamburgers and veggie burgers, and a campfire. Sitting fireside with my coziest knit sweater I unwittingly sighed in deep satisfaction. This is what it means to be wildly authentic.
Doing the things I love to do – play outside! Is it still okay to say that as an adult?
We basked in the glow of the campfire, ate too many s’mores, laughed a ton, and genuinely experienced a type of connection only being in a place like this can spark. Then we called it a night and crept back into the cabin where the only lights were oil lamps that had to be lit. It made for good mood lighting. The only mirror was a small one in the bathroom, hung so high that even me, standing at 5’9, had to stand on top of the toilet to see myself. And the only water source in the cabin was from a well and we were in a drought.
If I’m being honest, these circumstances made the time away even better. We spent no time fussing over our appearance and instead focused on what mattered, time with each other.
The cabin was tucked away in the trees so the sun filtered through the branches and I woke up to the gentle morning light. I stepped outside into the dewy, refreshing air. Does this sound too corny to be true? Does it sound like a fairy-tale? Good, then I’m describing it accurately. And to top it off I slept GREAT! I felt like I was living in a mattress commercial where they show a dewy fresh-faced person waking up from a therapeutic slumber, fully refreshed and recovered. Except instead of the mattress being the key to a good night’s sleep it was the fresh air, complete silence broken intermittently by whispering wind, the distant bullfrog symphony, and the lack of blue-screens keeping me awake.
Day two started early with hot coffee, wool blankets and a walk down to the other A-frame cabin on the property. It was a picturesque cabin. I mean, really, the only time I have seen a cabin like this was the Beach House A-Frame in the Game of Life from the 90’s. Except this one was cuter (minus the bear skin and stuffed bear head rug that sat bedside). Fuelled up from a good night’s rest, breakfast, and caffeine we left for a hike through the forest. I embraced my inner child as I stared up in wonder at the giant trees and walked across old fallen trees that were so big, we had to use our hands and feet just to climb up onto them. Our day continued with yoga on the dock. Rather, I should say we attempted yoga… If we weren’t all laughing together it might have been embarrassing but we were all equally terrible.
Dinner was a group effort. We laid out some blankets across the Canadian Shield protected by a canopy of overhanging trees and indulged in charcuterie and wine.
With our bellies full we hurried down to the lake for one last dip. We paddled out to the dock, Andrew falling behind flailing frantically on a giant pink flamingo trying to keep up. When he finally made it out to the dock we thanked him for the laughs. Floating on the dock we watched the sun go down until the sky faded from blue to purple to pale yellow.
As the sun set on day two the chill peaked so we dried off, lit another fire and made s’mores for dessert. I love that about camping, the simple things bring so much joy. Redundancy isn’t something to fear in this place but something to delight in; morning coffee, afternoon hikes, sunset swims, night time campfires and games, repeat.
Little did I know the most extraordinary part of the weekend was about to unfold. We got up from the campfire and carefully navigated our way back down to the water in the pitch black, grabbing trees where we could to stabilize ourselves as we traversed down some steep hills. Once again, we hopped into canoes and onto paddleboards being sure to leave the flamingo behind this time, and paddled out to the floating dock. The water so glassy it looked solid. In hindsight we should have brought blankets because when I laid back on the dock and looked up I knew I was going to be there for a long time.
I distinctly remember saying “HO…LY…CRAP!”
Before I continue, let me point out that I have lived in and visited many very remote northern towns in Ontario and I currently live in a small town in The County so I’m not a stranger to big skies and starry nights. But this was unlike any sky I had ever seen before.
There isn’t a word magical enough or a number big enough to describe the blanket of stars above us. We must have laid out there for over an hour. I was cold but I didn’t care. This was too good, too special. It was hard to grasp but I remained fixated on its significance. The best part is that it’s basically in my backyard, a short (traffic-free) two hours from home. How did I not know about this place? It didn’t matter, I knew about it now.
This was the culminating moment of our weekend. Tomorrow we would wake up and return to our lives, and our devices. I silently reflected on our time away wanting to relive each moment, while simultaneously never wanting to leave this one. I contemplated the friendships that had formed in such a short time and was grateful for the opportunities that being disconnected brought to us. These two days, device-free, and full of pure, raw, unfiltered nature made me feel like I had just been on a relaxing beach vacation for an entire week. I walked barefoot nearly everywhere for those two days soaking up Earth’s electrical energy and I headed home with my cup full and the memory of a starry night was enough for me to say “I’ll be back.
Header Picture by Johnny C Y Lam