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Spirit of Place

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the August 23, 2006 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Meech lake, safe harbour

by Catherine Joyce

We all have special places that speak to us. They may have come to us as children, establishing roots that we call home. Or they may come to us later in life, as revelation, lifting us out of our everyday selves and giving us back that sense of enchantment we knew when young. From time to time I will be writing about such places in the Gatineau Hills - if you would like to share a treasured landscape, please contact me at the Low Down.

The water is clear, the sun slanting down in yellow bands of light that ripple over the fine grained sand. Further out from shore the colours deepen to shades of blue and grey, a mirror of sky and towering rock.

Becky Mason paddles the lake she has known since childhood - its mysteries beyond the political, its sheltering shores the safe harbour she calls home. Her favourite trees grow here, the rare hemlock with graceful boughs of lacy green just touching the surface as we pass.

"Whenever I come here, I listen to the waves lapping against the rocks - the water makes a different sound on every stretch of shoreline. It's like music, the music of my childhood when I would be out on the water all the time.

Spirit of Place
Artists and canoeists, Becky Mason and Reid Mclaughlan on their wedding day. Meech lake, 1995. Photo courtesy Catherine Joyce.

"Even now when I'm caught out in a storm - teaching or paddling solo - the lake never fails me. You can see the weather coming, stalling on the surrounding hills before it hits."

What gives the lake its mysterious quality?

"That feeling of being embraced and yet the land is not enclosed. You can wander 60k north or west and it opens out into wilderness.

"Meech Lake still has buffer zones where areas that used to be logged or farmed have been reclaimed by nature. Online, on satellite maps, you can still see the old trails. They were cut right through the forest and have never completely disappeared. When you hike, you can find stone walls in the middle of the mountains, yet the signs of people are never invasive."

The rocks and moss remind Becky of the Boreal Forest, although the moss is not as thick. She knows where the rare bridle fern grows, the wild roses and iris, and the shy wintergreen "you can find it even in winter if you dig deep enough and know where to look".

Meech Lake is a link in a chain of lakes coming down from Lac Philippe and Lac Mousseau (once Harrington). "Water connects us. We are part of a whole ecosystem, a micro-ecosystem just minutes from Ottawa. When I look straight down the lake I see a divide symbolic of the cleft between development and non-development, community and wilderness. This is a sacred place caught on the edge. We must safe-guard it, and honour the land that creates us. It is this relationship with Meech Lake that has shaped me - I carry that love with me wherever I go."

Catherine Joyce will be writing artist profiles from time to time. If you have an opening, or would just like to explore your creative journey with her; please call or email the Low Down with your particulars, and she will contact you.


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