This last weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada. For many this is a time to gather together around a roast turkey and pumpkin pie. As we planned our Thanksgiving this time year, we realized that two of our three girls would be unable to join us, and so my wife Gwenanne pondered the possibility of meeting our middle daughter N for a camping weekend. Gwenanne and I have never camped in the fall, and thought it might be fun. N agreed and so we asked her where we might meet. Algonquin Park is a favoured spot but was found to be full and so N suggested Bon Echo Park.
Bon Echo Provincial Park was unknown to me, but rather important for a couple of reasons, perhaps the most important being that the massive cliffs found at the narrows found in the middle of Mazinaw Lake served as the canvas for a massive number of pictographs, created by First Nations. It is not overly surprising that these massive cliffs became the site of these ancient and mystical works of art: the cliffs are potent and the water pounding these rocks offers both access to them and protection for them.
The park was once the site of an inn, built first for retreat for the wealthy of Methodist persuasion until the Inn was purchased by Flora McDonald Denison, whose vision was to replicate in a Canadian context a place where the philosophy of Walt Witman could find a home. Members of the Group of Seven also found a home here, who along with others, visited this site in their quest for Canadian artistic expression in the early 20th century. The family ran the inn until the Great Depression, at which point it was leased until fire destroyed it in 1936. Bon Echo was made a provincial park and opened in 1965, and still today park visitors come to be inspired, moved and quieted in much the same way that those First Nation and Group of Seven artists did.
On our last day there, we rented a canoe and paddled along the cliffs, taking in the many pictographs. Knowing their provenance, and the fact that these pictographs were often painted in places deemed spiritually potent, I attended them with a sense of expectation, which was not disappointed. I was also deeply moved as I looked up to see cliffs formed by massive geological events encoded in the diagonal press of rock from the horizontal of water splashing in song against these same cliffs. Here and there, cragged trees pushed out of these cliffs, marbled with tales to be read by geologists with their long game wisdom.
I took a few photos of the park in our brief sojourn there. As is usual, these woefully underrepresent the power of the place. Yet, I hope to explore some of these paltry photos in painting on canvas in service of my soul as I discern how to echo the heavens “declaring the glory of the Lord and the firmament proclaiming his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)
It was, in fact, a most fitting way to spend a thanksgiving weekend, even if the turkey we ate was soup (lovingly prepared by my wife) and the pie we ate was forfeited for a pumpkin loaf (a first time attempt on my part). The sun illumined trees iconically. The wind spoke to my soul. The ground opened up, here and there, and showed divine fingerprints on our walks while bonfires at night reminded us that life is gift, pure gift indeed, and we have every reason to be thankful people.