Lying on my back in a canoe on Grenadier Pond made me see stars
The ozone-sweet scent of High Park poured through the open car windows, and the sky was studded with stars. The further west we drove, the fewer cars seemed to be on the road, until, extraordinarily, they disappeared entirely. We were alone, deliciously, absolutely alone, skimming through the midnight darkness as we headed along Bloor to the bungalow we were house-sitting for the weekend on Ellis Avenue.
A few minutes later, glowing green in the headlights, the sign for Ellis Road. The street snaked around sleepy houses and through grottos of dark foliage. Several times we had to stop for raccoons that stood with their eyes shining pink in the high-beams.
The street signs changed from Road to Avenue, and we counted house numbers, then parked and brought our things inside. It was already after 1 am and we should have been tired, butwe weren’t. The night had charged us up; we wanted to get out into it. I dug out a flashlight and we went into the yard to look for the canoe, which was tipped against a shed. We grabbed a couple of paddles and carried it to the small dock, where we slid it into the water.
The night was completely, breathtakingly, clear and there was only a slight whisper of traffic from the Gardiner Expressway to the south. Paddling on Grenadier Pond was like crossing a liquid mirror. The reflections of the stars in the water quivered only when our wake jostled them. Otherwise, the lake held the constellations steady, as deep as the night itself. As we reached the centre of the pond, it seemed that the water disappeared and our canoe floated in the immensity of space, with stars above and below.
We stopped to savour the stillness, and I had the idea then that we should both lie down in the canoe. We slid under the seats with our heads touching in the centre, our feet in the bow and stern. I was a little nervous at first – if we tipped we might be trapped under the seats – but the sheer spectacle of the sky took away our fear. After the canoe had stopped rocking from our movements, a curious sensation took over. It was as if we weren’t floating at all. In fact, if I hadn’t known we were on water, the canoe might have been resting on solid rock.
And then, right on cue, we noticed pale bands of light rippling through the sky. They began to spread and brighten until the entire sky above us was flickering with the most extraordinary show of aurora borealis either of us had ever seen in Toronto. The heavens, from horizon to horizon, became a giant screen for a pale, phantasmagoric light show, a vast, ghostly spectacle of rippling, flashing, pulsing lights. The aurora seemed almost artificial. it was so intense, and we “ooohed” and “aahed” like children at a fireworks display. We were at the top of the world, surrounded by a dancing crown of ethereal electric lights.
The extravaganza continued for hours and then, as dawn approached, began to fade. We assumed that the canoe had drifted while the show was on, but when we got back into our seats we found it hadn’t moved an inch. We paddled back to the little dock, went inside and fell exhausted onto the bed as the first pink rays of dawn tipped the treetops.
Christopher Dewdney, an expert at all-night experience, can’t get High Park out of his mind.