Ex­traor­di­nar­ily Or­di­nary

Shar­ing the sum­mer cot­tage with creepy crawlers and wild crit­ters is all part of the fun!

Our Canada - - Features - by Karen Hirst, Al­monte, Ont.

Atrue Cana­dian tra­di­tion en­joyed by gen­er­a­tions of many fam­i­lies on the shores of one of On­tario’s nu­mer­ous lakes is the sum­mer­time cot­tage ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ev­ery fam­ily will have their own unique twist on what that ex­pe­ri­ence in­volves and means to their tribe, but one com­mon­al­ity many of us will likely share in­cludes a story or two in­volv­ing the other crea­tures we find en­joy­ing the cot­tage ex­pe­ri­ence with us.

Our fam­ily’s own ex­pe­ri­ences took place on Three Mile Bay in White Lake, Ont.


With the ris­ing of the sun and the be­gin­ning of a new day, our vis­it­ing blue heron could be spot­ted stand­ing in readi­ness to make the catch of the day. In the si­lence of the dawn, “Ich­a­bod,” as we liked to call him, stood strate­gi­cally with Zen-like fo­cus some­where along the rocky shore, or on the edge of a dock, poised and ready to strike. He dis­played great pa­tience—wait­ing, wait­ing, wait­ing— and then with rapid speed the strike was made, and an un­sus­pect­ing fish would be plucked from the wa­ter.

The blue heron is less grace­ful in his take- off for flight than when stand­ing still. With its large wingspan, you get the feel­ing he has to work very hard to get any mo­men­tum go­ing just to leave the ground. Even­tu­ally, he catches an air cur­rent and with a

swoosh of his wings, he lifts off and, fly­ing low over the wa­ter, he’s off to his next din­ner.


Some lakes are renowned for the wealth of fish in­hab­it­ing their depths. White Lake is no ex­cep­tion. Plenty of folks an­gle for bass and pick­erel be­fore head­ing home with the catch of the day and an an­tic­i­pated fish fry.

To look down into the shal­low wa­ter off the side of the dock, and serendip­i­tously dis­cover a pre­his­toric-look­ing crea­ture in our pres­ence, was in­de­scrib­able. It was un­likely that we could of­fer a just de­scrip­tion in the re- telling, so with camera in hand and want­ing to show­case the full scale of what was be­fore us, I be­gan snap­ping pic­tures.

A huge snap­ping tur­tle swam lazily in the wa­ter un­der the morn­ing sun­shine. He had a large moss- en­crusted shell, a long flat tail, a warty skin sur­face with large web- like arms and legs that ended in clawed feet, and hooded eyes that pro­truded from ei­ther side of his elon­gated head and neck. He was truly a sight to be­hold.

Com­ing to the sur­face for air, one could al­most be­lieve he was pos­ing and pro­vid­ing me with time to fo­cus the camera as I tried to cap­ture his best an­gle.

An In­ter­net search pro­vided some facts: The snap­ping tur­tle is the largest fresh­wa­ter tur­tle in Canada. They have an av­er­age length of 20 to 36 cen­time­tres, a weight of 4.5 to 16 kilo­grams and have a large black, olive or brown shell of­ten cov­ered with al­gae, which aids with blend­ing into their sur­round­ings. Snap­ping tur­tles can live well over 100 years. They will bite and can lac­er­ate the skin with their sharp claws if han­dled im­prop­erly. In On­tario, they are des­ig­nated as hav­ing “Spe­cial Con­cern” sta­tus.

I was happy to wit­ness this mag­nif­i­cent crea­ture, but was left very hes­i­tant to ven­ture back into the lake for a swim—at least not any­time soon—af­ter know­ing of his pres­ence.


I never could get up close and per­sonal with this reg­u­lar vis­i­tor. But I was will­ing to give it its mo­ment in the lens of the camera, see­ing that al­most ev­ery­thing else with any signs of life had been given the hon­our.

We re­ferred to him as a “black wa­ter snake,” but I’m sure he has a much more defin­ing sig­na­ture name based on his dis­tin­guish­ing mark­ings— which we’ll leave to those more versed in On­tario’s snake pop­u­la­tion.

Like all snakes, at least for us, it was the sur­prise en­coun­ters that would take our breath away. He’d ap­pear slith­er­ing along the rocky shore­line, poke his head up be­tween the spa­ces in the dock, or be found curled at the end of the dock for his af­ter­noon sun­bath. He could be seen skim­ming grace­fully across the wa­ter—yet another de­ter­rent to swim­ming in the lake!

Not peo­ple to harm other crea­tures, we sim­ply prayed to the snake gods that they would find him another home—far away!


Un­for­tu­nately, I was never quick enough to cap­ture the grace and play­ful­ness of the ot­ter that made its home in a big, old wil­low tree that curved out over the lake. Around the sup­per hour, with the slow re­treat of the hot sun, we could sit lake­side and be en­ter­tained by the ot­ter’s smooth glide along the sur­face of the lake. Front stroke, back­stroke or div­ing be­neath the sur­face—a true wa­ter baby. Refreshed, the ot­ter would once again re­turn to the safety of the tree trunk rest­ing atop the wa­ter, hav­ing pro­vided a joy-filled con­clu­sion to our own day of ac­tiv­i­ties on, or in, the wa­ters of Three Mile Bay. n

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