On October 3 I drove from Massachusetts to my mother’s place in Gananoque, Ontario on the St Lawrence river. The river is the border between Canada and the US, and Gananoque is halfway between Montreal and Toronto and straight north of Syracuse New York. The colors are at their peak at the beginning of October and the ride was lovely.
Gananoque has about 6000 residents but in the summer the number swells. Tourism is its main industry and boating and fishing the main draw. People from Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal have summer homes in the town and on the adjacent islands. The St Lawrence river from Kingston downriver for about 50 miles is known as the Thousand Islands (there are actually 1862 islands ranging from 40 square miles in size, to ones barely able to fit a single tree!). The US/Canada border cuts across the middle of the river so there are islands that belong to the US, and islands that belong to Canada. The river is clean and swimming at beaches, island docks, or off a boat is glorious.
As a teenager our family camped on the park islands, part of the Thousand Islands National Park, sleeping on our boat at night and moving from island to island during the day to swim, water ski, or just run around the island. When my kids were younger my father introduced them to boating and they learned to water ski at the back of my parent’s boats. At Christmas all the cousins would make a skating rink on the river and everyone played hockey – actually the brave ones – the rest of us made the hot chocolate and watched. My father would hire a sleigh pulled by huge Clydesdale horses driven by a local farmer. My brother in law was always the first to start throwing people off the sleigh, then everyone would follow and pandemonium ensued. Many fond memories.
The drive from Bellingham to Gananoque is about 7 hours and I use my cruise control and stay within the speed limit. I’ve learned the hard way that the cops between Albany and Utica have speeding ticket quotas to fill, or are very, very bored, because they are out in force day and night. I usually leave about 4AM on a Friday to get there for lunch, then I leave to come home Sunday after breakfast. The drive is mostly highway (Mass pike and the NY thruway, then northwest from Utica through farm land) driving through the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, then along the Mohawk river in New York can be beautiful. Between the colors of the sky as the sun comes up, the reds and oranges of the changing leaves, the views of the river, and the large number of migrating birds flying south in crescent formations, I have to force myself to pay attention to the road.
Driving north from Utica there are farm after farm, corn fields, dairy cows, small towns like Lowville and Boonville (yep, swear to god) . Around Watertown I pass a wind turbine farm (the Maple Ridge Wind Farm) with 195 turbines surrounded by crop and pasture land. You can see many of the turbines from the road. I actually like the site – it’s better than that of a nuclear or gas burning power plant. The turbines are apparently in the perfect location to use the lake effect breezes coming off Lake Ontario. (The same breeze that brings lots and lots of lake effect snow to that stretch in the winter. I don’t even attempt to make the drive in the winter.)
The border crossing over the St Lawrence river is on the Ivy Lea Bridge and by the time I get there I always feel a thrill. It’s the final stretch of the journey –my mom is only 15 minutes from the bridge, and the views from the bridge are a preview to the spectacular views in the Thousand Islands.
Gananoque is quiet in October and the weather on Friday was perfect. After lunch mom and I took a drive and sat by the water watching the tour and recreational boats go by. Soon the weather will be colder and mom will be inside for the winter, for now any chance to get out in the sun is a gift.
On Saturday the weather wasn’t so nice (in fact downright cold and rainy) we have errands in Kingston which is about 30 minutes west along the river. Kingston is a much larger city and was once, for a short time in the early 1840s, the capital of the Province of Canada and the home town of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A MacDonald. It has an important military college, as well as Queen’s University, a well-regarded Canadian University. These two schools, the presence of the waterfront, and the Canadian history, bring many tourists to Kingston as well as some interesting social and educational events. I could easily live in Kingston, preferable a little cottage on the river – well I can dream can’t I?
All in all it was a great weekend seeing mom. She’ll be 93 later this month and although aging has taken its toll physically she continues to be fun, upbeat, and engaged in life. Her 7 children, 13 grandchildren, and 9 (shortly 10) great grandchildren are a constant joy to her.