If I hadn’t been completely convinced that our Mother loved us, I might have questioned why she would have chosen Carl Adams’ swimming hole as a good place to teach us all to swim. Mother would drive us back there, two or three times a week, during the summer; usually after supper, and always at least an hour after we’d eaten – that was the rule. She said that it was dangerous to swim right after you’d eaten, and that you could get cramps, and possibly even drown. Of course, I’ve learned since then, that you can swim right after you eat, without either suffering cramps or drowning, for that matter, however, that was Mother’s rule and there was no point in arguing. So, whether we were at Silver Lake, for a picnic, Christie Lake for a quick dip, or Carl Adams’, for a swimming lesson – Mother always wore her watch, and no one could even so much as wade around in the shallow water, near the shore, until the full sixty minutes had passed.
It was always exciting to hear that we’d be going to Carl Adams’; especially on one of those hot summer days, when the upstairs of the house was stifling hot. Mother would announce that we were going to have a swimming lesson, and she’d grab her purse, and head for the garage. That was my cue to run upstairs, and change into my bathing suit, and get a towel. I’d also bring an extra one for Mother to sit on, because she liked to spread a towel out, on the flat rocks near the water, so she could offer some suggestions on improving our swimming technique.
I’d be changed in seconds, towels in hand and taking the stairs down, two at a time, and by that time Mother would have backed the car out of the garage, and be waiting, parked under the tall maple trees, that shaded our lawn. We’d drive out of the yard, and down the lane, turned right, headed toward DeWitt’s Corners, windows rolled down, taking full advantage of the warm summer breeze, blowing into the car.
Usually at that time of year we’d see at least one hay wagon on the road, as we drove up the Third Line. The hot, dry weather was ideal for cutting and baling the hay, and our neighbourhood farmers would be taking full advantage. It wasn’t unusual to get stuck behind a tractor, which was bad for two reasons – one, now we had to slow down and weren’t getting much of a breeze blowing through the hot car, and two – I couldn’t wait to get to the swimming hole, and this would be greatly impeding our progress. Sometimes, they’d pull off to the side so we could get by, but usually we’d just have to follow along behind, at a snail’s pace, until they’d turned off the road, and into a field.
If the road was clear, we’d be at DeWitt’s Corners in no time, and then we’d turn left up the dirt side road, past Clifford and Florence Munro’s. After a couple more turns on the dusty backroads, we’d arrive, and pull over by the flat rocks, under the trees.
It was a pretty spot, that’s for sure, with tall, graceful trees along each side of the rocks, framing that popular little section of the Tay River. People in Bathurst Township had been using that little swimming hole for years, and it showed. The broad, low rocks near the shore provided a natural seating area, the maple and willow trees offered welcome shade for spectators, and the cedar bushes all around gave off a fresh woodsy scent. This time of year, we’d hear the heat bugs in full force, and see the shiny dragonflies, swooping effortlessly above the water.
Sometimes we’d see a couple of empty beer bottles, or empty chip bags, or cigarette packs, piled on the rocks – souvenirs left behind by teenagers, parked there the night before. Occasionally we’d see the charred evidence that someone had built a little campfire; likely to cook a hot dog or two, or maybe toast some marshmallows. Once in a while, there might even be a toy, or a towel abandoned on the shore, forgotten by one of the neighbourhood kids.
After we’d parked, Mother would grab the towels, and spread one out on the rocks and settle down. Sometimes she’d bring a book or a magazine, or some crocheting to work on, but most of the time she’d just sit back, and watch us swim. Occasionally, Dickie Patterson, a local bachelor, would be riding by on his bicycle, and he’d stop, and sit, and chat, with Mother for a while, catching up on the local news. He lived up at Christie Lake, but we’d often see him riding, either on the Third Line, or on one of the backroads, such as these.
By the time Mother had settled down on her towel, I was already getting my feet wet, and assessing the temperature of the Tay River. Most of the time, it felt pretty warm near the shore, because the water was so shallow, and I’d gradually wade into the first few feet of the river, and then I’d begin to feel the power of the current pulling at my legs.
Now, back to my original question, of why Mother would have brought us here, to learn how to swim. Yes, it was in close proximity to our house; closer than Christie Lake, but here’s where the other questions arise. There is, as I mentioned, a fairly strong current, in this part of the Tay River. By the time I was in up to my knees I could feel it tugging at me. Now, in order to remain in roughly the same section of the river, you had to start moving against the current, otherwise it would pull you down. Once you were in all the way up to your neck, you had to start kicking or paddling at a pretty good pace, against the current, because the minute you stopped, you would be swept down the river. Oh, and let’s throw one more wrench into this picture, for good measure – remember the nice flat rocks up on the shore? Well those nice flat rocks – Canadian Shield, I suppose, well, they extend right out into the water – except that the ones in the water were coated, in slippery, green moss.
Just so you’ve got the whole picture – we’re here with Mother, because we don’t have our swimming abilities perfected yet – not even close. She’s brought us to a section of the Tay where there’s a fairly strong current, that keeps trying to sweep us off our feet, and when we do manage to try and get our footing, the surface below is slippery, wet, moss, that offers no traction whatsoever. Many times, I’d slip on the moss, and the river would start to pull me along, and I’d have to paddle and splash like a maniac, so I could get back to the place where I’d started. I often wondered if I didn’t fight my way back to the clearing, against the current, if I’d keep being swept along down the river, and end up somewhere in Perth!
So, what was the point of learning to swim at Carl Adams’ swimming hole? Did Mother bring us there because it was convenient, and a quick ride from our house? Or, looking back now, was there a bigger lesson involved? Sure, once we learned how to swim there, against the strong current of the Tay – everywhere else we swam after that, seemed easy. No current? No slippery rocks to contend with? Swimming anywhere else after that, was a cinch.
Maybe learning to swim at Carl Adams’ was a metaphor for the struggles that we would face later in life. We’ve all had days where we feel like we’re fighting against a strong current, and moments in our lives that seem to have us perching precariously, on a slippery rock. At times we’re certain that if we gave up the fight for even a minute, we’d be swept away down the river.
Looking back now, we learned so much more than how to swim at that quiet, unassuming little spot along the Tay River. Many, many years ago, at Carl Adams’, we discovered that if we kept chugging along, persevering, and made it past the rough spots, that eventually we’d end up back at the little clearing, warmed by the sun, leaves fluttering softly overhead, Mother smiling from the shore, and us, feeling all the stronger for the struggle.
(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line’, ISBN: 978-0-987-7026-16)