Recently I came across a book called THE LAND BETWEEN. My examination of the book led to a kind of epiphany for me, and since epiphanies don’t come to me every day of the week, I thought I would share this one in an email with a few of my friends and family, despite my concern that our kids would email Mummy wondering if Daddy was OK. And I was certain that my skeptical friends would see an epiphany as evidence of old Eric finally having gone round the bend. Despite these misgivings I went ahead, and what you see here is a dressed up version of the original rambling and chaotic text.
As ‘Land Between’ insiders know, in some 40 short essays by different authors, the book deals with that stretch of land in Ontario between the Great Lakes Lowlands in the south and the Precambrian Shield to the north. This ‘land between’ is book-ended roughly by Georgian Bay in the west and Kingston and the end of Lake Ontario in the east. It is sometimes described as a transition zone, or as an ecotone by my geographer colleagues – using recondite vocabulary to show the rest of us that they know a thing or two. But if you want to get an on-the-ground sense of the thing just jump into your car in one of those little towns along the shore of Lake Ontario and head north – it won’t do to head south. You know that you are getting into the zone when the large farms with those huge tractors with double wheels as big as the ones you see out on the tar sands begin to thin out and are replaced by farms – or what used to be farms – whose faces are pockmarked with outcroppings of limestone and whose barns and houses (if they are still there at all) seem to be full of nothing but ghosts. Then, as you continue north, you know you are leaving the zone behind when the landscape becomes a Thompson painting, with rock and trees – and lakes, of course – trees and rocks ! Then you know you are entering the relentless and forbidding Shield.
The book, then, paints a picture of the complex character of the region: the flora and fauna, the topography, its history and culture, and the human impact on the landscape. The more I read, the more I realized how familiar it all sounded – except, perhaps, for the story of the eels. I was utterly surprised that the females ( doing the heavy lifting again!) swim all the way from the Sargasso Sea to Baxter Creek, or Indian River, or Kinmount where they fatten up for fifteen years, then turn around and swim all the way back to the Sargasso Sea where they mate, spawn and then die. Not surprising that this story would be a discovery for someone who is a male and who also has a biological science deficit. In any event, I found myself time and time again muttering “I’ve done that … I’ve been there …I’ve seen that … I know what she’s talking about!”
Thus, of the Land Between and me I can say: I was born there; grew up there (although many say that it is questionable that I ever grew up – anywhere!); settled down there – equidistant from each end; fathered and helped to raise two families there; worked there; walked, motored, hiked, cycled, jogged and skied over its roads and trails; have flown through its skies, and swum through, canoed and rowed over its waters; and as friends know, for close to sixty years I have sailed those waters from Georgian Bay at the west end to Kingston’s harbour in the east ; for over thirty of those years I/we have been carried in the yawl, “Anemone” (and before her in “Duet”) to anchor with the ghosts of the naval establishment in Penetang Harbour, and with the spirits still hovering over Fort Henry at the other end; I have followed the paddle strokes of Champlain and his indigenous companions and wondered what he/they would have thought of the Berlin Wall of “No Tresspassing” signs that now lines the shores of the Bay screaming “Ours”, “Not Yours” – not the land, not the water, not the view ; and at this western watery boundary of The Land Between I have known the glassy surfaces of the countless inlets of the eastern shore, as well as the gut-roiling rumbustiousness of a gale coming ashore from “The Open”, south of O’Donnel Point.
Throughout the land I have kept company with squirrels, will-of-the-wisp chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, beavers, otters, loons, geese, ducks, cormorants, squealing ospreys, snappers, rattlers, deer, moose, bears and the monarchs collecting out on the Pancakes off Parry Sound’s North Channel in late August. But I have never seen the dwindling Shrike despite countless journeys across the Carden Plain. And everywhere, of course, we are hounded by the triple curse of the mosquito and the black and deer flies. If pressed for a fourth curse I could add the ubiquitous and ever-so-innocent poison ivy. Yet, in its never-ending balancing act, nature offers us too the pleasure of the subtle pastels of the water lilies and the assertive, brilliant red of the cardinal flowers hugging the shorelines.
I have seen countless miles of disintegrating snake fences that enclosed the fields of the pitiable families who once tried to farm the often intractable surface of The Land Between. Yet there are areas, or perhaps “pockets”, within the larger landscape that are productive, such as the river bottom where I spent two or three years of my long-gone youth on my knees in a market garden weeding endless rows of carrots. I am still at it in my own little two-by-four garden with its few inches of topsoil over who knows how many yards of glacial debris. Although never a lumber baron, I have used the zone’s forest resources, employing local species to build all my boats – sturdy white oak, fragrant cherry, white cedar, locust and pine. And like thousands of others, as a cottager I have drawn in the cooling air of one of the many lakes that dot the landscape of The Land Between.
Like my fellow octogenarians I have seen the changes that transformed both The Land Between and the larger world: from horse and buggy to car, truck and tractor; the end of steam; and at the zone’s western limit the disappearance of the Great Lakes’ freighters from inshore service; and gone too are the steersman’s ‘toots’ to the kids as we crossed courses on our way up the Bay.
There it is, then! With the reading of a slim volume over the space of a few hours, I suddenly saw anew a landscape which hitherto had consisted of disparate elements : this birthplace, that heritage site, this colonization road, that wetland, this secluded anchorage. But THE LAND BETWEEN gives form to a large integrated landscape in which for me there is embedded a lifetime of experiences, perceptions, memories, impressions; a landscape with which I have had a complex, enduring relationship and in which I have invested so much of my time and my physical, emotional and intellectual energy. When people speak of roots and a sense of belonging it is this sort of relationship they must be talking about.
So the next time I meet a stranger and he asks me who I am, what are my roots, where I am from, I will answer, “I am from The Land Between. I am a ‘Tweener’ .”
Eric Jackson is the former head of History at Kenner Collegiate and Former
Director of the Laurentian Project (Canada Studies Foundation) He has given
me permission to send this to you and I have copied him above. He was born
in Warsaw On. and lives in Peterborough. I think his work captures a “sense of place” and the heart of the Land Between region. Trust you will think so as well. (Sumbitted by Wayne and Linda)