Fall Colour in Cottage Country North, Part III

CLICK HERE FOR “TRAILS,” THE PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT IN THIS SERIES

On assignment in Parry Sound, Ontario, to capture the fireworks of fall colours on digital camera, I’m chasing the leafy rainbow via the platforms of air, land and water.

My day starts bright and early. Scratch that: My day starts early. I’m hiking, pre-dawn, tripod and Canon G11 in hand, up to the fire tower that overlooks Parry Sound and Georgian Bay. I’ve chosen to study this spectacular vista at sunrise and am rewarded for my effort — the stair climb is an effort — as the yet-sleeping town lies blanketed in a heavy fey mist, creating an eerie and delicate play of early morning light.

I was still full from my meal at the Wellington Pub and Grill the night before — casual and friendly, with an expansive and tasty menu — so was able to linger around the tower and train tracks for a good while, exploring the colours and lighting.

I do eventually return to my B&B in time for some breakfast before checking out. Once packed, I’m off to the paddling outfitters White Squall. An easy 20-minute drive from Parry Sound, White Squall carries a variety of rental kayaks and canoes. I’m taking a Nimbus Solander, a nimble 16’2″ fibreglass kayak. Fully outfitted, I’m off to Killbear Provincial Park to experience the fall colours from the water.

This is my first trip into Killbear, and I’m amazed at how beautiful it is. No different from yesterday, today is glorious and warm, and the campsites are completely full — astonishing for early October, or maybe that’s my big city–girl preconception. I launch my boat at Howard Point, a beach popular for its sandy shores and nearby rock jumping. Here, the brilliant-yellow leaves frame an elegant path to the shore.

Using my handy suction tripod, I mount my Canon D10 on the deck of my kayak — within reach, so I can take it off for hand-helds and cockpit views. Before long, it’s mid-afternoon and the sun is on its way towards dusk. As I still have a few hours, I head towards the nearest island to see what photographic treasures it might offer. This particular island is forested by windswept evergreens; the colourful deciduous trees don’t root so well on rocky ground. Nonetheless, this, exactly this, is the iconic Muskoka look made famous by A. Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael and the other Group of Seven artists (Tom Thomson, too — famously mistaken for a Group member). This is the Ontario Northlands.

The water offers a different photographic challenge from the wooded trails and aerial views. Light intensifies as it shines down from above, then reflects up from the water. It’s easy to obscure my subject matter in sun flares, so I spend time experimenting with angles. Having a waterproof camera is a treat, allowing me to play fearlessly with water-level perspectives.

I hear a float plane pass overhead before I can even see it, and feel a small thrill realizing that only a short time ago I was up there looking down to where I’m floating now.

En route back to my launch point, I find a multitude of brilliant shots along the shores of Killbear. Here and there, the white Georgian Bay rocks break through the dark water, sometimes backed by a riot of autumn colours, sometimes lined with sombre evergreens, and sometimes bare with only an inukshuk to declare, via silent, piled stone towers, that someone had once been there. See the DailyXY “Water” photo gallery here.

Sunset is close. I’m pulling up to the beach and people are still jumping from the rock face into the unseasonably warm water. I spot deer just inside the edge of the woods and jump from my kayak, camera in hand, to sneak nearer in hopes of getting a photo. I get close enough to two of them to start taking some shots. They don’t seem to notice. Tame? Surely not, though these deer have nonetheless figured out their place in this park and recognize that the paparazzi campers are mostly harmless.

Ready for the trip back to White Squall, I return to the beach for a final look, to catch the last of the sun’s fading light. I have been awestruck so many times on this trip, you would think I’d be inured by now. Not quite. The evening air is thick with haze, and the sun’s rays turn from golden to orange, and finally pour forth, a shock of red spilling into the sky and over the water.

It’s a perfect end to another remarkable day on Georgian Bay. Although I’m loath to leave, there is solace in knowing it’s only a 2½ hour drive from Toronto.

Tour arranged by Explorers’ Edge.

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Image courtesy of Alison Waddell.

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