This page is another example of me plagiarizing myself because I sketched this up from an ink and watercolour illustration I did just over three years ago. It is always interesting to see how I translate the same (or similar) drawing between mediums. This mixed media version was also an experiment in using a lemon yellow and lime green palette. I think the combination is as fresh as you would expect from citrus inspiration. I suspect it would have more zing to it if not dulled down with the flesh tones. I am finding that I really like to use text papers in my mixed media pieces. Maybe it is my love of books and reading but I also just like the sort of mark-making quality it contributes, all those shapes and forms.
Our 12 year old has an obsession with sharks. This is partly because he fears them and partly because he thinks they are fantastic creatures. This obsession has led him to becoming a bit of a mini-expert on the (in)famous 1916 shark attacks. I appreciate that some readers might think this is a bit of a tasteless topic to allow a tween boy to become obsessed with but a) we are nerds rearing other nerds and b) we encourage our sons’ curiosity and support their interests. After all, our kids are being raised by parents who are – among other things – interested in the American Civil War, zombies, pandemics, the history of sideshows, and true crime. It’s how we roll. Anyway, at the (shark) tail end of Shark Week, we decided to facilitate our little shark nerd by taking a trip to the Jersey Shore to visit sites relevant to the attacks that occurred in 1916.
While it would have been neater to visit the sites in chronological order, other factors dictated that we actually undertake the trip in reverse order. We, therefore, started our trip in the town of Matawan. The final attack actually occurred at Cliffwood when 12 year old Joseph Dunn was attacked as he was clambering out of the water. Thankfully he survived. Matawan was the site, therefore, not of the final attack but of the final fatal attack. One of the reasons the 1916 shark attacks are so notorious is because of the bizarre fact that the final attacks occurred in an inland creek and not in saltwater. It was 12 July and some boys had just gotten off work from the factory where they were employed and headed to the creek to swim. Obviously there was no way these poor kids could possibly anticipate that a shark would be present in the water and unfortunately one little boy, Lester Stillwell, was killed. The other boys alerted the folks of Matawan and tailor Stanley Fisher leapt to action. He dived into the creek to recover little Lester and was himself attacked. Heroic Stanley was quickly lifted from the water, placed onto a train to get him to hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries. My research had made it apparent that there was no way for us to access the swimming hole without committing an act of trespass and probably doing battle with poisonous plants. Our 12 year old, therefore, made do with visiting a part of Matawan Creek that had safe public access.
We then visited Rose Hill Cemetery, a lovely, peaceful, shady spot where both Lester Stillwell and Stanley Fisher are buried. Little Lester’s grave is sited near a pond that was absolutely covered in blooming lily pads. It was a pretty and serene spot. Previous visitors had left little toys and trinkets for Lester so evidently we were not the only people who had undertaken this trip. On a little grassy promontory, we located the grave of Stanley Fisher. It seemed apt that his grave overlooked that of Lester just as, in life, he had been looking out for the boy. We also stopped by to see a memorial that was placed in a park to commemorate the centenary of the tragedy.
After Matawan, we went slightly off-theme. It would be entirely off-theme except that the location is on Raritan Bay and it was in that body of water that the alleged man-eater shark was caught. I write alleged because we cannot know for sure that they captured the correct shark or indeed that only one shark was responsible for all of the attacks that happened over the course of those 12 days in July 1916. Anyway, since we were in the vicinity, we thought we would go and check out the National Park at Sandy Hook to see if it was worth making that the focus of a day trip at some point in the future. The answer is “Yes” so I won’t go into too much detail in this blog post since we plan to return and visit properly at some point. I love lighthouses so it has one of those for me and it has Fort Hancock so has some military history for Mr Pict. For the kids, it has wide open space for them to be feral and access to beaches.
Back on topic, our next location was in Spring Lake. This was where, on 6 July 1916, Charles Bruder was attacked. The poor man was so severely injured that he died on the lifeboat as it made its way back to shore. Bruder had been employed as a bellhop at the Essex & Sussex Hotel. The building is still standing, though it is now a condominium block, so our 12 year old was able to see where Bruder lived and worked as well as the section of shoreline where the tragedy occurred.
Our final location for the day was Beach Haven, on Long Beach Island. We had been to Long Beach Island previously – and even found a dead shark on the beach – but that was before our son had researched the 1916 attacks and knew of its relevance. Beach Haven was the site of the first attack, on 1 July, when a young man from Philadelphia named Charles Vansant was attacked. His rescuers pulled him from the water and carried him into the hotel where he was a guest but tragically he died. The Engleside Hotel was demolished in the 1940s but we could visit the place where it once stood as it became a Veterans Memorial Park. We then headed down to the beach. It being the conclusion of our trip and getting near the end of the day, we opted to spend some time relaxing and having fun there. Amazingly – given the theme of the day – the 12 year old with the mild phobia of water went swimming in the sea and had a wonderful time.
Next time we go to the Shore, we will commit to doing what more regular folks do.
Here’s a quick art journal illustration of a figure swimming. I was challenging myself to use a medium I have not used in ages and nothing but that medium so I opened up my bag of watercolour pencils and got to work. This was done super-quickly – definitely no more than 15 minutes – as a stress-buster. I was just promoted (yay!) and I have SO much to do before the beginning of the school year so I was in one of those flaps where my To Do list was so extensive that I could not properly focus on any one task in order to complete it and check it off the list. I decided to take a break at my art table and it did the trick: I was much more focused and efficient when I returned to my crazily long list. Anyway, the concept of relaxing gave me my subject because one of the things I find most relaxing to do is just float around in water. I used to love actually swimming lengths in the pool, never competitively, just for exercise and fun, but nowadays all I really want to do in the water is float around on my back and stare at the sky like a much less adorable otter.
Our only “big” trip out during our week staying at the lake house was to Kingston. Kingston is a historic city, since it was united Canada’s first capital. For three years. Still, its historic significance means it has lots of quaint streets and interesting architecture. The focus of our trip, however, was a visit to Fort Henry.
Fort Henry was built during the War of 1812 and the site was important because it was at the head of the St Lawrence River. I don’t get defensive strategy but I’ve had enough exposure to military history to know that ports, major waterways, and railway intersections are important. And also peach orchards if it’s the Civil War. It didn’t last long as an actual fort in the whole scheme of things, however, as it has been a tourist attraction since the 1930s.
The upper fort comprises what I guess were once storage warehouses that have been turned into shops and cafes. We, therefore, headed down to the lower fort – which was the “museum” bit of the Fort – and into a couple of rooms built into the gateway wall. One contained an array of uniforms for the kids – and adults – to try on. I preferred the opposite room which contained a cabinet filled with chunky vintage keys. We also visited the cells – and, man, they had a lot of cells so those soldiers either must have been up no good a lot of the time or else they had too many petty offences on the books such as loudly burping in public or shoes being adequately shiny. The cells, however, might have been preferable to the privies. I personally would have preferred a stint in the cells than having to go about my business in a row of other people doing the same.
We were also able to visit a few kitchens, some more rustic and some more formal, and we even saw some women baking pretzels in the original ovens. They made the whole place smell delicious. They were not the only staff in costume either. Indeed, the whole fort was manned by folks dressed up in period clothing. One of these was a teacher and we sat in her classroom for a mathematics lesson. The experience taught the kids in the room about the differences between the ways in which each gender was educated, what some of the expectations of classroom behaviour were, and what some of the punishments were for disobeying those rules.
Along the length of one corridor, we could view the finely decorated rooms in the officers’ quarters. We had also seen a furnished barrack room for the non-commissioned men and the differences were pretty stark. We passed through a room full of barrels – lots of alcohol consumption in the military, of course, and that led us into a room where we could choose to stay on the same level or take a detour down to the cellar level. We love exploring dank, dark, and potentially spooky places so it was a no-brainer plus a warning sign about bats was read by us as a promise. We all love bats. Alas, and much to the chagrin of the Pictlings, we did not encounter a single bat nor did I see or smell any signs of them. False advertising.
Up on the ramparts, we could poke among the canons and gain a better appreciation of the shape of the fort. We could also watch a troop of faux soldiers rehearsing their drill. We didn’t want to catch too much of what they were up to, however, because we did not want a spoiler of the actual performance so we skedaddled.
It was definitely time to eat by this point in the day, our schedule meaning we were having to combine lunch and dinner (dunch? linner?), so we headed into the centre of Kingston. Mr Pict had been up to some googling so we ended up at a German restaurant. I don’t eat meat which often completely rules out German cuisine and, as such, I don’t think the boys have ever eaten German food. What better time to introduce them to new foods than when they are hangry and have been dragged around a fort in the searing heat against their will? It actually proved to be an unexpected success – especially for our 16 year old who, like his father, is an enthusiastic carnivore. Filled up and refreshed from some time spent with air conditioning, we had a bit of an explore of central Kingston. Our youngest son – the one obsessed with cats – was delighted to pass many window displays with a feline theme. For my part, I enjoyed seeing Kingston Penitentiary. I would have liked to have visit but time did not permit. Among the (in)famous prisoners who served their sentences within its walls was Grace Marks, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘Alias Grace’.
After wandering around Kingston for a bit, we still had some time to “waste” so we headed over to Kingston’s section of the Rideau Canal. The Rideau Canal stretches all the way from Ottawa to the St Lawrence. Having visited one end of the canal when I was in Ottawa back in 2001, it was apt that I visit its other end in Kingston, where the canal system meets the Cataraqui River. Just as with Fort Henry, the catalyst for construction was the War of 1812 (a conflict I know a woeful amount about while having little intention of deliberately learning more) because the British wanted to ensure a supply route. It’s possible that as many as a thousand people died while building the canal, often from malaria. This was a factoid I learned while, yet again, being bitten by swarms of flying insects.
After whiling away some time around the canal locks, it was time to return to Fort Henry. We had tickets for the Sunset Ceremony so we headed back into the lower fort, clambered up onto some bleachers, and gobbled up some beaver tails while waiting for the evening’s entertainment to start. The ceremony was a demonstration of military drills, music, artillery, and fireworks – and a walk on part by the goat mascot. The whole performance was very polished, with lots of precise movements, great visuals, and an informative narration. The kids had been very skeptical about the value of returning to the fort but they all thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Gananoque is the main town in the proximity of Lake Charleston. We needed to grab a few provisions so we headed into town and thought we would take some time to explore as well as do the practical job of grocery shopping. I had thought we would visit the local museum in order to learn something of the history of the Thousand Islands – Gananoque being the launching point for day cruises around and to the islands – but the kids did their peasant revolt thing and Mr Pict was not feeling it either. They had all really got into the vibe of an inactive vacation whereas I was still in the mindset of needing to fill time with activity.
Gananoque’s main street – King Street – looked like a pleasant place for a wander so we decided to park up the car and get out for a stroll. We had a nose around a few of the stores. The one we spent a lot of time in was a book store. It sold a mixture of new and second hand books and all were arranged on shelves by genre. The usual methods of categorisation were present – such as classics and crime fiction – but there were also fun ways of organising the books such as books that are much better to read than their movie adaptation might suggest. I have a slight addiction to buying second hand books – often leaving our local library with a bargain from their discard shelves – but I managed to resist temptation. Mr Pict bought a couple of history books.
We bought some drinks and ice creams from a lovely little cafe and were super-excited to see that, among the baked goods it had for sale, they had millionaires shortbread. This is just blocks of shortbread with a topping of thick, oozy caramel, and a slab of chocolate as its lid. What we were excited about was the fact they called it millionaires shortbread which is a label we have not seen since we left Scotland. A little taste of home does the soul good so we bought some to have for dessert that night.
Last stop in Gananoque was to see a statue of a fish that sits in the grounds of a motel complex. It celebrates the world’s largest muskie (which I did not even know was a type of fish) that was caught locally. The fish weighed something like 70lbs, which I guess is quite a lot of fish. I don’t fish, have no interest in ever doing so, and clearly know nothing about it since I did not even know a muskie was a thing. I do, however, love random roadside monuments, especially anything carrying the label of “world’s largest”, so I had to go check it out. It was just a massive concrete sculpture of a leaping fish but I was happy to achieve something touristy.
We felt we could not stay on Lake Charleston for a week without actually exploring Lake Charleston beyond our own little sliver of shoreline. We, therefore, entered the provincial park, plumped for the shoreline trail, and set off on a trek. An information at the trailhead provided us with some information on what we might encounter on our trek. Consequently, the younger boys had high expectations of seeing wildlife. This was despite the fact that we were encountering significantly fewer critters in our borrowed woodland house than we encounter on a daily basis in our suburban home. We saw some squirrels, a punk caterpillar, and a solitary deer, and that – apart from the fish – was the sum total of our wildlife encounters during our week at the lake house. This was not what we anticipated. My youngest son has a trail camera set up in our backyard so he can capture images of deer and foxes and the chupacabra (a mangy fox that malingers in our neighbourhood) and he brought his camera with him to the lake house. It captured nothing. Nothing. A whole week living in the woods and it captured not one single image of a beast of any kind. But I digress.
The shoreline trail was an easy going loop. It was a baking hot day so the shade of the trees provided welcome respite from the heat and also created lovely dappled light on the woodland floor. Shoreline was a bit of a misnomer as the path barely took us near the coast of the lake. There was one point where we popped out of the trees at the water’s edge but a couple of kayakers were trying to have what looked to be a romantic picnic right at that spot so we did the diplomatic thing and kept moving. The only other body of water we passed was some kind of pond – probably a tributary of the actual lake. It was so still, however, that it was practically stagnant and, of course, that meant biting insects galore were having some kind of convention there. We were instantly being devoured. The mosquitos were so big that when we swatted them, they left crime scene style spatters of blood on our arms and legs. So gross. Even my husband, who is normally immune from being bitten, was getting eaten alive by these vicious insects. That was the day when I was bitten so many times that I had a particularly nasty reaction in the evening.
Mercifully, to make the trek worthwhile, we did encounter one (non-biting) animal – a gorgeous little frog. Or maybe a toad. I have not identified what specific species of amphibian it was. The kids were thrilled to have an actual animal encounter.
I won’t keep you in suspense about what our experience of staying in one place for an entire week was. This post, therefore, is about the way in which we used our lakeside setting and relaxed in the house spanning that entire week. Future posts will cover specific things that we did.
The house was sited on a steep hill and it was built part way down the slope. We, therefore, had to take a flight of stairs from the driveway down to the house, the house itself was single storey, then there was a flight of stairs down to a patch of land, and there was a further flight of stairs that took us down to a small jetty right on Lake Charleston. This meant the house was snuggled into a space that was very secluded and private and, therefore, very quiet and peaceful. The elevation also provided us with lovely views and we got to see some lovely sunrises and sunsets during our time there. Mr Pict, space nerd that he is, also enjoyed being able to go out onto the deck in the absolute pitch dark to study the constellations and show the boys the Milky Way free of light pollution.
The big hit, of course, was having access to the water. The boys loved jumping off of the lakeside deck and splashing into the water. The water was really clear so we regretted not bringing goggles and a snorkel. We were swimming among many fish and Mr Pict and two of the kids saw a swimming turtle at one point. The kids also encountered a critter that was biting their toes. They were initially concerned that this was a snapping turtle but I pointed out they would definitely know had they been bitten by one of those. It turned out to be a really territorial fish who was biting at them any time they got near her particular rock – which was very close to the jetty stairs. The boys nicknamed her Trish the Foot Fetish Fish. I think they grew rather fond of her.
The house also came with a canoe so we spent quite a lot of time going for brief excursions along the perimeter of the lake. We could not risk crossing the lake or indeed venturing too far from the shore because there were speed boats bursting up and down the length of the lake pretty much constantly. The kids have limited experience with paddling but got really pretty good at it towards the end of the trip.
We also utilised the fire pit to make s’mores for dessert on a couple of evenings. My kids are equally as drawn to fire as they are to water so I am pretty sure the thing they enjoy most about making s’mores is having the opportunity to poke things into flames. We got into a totally sticky mess. I also managed to get eaten alive by biting insects. Insects find me insatiable. My blood must taste like finest champagne to them. Unfortunately, I have a terrible reaction to insect bites. Most of the time, it just leads to discomfort but otherwise is not too problematic. Sometimes, however, it results in me feeling very sick. Unfortunately on one of the evenings at the lake house, I was covered in so many nasty bug bites that I developed an excruciating headache and a mild fever. That was, however, the only downside to the location.
We had one day of non-stop, torrential rain during our week there. We, therefore, just hunkered down and used the time for relaxing on our own or playing games together. Our evening habit was to play games and there was one in particular that we got a bit obsessed with. We must have played scores of games of ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’. I used my flumping around time to read a couple of books and draw while listening to podcasts.
Overall, I think we all enjoyed our time at the lake house and benefited from the fact it forced us to slow down. Given the stressful situation we had left behind, removing us from the chaos and forcing us to relax after a period of such intense activity, it was probably good therapy to experience a week of this style of vacation. I cannot deny, however, that I did have the nagging feeling that we should be packing more experiences into each day in order for our vacation to offer better value for money. I think what we probably need to do in future is find a happy balance between really pushing ourselves to the limit when it comes to travel and making time in which to relax.