Our Winter Vacation at Smoothwater Ecolodge

In the heart of winter, peace on earth

Photo courtesy of Sam Stedman

We turned onto the winding driveway towards Smoothwater around 3:00 P.M., just as the first hint of evening descended on the winter landscape of Temagami, Ontario. To say that our winter vacation surroundings are reminiscent of a painting by the Group of Seven would be an understatement – this is Canadiana come-to-life at its finest! As we pull up to the main building of the lodge and crack the car doors, the February air that hits us is a gentle -1° C and rich with the smell of wood smoke. We’re here, with our one year old son, to escape into the woods for a few days of snowshoeing, and some peace and quiet...which, while much needed, can be tricky with a little one and away from home.

Caryn, our hostess (and Smoothwater owner/operator), welcomes us with a much needed snack of chicken salad on home-baked bread served alongside Jerusalem artichoke soup, followed by a tour of the property. Buried under several feet of snow, we see the garden plot where the chokes in our soup were grown the previous summer, along with much of the other fresh produce that Caryn skillfully prepares for her guests’ culinary pleasure. Our son, snuggled in his carrier on my chest, is blissfully asleep enjoying his afternoon nap as we explore the Blue Gathering Hall with its library and piano, the sauna (which we swear we’ll make time to enjoy!), the outfitting shop, the meditation labyrinth, and finally our room – the Heron’s Nest, as it’s called – tucked in another out-building with four other private and similarly named rooms. It is beyond charming. Rustic, squeaky clean, and personally decorated with original artwork painted by our hostess, we opt to co-sleep in the cosy, quilt covered double bed, although there are also bunk-beds with a great view out the window. We all hop in for a little pre-dinner snuggle…aaaaahhh…

Dinner is served at 6:30 in the main building that is also Caryn’s family home. We gather in the spacious A-framed living room around a wood burning stove and take in the achingly romantic view of frozen James Lake in the rosy twilight sunset. Our son is thrilled to discover that we will be joined by two resident dogs and two cats that seem to approve of their new little playmate. We grown-ups are happily joined around the hearth by several other travelers and we all get to know one another over a shared bottle of wine (brought by our new friends) and snacks. Shortly we are called to one communal table in a window-lined dining area that abuts the open concept kitchen where each meal is lovingly prepared by hand and served family-style to the group.

Our son loves a party, and has still not expressed a moment’s dissatisfaction, but when Caryn generously provides him with his own silver baby spoon to use he is positively blissful. Our feast includes kale quiche with fresh cheese, beet and grapefruit salad, roast chickpeas with sundried tomatoes, Greek salad, and home baked bread with butter. A dessert of rhubarb crisp (garden grown, of course) does not disappoint either! We top it off by sharing a bottle of organic Cassis that we brought along for extra cheer. Much to our surprise, the shared table is one of the most memorable aspects of the Smoothwater experience – we genuinely connected with our fellow guests and anticipated coming together at each meal.

By the time we all head off to sleep our first night, the winter world is silent save for the sound of a faraway owl. We tuck into our bed and imagine that we are a family of mice huddled together in our warm little burrow – safe, sound and peaceful. Sleep is deep for all three of us - what a treat!

Over the next two days we spend every free moment on the frozen lake and exploring the over 45 km of protected wilderness trails – us on snowshoes, baby bundled and tucked into his sleigh and pulled along for the ride. He spends his time soaking up the adventure of gliding along snow-cloaked paths, or napping soundly thanks to all the fresh air, not to mention the constant motion of his temporary sleeping quarters. I feel grateful for this time with our son and grateful to be able to provide him with this experience. With each hour that passes on these isolated, silent trails, I feel the stress of our everyday life fall away, replaced instead with deeper breath, lighter spirits and a renewed appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us. The grace of our hostess, the simple pleasure of the communal table, the honest warmth of our lodgings coupled with the awe inspiring beauty of the wilderness… In the heart of winter, as a family, together in this very special place, we have found a little peace on earth.

*Originally published March 3, 2013

This piece was made possible by the generous assistance of Tourism Ontario.

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