An Ode to the Windswept Pine: Cruising Through the 30,000 Islands

As I mentioned in a recent post I love boat rides, but our second boat outing in less than a week wasn’t an excuse to spend more time out on the water but rather another opportunity to get out and see the lake. While we are both primarily hikers we had come to Lake Huron to see the lake. Unfortunately, the recent re-injury of my back was going to prevent us from doing any kayaking or canoeing – so that left boat tours as the only way to get off the shore.

The 30,000 islands, located on the eastern side of the Georgian Bay, make up the the world’s largest freshwater archipelago as it turns out. Although the area extends along the whole eastern shore of the bay, the densest concentration of islands occurs in Parry Sound; these are largely occupied by summer cottages and vacation homes. Once you get a glimpse of the exposed granite shorelines and white pine it’s easy to understand the area’s popularity though – its an amazingly gorgeous place.

Motoring out from the harbor on the Island Queen Cruise we almost immediately found ourselves passing through the South Channel between the mainland and Parry Island, the entrance of which is marked by the Rose Point Swing Bridge. Getting to see the bridge in action from such close quarters was a real treat but the views into the archipelago quickly eclipsed whatever excitement I’d had for watching the mechanical rotation of the old railway span.

As the bridge swung closed behind us we were immediately taken with the sight of the rounded rock along the water’s edge and the lofty conifers that ringed it’s boundaries. We first passed Parry Island, one of the largest of the islands and home to the Wasauksing First Nation, and then moved beyond the reserve toward more and more islands – of every size. Navigating the narrow channels, the tour boat passed hundreds if not thousands of cottages along the shores. We overheard many of our fellow passengers pointing out which was their favorite of these cabins and while it was admittedly difficult to not daydream about spending summers out here along the rugged coastlines and rocky isles I found myself entranced by an entirely different image – the majestic windswept pine.

The eastern white pine is native to the eastern swath of the continent from as far north as Newfoundland to its southern boundary in the highlands of Georgia and as far west as Minnesota, but the eastern shore of the Georgian Bay is one of the only areas where it takes on a distinctive windswept appearance. Battered by gusts from the open water, the normally-symmetrical canopy of the tree instead becomes more one-sided, extending away from the direction of the prevailing winds. These leaning giants I found expressive – even whimsical – and utterly enthralling. Combined with the sculpted barren rock of the shore and the clear blue water of the bay, these tall, tilted conifers captured my heart.

Cruising past island after island we marveled at the utter beauty of the shoreline, pointing excitedly at the most lovely of the rock and tree, and taking hundreds of photos between us. As we moved towards the outer islands the density of cottages fell and the extreme windblown tilt of the pines increased, much to our delight. But soon enough we were looping back to the harbor, heading toward Hole-in-the-Wall, a narrow passageway between the high cliffs of two neighboring islands. Gliding through this channel was a grand finale indeed, offering close-up views of the gneiss and yes, more of my beloved windswept pine.