One star at a time

“It was in Bobcaygeon, where I saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time.”


That’s my happy place.

On a late August night, on the shores of Sturgeon Lake, I stood alone and looked up at the sky, a wide velvet expanse of midnight blue, dotted in a road map of stars, layer upon layer of white lights far beyond the scope of my footprints in the sand. Present. Still.

This was a moment to take stock of how grateful I was to be alive, how in awe I was of the beauty of that night sky. Sometimes it’s good to remember how small you are in the grand scheme of things.

Sometimes, it’s the most important thing you can do.

One of my all-time favourite Canadian bands, the Tragically Hip, earned a Juno Award for a song about and titled after Bobcaygeon. It was the year I became a mother for the first time. It was motherhood that has brought my family and I to the shores of that town every summer for that same late week in August for well over a decade now. And you can bet, we’ve sung that song on the long ride to get there many times. We will again, too. Every summer, those stars and I have a standing date.

Like most Canadian music fans, I found the news of Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie’s terminal cancer devastating. I felt numb. Something shifted. It was like a piece of my youth fell by the wayside.

That band was the soundtrack to a time before the Carpenter and I became parents. I had flashbacks of long rides with the windows down in the Carpenter’s green pickup truck, Hip tunes cranked, air-guitar and thumb drums on the dashboard. It was just the two of us, singing along, smiling sideways at each other every now and again. We were young, in love and “ahead by a century.”

I remember our Tragically Hip concert experience many moons ago in a cornfield at one of those summer outdoor festivals. Okay, well, I remember parts of it (make your own assumptions). But I do remember the band, and how I knew every song, because I was inspired by the stories behind them. These were Canadian stories, about my historical touchstones like Tom Thomson paddling past, Jacques Cartier, Bill Barilko and the stories of our nation’s injustices, like the haunting lyrics of Wheat Kings. These guys were talking about our stories, our identity, and in a time when we were still having national debates about what it meant to be a Canadian, they were doing more to invoke a sense of pride and nationhood than any politician could dream of accomplishing. They were talking to us, with us, about us. Tragically hip, indeed.

Now we know this musical ride will end sooner than we thought.

I’m feeling a loss before that loss has even occurred. Downie’s diagnosis, though heartbreaking and infuriating, reminds us to live: hard. We each need to find a way to make our lives a piece or art, to leave a legacy that is unique and distinct. We need to love it all.

In August, I will dig my feet into the sand and look up at the expanse of stars over Bobcaygeon and be grateful that those stars will never stop shining.

Kelly Waterhouse