It's early October. The spectacularly warm fall day feels like midsummer. It's mid-week and my partner and I both have the day off. So, rising early, we drive an hour and a half northwest of Toronto to Luther Marsh.
Part of the Grand River Conservation Area and headwaters of the Grand River itself, Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area, in the middle of farm country, was once a farm itself. Because it was so hard for early settlers to grow crops on its thin, acidic soil, Luther was named - by a Catholic surveyor - for the leader of the Protestant Reformation.
The land is now flooded to form a lake, submerging roads that once criss-crossed the area. Canoes cruise above fence posts, and hilltops are now islands holding old stone foundations of barns and houses. My partner and I spend the morning ca-nude-ing in solitude, gunnel-bobbing off the bow and stern, laughing and swimming.
Weaving our way among the islands, we pull up to a duck blind as dilapidated as the old homesteads and climb up its rickety, homemade base so I can make my lover's eyes roll back with another kind of pleasure.
On this weekday the area appears deserted, a bit odd given the number of cars in the parking lots. Luther is managed by the Grand River Conservation Authority, which stikes us as a misnomer when suddenly we hear the crack of gunfire. Pow! Pow-pow-pow! The silence explodes into echoes of violence from about a dozen sources. Waterfowl flap innocently across the speckless sky.
We scramble out of the decrepit duck blind and back into our canoe, reaching for a different cover for our bodies. Suddenly the motorboats we heard at the start of the day make sense - it's hunting season, the only time motorboats are allowed to foul the waters.
Here, conservation is managed by men with guns and permits, who litter the land with spent orange shotcases and beer bottles. Checking the brochures we picked up on arrival, we're relieved it's only guns we have to worry about. Luckily, we've managed to arrive during the season when deer hunters can only use muzzle-loader shotguns and not the usual bows and arrows.
Rechecking our map, we decide to canoe to the north side of the lake. We pass the North Bog, heading for the area defined as a sanctuary. More gunfire cracks off into the skies around us, and we double our pace. Now we see what's meant to be hidden from the birds: men in camouflage lurking on weedy shores with flotillas of plastic bird families floating before them.
The sanctuary's boundaries are indicated by red signs on land and buoy markers on the water. It's an odd sight. On our left as we paddle east, a row of markers advises "no hunting." On our right, men hide in the weeds on Rodgers Island, toeing the line but as close to the sanctuary as possible.
We decide to wreak havoc and resume the shenanigans we enjoyed earlier in the day. Shattering the silence with howls of laughter, gunnel-bobbing again, we splash loudly into the water, disrupting the silence that falsely seduces the birds. We're probably pissing off the hunters to the max. Just to be sure the birds' lives are conserved for another day, we begin to sing as we resume canoeing: "Cm'on, cm'on, cm'on, shake it up, baby, now!" We sing loudly, "Shake it up, baby. Twist and shout ."
The hunters, we decide, are not our concern: no one has ever taught the birds how to read the signs.