As snow falls over the River against a backdrop of a chalk white sky, I can't help but think of summer in the Thousand Islands.
What is it about an island? What is it about more than a thousand of them? Every island is a story unto itself. Every island has its history and its mystery. Not to mention its people and its ghosts. Majestic castles and storybook cottages slumber on shores of granite dotted by windswept pines waiting to wake from winter.
To be sure, the beauty of the Thousand Islands lasts four seasons even as the last of the year’s ships glide through the channel and flocks of geese stubbornly stay along the River's shores.
But mostly it is a place where summer should never end. I spent last summer travelling from island to island with a camera, notebooks, and a waterproof nautical chart of the Thousand Islands. Did I mention I don't have a boat?
I was a nautical hitchhiker in search of stories. For the past few years, I have become an accidental Thousand Islands correspondent for newspapers, magazines and this website.
As a former newspaper reporter, I used to spend my days covering murder trials, natural disasters and politics. Now I have a notebook on my desk marked 'Fairyland Island' and taking on tough assignments such as riding aboard the tall ship Fair Jeanne for a music video recording by Great Lake Swimmers and staying in Singer Castle's Royal Suite as Queen for the Night. Or as I like to think of it, Scriberella.
My island correspondence started with an interview with Thousand Islands photographer Ian Coristine on Raleigh Island. Coristine, who has three best-selling books on the Thousand Islands, is publishing a fourth next spring. Spectacular scenes from the aerial author's island west of Brockville are familiar to the readers of his books and this site.
And so one island led to another. Last summer, I embarked on a journey that took me from Pine Island near Rockport, summer home of Thousand Islands author, the late John Keats, to Sugar Island, a Canadian Island in the Gananoque Narrows owned by the American Canoe Association, to Cherry Island in Millionaire's Row near Alexandria Bay and dozens others.
Somewhere between Polaris Island and the Punts Islands, it dawned on me I had become a professional island crasher. But who can blame me? Thanks to many kind skippers - including Thousand Islands Life editor Susie Smith, fellow TI Life team members Coristine, and Mike Franklin - I got to explore the River, its islands and meet some of its most memorable inhabitants.
I returned to Grenadier Island again last summer to visit its unofficial mayor, 91-year-old June Hodge.
The great great grandmother, whose family goes back generations on the Canadian island known for its lush golf course and pastoral history, was busy entertaining visitors, playing one of her favourite card games, Spite and Malice, and taking her twice daily dips in the River usually accompanied by her neighbouring swimming companions.
"Loverly, loverly, loverly," she announced to the blue sky as she did a languid backstroke.
The island matriarch embodies the pace of this place where a life preserver on a tree by the water hangs with the words: 'Gramadear Island.'
Hodge doesn't have much time for the fast-paced world beyond these shores, calling computers "the ruination of society." But she has plenty of time for her friends and family here at her century-old cottage where she enjoys watching its ever changing horizon from her front porch and chatty afternoon teas with her island constituents.
"There's all kinds of cookie fairies on Grenadier Island," she confided, gesturing to another plate of baked goods that have appeared on a nearby table near a pitcher of chilled ice tea.
For most of her life, Hodge was one of the islands' winter people. She stayed year-round on the islands but her family convinced her to move to Rockport for the winter 15 years ago. So she waits to migrate back to Grenadier at the first thaw of spring and to swim again in summer.
"Doesn't it feel good when the sun shines on you?" she asked, emerging from the River.
Grenadier Island's unofficial mayor is right again. The Thousand Islands have four seasons but none so sweet as summer.
But until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Kim Lunman is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Reader's Digest and other newspapers and magazines. She is a team member of TI Life and the owner of Thousand Islands Ink, which is publishing Island Life magazine next May - just in time for summer.