The MV International is a wooden ship that was built in the 1930s. It has plied the waters of Waterton Lake every summer since then. Waterton is seven miles long and halfway down we enter the United States. As a young man working at the Prince of Wales Hotel, I got free trips on the International. I’ve been down the lake over the bounding main at least fifty times. Yesterday was fifty-one.
As we walked onboard, I looked up at the little shelf in front of the captain’s cabin. That’s where I always sat. Not yesterday though. A young girl from Calgary was fully in place with her still younger brother. I told her my shelf story. She smiled.
I sat with my nephews for the first half hour of the trip. We were on the top deck, breathing in the sunshine and feeling the wind against our faces. I was 24 again. There were the valleys – left, right and straight ahead – where I had backpacked up to high lakes, staying overnight in the silence. The Crypt Lake trail, with its 60-foot natural tunnel to crawl through, with vistas then opening to an aquamarine jewel, and with snow hanging above. How very happy I am to have had those moments in my life. More to come.
I moved to the front of the boat and soon Leonardo DiCaprio came through. I raised my arms and gently shouted “I’m the king of the world!” Some folks laughed. Some stared. I just wanted to know where Kate Winslet had got to. I talked to all and sundry, people from here, there and everywhere, looking like they were loving the trip.
At the southern end of Waterton Lake, we docked at Goathaunt, not even needing passports. I chatted for awhile with the captain. He’s been the boss for 20 years and I knew him not. I talked about the International captain whom I knew and loved – Galen Nielsen. Today’s captain told me that Galen died a few years ago. I was sad to hear that. Captain Nielsen was a big guy, and such a kind man. Once he led a group of us towards the summit of Mount Cleveland, just south of Goathaunt. We made it to a point only a few hundred feet from the top when rain and slippery slopes forced an executive decision. The captain said we were going back down. We were all disappointed but we knew that Captain Nielsen had our backs and that he rightfully called the shots.
Lance, Nona, Jaxon, Jagger, Jace and I spent time on the rocky beach, skipping stones over the skin of Waterton Lake. It was fun. I saw Jaxon pick up a rock too big for skipping and I called out to him, “I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you can skip it more than once.” The result? One > Two. (!) Good grief. There goes my retirement fund.
As the International cruised north and we were nearing the dock in Waterton townsite, the PW loomed above us. I looked to the same young girl, now standing beside me, and talked about my years at the hotel, that I saw how great people are, no matter where they’re from. She smiled some more. Seeing my opportunity, I told her I was a teacher and that I’d discovered kids really appreciate being given a math test in the summer, when they’re missing school really bad. And I just happened to have one on me. She smiled for a third time and lowered her head. I guessed there wouldn’t be a math test today.
It’s all so much fun, this life of ours
Not always, of course
But enough to make my day