Monday, March 27, 2017

Kilmarnock Crossing

I don't know what made me drive out there; especially, at night.

I had only been there, once, and everything was different. Mid-summer, not early spring. Noon, not late evening. The last time I had passed the narrow, wooden bridge, I had travelled under it, not over it. I had been in a canoe, not a car.

I didn't know the Kilmarnock Lockstation even existed before the family and I had paddled through it, during our long canoe trek in the summer of 2013. I knew that we would pass through a series of 29 sets of locks, but I hadn't memorized them all.

I know them all now.

In truth, when I set out in my car on Saturday evening to capture an image for my Photo of the Day project, I wanted to take some shots of the clear sky. I thought I would drive a little south of Ottawa, toward North Gower, to get away from the glow of the city lights. Once on the road, though, time seemed to slip away and it became more about the drive than the destination. I was comfortable in the driver's seat, music from my smartphone pumped through the car's sound system, and I was in my element.

There were times, in my early 20s, when I would just get in my car and drive. I would just point the car to the road and would let it take over, with no set route, no planned destination. One time, my car took me all the way to the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, where I crossed into New York State, only to drive Route 37 from Ogdensburg, past Massena, and across the bridge that returned me to Canada, in Cornwall.

The border guards had a tough time believing that I was just out for a drive, but after a thorough search of my car, which only had my camera bag, they believed my story.

It was before 9/11, when I didn't need a passport, and a quick check with the time since I had first entered the States showed that I didn't stop for very long. I had captured some images of the small town of Waddington, but that was it.

This weekend, I got in the car, intending to go for a short jaunt, and instead, I kept going. All the way to North Gower, and a right onto Roger Stevens Drive. The road goes straight, for several kilometers, and I realized that before long, I would reach Smiths Falls. I passed the sign that directed me to the Montague Airport, and indeed, I saw the lights of a small aircraft as it made its approach, as it had just dipped below the treeline, and I knew the town wasn't much further ahead.

I didn't want to go that far.

At Rosedale Road, I turned left, knowing that I had never been down that road before, but I wasn't worried—my car seemed to know where it was headed. In the dark, the only light I could see came from the glow of houses in residential side streets and the stars above. A couple of towers glowed with red beacons, for the airport, but that was it. I was in the middle of nowhere.

Where Rosedale came to an end, I was faced with two choices: turn right, head west, and end up in Smiths Falls, or turn left, head east, and end up in Merrickville.

I remembered this area from my family's canoe odyssey. This road, county road 43, followed the Rideau River. I hadn't driven this road in decades, on another mindless roadtrip. The last time I had gone through this area, our canoe had passed through the locks just east of Smith Falls, where we camped at Edmund's Lockstation and taken shelter from a passing storm. We were hoping to make it as far as Kilmarnock Lockstation, but we could see the rain clouds approaching and we didn't want to be swamped before we reached it.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast, made sure all our equipment was dried before packing it, and set out on the river. It was a beautiful sunny morning, with a light breeze that kept the bugs away. At a gentle but determined pace, we got to Kilmarnock just before noon. We stopped for a quick bathroom break and a small snack, before we continued and headed to Merrickville, where we would stop for the night.

It was a short stop at Kilmarnock and I don't remember much about it. There was the wooden bridge and the lockmaster's house. We didn't stay long enough to make the memory last.

In my car, I turned left and in less than a minute saw the sign for Kilmarnock. This is where I'm going to take my POTD, I told myself. I turned right, onto Kilmarnock Road, and let the car take me to that wooden bridge.

It was wide enough for one vehicle only. In the pitch blackness, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as the sounds of the boards rattled below me. Across the bridge, on the left, was the lockmaster's house, it's dark silhouette barely visible. No one was home, nor would be for a couple more months.

The driveway wasn't plowed but there was enough room to make a three-point turn and head back toward the bridge. I pulled over to the side, just before the road narrowed, and parked where the No Parking sign was half-buried in dirty snow.

There was one house, behind me, across the road from the lockmaster station but further away, and only an outdoor light and dim glow from a room inside cast any illumination. With my car turned off, I was in total darkness.

Camera and tripod in hand, I approached the bridge, the starlight reflecting of the snow my only way of seeing. A staircase led downward on either side of the bridge and I decided to take the set on the opposite side from where I had parked. Fresh footsteps could be seen on the stairs and I sensed some movement, so I called out in a clear but gentle voice, "Is anybody out there?"

No response. The sound of a large gathering of geese could be heard, not too far away, further down from the channel for the locks. The Rideau River was much wider, heading toward Smith Falls, and this seemed a likely spot for the geese to gather.

I used the torch on my phone to illuminate the bridge enough to compose my shot, and then, in darkness, took a roughly two-minute exposure. The resulting image showed a lot of stars but the bridge was nothing but a black outline.

Another exposure, this time using the torchlight to paint the bridge. It took a couple of attempts to correctly light up the bridge without washing it out, but in the end, I didn't like the results. The colour of the light was too cold for my liking.


Using the remote locking system on my car's fob, I would lock and then unlock the doors, causing my signal lights to flash and hold.

One time, a car approached the bridge and I held the shutter open for its entire journey toward and across the locks. The effect was interesting but the stars were greatly diminished.


I took pictures from several angles, toward the bridge, toward the lockstation, and toward Smith Falls. But it was getting late and I needed to get home. I had gone much further than I had planned and been gone too long. Before long, DW would get worried and would call.

Back in the car, back on the route I had taken.

I had let the car take me out for a drive, and together, we found a neat spot for my photo, where the memory of my family canoe trip was brought back.


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