This was a summer of milestones, both personal and professional.
This past summer, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project marked 60 years since Inundation Day—when the flooding of the historic lands along the river’s Old Front signalled the end of the major construction phase and the final loss of the old communities.
In 2008 and 2009, we celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the flooding and the official opening of the Seaway. And 50 years is certainly a milestone of its own, but it seems more of a tangible acknowledgement of time passing. A half century, to be exact. Reaching 60 years is a milestone from a different viewpoint. Sixty years is almost a human lifetime. As such, the 60th anniversary is a time of reframing the experience with the hard-won tools of perspective and six decades of living. And the arriving at the point in life when, as the past grows larger in scope, paradoxically the future becomes more important.
Already my discussions with former residents of the Lost Villages are revealing a renewed awe and appreciation for what the older generations went through during and after the Project: the foundations, framework and legacy they set in place living through a time of unimaginable social, physical and economic upheaval. This comes partnered with a renewed sense of responsibility for the stewardship of this history, their stories, the heritage—and how this will look going forward with the younger generations that must one day take over.
For the former villagers and, in particular, the Lost Villages Historical Society, this is a new horizon—uncharted territory. Granted, they have been preparing for this milestone for decades, but the reality around it is that it comes with no markers and no manual. And it is set on the backdrop of yet another era of tremendous social, psychological, and technological change.
So Life imitates Art as Art continues to capture Life. This is why I write. My affinity with the people of the Lost Villages was partly because they were part of my community, but more so because we shared a similar orphaned existence. I lost my parents in my early 20s. Lost my personal landscape, my generations, my social categorization. I moved forward into adult life very much adrift. Sixty years ago, the villagers lost their landscape, social fabric, and generational homes and farms. Taken by the Project from their riverside culture and economy that had sustained their families for almost two centuries, the people of the Lost Villages found themselves adrift on the land.
And this summer, I too find myself in uncharted territory with a milestone of my own. In August, I celebrated my 58th birthday. The day I became the same age my mother was when she died. The day I outlived the last of the markers from my old life and found myself alone on the top of the mountain.
Since the later winter, for personal reasons, I have been between lives. Transition, a life phase, has phases of its own. I’m still about midway, but now comes the time when you can see, far off, the light at the end of the tunnel. And in the light are shadowy figures of the new life, new directions, new person you are becoming. Scary and wonderful at the same time.
The difference is that this is the first time I am owning my transition. I do know what’s happening and will embrace it. I won’t let the wave simply come and plow me over onto the beach, then drag me out into new waters to learn how to swim. I’m going to grab my board and try to ride the wave as far as I can toward shore before flipping off (which you do, regardless). This is about Life bringing you back to the beginning, and I am equal parts grateful and terrified to have a new horizon ahead.
Yes, milestones mark time and generational shifts—often a bittersweet reminder that what was once the fulcrum of our very existence has relentlessly and inexorably been left behind. But the gift in the milestone is perspective: the opportunity for a clearer view, the ascension to our own fulcrum status, and a realized past to brace against as we move forward into our own uncharted territories.