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The River… A Fountain of Youth?

I heard a splash and looked out. A woman* had jumped off her boat in our little cove. With the bowline of her 23-ft boat in hand, she started “walking” her boat out of the cove. It was a low water year and there is a ridge of silt in the middle of our cove that if you’re not careful, you can get beached.

I called out to the woman and offered to get our whaler and tow her to deeper water. “Oh no,” she cheerfully called back. “I’m fine.” The water was almost chest high on the woman’s short frame as she trudged past our dock. I was recounting the story, several years later as I introduced the spritely woman to one of my cottage guests. The woman laughed and said that just last year, her small whaler had conked out on her and she tied the bowline around her waist, dove in the water and swam back to her island towing the small boat behind her.

When she left, I told my guest that she was in her 80s. Yup! In her 80s and thought nothing of jumping in the water and pulling her boat off a silt bar or swimming her boat home after the motor had conked out. She’s not the first octogenarian or nanogenarian islanders that I’ve observed that aren’t just active…but are vibrant.

I’m beginning to think that the waters of the St. Lawrence have some sort of restorative powers. There is an islander who also speaks of the restorative healing powers of the River. She calls the St. Lawrence, Dr. River, and is fond of describing how her guests arrive stressed-out from a jangled world of cell phones and non-stop appointments and how they seem a few days on the island. When her guests sit in the rockers on her porch that first day, she can almost see a wave of relaxation wash over them. She feels it’s a three-day process. That whatever ails you will be better after three days of sitting on the porch relaxing and gazing out at the river.

But that’s for stress and mental fatigue. I think there might be other restorative powers within the river, but to receive them you actually have to get into the river.

My friend Billy Jo on Murray Isle told me about her grandmother, who was born on Murray Isle in 1915. Her family lived on Murray year around and in mid-November when it was clear the baby was coming, Billy Jo’s great-grandfather walked to the head of Murray and called across to someone on Picton Island that it was time for the midwife. That person walked across Picton, and called across to Grindstone Island. The midwife who lived on Grindstone was rowed across to Picton. She walked across the island and was rowed across to Murray in time to deliver the baby. You can’t be any more of a River Rat than that!

Eventually, the girl grew up and moved from Murray Isle, but she visited often well into her 90s.  One time when she visited, Billy Jo and her husband took her for a cruise around the islands. Before they returned to their cottage, her grandmother asked them to stop the boat. She wanted to go for a swim. Billy Jo remembers her ninety-year-old grandmother gracefully diving from the back of the boat. Not jumping or slowly lowering herself in, but diving head first into the River. She swam for a while before Billy Jo and her husband easily lifted her light-frame from the water and back into the boat. Who’s ever seen an aging mermaid?

Perhaps the St. Lawrence is the fountain of youth. For those of you who know me, you know I don’t like cold water. While 80 year-olds and teenagers are jumping in the water around me, I’m prudently waiting for the water temperature to get above 70 before I jump in and then it’s just a quick swim and out again to warm in the sun on the boat deck or dock.

But I’m thinking next season I’ll embrace my inner mermaid and take the plunge early and often.

*The name of the woman has purposely been withheld because as she walked past our dock she smiled and said, “I better not read about this in ‘Thousand Islands Life.’”

By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to “TI Life,” writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. You can see Lynn’s 80+ articles here (Yes we celebrated her number 80 in July, 2015.) Lynn helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing, and often finds books and people to review… this time she captures, what for many of us is a no brainer, exactly why the St. Lawrence River  gives us life.

  • Who’s ever seen an aging mermaid?

    Who’s ever seen an aging mermaid?

  • Waters teeming with life.

    Waters teeming with life.

  • Sitting by the waters is a sure cure for jangled nerves.

    Sitting by the waters is a sure cure for jangled nerves.

  • Restorative powers of the St. Lawrence

    Restorative powers of the St. Lawrence

  • 13 I must get in the water to reap the benefits.

    13 I must get in the water to reap the benefits.

  • Gary jumping in.JPG

    Gary jumping in.JPG


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Comment by: Margaret
Left at: 9:36 PM Thursday, January 14, 2016
Thanks for the great article. I love swimming inThe River and go every day and evening in Fishers Landing. The River is my Fountain of Youth. While some find fishing in the early morn their most relaxing and rewarding times, I find that floating late at night, watching the stars, is mine. It makes me feel so one with nature.
Nancy Bond
Comment by: Nancy Bond ( )
Left at: 2:38 PM Saturday, January 23, 2016
I love every one of your stories, and although I'm not a "river person", I love them all. However, at 82 and mostly crippled up by arthritis, I am tempted by your article to try to get into the "healing waters" of the St Lawrence next Summer. Of course that would probably require my kids to take me out in a boat and throw me overboard and then pull me out if and when I resurfaced. LOL.
I've learned a lot about the RIVER just reading and enjoying your stories. Thank you for another great one.
Liz Aldridge
Comment by: Liz Aldridge
Left at: 9:30 PM Tuesday, January 26, 2016
I couldn't agree with you more as far as the River being the Fountain of Youth. And I hope you get to enjoy the cooler water. It takes a little getting used to but it is well worth it.
Cynthia Stren
Comment by: Cynthia Stren
Left at: 3:32 PM Sunday, February 7, 2016
Thank you for all your wonderful articles, which I so enjoy, Lynn! I totally agree with you on this one! Our mighty St. Lawrence River seems to have miraculous healing properties! And, its restorative powers envelop you, even if you don't take a dip. To quote your quip in the picture above, "sitting by the water is a sure cure for jangled nerves". And, boating on this River, tranquil and serene, seemingly without end, is simply magical. We are blessed to own Friendly Island (and privileged to rent it out, which allows us to share this vacation paradise and its many benefits with others), and sitting on our front deck or dock, gazing out at majestic Boldt Castle, picturesque Sunken Rock lighthouse, the other islands of Millionaires Row, and ships from all over the world, so close, you can almost touch them, is a privilege and an experience like no other. After his surgeries, my husband could barely walk at home, yet, when we came to the island, he would miraculously hop in and out of boats, walk up the stairs, and benefit from the therapeutic value of this magical place, with its beautiful views and clean, crisp air. I would always joke with people that it was like throwing away your crutches at Lourdes, but your article affirms that Steve was only one of many to receive the benefits of this special place! The friendly, kind, helpful people, the spectacular views, the glorious sunrises and sunsets, and our very own miraculous St. Lawrence River - we Thousand Islanders are blessed indeed.
Rae Grenell-Fournier
Comment by: Rae Grenell-Fournier ( )
Left at: 12:03 PM Saturday, February 27, 2016
As usual, loved your article and the pictures. Just reading about your little heaven on earth is stress relieving when I'm enjoying your articles. Sure wish I could get my folks back there one more time....