Carolyn McGrath’s memoir is as reflective and inspiring as the full moon she describes sending luminous ripples across water highlighting a path through the trees near her summer retreat. Her descriptions of the natural world on and surrounding a tiny island that became “hers” in Ontario, Canada will gather a reader and take them on a much needed vacation away from the lights, sounds, and concerns of city life.
For years McGrath’s family escaped suburbia during the summer to spend time in a small cabin on Bob’s Lake, a place accessible only by boat, without running water and many other conveniences of home. McGrath eventually makes the annual trek to the island alone, accompanied by her dog, Blue, and another named Ring, a friend’s dog who anxiously awaits summer so that he can be released from his chain spiked outside on a nearby lake property.
McGrath’s courage and love for this special place transform her over time, softening her life’s impressions. At the same time she wrestles with the obvious: the natural world surrounding her is being transformed by forces such as global warming, overpopulation, invading species such as zebra mussels, algae, and potentially round gobies from Eurasia that eat the eggs and young of other fish. It dawns on her that her family’s own actions may have upset the balance of life on the island as well. She writes: “The irony here is rich. In my family’s early days on the lake, we took what we wanted when we wanted it. Thanks in part to my family, I no longer see leopard frogs leaping around on the hill… or hear bullfrogs.… the Earth’s bounty isn’t infinitely expendable.”
McGrath’s father, a terrible alcoholic, also possessed a side to him that Carolyn adored: the outdoorsman. The man whose “swashbuckling energy” was infectious. On her island she begins to see another side to her history, re-examining the mother she often disdained. “My mother made me strong.” Indeed, it was this mother who’d chosen her father and stood by him, even knowing his weaknesses. McGrath apologizes to her mother for putting her in a care facility without explanation, for throwing out her favorite robe, essentially for not appreciating her.
The reading of Two Faces of the Moon provides one with a sense of wonder and peace at the beauty of place—a private island on Bob’s Lake. The author capably weaves real world concerns, family issues, personal doubts, and reckonings to create something interesting to read. Although some of the descriptions and details of her days may seem unspectacularly ordinary, these details are just the sort of thing that make being on her island memorable.
I highly recommend this book for folks who enjoy reading about the natural world, getting away, or for those outdoorsy do-it-yourselfers. There is much in McGrath’s memoir to enjoy.