EVERY OTHER YEAR, we return to a sure thing: a cottage on 13 Island Lake in the Rideau Lakes region in Canada, between Ottawa and Kingston. My husband, Mike, and I and our children, Molly, 14, and Ben, 13, repeated this ritual this month, marking our sixth summer there. My cousins, the Kruegers, open the doors of their one-floor, two-bedroom cottage (with tents outside for the overflow) to friends, family and sometimes strangers--as many as 25 people at any one moment, ranging in age from 2 to 83. There are no phones, TV or computers to isolate us from one another. Instead, we have a setting so soothing and magical that you can't imagine ever wanting to leave it. The cottage sits on a point of land, with a view of the placid lake, sprinkled with islands of green and wildlife. The only sounds are from the loons and, of course, the kids.

Nightly, at a large picnic table, 10 to 15 kids play poker late into the night, shouting and bidding. Another group--of adults--sits around a table chatting, while Danny, originally from Ireland, brews a pot of strong black tea. On the sofa, 82-year-old Aunt Lucia and Uncle Bill are reading, oblivious to the decibel level. Before long, they doze off.

In the mornings, the sights and sounds are so different. Mist slowly rises from the lake's surface, while the sun's rays start to filter through. The loons glide gracefully through the still, undisturbed waters. Mike and I softly paddle a canoe. All is quiet except for the call of the loons, haunting yet strangely beautiful. We're told the same loons return every year. I wonder if they remember us.



Westport and Rideau Lakes Chamber of Commerce, 613-273-2929, www.westportrideaulakes.on.ca; Rideau Canal Parks Canada, 1-800-230-0016.