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Sabbatical, 2004
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this instalment
of the
Cottage Diary:

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

If a Tree Falls in the Woods...

(An account of our cottage vacation in July 2002.  The full saga actually began in July, 2001, when we inherited a very much run down shack in the Québec woods.  Note: One of the principal characters in last year’s narrative, Socrates our beloved dog, has since departed this world.)

“Stories are for joining the past to the future.  Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are.”     – Tim O'Brien

July, 2002

The Tree
The Tree
Most of the time I would only half notice the tree.

I’d climb the steep path behind our cottage on my way to somewhere else – Tim and Diana’s cottage, maybe, or perhaps the outhouse – and I might think, “That’s a big tree!”

Not big like a Redwood or Douglas Fir, certainly, but big for our part of the world.  At its base two adults trying to put their arms around it would just barely touch fingertips.

Hundreds of feet tall.  Probably weighs a couple of tons.

This summer, for some reason I decided to stop and really look at it.

What kind of tree is this?  Maple, perhaps?  Glorious red in autumn?  Canada’s national tree?

Look up.  Look waaay up.  Check the leaves.

Uh oh.  Not maple.  Not even close.  It’s a poplar variant - what Dad used to call the “weeds of the forest.” Grow fast, grow huge, provide cover for the good trees to strengthen, then die young.

Worse, the top leaves look puny, weak, dying.  Lower down one major branch has broken off, leaving an ugly rotten stump.  Now that I am looking carefully at it, I can see a line running up the trunk, about fifteen feet up, which appears to be decay.  The core is probably already dead, and hollow.

To top it off, this dying monster is right behind our cottage.  A big storm next winter, and two tons of tree might come down, smack in the middle of the roof.  It would go through the cottage like an axe going through kindling.

What’s to be done?

Leave it?  Hope for the best?

I didn’t like that, not after last year’s new roof, and the hundreds of dollars worth of new furniture we’ve put inside....

This summer we had spent even more money on the cottage than we had last year.
car with trailer
The New Trailer

First I bought a trailer.

It was needed to haul new furniture in - and to haul discarded roofing to the dump.  The trailer is also a “convertible” - three hours with a socket wrench and it’s a boat trailer!

We drove from Winnipeg in early July, hauling a load of camping gear and things left over from our move (you know the kind of thing: “Don't throw that out!  It would be good for the cottage!”)

In Ottawa we loaded the new trailer up even further, buying a mouse-proof chest of drawers and a mouse-proof kitchen cabinet (“mouse-proof” because the finished back panels and the tight-fitting plastic doors/drawers make it impossible for mice to get in).

So... by mid-Summer this year, we now had inside the cottage, ready to be smashed by a two ton falling tree, the new cabinets and chest of drawers, the new fridge, the new hotplate, the new toaster, the new dishes, the new electric griddle, and the new mouse-daunting easy chair (euro-design wood, with the only upholstery being cloth-covered foam on the seat and on the the back).

The only expensive new things a falling tree wouldn’t get to were the trailer itself - parked on the opposite side of the lake - and the boat.

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The good ship, “Jack Aubrey”

When we arrived at the cottage July 9, we brought all the new stuff across the lake in the ‘Fisher-Price’ boat but as soon as I could I converted the trailer into a boat-hauler, and we went back to Ottawa to buy a proper boat.

Now that was an odyssey!

The marina had promised us that a boat would be in stock, but when we pulled up with our open wallet and our trailer, the salesman said it was’t in yet (“The truck hasn’t come!  Can you return tomorrow?”) Another dealer had only one boat of the right size, but it had obviously been on the lot for years, some bolts were rusty, and it was sitting full of water.  As well, the man who dealt with us couldn’t answer any questions (How much does it weigh?  “I don’t know.” How much payload does it carry?  “I don’t know.” Can you tell us about electric motors?  “Nope.  Don’t handle them.  It’s closing time; gotta go.”) It was five p.m.; we’d been all over Ottawa; and we drove away from that fellow with no boat on our trailer.

One more dealer answered our cell-phone call and said he’d be open till seven.  We found the place and there - at last! - a boat in stock, knowledgeable staff, and all the ropes and oars and safety gear we’d need - including a powerful electric motor.

There was some amusing byplay when a stray dog ran into the yard, sending the owner’s cheerful poodle into hysteria and all the staff chasing around trying to catch the interloper and drive him away, but eventually a shiny aluminum boat was strapped to my boat trailer, oars were tied into the boat, and the electric motor in its box was wedged into the bottom of the boat between the seats (electric motors are small and comparatively light, but packed in its carton this one was still a little too big to fit in our car... anyway the car was also chock full of some more new cottage acquisitions).

An electric motor also needs a battery, and a battery charger, but the marina had sold out on these items, so, as the sun went down we ran into a Wal-Mart to find some (no luck), then into a Canadian Tire (still no luck - all sold out).

Well, we had the boat, which was the most important thing.  As well, we had purchased oars and we’re used to rowing, so we figured we’d go back to the lake, and try our luck finding a battery and charger another day.  A late dinner of burgers was picked up in a drive-through and we headed out onto the highway.

The last light of day was fading quickly.  We knew it was certain to be pitch dark when we got back to the lake.

“Is there a flashlight in the car?”
“I guess we should just leave everything at the landing, then - all the purchases in the car, and the boat on the trailer - and feel our way down to the ‘Fisher-Price’ boat.  I can come across in the morning, launch the Jack Aubrey, and bring the stuff across then.”
“Launch the who??”
“The Jack Aubrey.  It’s the name of a sea captain in that series of books I’ve been reading.  He’s such a character and I’ve been thinking of naming the boat after him.”
“What a guy!  Wanting to name his boat!”
“Do you really mind?”
“Not at all.  I can chuckle at you, though.  You have been so crazed to buy this boat!”
“Well, have you enjoyed trying to get everything across the lake in the ‘Fisher-Price’ boat?”
“No, I haven’t.  We do need a proper boat.”

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A sudden surprise....    click here to continue

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