cottage logo
this instalment
of the
Cottage Diary:

Part One
Part Two
Part Four
Part Five

Sabbatical, 2004
What's New?
Site Map
Contact me!

If a Tree Falls in the Woods, continued...

(This is Part Three of an account of our cottage vacation in July 2002.  Click here for Part One, the beginning of this year's adventures.  The full saga actually started in July, 2001, when we inherited a run down shack in the Québec woods.)

Shingle covered hillside
Roofing on Forest Floor
(Notice the tree further up the hill)

For an entire year old shingles littered the forest floor around the cottage.

Getting rid of this mess was one of the main reasons we needed the Jack Aubrey and the new trailer.  A thousand pounds of new shingles had been put on that roof.  In the process, two layers of old roofing had been removed, so twice that weight now had to be bagged, and dragged to the boat, and loaded into the trailer, and driven to the dump.

Grounds cleanup now began in earnest.  And, while I worked, I pondered the problem of the tree.

I’m not very experienced with a chainsaw, and the tree was so big that I was sure the level of expertise required to drop it safely was far beyond me!  I speculated about how one might attach ropes to it to help guarantee the direction of fall.  Could I climb high enough to put ropes where they would be effective?  Should I nail boards to the trunk so I could safely climb?  I get vertigo in high places, but it would be important to get as high as possible to attach the ropes, I suspected.

Snag, bag, drag... the cleanup continued while I mused upon these things.

Soon the Jack Aubrey was loaded up with bagged roofing, plus a miscellany of things I found either under the house or on the forest floor: a rusted bedstead; a rotting deck chair; rusted steel sheeting; broken stovepipes; even a dead vacuum cleaner!  The load was topped off with an old wing-back armchair with only three legs, its upholstery completely mouse-infested.  There was a moment’s silence among family members as this item was put into the boat, because it had been my Mother’s favourite place to sit.  We could almost see her in it still – wearing her farmer overalls and reading her Greek New Testament!

Doesn’t anybody know where the dump is??

Driving away with all this stuff in the trailer, I thought I knew where I was going....

In my home town of Winnipeg, for years I’ve known where the dump is, and, I assume, so does everyone else.  Last June, when I took a trailer load of my son’s flooring to the Winnipeg dump, it was very straightforward.  The person at the gate took a $4 fee, and there was plenty of signage to tell me where my load should be left, depending on the type of garbage.

Thus, it intrigued me that the other cottagers on our lake didn’t seem to know where dumping is done in that part of Québec!  Some said, “Heck, we just haul our used building materials home with us at the end of the weekend, and get rid of it there!”  Others didn’t tell me what they did, but all were unanimous and emphatic:

“You’re not allowed to leave it in the regular garbage pickup.  They won’t take it!”

Kenny Hodge and his wife suggested calling the telephone number printed on the new recycling collection instructions from the municipality.  However, when we did that, to our astonishment the folks who answered didn’t know.  They said they’d call us back... which they did, and gave us an ‘800’ number to call.  Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it?  Who would imagine a municipal dump has toll free calling!

It turned out that the number connected us to a large, private, waste-management business – hence the ‘800’ number.

Remember, Québec is a huge region of North America where English is seldom spoken.  I can stumble along in French much of the time, but when I’m nervous, or can’t figure out all the words I need – especially for telephone enquiries about technical stuff – I usually begin with a stock French phrase:
“Esqu’il y a quelqu’un là qui peut me parler Anglais?”
    (Is anyone there who can speak to me in English?)

The commercial trash company’s receptionist immediately responded, “I can.”  Relieved, I quickly explained that all I wanted was to find out where I should take small trailerloads of shingles and other dry garbage, and no one I had spoken to so far seemed to know where to find a public dump.  She responded by giving me fluent, competent, and understandable directions to a site about 25 km. away from our cottage, where, she added, they would charge me $5.25 per load.

Great!  Exactly what I was looking for!

And so, armed with my directions, I thanked her, and hung up.

Unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be so simple.

The directions were flawless.  Hauling my load of debris, I pulled into a dusty field where a semi-trailer was in the middle of being emptied, and an enormous earth moving machine was spreading the stuff around and crushing it.

There was no gate, no booth waiting to take my fee, and no signs indicating where my type of garbage was to go.  There were only two people in evidence, one in the truck and one in the earth-mover, both hard at work.  I drove into the field as far as I dared to go, then got out, and stood beside my puny little car and trailer, hoping one of them might notice me and indicate what I was supposed to do.  Giant diesels roaring, the earth mover rolled back and forth across the materials, while the truck continued to dump tonnes more in its path.

Eventually the truck operator simply drove away.

The earth mover, two storeys high, bounced across the mess toward me and stopped inches from my car.  Its operator – who obviously had spent his entire life outdoors in big machines – pulled the cigarette from his lips, leaned out, and called down to me.

Whatever he said, I understood not a word.  He spoke Jouale, the Québecois dialect, and no matter how many times I asked him to repeat himself more slowly, I couldn’t connect anything he said to what I know of French vocabulary!

We were at an impasse.

Just then an official looking vehicle pulled into the field, and out came a young man, who, despite his beard and long flowing hair, was clearly a “boss.”  He greeted the operator, who responded in some way, and then the operator, motioning towards me, said the first words that I could recognize:

“Parle-tu l’Anglais?”
The younger man – whose French had, from the start, been quite understandable – responded, “Un peu,” and turned to me.
“Can I ’elp you?” he said.
Apart from the fact that he was smoking a cigarette, he looked like Jesus.

What followed – me speaking broken French, ‘Jesus’ replying with equally broken English – proved to be good and clear communication, but astonishing.
  1. this was not a public dump, but a private landfill site, operated by a subsidiary of ‘Laidlaw,’ the international waste-management firm;
  2. they don’t accept household garbage;
  3. the smallest vehicles to dump there were semi-trailers from large construction firms;
  4. if the lady on the phone said they would accept my shingles and broken chairs for $5.25, they would do so, but he advised me to take my next load to the municipal dump...
“I’d love to do that!  That is precisely what I was trying to find!  Can you please tell me where the municipal dump is?”
“It is call’ the Regie Intermunicipale, on ‘Chemin des Sources,’ about 20 kilometres from ’ere, by Lachute.... If you ’ave paper I will write it for you.”
I thanked ‘Jesus’ profusely, paid my $5.25 – for which the operator faithfully made out a receipt – and I dumped my stuff.  My little load looked quite odd as I drove away: a wingback armchair, an old vacuum, and many garbage bags, sitting there in a field of broken drywall, concrete, wood, and steel.

So... the real dump had turned out to be almost twice as far from the cottage than I thought – close to 100 km. round trip.

On my way back to the lake, I dropped in at my favourite building supply store.  They know me well there (I’ve bought a lot of stuff from them in the past two years) and there is always good-natured banter when I come into the store.

In an experimental mood, I asked the staff and one of the shoppers if they knew where the municipal dump was.  To my astonishment, nobody did!
“Well,” I announced, “I’ve found out that it’s on ‘Chemin des Sources,’ in or near Lachute!  Anyone know a street or road with that name?”
Nobody knew.

The shopper said (in French), “What I’d do, I’d go to the police station and ask them.”

A staff member then drew me a map to the Lachute detachment of the Sureté de Québec.

I began to wish that the young man with the long hair had not only written out the name of the street, but had drawn a map.  How is it that nobody in that part of Québec, except ‘Jesus,’ seems to have any idea where the dump is?

Top of Page

I had Heather with me when I finally found the real dump.  I wish she hadn’t come.

We got to the town of Lachute and found the police detachment.

It was an intimidating place to enter.  The front door lets you into a small room where a heavy plate glass barrier sits between you and an office where a couple of secretaries were working.

One of them came to the barrier and spoke in rapid French through the microphone.

In my best French I explained that I was seeking directions to ‘Chemin des Sources’ and the “dump” of the Regie Intermunicipale (I used the word “dump” because it is the only word I have heard French people use).

The woman chuckled when I said “Veuillez excuser mon Français mauvais,” and, speaking more slowly, explained that she did not know where the dump was.  Then she disappeared into a back room and consulted someone I could not see.

That person – I assume one of the detachment’s police officers – did not know either.

Here I am at a major police detachment of the town where a professional waste-management “boss” had assured me there was a municipal dump, and the police don’t know anything about it!!!

But the woman tried to be helpful, and got on the phone.  Eventually she learned something, and came back to the window.  Following her instructions – but never being entirely sure I was grasping what she was trying to tell me – I drew some lines on a paper then went back to the car.

We drove through the town and out the other side and nothing matched what the woman had described to me.

However, doggedly I kept going, and finally on my left a large factory-style building bore a sign which said Regie Intermunicipale.  I pulled into the yard, and seeing nobody around, I walked into the giant open doors.  It was a paper-recycling collection depot.  Wall silos, three storeys high, were full of crushed paper.  Bits of paper littered the floor.  Two or three machines sat in the middle of the floor.  Turned off.

“Allo!?” I called.  “Est que quelqu’un ici?”


I opened a few doors.  Found some machine rooms, coat rooms.  Nobody there.

Finally I tried a door which let me into an office – and found two people, a man and a woman.

Once more I found myself asking where to take my bags of household debris, and this time the woman – explaining in French that this was the recycling centre, and that the dump was somewhere else, picked up from her desk, and handed to me, a piece of paper on which was a hand-drawn map clearly indicating the road to “Chemin des Sources.”  They had several copies, evidently to hand out to lost folks like me!

She also confirmed my suspicions that I had arrived at closing time – which was why nobody else was around.

[Me, in French] “If we get to the dump, will we find it closed, too?”
[Recycling lady] “No, they’re open till six.” (It was just after four.)

So, off we went, ten more kilometres, and we found it.  A chain link fence.  An office.  A woman who asked me if it was wet or dry garbage (and who charged $15, not $5.25, per trailerload).  Signs directing the way.

For all that, driving into the site was hugely disconcerting.  It was set up for enormous vehicles.  Following the signs we came to a huge crater, resembling an open-pit mine.  Machines crawled deep inside it like giant yellow ants.  Monster trucks roared in and out of the pit creating thick clouds of dust.  A thick stench filled our noses and our eyes and our hair.

I headed down into the pit – in my tiny car with my tiny load of shingles – when a man brought his machine to a halt and yelled something at me.  More language barrier issues loomed, but it became clear that I wasn’t to go any further down; I was to dump my stuff right there where I was.

Which I did.

And left as quickly as possible.

The huge trucks were scary, the stench had got into our clothes, and there was dust in our teeth.  With the heat, all the stops in search of directions, and now this... let’s just say it was not the most pleasant drive Heather and I have ever had together!

All the same, I drove home in triumph.  I had found the dump!  When I later spoke of these adventures with other people at the lake, they asked me to write up the directions for them!  Evidently I, the cottager from very far away, the newest newcomer to building and renovating, was the first person ever to figure out how to get to the dump!

Thus, one more problem I had faced in taking control of the cottage was now resolved.  From here on there would be more trips with trailer-loads of roofing – expensive trips, to be sure, what with the gas required for a 100km round trip and the comparatively high per-load fee, but I now knew where to go and what to do.

Still unresolved was the problem of the dying tree.

Once, when I was speculating yet again about ropes and saws and angles of fall, Diana was visiting Heather and I mentioned my concerns.

“When Todd and Reynald get here you should talk to them,” Diana said.  “They both love chainsaws – and tools of all kinds – and Reynald owns a woodlot and regularly fells trees to sell for firewood.”

Todd is her son, my nephew.  A chief petty officer in Canada’s navy, he is, in all sorts of practical matters, a very competent young man.

The love of Todd’s life is a young Québec girl named Lucie.  Evidently Todd and Lucie, with her parents, would soon be visiting Tim and Diana’s cottage.

I thought, “Yes!  Todd and Reynald might be just the people to consult – perhaps they might even be willing to take the tree down for me!”

Top of Page

Intrepid mice....    click here to continue

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional