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It’s our Pleasure to Serve you – Part One

Peas and Carrot at the Wake?

(An instalment in the Diary of an Inheritance series, which began in July, 2001, when we inherited a little cottage in the Québec woods.)

September 26 to October 4, 2006

Our lake, never really noisy, is particularly quiet in the fall; and the exquisite beauty of the Québec forest in its fall coloration is without equal anywhere in the world.

For the past two years I have been able to return to the lake for a week or two when the fall colours are at their best – and the lake is at its most peaceful – and this year I have been able to arrange to do so again.

I knew before getting here that things might not be perfect, because the weather forecast anticipated a lot of rain.  Indeed, of the ten days I could set aside for this time at the lake, only two were expected to be sunny.  Still, a warm cottage in the rain, on a quiet lake, was not an upsetting prospect.  In fact, since I was planning to do some reading, and some work on my book, the weather forecast did not dampen my mood at all.

There were, however, two outdoor chores to be done – cutting firewood for next year, and levelling a tilting toolshed – which I would have to accomplish on those two promised sunny days.

Sadly, the lake was not exactly quiet when I arrived last Tuesday afternoon.  I was loading the boat with a week’s worth of groceries when I heard shouts across the water, near my cottage, and the unmistakable buzz of chainsaws.

Sure enough, up the hill in the forest behind us, where the power lines come through, workers from Hydro Québec were busily clearing underbrush and small trees.  At least three chainsaws were going at full speed, and every now and then I could hear the crack and crash of a tree coming down.

I did not really mind.

Regular readers of this journal will remember that a year ago, at the end of our summer vacation, a large tree had fallen across the hydro wires very near to us, knocking the power out for days.  So, my first reaction to the noise of the workers behind my cottage was “Good!  Hydro should be keeping their wires safe from further damage by the forest.”

The racket stopped at four thirty or five in the afternoon.

However, it began again at 8:00 the next morning.  When rain started falling at 9 AM, I thought, “Good, maybe they’ll have to turn off those saws and go away.”  No such luck.  The rain got heavier, but the din continued unabated.  All day.  Apparently they were being very thorough.  Later, on one of the sunny days, when I was out in the forest with my own chainsaw cutting next year’s firewood, I climbed up to the hydro lines and found that the workers had cleared an enormous swath of forest!  There was no chance a tree would knock out power along there now!

Thorough as they were, I supposed that once the work behind our place was done, that would be the end of it.  Not so.

I stayed up very late one particular night.  Some research I had brought from the University of Toronto library had proved fascinating, and I think it was after 3 AM that I finally turned out my light, thinking, of course, that being alone at a remote cottage means that one can sleep in all morning if desired.

At 7:30 AM, however, I was startled out of a deep sleep by the sounds of a powerful engine, and a voice speaking through a speaker set to a very high volume.


It was some sort of radio dispatcher, although I could not for the life of me tell whether the language spoken was English or French... or something else.  I lay in bed trying to pick out the words, to no avail; the volume was so high that the sounds echoed and re-echoed in the stillness of the early morning lake.

It seemed to be coming from directly behind my place (even though I could not imagine what type of all-terrain vehicle could drive in there, since the hydro workers themselves had walked in and walked out).  However, when I went outdoors, I realized that the voice was, in fact, all the way across the lake, a quarter of a mile away, where the road is.  What on earth was going on!?

Once the chainsaws were started up over there, I figured it out.

The hydro workers were now clearing the power lines on that side of the lake.  With road access, they didn’t have to walk in carrying their equipment, they simply drove their truck – hence the sound of the powerful engine.  And, because they seemed to feel it necessary to hear their dispatcher wherever they were cutting (and over the noise of their chainsaws), they cranked up the volume.  The incomprehensible voice reverberated around the entire lake.

Then, to cap it all off, another motor was turned on, followed by an even louder noise of crackling and grinding twigs.  Evidently the truck had towed in a brush chipper to add to the general din.

“ZRRRRRRRRR popapopapopa ZZZRRRRRRRRRRRR” went the chainsaws; “AH, ANIAOAH! GNUMMALA HOAOA!” went the dispatcher, and “ROOAARRR CRASHaCRASHaCRASHa” went the brush chipper, along with the occasional shout or two from the workers.

(“What’s that you said? ‘Peas and carrot at the wake’?  Speak UP please!  Oh, ‘peace and quiet at the lake’!  Never heard of it!”)

Thunder and lightning might have rounded things off nicely, but there was merely constant drenching rain.

I decided I might as well go over to my brother’s cottage to complete a little errand he had requested.  It seems he had forgotten his favourite hooded sweatshirt at the lake, and wanted me to fetch it and bring back with me when I return to Winnipeg.  So, I put on my rain gear and set off through the dripping forest.

Once inside his cottage, however, I couldn’t find the sweatshirt, so I picked up the phone to call and ask him for more detail of colour and possible location.

Uh-oh!  The line was dead.

Bell Canada does something which strikes me as odd: phone wires come in from the road on the hydro poles, but then simply drop to the ground and run along the forest floor to the individual cottages.  They are not actually buried, you understand, they merely lie on the ground, eventually being covered by brush and leaves.

A hydro worker busy with his chainsaw might cut through such a wire and never even know it.

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