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The Summer of Being Seated – Part One

Half the Fun is in Getting There... isn’t it?

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

“Dad, can you and Mom babysit Annabelle for a couple of weeks?”  Our daughter, Rachael, a flight attendant who lives in Toronto, was on the phone.  She had a series of overseas flights coming up and Annabelle’s usual sitters were not available.
Annabelle in her little bed

Annabelle is a dog.  A tiny dog.  A brown, fluffy Miniature Pomeranian.  I often say, “That’s not a dog, it’s a gerbil.”  Rachael says that it looks like a brown toilet brush.  This verbal abuse is natural, because we dearly love the little thing.  It is cuter than words can describe, intelligent, curious, and affectionate.  When Rachael visits us, it sleeps in our bed.

“Of course we’ll look after her,” I said without pausing to think, “When will you be bringing her?”

As a flight attendant, Rachael can travel on any Air Canada flight, so long as there are empty seats, and will pay less than a Toronto cabfare for her return ticket.  So it seemed perfectly natural for her to pack up her dog, fly to Winnipeg, visit her parents, and fly back to Toronto confident that her pet will be lovingly cared for.

“How long did you agree to look after the dog?”  asked Heather, my wife, when she got home.

“A couple of weeks... I’m not exactly sure.”

“If it’s two weeks, that takes us past the day we’re supposed to start our drive to the cottage!” said Heather, with that peculiar look that is reserved for my more stupid decisions.


We had arranged to take our fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Alexa, to the cottage this year.  Because Alexa lives in B.C., and the cottage is in Québec, there is always the question of, “How are we going to get her there?”  As it happens, Alexa was going to come to Winnipeg with her mother in early July, to attend the Winnipeg Folk Festival and to visit her maternal grandparents.  The easiest and most practical solution, therefore, was to wait until the Folk Festival was over, then pick up Alexa and make our annual trek across Northern Ontario with her in the car.

However, we had a very specific and very limited time frame in which to work.  The earliest we could leave for Québec was the end of the Folk Festival (July 11th), and the latest we could get Alexa back to Winnipeg was the flight with her mother home to B.C. (July 22nd) — eleven days, at least three of which would be spent driving.  We didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to, for example, wait until Rachael could come to Winnipeg and pick up her dog.

As it turned out, Heather was right (as usual).  On the day that we were to begin the journey to Québec, Rachael would be in Frankfurt – or some other impossibly faraway place.  She wouldn’t be able to make it to Winnipeg until a few days later, which meant that we must either shorten our cottage stay with Alexa, or else take the dog with us in the car.

We opted to take the dog in the car.

Heather hasn’t got a very accurate sense of geography.  For our journey to Québec, she had arranged for us to go via Huntsville, Ontario, making one of our overnight stops at the home of her lifelong friend Jane.  I wince a little at this sort of decision, because such a visit adds 114 km to an already long journey.  Still, it is not too much of a challenge: instead of driving from North Bay straight to Ottawa, we just drive south to Huntsville, then the next morning drive east through Algonquin Park to Ottawa.  As well, Huntsville is close enough to our cottage that we can travel the distance, shop for groceries, and get across the lake while it is still daylight.

However, Heather then began talking about driving from Huntsville to Toronto (to return the dog) and then going on to Québec and to the cottage.  In geographic terms this was reaching the problematic stage, for it added 344 km. to our journey – pretty much an extra day – which would be to the detriment of Alexa’s time at the lake, if nothing else.

I mentioned the difficulty, but it was dismissed as inconsequential.  I know better than to argue; one of the laws of matrimony, so I have learned, is that the woman is always right.

Annabelle asleep on her back
How Annabelle sleeps 1
And so the dog, Annabelle, came for a long visit with Grandad and Nana.  She did put the occasional dropping under the dining room table, but for the most part was decently house-trained.

Occasionally I had to sleep clinging to the edge of the bed, because she slept with us (as she always does) and took up a surprising amount of space given her tiny dimensions.  Once – when I nearly fell to the floor at 5:30 AM – I noted that she had found a particularly comfortable position; it was so charming, I had to take a photograph (see inset).

On our way rejoicing

Finally the day of departure came.  In the morning, I was to preside and preach at a Winnipeg church – filling in for a vacationing friend of mine – after which we would leave.  Heather rarely misses church, but on this day she decided that in order to get us on the road efficiently she should stay home to pack, which she did.  Heather may be geographically challenged, but she can pack and fit a couple of months’ supplies into a car better than anyone I know.

When I returned to the apartment, she pronounced that she was entirely ready.  “So let’s go,” she said.

“Ummm, did you pack clothes for me?”

“Yes I did.  But you’re allowed one more bag for your books and your computer.”

“What about my clergy robes?  You haven’t packed them, because I used them this morning and they are here in my hand.  You do know that I’m taking services for Kay Richardson this summer?” (Kay is the Rector of the parish that we attend when we are at the cottage).

“You’ll have to fit your robes into that one bag, too.”

“And what about my clarinet?  I can’t go without playing it for almost three months!”

“Okay, you can take your clarinet.”

“Well, I also need my music and my music stand...?”

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“Just pack and let’s get going!”

So I quickly packed my necessary things, and we got going.

We drove to where Alexa’s other grandparents live, and picked up our passenger.  And, despite the addition of my robes and my clarinet, Heather had brilliantly left exactly the right amount of room in the trunk for Alexa’s suitcases.

Still the car was pretty full, because we also had the dog.  The back seat contained, in addition to Alexa: a dog, a dog cage, dog food, dog toys, a dog harness, a dog leash, and bowls for the dog’s food and water.

Rocks and Trees

The Canadian comedy music group The Arrogant Worms has a song that begins “My country is bigger than most,” and the lyrics to its main chorus are:
We’ve got...
rocks and trees,
and trees and rocks,
and rocks and trees,
and trees and rocks,
and rocks and trees,
and trees and rocks,
and rocks and trees,
and trees and rocks,
and... water.

Our family lore adds to this profound message... slightly.  Friends of ours have grandchildren who sang this chorus with great gusto when they were little, before their pronunciation of words was quite accurate.  They would eagerly sing that Canada has...
wocks and twees
and twees and wocks
and wocks and twees
and twees and wocks
and... waddo!!

So naturally that is how we sing it to this day.

When Alexa was last at the cottage we introduced her to our collection of Arrogant Worms music, and she loves it, so, once our car had entered the endless forests of Highway 17 in Northern Ontario, we put the CD into the car’s player, and before long we were all belting out “Wocks and twees and... woddo!!!”

But you can only keep this up for so long.

Alexa is actually very good at entertaining herself.  Soon she had taken out her cellphone and was sending text messages reporting on her journey to Twitter and FaceBook and to a miscellany of friends.... until we reached places that are so remote there are no cellphone signals to be had.

Heather and I find the scenery in Northern Ontario to be breathtakingly beautiful, so we pointed out vistas and panoramas to one another and to Alexa whenever they occurred... until a voice from the back seat said, “Grandad, don’t forget that I live in the interior of British Columbia – I live every day of my life in amazing scenery.  What I like on this trip are the quaint little towns along the road.  You don’t get a lot of those in B.C.”

Well we didn’t get a lot of those either, until about the third day of driving, when we were going from Sault Ste Marie to North Bay.  But Alexa was a truly good and patient passenger, and got along with the dog quite nicely.

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When in doubt, get out a map

Now and then we would find ourselves speculating about distances: how far until we stop for dinner?  or, can we get all the way to _____ today?  Heather, as navigator, would consult a map and total up the indicated kilometers in order to answer the current question.  On one such occasion, I asked her if she would mind checking the distance from Huntsville to Toronto, and from Toronto to the cottage....

After a little while, she pronounced, “I don’t think we should go through Toronto.”

“How will we get the dog back to Rachael, then?”

“We’ll call her and tell her to drive up to Huntsville and meet us there.”

So, when we next came in range of a cellphone signal, we made that phonecall.  Rachael picked up – evidently she was back in Canada.

However, she did not take kindly to our suggestion.  “My car has no air conditioning.  You cannot imagine what it is like driving in this heat with no air conditioning.  The dog, with all that fur, would die!”

“So, how do you suggest we get the dog to you?”

“Tell you what, I’ll fly to Ottawa, meet you there as you drive through, and take her home on the plane,” said Rachael.

So that is what it was decided we would do.

Not without some reservation on Heather’s part, however, because now the dog definitely had to overnight at our friend Jane’s, and Jane is severely allergic to animals.  Some time prior, Heather and Jane had discussed the possible inclusion of a dog, and it was agreed that the dog would not come into Jane’s house.  The animal could stay in a cage in a little guest cabin out the back.  Not a pleasant prospect if one were a dog, but what were we to do?

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What a small furry dog can get into

Jane and her husband Norm live in a beautiful home in a forest, about five kilometers from Huntsville.  When we arrived, there was much rejoicing, and I was quickly assigned the job of taking the dog for a walk.  She couldn’t possibly make Jane allergic if she walked about on the grounds and did her business among the trees, could she?  We all decided that this was completely acceptable.

Then I asked myself, “Why keep her on a leash?  What trouble can she get into here?”  So I undid the leash and let her go, a little ball of fur gingerly stepping through grass and plants that were taller than she was.

She is an indoor dog; there is little risk of her running away.  Besides, since her legs are mere inches long, if she were to make a break for it, humans can run faster than she can... but I was certain this would not be necessary.

I was right.  She stayed in sight constantly, sniffing at plants and exploring the periphery of Norm and Jane’s house.  We all sat outside on their patio with drinks and friendly chatter.

Annabelle eventually made her way over to Alexa, looking a little odd.  Alexa picked her up, then, startled, nearly dropped her.  “Grandad!  She is covered in burrs!”

Sure enough, she was.  She had evidently walked through a patch of something that was chest-high, and had received in the process hundreds of tiny green burrs, that lodged in her chest, in her ears, on her legs, in her tail, and in her reproductive parts!  Her fur was matted and stiff with the things.  Luckily she has such thick fur that none of the little barbs seemed to be poking into her skin anywhere, and in fact she was showing no signs of discomfort or distress... except when Alexa tried to remove a few of the burrs – they were so matted that the fur would get pulled out with them, causing Annabelle to yelp and cringe away.

I therefore spent much of the evening outside, carefully pulling burrs out, while the others visited and chatted inside the house.  I got it done, though.

As soon as she was burr-free, I put Annabelle in her little plastic cage, and there she spent the night.  Not outdoors, mind you – a bear could have ripped open the cage and swallowed her in one bite; and not alone far away in the guest cabin – she would have been lonely and frightened; she spent the night in her cage in the guest room (where Heather and I were to sleep).  Mercifully she didn’t yelp or whimper to be let out.  In fact she was soon deep in exhausted doggie slumber.

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We set out from Norm and Jane’s in the morning, after a genuinely pleasant visit (adventures with the dog notwithstanding).  Our journey was to take us through another 100 km of rocks and trees, but Algonquin Park is one of the most beautiful forests in the country, so we didn’t mind.  There was an uncomfortable moment when Heather said, as we left Huntsville, “You forgot to gas up!”  Being too stubborn to turn back, I hoped like mad that we would encounter a gas station before we entered the park.  The car was almost out of gas, and there was some tension in the car as we rounded each bend hoping to see a gas station.  Well, at last there was one, and all was well.

Into the park we went, with another brief chorus of “Wocks and Twees.”  The day was beautiful, the scenery magnificent, and with a speed limit of 85 km/h, the driving was calm and serene.

My mind was musing on some of the details of cottage set-up that awaited us.  After all, we were returning to a place which had been unoccupied for almost a year.  When we left it last year, we had put everything away, storing what might be stolen in the locked tool shed, and locking the cottage up tight.

Locking... the... cottage.

Keys to the cottage...?

“Oh no!”

Heather, who was napping, sat bolt upright; “What is it!?  Are you okay?”

“I forgot to bring the cottage keys.  They’re sitting in that box on the hall table.”

That is exactly where they were, some 2,000 kilometers behind us.

Oh how I wished I could somehow run the car back to Winnipeg and do our departure all over again!

My mind began to work feverishly while Heather explained to me, in a matrimonial sort of way, a few of my more notable shortcomings.

Our son Troy is back in Winnipeg and has a key to our apartment.  We could call him, and have him courier the keys to us.  But where would he send them?  And how many days would it take? (again I was thinking of short-changing Alexa!).

Ken Duff, who owns a cottage next to ours, has an emergency key for our place.  But, will he be at the lake?  And will he answer his phone?

He did answer his phone, and readily promised to open our place for us.  At my request, he also agreed to lend me a hacksaw so that I could break into my toolshed (without access to the shed, I had no tools, no oars, and no motor for the boat; worse, my boat was upside down on the shore, and a small plug in the stern had been removed and was also in the toolshed; without access to the toolshed, I did not have a boat!).

We all calmed down, though at regular intervals as we continued toward Ottawa I mentally kicked myself for forgetting those keys.

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Meeting Rachael

Rachael could not have picked a better time to arrive by plane.  She was due into Ottawa about 3:00 PM, and we entered the city at about 2:00, which gave us just enough time to purchase groceries for the cottage.

Of course, the groceries completely overwhelmed all Heather’s brilliant packing, but we figured we could sort it all out after meeting Rachael, because she would be taking the dog and all the dog’s goods away, leaving just the right amount of room for groceries.

We made it to the airport in good time, and very soon we saw our daughter coming down the arrivals escalator looking like a million bucks.  The dog, who was not being restrained (there being no burrs nearby) ran to greet her “mommy” and there was much licking and cooing and exclaiming to be done.

Rachael said to the dog, “Your fur is so smooth and lovely, my sweetie!  Did somebody groom you?”  To which Heather and Alexa and I responded in gales of laughter.

I stood to one side, looking at my beloved daughter, and thinking, “Flight attendants are not committed to travel at a particular time.  They go when there are seats.  If they don’t want to go, they don’t go.  I wonder... I wonder if Rachael is going to decide to come to the lake with us...?”

“I’ve got a great idea!” said Rachael.  “I think I’ll come to the lake with you.  I have a couple of days off, and we’re so near the cottage it would be a shame not to see it!”

Somehow we now managed to cram a grown woman, her giant all-purpose purse, plus a granddaughter, a week’s groceries, and a tiny dog with its cage and all its other gear... into the back seat of a small car.

We also had to stop along the way, because we had bought groceries for three and now needed groceries for four.  And Rachael also decided to buy some personal stuff and a $5 bathing suit at a Giant Tiger (“Tigre Geant” in Québec).

But in due course, and still in daylight, we finally pulled into our own parking lot at our own lake.  My brother had very kindly left his boat for us, so we loaded up and went across.  The cottage was open, and the emergency key and a hacksaw were on the kitchen table.

Heather and the two younger ones got to work on bedding and kitchen things, and taking the protective covering off the furniture.  I got the water running, and was soon working at breaking into my own tool shed.  I did some damage that (I think) can one day be remedied, and in due course I had my tools out and my boat in the water.

At about 9:00 PM Heather laid out a simple meal.  We had arrived.

Other adventures were to be had once we settled in, but nothing compared to the supposedly simple process of driving across half a continent to get to our cottage.  As the saying goes, getting there is half the fun.

Evening view of a calm lake
View of the lake at the end of the day

1  Even though you see plenty of light in the picture of Annabelle asleep in the bed, the shot really was taken at 5:30 AM!  In Winnipeg, at the end of June, the sun rises very early (and sets very late).
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