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Sabbatical, 2004
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The Summer of Being Seated – Part Two

Have a Seat

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I have just now returned from carrying a chair to my sister’s cottage.  Now I need to sit down for a while and catch my breath.  It’s probably a sign of old age.

Mind you, the chair was large: an upholstered thing, suitable for a 19th C. drawing room.  I had to carry it on my head in order to see my footing on the uneven forest path.  Heather went in front, charged with making sure that the upside down chair’s legs would not get snagged in the branches overhead.

Retirement... day after day filled with events such as this; small events, after which one needs to sit down, and do something that requires brain, not brawn.  Perhaps a round or two of computer solitaire?  Now there’s a mental challenge!  Well, maybe not.

Yesterday, again, I had to sit down... after removing the steel swimming ladder from our dock.

Why was I removing the ladder?  Because we had bought a new fridge for the cottage, and the deliverymen were bringing it across by boat.  The ladder with its high upper arms would have prevented them from swinging the fridge out of the boat and on to the dock.  Now they had the really vigorous work: hefting a refrigerator in and out of boats, and then up a steep root-and-rock path to the cottage.  I merely removed the obstacle, watched them grunt and strain, thanked them for their labour, and when they had gone, I put the ladder back.  At which point I sat down and had a little rest.

New Handrail in the forest
... built a handrail where the path is steep
(after exertions like this, an old fellow needs to sit down)
The summer has been dotted with these insignificant little labours.  I took down a small tree and cut it up for firewood.  I built a handrail where the forest path is steep (see inset).  I emptied the toolshed, levelled it, and put everything back.  And, after each of these exertions I would return to the seated position (usually after a brisk outdoor shower).

Time was that I could replace roofing, build boat ramps and lug furniture as a normal part of my time at the cottage, but not so much now.  Old age is making its presence felt.

Even in the seated position I’m not as ‘energetic’ as I once was.  This summer at the lake I’ve read two important and serious books; I’ve written a couple of lengthy email letters to friends about ethical and theological issues; and twice I’ve presided at worship in my local Anglican church (requiring the preparation of sermons)... that’s about it.  The rest of the time it has just been pleasant to sit.  Maybe a word or two with Heather – who also sits nearby, in a matching armchair.  Playing mindlessly at computer Solitaire.

Oh yes, and I’ve undertaken a sort of research project for the cottagers’ association.  Regional governments in Canada and the United States have been amassing information regarding the stresses put on bodies of water by human habitation.  Tree removal, outhouses, septic fields, wastewater, powered watercraft – and a myriad other consequences of people ‘going to the lake’ – all have an impact on water quality and on the ecosystem.  I’m doing the research because the cottagers want to know if anyone has ever determined whether there are limits to the number of cottages a lake can reasonably support without deterioration.

This is a project that I can work on even when I return to Winnipeg.  And it can be done in the seated position, which is also good.

I’m happy to report that this summer there have been no totally unnerving disasters (such as the felling of a tree on my cottage in 2002).  Once, the power went out for six hours, but no foods were lost, and my pleasant sitting was not seriously impacted.  Mind you, right at the beginning of this year’s stay there was a little matter of the telephone...

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“We’re on the job, 24 / 7”

In an earlier segment of this diary I told you about our arrival this year – with forgotten keys and more bodies in the place (people and a small dog) than we had initially expected.  What I did not mention was that the phone line was dead.

We did not discover this fact immediately.  There is an enormous amount of work involved in setting up a cottage after a year’s absence, so it was only after it was all done that someone thought it might be nice to go online.

At least three of us are pretty constant denizens of the Internet.  Rachael and Alexa both have numerous friends with whom they connect via email and FaceBook.  I myself can often be found on FaceBook, and once in a while I also update this website.  Even Heather, who is not really techno-addicted, will send and receive email at the cottage from time to time.

High-speed Internet access isn’t yet possible for us deep in the Québec forest.  But we can do “dial-up.”  Attach the computer to the telephone line, click “connect,” and wait.  The computer “dials” the phone, and after a number of squawks and bleeps you are online.  Surfing is maddeningly slow, but almost anything except video can be viewed and interacted with, if you are patient.

But when all the cottage setting-up was done, and we were ready to relax, there was no dial tone.  The line was dead.

The trouble with a dead telephone is that you can’t use it to call Bell Canada to tell them about it!  I had to wait until morning, when I went down the lake to my brother’s cottage and called them from there.  After a brief argument with an automated help system, I talked to a real human named François, who promised me that a technician would visit the very next day, between 8:00 AM and noon.

Faithful readers of this diary will recall the horrendous experience that I had with Bell Canada in the fall of 2006.  The promise of next day service was not, therefore, reassuring.  Still, what choice did I have?

That afternoon we went in to town for groceries.  I think Alexa and Rachael came along because, in the bustling little town of Hawkesbury, they could access the Internet from their cellphones, for that is certainly what Alexa, at least, proceeded to do as soon as her phone could get a signal.

Not to be outdone, I used my own cellphone to check email, and to post the following message on FaceBook: “Tony Harwood-Jones and Heather and Alexa (& Rachael!) got to the cottage safely yesterday, only to find that the phone line is dead!  No Internet!  No phonecalls! No cellphone signal (never did have that)!  Incommunicado!  (This status is being posted via cellphone in a nearby town while we get some supplies).

When I next got online, I found that the response had been instant:
Troy: “I think that should be called a good thing.”
(a clergy colleague)
 “Hmmm... perhaps this is exactly as it should be!!!  Indeed a good thing”
(a cousin)
 “Then you’ll have a REAL vacation!!!”
Ariel: “That is absolutely the BEST thing to happen EVER!” 1
(another cousin)
 “Welcome to cottage country...”
(another cousin, who is
always very sweet)
 “Glad you got to the cottage okay, but sorry to hear that your phone line is dead...... have fun with your family, anyways!!!”

Ahhh FaceBook!  Always ready with a suitable comment.

This friendly chorus was quite correct, of course, but this is The Summer of Being Seated, and when I am seated I like to go online.  Besides, Heather is not yet retired, and she often needs the phone for business calls and faxes.

But would the Bell Canada technician come in the morning as promised?

Lo and behold!  At about 10:00 AM the next day my brother came rushing over to say, “Bell just called: the guy will be here in half an hour!  You better go across to meet him.

I jumped into the boat, went across the water and over the hill to the gate and there, indeed, was a Bell Canada van!

“Good to see you!” I said to the smiling driver.  “Just follow my car; we have to park, and then go across in a boat.  And, because I don’t think you want to be dragging those ladders uphill through the forest, I assume you have your pole spurs...?”

The technician’s smile went away.  “I didn’t know this is a boat-access call,” he said, “and I am not certified for boat travel, or for spurs...”

I was speechless.

“I will get someone for you with the proper certification,”  offered the technician, his pleasant smile back once more.

“Right.  You must understand that I have not had good experience with Bell Canada.  I’m finding this hard to swallow.”

Bell Canada has changed, sir.  I’ll personally guarantee to have someone here... within 24 hours.”

“This is Friday.  24 hours takes us into Saturday.  Nobody will come on the weekend.”

“We work 24/7.  Anyway I may even have someone here by 5:00 PM today.”

And with a smile and a wave, he drove away.

So near... and yet so far!  To have a technician within range of my cottage and to see him drive away was almost more than I could bear.  But with the advice of my FaceBook community ringing in my ears – not to mention a few words of wisdom from spouse and daughter and granddaughter – I decided to live the vacation life, and do the things we had come here to do, and hope for the best.

Needless to say, I wasn’t really surprised that 5:00 PM came and went and there was no sign of the replacement technician.

The next afternoon, twenty-eight hours after the twenty-four hour promise was made, there was still no sign of Bell Canada, so I trudged over to my brother’s and called them.

The customer service person found the file quickly enough.  But she said, “Indeed, you are definitely supposed to get a technician – with spurs and boat access capability – but his visit is slated for Monday.  It never was slated for today!”

Oh dear.  So much for “We work 24/7.”

Thankfully the story does not get worse from here, although I spent Sunday fully expecting it to.  A different technician did come on Monday.  He came across in my boat (filling out a official form that I had to sign), and he strapped on a set of pole-spurs and was soon far up the hill at the telephone pole.  Shortly thereafter we had a working phone!  And, when I got the bill at the end of the month, Bell had even discounted me $3.50 for the five days we spent without service!  Wow!

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The Boat, the Handsmasher

Did I say that this summer we have had “no totally unnerving disasters”?  Well, that’s not quite true.  I guess one good thing about advancing old age is that I can briefly forget about some pretty bad events!

One day in August, Heather and her sister drove to Montreal to visit relatives, and when they returned I brought them across in the boat, taking Diana directly to her own dock.

She uses a cane, and finds it difficult to get in and out of boats.  So Tim came down to the water immediately, to help lift her out of the boat and on to the dock.  It was my job to hold the boat against the dock as firmly as I could.  Heather, meanwhile, leaned way over the other side in order to provide a counter balance as Diana stood up.

Heave ho!  And she was out, whereupon, with her weight removed, Heather’s side shot down, and the side of the boat where Diana had stood shot upward, crashing into the underside of the dock.  Unfortunately my left hand pinkie finger was in the way.  WHACK!  The pain was unimaginably intense.  My stomach churned and I almost fainted.  When I caught my breath, I tried to wiggle it, and managed to do so, so it didn’t appear to be broken.  But all I could say was, “I need some ice cubes.”

an innocent-looking aluminum boat
The Boat — the Handsmasher
I left everyone there – all of them upset in my behalf (I had cried out rather loudly) – and drove the boat back to our own dock.  Fastening it with my good hand, I ran up to the house, and was soon wrapping a plastic bag full of ice cubes around my finger.  And sat down in my big chair.

Later in the evening, the finger had blackened a little, and was severely swollen.  I thought, “Maybe all that will happen is that I will lose the fingernail.”  Ice reduced the pain.

By midnight the pain had diminished considerably.  For a second I even forgot about it.  I was still sitting in my chair – typing an email with nine fingers – when a mosquito came buzzing into view (this is, after all, a cabin in the woods).  I did what I always automatically do: I tried to kill it by clapping my hands together on it.  CLAP!  Ow ow ow ow ow!  The finger made its presence known almost with as much force as when I first damaged it.

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The saddest thing

This accident certainly made sitting in my chair more of a necessity for the next few weeks (it is hard to do cottage chores with a maimed hand)!  But I could go on the Internet, and as you can see I am able to type this diary, and my email, and notes from my reading.  My biggest sorrow was this: playing my clarinet has been out of the question, and may be for a very long time.  A peculiarity of the instrument’s design is that the pinkie finger on each hand operates more notes and does more work than any of the other fingers!  With that one finger swollen and sensitive to the touch, playing became quite impossible.
clarinet on a table

Ordinarily, I do play the clarinet here at the lake.  Not when everything is peaceful and still, of course (the instrument is quite loud, and I believe that in the stillness my playing would be a disruption to other people’s enjoyment of the lake).  But, when the wind is high, causing the waves to splash and the trees to rustle; or when the rain is falling and pattering on all the cottage roofs; or when some other cottager is running a chainsaw... then I like to get out the clarinet and put it to work.

But not with my injury.  Not yet, anyway.

It has now been just over two weeks since the accident.  I’ve begun doing small chores without ill effect (carrying a large chair on my head, for one!).  I keep thinking, “Any day now, I might be able to play a few runs...!”

We shall see.

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1  It should be noted that later, when Ariel came to the cottage herself, she asked to borrow one of our laptops so that she could send an email!  Hah!
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