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Wet Work

(Part Seven of the 2014 segment of the Cottage diary)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The weather office lied!
weather office images depicting rain, then sun on Thursday, October 9
The weather office promised sunshine on Thursday

Okay, they’re only human, and the weather has been capricious enough to confuse even the most learned of forecasters.  But all week they promised sunshine for today – and a high probability of rain for every one of the preceding days.  They were certainly right about the rain: there were a few patches of sunshine this week, but not many.  And now today, Thursday, the day of promised sun, dawned dark and seriously chilly, and it looked like... well, more rain.

I went online and there, to my total chagrin, I found the weather forecast blandly pronouncing that there would be rain all day today, and that the sun would not come out until tomorrow!

But today is the day that I simply must do the necessary outdoor chores of closing up the cabin for the winter.  Tomorrow, my plane leaves for Winnipeg, whether I am on it or not, and the airline is quite unconcerned about whether my chores have been done.

I built a fire to warm up the inside of the cabin, and made breakfast – it wasn’t raining at the time, and maybe the rain would hold off?  However, before I had taken the last sip of coffee, I heard raindrops begin, ever so gently, to patter on the roof.

Stupid me!  Wanting to have a leisurely breakfast before starting my work!

Please note that I do not have rainwear here.  We used to, but our raincoats have begun to disintegrate, and leak.  I own a plastic poncho, but it is in the trunk of our car, back in Winnipeg.

So, I cut armholes in a plastic garbage bag, made a hood out of a second bag, put this goofy makeshift stuff on, and rushed down to the dock to begin the process of getting my boat out of the water.

Remove the battery, the battery case, and the motor; put them on the dock; run over to the boat ramp, and using a rope, lower the ramp into the water; run the winch ribbon down to the water; go back to the boat and get in; row over to the ramp; attach the winch ribbon to the prow; get out; go up to the winch and wind the boat up... up... up the ramp until it is in place.

Now the boat is out of the water, on the purpose-built platform, but it needs to be flipped over.  My friend Bill has promised to come over today and help me to do that – but I wonder if he’ll come if the weather remains this bad.

The rain keeps getting heavier and heavier.  My garbage bags are doing a fairly good job, but the sleeves of my sweater are exposed, and are now quite wet.

Put the oars, the motor, the battery, the battery charger, and the battery box into the toolshed.  Close the toolshed and run through the rain back into the cabin, relieved that this part has been done.  To my great satisfaction, the fire has nicely warmed the place, and can probably dry my clothing.  I take off the plastic bags, remove the sweater and hang it over a chair in front of the fire.  My pants are not made of such thick material, and will dry on me without a lot of discomfort.

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In a while, the rain seems to stop – and stay stopped – so I decide to go out and do some more chores.  First a number of fittings need to be taken off the dock.  For example, I always remove the swim ladder, so that winter ice won’t have a chance to break the part of it that sits underwater.

There are also two boat bumpers.

I made them myself, out of wood, with a foam pad attached to the place where the boat would rub.  These bumpers stick into the water like the swim ladder, and, like the ladder, they get removed each year so that the ice doesn’t wrench them off and carry them away.  Each is attached to the dock with four long, “Robertson-head,” screws.

Now, the water level on the lake is higher than I have ever known it to be, reaching to the very bottom of our dock.

Ordinarily I use an electric drill to unscrew the boat bumpers, but with the water so high, I risk immersing the drill as I work, so I decide to use a regular screwdriver.  My very best, favourite, “Robertson-tip” screwdriver.  Strong; easy to work with; reliable; never slips in the screw socket.

I lean over the edge of the dock, holding on to the still-attached swim ladder, and begin to unscrew the four screws on one of the bumpers.  “Be careful not to drop the screwdriver into the water,” I say to myself.

I get the first bumper off successfully, and begin to work on the second.  The bottom two screws on this one are so close to the water that my hand and screwdriver are partially immersed.  The water is... cold.

And you know what happens next, don’t you!?  the screwdriver falls out of my hand and drops to the bottom of the lake.

I can see it, sticking into a crevice between two rocks, about a metre below the surface of the water.

Oh.  Dear.  Me.  (actually, what I mutter is a little... um... stronger)

I gaze at it for the longest while.  In the crystal clear water it looks so close, but I know that this is an illusion created by the water.  I stick an oar down to it – being careful not to dislodge the screwdriver, making it sink even deeper, and that’s how I learn the actual depth: it is just a bit deeper than the length of my arm.

You can see what I’m thinking: “Can I reach my arm in, and get it?”

Not at that depth.  My head would have to go under, too.  And if I try to lie on the dock and lean over – reaching with my arm until my head is underwater – without a shadow of a doubt I would tumble the rest of the way in.

In summer, retrieving the screwdriver would have been easy to do, but now?  On October 9?  With unseasonably cold weather and definitely cold water?  Can you say “hypothermia?”

But this is my best screwdriver!

Would it stay there, visible, all winter, and be ready to retrieve next summer?  Not likely.  Winter ice could move it, and of course it could deteriorate badly, being underwater all that time.

I walk decisively up to the cabin.  There, I strip off the many layers that I’ve been wearing, and put on a bathing suit.  And my “water-walking shoes” – some slip-ons that I use to protect the soles of my feet from sharp underwater rocks.  Wearing nothing else, I go back down to the dock, and enter the water.

Stepping away from the shore I walk deeper and deeper along the side of the dock, holding on to it as the cold begins to penetrate my body.  A voice in my head is saying “You could be dead, you know, and all because of a screwdriver!”  But another voice says, “People do ‘Polar Bear’ swims all the time and live to tell the tale!  Just be quick, and then get out and dry off as fast as you can.  The cabin and the fire are nice and hot!”

Soon I am at the end of the dock, up to my waist, and at the place where the screwdriver went in.  I can see it below me.


Down goes my arm! ... then my chest and my head go under, too.

I can feel the handle.    I grasp it tightly, and pull it up.  “Ahhhh!  Got ya!”  I say, and head quickly back to the shore, out of the water, up to the cabin, and then towel myself off as fast as I can.

And I’m here telling the tale, aren’t I?

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As it turned out, the shock and cold somehow energized me.  By the end of the day, I had flipped over my boat (with the help of my friend Bill), and done a number of other chores, including hauling all my cut firewood down from the hill and stacking it under the house.

Getting the wood down was the heaviest labour of all the things that I managed to do today, made much worse by the utterly treacherous footing in the soaked and dripping hillside.  The greatest exertion – and the funniest moment – came when, on my last trip up the hill, the heavens opened.  Again.  The sun had actually been shining, both when Bill was here, and when I started lugging my wood down to its place under the house.

I have a couple of large, extra-heavy-duty plastic bags, and found that by loading some logs into one of those, I could carry much more on each trip that I could by trying to carry them loose my arms.  Of course a laden bag is pretty heavy, and with that treacherous footing, I decided not to try to actually carry it in the steeply forested portion of the trip; I would lift, lean forward with the heavy bag, put it down, walk past it, lift it again, swing it forward and put it down... moving cautiously, and by stages, until I got the bag to the outhouse platform – which is at the top of a set of stairs.  Once on the secure footing of those stairs, and then on the forest path down to the cabin, all of which have hand rails, I could hold on to the railing with one hand and lift the bag with the other, and carry it pretty quickly the rest of the way down.

However, while I was up in the forest filling the bag I felt a few raindrops on my back.  Then I realized that the sky had also become quite dark, and I could hear the roar of heavy rain across the lake, coming my way.

If the sunshine had held, I would likely have made two trips to get the last of the wood down to its place under the cabin, but with that advancing deluge, I decided to put all the remaining logs in the bag and make a run for it.  But that meant that the bag would be much heavier than I really should have attempted to carry.  And carry in a great hurry, no less!

Heft it forward, then shuffle past, heft it again, and shuffle past, this time the heavy bag nearly rolls itself (and me) down the hill, but I prevail.  More sequences of hefting and shuffling.  Finally I get it down to the outhouse, and heave both it and myself on to the platform.  At which point the deluge arrives.

“Don’t hurry!  Be deliberate!” I say to myself through grit teeth, struggling down the stairs and then down the path to the cabin.  I get in the door – hauling my giant bag – and stand here, chest heaving.  And only moderately wet.

The cabin, meanwhile, was really quite hot, with a beautiful fire blazing away, and my bathing suit, my underwater shoes, and a number of other objects propped up around the stove, drying.

I added my hooded sweatshirt to the pile of drying things, and donned a nice warm turtleneck.

Eventually the rain stopped.  I then carried my bag of logs the rest of the way, and stowed everything properly under the cabin.

And I deserve the hot coffee and the salty potato chips that I am enjoying as I sit typing all this in my chair.

view of our lake in the pouring rain
Our lake, in the fall, in rain
Not long after this picture was taken, the boat was pulled out of the water and stowed away for the winter

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