A 17 year project … ūüėé

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My mother passed away 17 years ago, and left me the family cottage. A cottage that my father built when I was a youngster. A cottage where we spent summer weekends, and holidays.

When my mother passed, I thought I would sell the place. I live on the west coast now, and seldom visit. My kids are grown, and although they love the place, it is difficult for them to spend much time here. So, several years after her passing, I arranged to meet a realtor at the cottage. When I arrived, I was horrified to discover significant water damage in one of the bedrooms and the bathroom. The rood had been leaking for who knows how long. I couldn’t sell it like that. My parents would have never forgiven me. I can hear them now.

So began a 17 year project to restore, repair, and renovate the family cottage. I would steal long weekends when working in the area, and spend a week or two whenever I could. Over the course of the past 17 years, I have put on a new roof, restored the water-soaked bedroom, replaced the bathroom floor, built new decks, installed a floating dock for swimming and moorage, reupholstered an old sectional couch and chairs that belonged to my mother, installed double-paned, picture windows, replaced the Franklin wood burning stove with a propane one that is more convenient and easier to use, and had an arborist trim the numerous pine, red maple, silver birch, oak, and cedar trees that populate the property. There is always something to do it seems.

When my mother passed, her girl friends brought a poem my mother had written in 1988 about the cottage, and placed it on the chapel stage during the service. I copied the poem and several of the pictures, had them framed, and mounted it on one of the cottage walls. In 2008, I wrote a similar poem highlighting the changes that had been made to the cottage. Again, I had the poem and several more current photographs framed, and hung it on the wall beneath my mother’s poem.

This summer, 2017, I wrote another poem called ‚ÄúI have seen it all‚ÄĚ, attached several current photographs, and will have it framed and hang it on the same wall with the other poems. These poems, and I use the term loosely, have recorded the transition of the cottage, and its meaning to us, over the span of 30 years.

When my son visits, I encourage him to pen a poem about the cottage, but he refuses. He doesn’t think he can do it. Write a poem. I tell him I didn’t think it was in me either. And I’m not suggesting that I have a talent for it, but when I am here alone, the words come more easily.

He’s visiting next week. It’s time he continues the tradition.

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Back to the cottage … ūüėÄ

I’m heading back to the cottage for 2 months this week. As you read this, I am very likely on the way.

Growing up, my family spent most weekends, and summer holidays at the cottage where our focus was largely¬†on the waterfront. Swimming, fishing, and water skiing occupied our time. But things have changed. I still enjoy the water. Who wouldn’t. But over the past decade, I have travelled there with a road bike, and began exploring the area by bike on roads I never knew existed. Quiet, paved, rural roads traversing the countryside beside lakes sprinkled with unpretentious cottages, newly discovered grasslands home to an extensive¬†variety¬†of wetland birds, and large, prosperous farms.

Yes, this is farm country nestled amongst numerous lakes.

When I head out the back door, I can choose from a variety of routes. Some longer than others. Some more difficult than others. Some by water. Some alongside farms. All are quiet. There is very little traffic. No traffic lights. Only the occasional stop sign. A few cars, and a tractor once in awhile. Mostly, it is just me, fresh country smells, spellbinding views, grazing cattle, and a few horses.

I enjoy the time alone. Actually, the more time I spend there, the more I realize how important it is to be alone. It’s therapeutic. Cathartic. Empowering. It’s an opportunity to get in touch with my¬†thoughts, feelings, and priorities. When I am with others, no matter how much I may enjoy their company, there is always compromise, even on small matters. Like when to eat. Or, what to eat. What to do. Where to go. The list is endless. When I’m alone, my needs are simple. I cycle in the morning, eat a simple diet mostly of fresh vegetables and fruit, read a lot (there is no TV or internet), and work on the place.

There is always something to do.

When its time to return home, I’m always conflicted. I have heard it said that “home is where your heart is”. Gaius Plinius Secundus, a Roman philosopher first said this over 2,000 years ago. Imagine that. Well, my heart is at the cottage, and I never realized it¬†until I began spending more time there alone.

The place is my refuge, personal get away, and salvation.

 

When I returned …

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Yesterday, I drove my son and grandson to the airport.

It’s a 2 hour drive to the big city. I hadn’t be in a big city for almost 2 months. It was a little overwhelming. 12 lane highways. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Large crowds. Long lineups. Attractions. A major league baseball stadium. An NHL hockey arena. An MLS soccer stadium. Live theatre. An entertainment district. More restaurants than can be counted. High rises. Continual¬†movement. Constant noise.

It’s a sharp contrast to cottage life where everything is much smaller, quieter, and more relaxed. Serene. Tranquil. Where the only sounds I hear are¬†birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and fish jumping.

I have been at the cottage for almost 2 months now. I have read a lot. Cycled even more. Relaxed. Refocused. I am beginning to think of the trip home. I have a few items to complete first. A second coat of paint on the porch floor. A new tile ceiling in the back hall. Clean and protect the decks from the winter snow. And, close in the screened porch. Then I will be ready to close up. This will take me a week. Maybe two. Then I will be on my way. Back to another big city, a continent away.

This is the first time I have had such an extended stay. In the past, I would spend weekends, a week or two, a month at the most. My weight is down. I eat simply, and am more active. My heart rate is lower. I am unhurried. And, I haven’t had long pants on since I arrived. Cycling bibs. Bathing suit. Shorts. And, at times, a t-shirt. That’s it. My cycling tan lines, those lines¬†I was so proud of, are gone. Now, I am brown from head to foot.

Well, almost.

 

A symphony of sights and sounds …

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I start my day on the screened porch, looking out on the water, with a black coffee. And, I end it, on the floating dock, enveloped by a cool breeze, with a cool beer. In between, I am treated to a symphony of sights and sounds.

It starts with blue jays jostling for position on the black berry bush beside the screened porch. They are relentless. And noisy. Then owls begin to serenade one another atop the large cedar, pine and spruce trees that populate the property. I thought owls were active at night, not at sunrise.

And the symphony continues.¬†¬†One day, after cleaning and filleting a bass for lunch, my son was cleaning the fillets at the shoreline and was met with a very large, scavenging, snapping turtle. I have never seen a turtle in these waters before, let alone one so large. We threw in some bass bits to re-atract the turtle, only to be met¬†by 2 large crayfish that quickly devoured the tasty treats. Later in the day, my son was in the canoe fishing and was joined by a large, 4′ long beaver. A beaver. Where did he come from? This is a big body of water with few opportunities to build a dam. And then there was the black bear seen in the bush immediately behind the property. A black bear. This is farm country.

Did I mention the pair of loons that feed in front of the cottage every evening? The heron that likes the new floating dock, the Canada geese that paddle by every evening, and the large osprey that find dinner regularly right in front of the cottage?

Oh! Did I mention the sunrises and sunsets over the water? Stunning. The reflections in the water? Breathtaking. Or, the snake den adjacent to the out building? We were in there refinishing the canoe paddles only to find we were sharing the space with at least 2 large, garden snakes.

Somewhere in between the morning coffee and the evening beer, I cycle. And when I ride these rural roads, I am treated to the sweet smell of corn fields, cows looking inquisitively at me, horses frolicking in the fields, a cooling breeze, and the warm sun on my back.

These sights and sounds are music to my ears.

No TV …

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View from the new floating dock (July 1015)

I haven’t watched television or listened to commercial radio for a month. No news. No sports. No movies. And, no top 10 pop countdowns. I do have wi-fi (via my Personal Hotspot), so I’m able to work. Stay in touch. And, public radio. The CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation). It’s informative, Canadian focused, intellectual, entertaining, and commercial free. But no TV. I missed the Stanley Cup Finals. The drama in Greece. Negotiations with Iran. The US Open. The Tour de France. Wimbledon. The Pan-Am Games. And I haven’t watched a movie in over a month.

Do I miss it? No. Not at all. I read more. Write. Work. And, cycle. Read. Write. Work. And, cycle. If I am not work-working, I am working around the cottage. Building a laundry room and a third bedroom. Gardening. There is always something to do. Something in need of repair. I am more active, eat less, and sleep more.

I have also been alone the entire month. No guests. Just me, and the boys. Chas and Lou. I have people to talk with, if I want. Neighbours. The young woman that operates the swing bridge at the end of the road. Clerks at the food store. Staff at the building supply store. And the women at the coffee shop where I sometimes stop on the return leg of a ride.

Time alone, without commercial interruption, is enlightening. Empowering. Stimulating. You focus on what is important to you without compromise. Without conflict. It is just you and your thoughts.

The cottage used to be a family place where Mom, Dad and I would¬†spend weekends and holidays. When my father passed away, my mother continued to use it regularly with her girl friends. She said it became a girls place. When she passed away, I initially thought about selling it. I live a continent away. But I began travelling to Toronto on business regularly and would steal long weekends and shortened holidays here. Usually alone. Sometimes with family. Slowly, it became my place. My retreat. A place to relax, unwind, and refocus. A place to train and cycle. A place to momentarily¬†escape. I like that. Momentary escape. Isn’t that what a bike ride is? A time when the when the worries of the world melt away. That’s what this place is.

This is all about to change. My son and 13-year old grandson are arriving next week for a holiday. There will be a lot of fishing, swimming, and boating going on. It won’t¬†be so quiet. No. It won’t be quiet at all. But it will be fun.

Bolsover | Day # 16

 

It was -1 C when I awoke.  Unseasonably cold.  I was anxious to get on the bike but decided to wait until mid-day when 14 C was forecast.

I headed out at 1 pm planning to complete 75 km including parts of the Brechin and Beaverton Loops.  My plans quickly changed.  Although it was sunny and warmer, it was windy.  Gusty winds strong enough to stop the bike as if hitting a stone wall.  I have never experienced anything like it.  I persevered for 40 km but, for the first time in over 2 weeks, the wind got to me.  I cut my ride short, dropped on the bars, changed into one of my lowest gears and plodded  along.

There were some sections protected by trees and hills where I could maintain a 25-30 kph pace but for 65% of the ride, I was battling a strong, gusty headwind.  I must admit, it got me down.  The first time this trip.  I was feeling strong, well rested and keen to ride.  After 45 minutes into a headwind my enthusiasm waned.  It was not only windy but cold as well.  I don’t have all the warm weather gear I need to enjoy this type of cycling.  I did bring my ear band and wore it today.  Ear band.  Booties.  Base layer.  Wool socks.  I put on all the clothing I have.

The cottage is located on the Trent-Severn Waterway, a National Historic Site of Canada.  It is a 386 km recreational waterway joining The Bay of Quinte on the east and Georgian Bay on the west by linking the Kawartha Lakes with over 40 locks and several canals.  The waterway is open from mid-May to mid-October each year and takes approximated 7-10 days to travel depending the size of boat and weather conditions.

I have never travelled the entire waterway. I would like to but, when I visit the cottage, I get settled.  I don’t want to travel far.  No farther than I can bike.  Perhaps if I spent more time here, an entire summer, I would make an effort to travel east at least for several days.  Each of the locks have washroom facilities and permit camping.  Many of the boaters sleep on board but just as many travel with smaller boats and camp at the locks.

Once again, I digress. When I was battling the wind, my mind wandered to thoughts of the Trent-Severn Waterway and what it has meant to me over the years.  I spent summers here from the time I was 7 and enjoyed holidays here ever since.  I don’t get here as frequently as I would like but this trip has made me question how I can ever sell it.

Bolsover | Things I like

The more time I spend at the cottage, the more I appreciate how unique it is.  How appropriate the scale of both the buildings and the property are.  How functional the layout is.  How warm the rooms look and feel.  How beautiful the water is to swim, boat and fish.  How private the property has become strategically guarded by mature cedar, pine and maple trees.  How many quiet, scenic country roads there are to cycle and explore.  How many lakes there are in the immediate area to enjoy.

The cottage is old.  It was built in the 50’s.  And, yet it has not aged.  Sure, it needs maintenance.  Parts wear out.  But it is as functional today as it was in the beginning.  It is a 3-season place, not fully winterized.  Perfect for the Spring, Summer and Fall months.  Too cold for the winter.  Water is drawn from the lake for the washroom.  Drinking water was once drawn from a well but, these days, is carried in.

Once settled, you don’t leave.  Shopping, although necessary, is an inconvenience.  The nearest market is 10 km to the northwest. Too far to walk.  Not accessible by water.  A nice bike ride, if you have panniers.

It’s Fall.  The water is quiet.  Few boaters.  Few fishermen.  No cottagers.  The kids are back at school.  It is the end of the season.  I have always thought of the Fall as a new beginning.  More so than New Years.  For years, it was when I went back to school.  Public school.  University.  And, when teaching at a post-secondary school.

The Fall is the start of something new.  I always enjoyed the cottage best at this time of year.  Preferred it to the hot, humid, busy summer months.  I like the cooler, brisk weather.  It is invigorating.  I like the change of colour.  The slower pace.  It is a time to relax, reflect and meditate.