I’m lying in bed. My mind is swimming with thoughts about circumstance and what I’ve been writing, keeping me awake. Never a good thing when you’re planning to get up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. And how did that go, the getting up at 5:00 a.m.? This morning – it didn’t. I sat down at my computer close to seven.
Time to take stock.
I smell like campfire. My hair, pulled back in a messy ponytail, is falling loose and I have an itchy bug bite on the skin over my left ribcage. I can’t re-read that sentence without wanting to scratch the bite. I touched it again, just now. My face, which has grown darker in colour these past few weeks, feels a bit oily (I haven’t washed it) and I’m groggy with sleep. It’s colder outside, yesterday and today, a surprising yet also obvious factor of living further North; the cold seeps up through the floorboards as we sleep. We are not insulated here, though we’re nice and cozy in our beds under down comforters.
There’s a giant pot of water standing on the stove that Dan boiled before bed, which I used to rinse off the Ontario strawberries and blueberries for my cereal this morning. Our water comes from the lake and it’s unsafe to drink. We’re having our mail forwarded here, to our cottage address this summer, and when the mailman came out to assess whether we could have a rural mailbox or not, he reported back that it would not be safe to do so along the stretch of road above us. And so we will fetch our mail from a communal location, much farther away, the same as we did at home, only different. Only the UPS guy is crazy enough/forced to drive his big truck down our laneway. Our internet hub arrived this way, in the middle of the day, seemingly out of nowhere. A young uniform-clad man in sunglasses delivered our package with a knowing smile, bent down to pet our puppy, then made four attempts to peel back up the steep incline of our laneway. He made it out on the fourth attempt and for that I was glad.
The previous paragraph is not entirely true. The septic system guy also made his way down our laneway, but having experience with such properties as ours, he parked at the top and walked down to assess the situation. The mark of a pro. Then, in a human feat – and with a driving ability I never hope to master – he reversed his large truck down our laneway (backwards!) and made it out no problem. For those who plan to visit, don’t worry, managing the driveway isn’t as hard as I’m making it sound. You will arrive safe and sound. You just won’t want to leave.
Wildlife surrounds us. Wolves come here in the winter, bears abound (though we’re unlikely to see any), moose – so we’re told – and deer, definitely deer. I’ve seen several deer already. And a miraculous thing: when we arrived to look at our cottage late spring, I noticed the ring of trees around the lake all sat neatly trimmed at their bottoms. Somewhere along the line, I made an assumption that treelines around lakes looked the way they do because of rising and falling water levels, the way rock is eroded by water over time.
“No, no. It’s mother nature’s hedge clippers,” our real estate agent informed me. The deer trim the trees by eating them. That’s as high as they can reach, craning their necks, while standing on the ice.
The people who owned the cottage before us put out birdseed on the balcony to feed the blue jays, and so we do so now as well. They left nuts they used to hand feed a chipmunk, and while we’ve been dallying, getting our bearings around here, the chipmunk runs around twittering and swearing at us; I imagine something along the lines of “Give me some F*%$ing nuts!” Ariel is keenly working on repairing that relationship and building the trust that has been broken back up.
I will probably do laundry today. We have an old washer here, a top loader – a luxury for a cottage – that can process small loads. There has never been anything light about our laundry loads before, and so we adapt, we do less laundry more frequently. We re-wear the same clothes like they’re going out of style. And we check the weather. Thunderstorms coming. Better get the laundry washed and hung up now. It’s a windy day, loads of time for our clothes to dry.
And yes, there are bugs you must prepare for. The blackflies are particularly pesky as the sun is setting. Those little vampire bugs are relentless. Our children’s’ necks and behind their ears are mottled with scars, entry wounds that itch, but they don’t seem to mind too much. Bug spray helps, so does a windy day like today. Overcast days with clouds make the bugs all too happy and so we lean toward the sun.
On the day of their arrival, I took the kids to the dock with the sun shining down. They dipped their toes into the mushy sand of the beach. Penelope was the first to dive forward and swim with Ariel close behind her off the dock into dark waters. Elyse came in once with me, dangling her legs off the water mat we bought for them, but proclaimed the water to be too cold. They’d just spent a few days enjoying the luxury of my parent’s pool and I sensed Elyse’s reticence involved more than just the temperature.
Cottage life involves a rugged wildness, an embracing of nature in all its glory and horrors. On the day Dan and I arrived here, I had been walking through the muck of our beach, picking up sticks and leaves, clearing the sandy path and then swam out into the deep. I felt a tingling between my big toe and as I treaded water on my back, I held out my foot to take a look. There was a slimy black thing. At first, I thought it was a leaf, but then, as it shimmied to the bottom of my foot, I could see it was no such thing and I proceeded to remove it, which I did with some difficulty. If you ever happen to get a leech on your foot, for future reference, look for the small end of its body – that’s where its mouth and main sucker is located – then gently use your finger to lift the sucker to the side, thereby ensuring its tiny jaws do not remain lodged into your flesh. I had no such issues but was certainly put off by the incident. I asked our new neighbours on both sides, “Hey, have you noticed leeches around here?” Both sets were surprised.
“I’ve been coming here my whole life,” said a woman with grown children, “and I’ve maybe ever had two.”
“Nope! None over here. I guess it’s just at your leech beach!” another man teased me.
Well, I’m glad I got my leech experience out of the way, and even if there’s more, now I know what to do.
But what can I see right now, as I write this. I see my children catching fish with their father, one right after the other, off the end of our dock. Just beyond, the two loons, the true owners of this lake, are gliding, diving down for their breakfast. I see an entire glass window filled with waves; their lapping seems almost to reach my feet from where I’m perched above. The waves stretch far across to the shore on the other side where they are greeted by trees lining the shoreline and thick up over the hilly terrain that reminds me of a roller coaster ride. Even on an overcast day, brightness lights up the periphery of my workspace. On days when the skies and the water are clear, it’s hard to tell the lake from the sky, the reflection a heavenly mirage. Frogs croak, the loons croon – their eerie calls echoing into the night – blue herons fly overhead while the crows caw out in their raspy voices. The air around here is thick with dew and I often think this is what fresh smells like.
Someone’s fish just got away.
The pines and the birch branches on our piece of land are blowing, swaying in the wind, the leaves high above rustling, irrespective of whether I’m here or not. But bearing witness to this all, it’s quite something.