We got home this morning after spending most of our week’s vacation at the family cottage. Five days of perfect late-summer weather, with the lake at peak warmth. My parents joined us for a couple of days, and there were lots of card games, good food and reminiscing around a bonfire in the evenings.
When I think of my childhood, one of the things I’m most thankful for is that my parents took the time to pass on their love of the outdoors. For the first seven years of my life we lived in downtown Montreal, but every summer weekend found us camping in upstate New York. My father and I dug for worms in the yard of our apartment building. I learned to fish and climb trees, to pick wild strawberries, to recognize bird calls. I stored away a lot of precious memories, then and later when we moved back to the Maritimes. Vacations were always spent camping or at a rented cottage. Eventually, when Dad retired, he fulfilled a dream and built a cottage with his brother. It was a dream come true for all of us.
“The camp” is thirty years old now. Every visit, from construction to the present, is recorded in a log book. Bridge scores, meals, water temperatures, bug reports. “Gerald (my uncle) dislikes blackflies.” This on a construction trip in late May, when all present were being eaten alive, and no doubt cursing a blue streak about it. Those entries, trivial and not so trivial, make great reading material in quiet hours.
The place is on Crown land, several kilometres back in the woods, on a small lake. It’s the only building in the area. Sitting by the water, I feel like Thoreau at Walden Pond. Especially on a morning like this, when the setting moon is reflected in the glassy surface and a pearly mist blankets the shore.
Inside, the cottage is homey and comfortable. We used to have a wood cooking range as well as a woodstove for heat. The best Christmas dinner I ever ate was cooked with that old Enterprise, but as my parents age they have, understandably, less enthusiasm for the work involved with a wood range. We now have propane.
Outside, the deck offers a fine view down through the woods to the lake. We feed the birds. which of course draws squirrels and chipmunks, much to the delight of Miss Echo, who will sit by the door for hours watching them come and go. But for the Dynamic Duo, the lake is the thing.
As the years go by, every hour I spend with my family grows more precious. But here, when I sit by the shore and look a tiny, perfect newborn maple, with two flaming red leaves – and then up at its century-old parent – time takes on a different meaning. Or perhaps it loses its meaning. And that is what we really come here for.