Pride, wrath, envy, sloth, lust, greed, gluttony—the cottage can bring out the best and the worst in us. We asked seven of Canada’s top writers to come clean about their cottage sins
I Have a Confession to Make…
Welcome to cottage country—God’s Country…which wasn’t quite as advertised in 2020. If the COVID-19 pandemic was indeed the wrath of God, as some thought, then it was the Supreme Being with a leaf blower. If it was nature’s revenge, as others have claimed, then it was a blue-green algae bloom on your before-dinner scotch and water.
Anger is hardly a stranger to cottage country. I can get quite miffed by a visiting PWC doing crazy eights in our little bay. I like music, but not blaring from a pontoon boat. I cannot bear campers who leave their campsite like a garbage dump. I love the four-hour drive to the cottage, but not when it takes five hours because of construction. I shake my head at the Hydro One power-outage/power-restored notifications that popped up on my phone this past year, often several times a day. I don’t like blackflies in May, wasps in August, or carpenter ants 365 days of the year.
But this was a year like no other. Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 an annus horribilis following the collapse of three royal marriages, a fire that destroyed much of Windsor Castle, and a front-page photograph of a topless Duchess of York having her toes sucked by her “financial adviser.” But 1992 had nothing whatsoever on 2020, the year where, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it, everything really sucked.
The cottage was, at first, a most welcome refuge from whatever lockdown we were under. Arriving in early April and fearing the wrath of the locals, my wife, Ellen and I were quick to tell whomever we bumped into on our daily walks that we were, in fact, locals who had moved away from Muskoka after high school but were now back “home” in retirement. So we sort of belonged there—or so it seemed at first.
But as days and weeks and, eventually, months passed, the cottage became something it had never before been for us—a sad place. We were there, but it was somehow strangely empty. When our children and grandchildren were there without us—us and our single son one bubble, our daughter’s family their own bubble, all strictly scheduled so that there would be proper disinfecting in between—we like to think they found it a bit empty as well. No grandparents to spoil them. No one to do the dishes, gas the boat, hang up the towels, and pick the dew worms. No one to burn the marshmallows at the evening campfire.
Having previously whined about noise, I now resented the quiet. There were no kids screaming and yelling as they hurtled off the end of the dock and raced to the diving raft. No dogs barking for them to come back. No youngsters screeching “THERE’S ONE!” as they collected tiny toads (scrupulously to be released to the wild at the end of the day). No little ones heading off to bed with the latest Archie comic.
The late King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej once said “We must use the wrath of nature as our teacher.” He was likely thinking about typhoons rather than about pandemics, but still, there have been lessons to be found in the wake of COVID-19.
In sitting around an eerily-quiet cottage, even in sitting around at home thinking about our children and grandchildren being at the cottage when we could not be there with them, a realization grew that this cottage is not just some real estate investment—a description it far too often takes on in conversation—but it is a dividend constantly paying off in personal well-being.
“There are no dollars and cents that can pay for an evening barbecue on the deck with friends from down the lake, a boatload of children, parents, and grandparents puttering back home under a full moon and a ceiling full of stars. There is no price that can be put on kayaking with a granddaughter to check out the “secret lake” that is tucked in behind the far island. There is no feeling in the world that can compare with a small hand in yours as you set off down the gravel road in search of whatever happens to be there.”
If this is what the wrath of nature taught us to appreciate once again and far more, then 2020 was not a lost year after all.
Roy MacGregor is looking forward to welcoming his grandkids back to his Canoe Lake, Ont., cottage soon. In the meantime, he’s working on a memoir and the next volume of The Ice Chips series that he writes with his daughter, Kerry.