My husband and I were lifelong urban dwellers. An American friend asked my husband to take a look at a cottage that he was thinking of purchasing, in beautiful Muskoka, in the township of Georgian Bay. So on a blustery winter Sunday Daniel drove from Toronto to northern Ontario to look at the property. I tagged along for the ride as did a couple of family members. Big mistake. We immediately fell in love with the property. The friend changed his mind about purchasing and in a moment of weakness Daniel succumbed to the kids pleading for us to buy the cottage and before we knew it we were the proud owners of a money pit — albeit a splendid one.
The topography is spectacular, a lovely lake, trees and rocks, and what a pleasant surprise it was when the snow melted and we discovered we also had a sandy beach. Our family, consisting of two teenagers, two young adults, and a new son-in-law were smitten. We learned some lessons quickly. My son-in-law decided to extend the small dock and we proceeded to clear the water lilies near the shore line so we would have easy access to the lake. Our neighbour came over immediately to inform us that what we were doing were no-nos. Water lilies are to stay in the water and a permit is needed to build, or extend, a dock. Our neighbour also happened to be the mayor of the township.
We also learned from our neighbour/mayor that our new cottage, along with other cottages on the lake and adjacent crown land, was part of a land claim by the Whata Mohawks. When Dan heard the news he threw up his arms in his customary manner, looked skyward and said, “Why Me, Lord?” The lord didn’t answer. However negotiations with the provincial and federal governments and the tribe eventually resulted in a satisfactory settlement for all. We didn’t have to vacate or share our cottage. The Whata Mohawk tribe owns the land on the other side of the lake and a small island in the middle where a regatta is held every year. They make good neighbours.
My hubby learned how to water ski in his sixties, at the same time our cottage buddies of a similar age retired from the sport. He continued skiing into his seventies until we forced him to quit after he experienced a serious medical emergency in the water. He wanted to continue but family and neighbours refused to drive the boat for him. They knew if they did they would have to deal with my wrath.
It has been a busy place. We have hosted many guests, who have consumed vast qualities of food and beer. Over the years our numbers grew. Offspring married and grandchildren were born. They all adore the cottage. It is a nice place for cousins to interact and learn to swim. Few love the cottage as much as my grand-dogs. One, who loves to ride in the ski boat and lap up the wake, also loves to explore the land around us. Whenever he hears the sputter of the motor he comes bounding out of the forest or from wherever he happens to be, jumps in and impatiently waits for the skiers, spotters and spectators to board.
Another grand-dog is big and white. One winter day he was lying in the snow. A passenger in a car opened the window and asked if he was a polar bear. We don’t have polar bears, but black bears are in the area and they occasionally hang out at the garbage dump.
Other Animal Adventures
Our cottage welcomes well-behaved dogs, especially adorable ones. We do not welcome creepy crawlers or rodents no matter how adorable they may be. However they seemed to find a way into the house. An incident comes to mind in which we were expecting important guests whom we really didn’t know very well. We wanted to make a good impression. That morning I thought I saw a mouse run by and disappear somewhere. My family convinced me, or tried to convince me, that there was no mouse and that it was just my imagination. The rest of the day we didn’t see any sign of him or her–that is until our guests arrived.
We were ready to sit down to eat. My imaginary mouse reappeared and scurried across the room. My daughter screamed, grabbed one of her dogs and climbed on to a chair. I am not sure who was squealing – my daughter, the mouse or the dog. Or maybe it was me. The other dogs were barking at the traumatized mouse. The rest of our family was in shock and just stood there dumbfounded. Mrs. Guest asked for a broom and proceeded to chase the rodent while Mr. Guest kept an eye on where he was going. Together the two of them managed to corner the rodent and chase it out the door. I don’t think we impressed our guests, but they sure impressed us.
I also had an imaginary snake. It only made an appearance when I was there, until one day it slithered over to our neighbours who were long time cottagers. There was a lot of excitement and they confirmed that the snake was a Massasauga rattler. Another time we watched in horror as a snake devoured a large frog. My wise six-year-old grandson said, “Don’t be upset — it’s nature.”
We once had to relocate a very large turtle into the water when she was found on our dock looking for a safe place to lay her eggs. The dock was not a safe place what with dogs and humans constantly running about and it is on the endangered species list. Hubby picked up the docile turtle. All of a sudden it started thrashing and snapping and flipped out of his hands and landed on its back. Dan gently nudged it into the water with his foot. We didn’t know if it was dead or alive and whether Dan would be convicted of killing an endangered species. Luckily my daughter had taken a video of the whole thing and the turtle was seen swimming away.
One wildlife encounter I would have gladly done without was with a very fat spider that was crawling on my bed. I went to gently pick it up with a Kleenex and put it outside. Her stomach exploded and all of a sudden hundreds of little spiders were crawling all over my duvet.
We also had a bat visit us at night and land on my head. It flew off as I screamed and hid under the covers until he was captured in a pillow case and released to his natural habitat. Deer have come to visit our property. Canada geese love to make a mess on our beach. Loons love our lake, as do fish and otters. Beavers have a great time gnawing on the trees. We have made friends with squirrels and chipmunks and we feed the humming birds.
As well as an abundance of fauna there is also a wealth of flora. Lots of wild flowers, berries and mushrooms. One daughter, who is a gourmet cook, researches wild mushrooms she finds growing around the property. She found a white soccer ball sized fungus called a puffball, which she deemed edible. The rest of us weren’t too sure but we devoured the delicate flavoured puffball mushroom soup that she and her husband prepared and we all survived.
Things change and all good things come to an end. We are planning on selling the cottage in the foreseeable future. Any takers?
EP says she loved literature and creative writing from an early age. She grew up in Alberta, Canada and later moved to Toronto, Ontario. Her memoir “Why Me?” is a “lighthearted glimpse into my life, and the lives of those I love, or like, at least some of the time.” Find it on Amazon: www.getwhyme.com
You can learn more about this writer at: www.facebook.com/epsniderwhyme; WordPress: www.readwhyme.com; Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReadWhyMe; GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7125727.E_P_Snider