Boats and the Cottage

Boats are a big part of cottage life, for the experiences they allow and the memories they create.

Our arrival at the lake follows a long-practiced routine. I jump out at the resort where our eighty horse runabout is stored in a sheltered berth. My wife jumps into the driver’s seat of the truck and heads to the public landing with kids, dogs and gear. The moment of truth comes when I turn the key in the Bowrider and, after its standard moment of hesitation, it sputters to life.

I idle slowly out of the bay and into the main lake, and then I push the throttle down. Peering over the wind screen, I aim for the island and skip the family runabout across the blue lake waters. Once there, I park the boat on the left side of the dock, and ready “Big Red,” our pontoon boat, which is moored on the right. After un-doming its canvas cover and untying the spring lines, ropes and safety lines, I head back over to the mainland a mile distant to ferry clan and provisions to the cottage. Then, when all has been transported, unloaded, and carried into the cottage, I hoist the Canadian flag up the pole by the dock – a signal to all on the lake that the Ross clan is here. I imagine that most on the lake already know this, just by our habitual arrival routine.

Up and down the lake, you relate the boats with the owners, and their habits and preferred activities. More-so even than cars in the home neighbourhood, boats distinctively represent the cottager. We know the sound of our neighbour’s outboard. The Hobbs live on the island two kilometres east of ours. As we relax on the dock reading, we hear the distant buzz of the engine. I stand and look up the lake. I recognize the distant silhouette. Harvey sits in the stern of the fishing skiff, operating the motor handle, while his wife Vera sits up front on a padded swivel seat, body facing the rear, head turned to the front. We know if they are coming to visit by the course Harvey sets from the outset.

The former owner of their cottage was the same. If he headed out from his cottage and meandered through the shoals on the north shore, we knew he was coming our way, if he turned south and headed directly across the open lake to shore, he was not. He had a sixteen foot metal fishing boat, similar to Harvey’s. He also had a metal Grumman canoe. He painted all his boats chocolate brown, and adorned them with the same native motif on their bow, as a symbol of ownership. We suspected that, perhaps, his darling wife had the same logo tattooed on her stern.

George, the resort manager, heads out at the same early hour each morning to his secret fishing holes. We recognize his Boston Whaler with its flapping canvas Bimini top. We know the Lewis’s are up at the cottage because Toby’s heavy, v-haul runabout is parked at the dock. Dan’s boat always has fishing poles and long handled nets sticking up from it like a porcupine. We know the Fullerton clan is visiting without even looking off the backside of our island, because we hear the whir of their circling boat as they take their grandkids tubing. We see kayaks exploring the islands east of us and know the Morris family is at the lake.

The family boat is an integral part of cottage living. Whether you prefer the tranquillity of an early morning paddle or the exhilaration of water-skiing behind a high-powered runabout, getting out on the water is one of the best things about life at the lake. At the cottage, boats mean freedom. They allow us to explore beyond our own shores, to claim the whole lake as our own, to expand our personal boundaries of island or lakefront lot. The lake is ours to discover. It is our personal playground.

One sees all manner of vessels out on the lakes; fishing boats, runabouts, speedboats, jet skis, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, windsurfers, paddle boards and rowboats. The kinds of boats that are tied up to the cottage dock say a lot about the cottager. We have been a family of canoeists, and have four canoes set on a log canoe-rack – aluminum, fibreglass, plastic white-water, and cedar-strip. Two kayaks are drawn up nearby.

There are also floating tubes, leaky air mattresses, clumsily crafted log rafts and knee boards. On any summer afternoon, this odd assortment of line-of-battle ships join the kayaks and a canoe in our bay in what would appear to an outsider to be a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar. Boats are flipped and scuttled and boarded – sailors, pirates, soldiers and navy cadets are tossed overboard. There is much hollering, splashing, laughing and screeching, and in the end, all claim victory.

Boats are synonymous with cottage life. The cottager’s passion for boating can’t be measured in vessel type, horsepower, length, width, brand or colour. It is found in embracing the experience of being on the water and in memories created. From cruises around the lake, to marathon skiing sessions, to a picnic at Sandy Bay, the boat offers a unique means of spending time together as a family.

Cottage Bonfire on the Beach

Cottage Dreaming at the Cottage Life Show

I visit the Cottage Life Show in Toronto to get myself ready for the upcoming cottage season. Problem is, I have to hang around with my wife when I want to hang with the kids!

Men never grow up. They think and act like children. That is my conclusion, having conducted recent research.

The Spring Cottage Life show at the end of March is the stage for my investigations. In the midst of this never-ending winter, it is the perfect time to check out all the new cottage products, the toys and gadgets that, in our mind, will add both comfort and excitement to our summer days. I’m especially excited this year because we have brought the kids along – which means more fun for a dad than simply having to trail off after a spouse on an agonizing, stop and go trek, through the endless aisles of Martha Stewart-like interior exhibits. No, cottage life should be about fun in the outdoors, not inside entertaining. The kids won’t put up with the monotony of furniture, crafts and cutesy knick-knacks, I reason. Meaning this visit will be about fun and toys and … then comes the let-down, in one simple sentence.

“Why don’t you kids wander around on your own, and we can meet back here in an hour. Your dad and I want to check out the new cottage kitchens.”

No! They will be climbing in and out of fancy new boats, checking out the latest in canoes, kayaks, catamarans and wind surfers, sitting dreamily on jet skis and hiking themselves out on some racy sailboat like a crew-hand in the America’s Cup. The girls will lounge briefly in the cushioned seats of pontoon boats imagining themselves hanging out with their friends in bikinis, while my son will play with the steering wheel of a ritzy cabin cruiser while envisioning himself as some multi-millionaire yacht owner. They will be kicked off a good many vessels by salesmen wanting to impress more legitimate customers. The kids will try on the latest water skis and boogie boards, bounce on water trampolines, practice fly casting, and try to climb into futuristic hot tubs. I want to be with them.

Instead, my wife and I are hanging out staring at soapstone countertops that are “as attractive as they are durable and not only impervious to heat and stains, but virtually maintenance free.” I run over to a wine tasting exhibit to help me get through this, and then catch up to my darling wife drooling over a mammoth pine harvest table with eight sturdy plank chairs. “Wouldn’t this look good at the cabin?” she seems to be asking me, and I probably would have heard her, had I not been looking off with envy in the direction my four youngsters have wandered.

She stops and listens to some talking head extolling the virtues of something called “Sham-Wow,” and then I see her take out her wallet. She hands me a small, square piece of very expensive felt and tells me she bought it for me to clean our old boat – “fellow said it would be just like new!” I run back over to the wine exhibit, swirl a Shiraz around in my mouth and tell the person that poured it, “Ah, full-bodied, with a distinct note of black cherry and a hint of pepper, if I’m not mistaken,” or some such thing that I had memorized from the information card.

We meander through some food exhibits and sample feta stuffed mini pitas and little nibbles of chocolate cashew buttercrunch, so small that they are only a tease. We dip pretzels into little dishes of various sauces, while a lady explains to my wife the fine ingredients whilst glaring at me undoubtedly recognizing the classic vacant look of the typical double-dipper. A spicy chili concoction has me running back to the vintner exhibit, only to find that I have been cut off.

Finally, mercifully, the hour is up, and we hasten back to the rendezvous point. Perhaps seeing my pain and sensing my agony, my compassionate children beg me to come with them for a brief look at all they have discovered. I cast my eye on the elegant lines and shining chrome of a polished mahogany launch. The kids drag me onward to the fancy ski boat, envious of all the bells and whistles, especially the enormous stereo speakers that I’m sure would be heard all around the lake. If that’s not loud enough for them, they marvel at a jet boat. With exclamations of approval, my son watches a video clip that shows the enormous, space-age craft zooming around a lake, belching fire out of its back end and sending a plume of spray 100 metres in its wake.

My wife stares dreamily at a sporty Hobie Cat, I’m sure taking her back to the sailing days of her youth. There is a sleek wooden row boat, and I imagine rowing it around the island and over to shore each morning, a great way to get into shape. I show it to my wife, who imagines herself sprawled out in the bow sipping red wine, while I get into shape. Something new for the cottage dream list, somewhere ahead of the flatulent jet boat, but surely well behind a harvest table.

Cottage Prepping

Things get out-of-hand at a simple wine tasting festival. No fault of my own, of course, I blame it on the wine!

It always seems in early Spring that my wife and I get restless. It is the drawback of the island cottage, there is a period of forced absence. We have to wait until the lake ice melts away before we can open up the place. It is that forbidden time, usually from late March to mid-April, when the ice becomes unsafe. We can only stare from the mainland out to the island.

We will usually take advantage of this sabbatical by doing some cottage prepping at the Spring Cottage Life Show, to see all that is new and fanciful for cottage living. This year, however, we decided to do something a little different, so we trekked down to the big city a weekend earlier and took in the Wine and Cheese Show. It represented a virtual round-the-world taste test, to find that ultimate wine to sip on the dock in the late afternoon after a busy, fun and productive cottage day, or that full-bodied red to compliment the thick steaks that I would have cooking on the barbecue.

We started at the show wandering up and down each aisle, savouring the best vintages the world had to offer. While some of those standing around us would swish around the tastings in their mouths, gurgle it like mouthwash, and then, and what’s the sense in this, spit it out into some stainless steel spittoon, we would take a sip, close our eyes, and imagine ourselves laid out in a lounger on the cottage deck with the sun warming our face, or sitting around the big pine kitchen table enjoying a fine meal. While others would talk about their wine exhibiting the beautiful sweet nose of spring flowers and a taste of such richness that it massages the palate with the flavours of chocolate, gooseberries and leather oxfords, we would ask which offerings might best repel blackflies. There is nothing worse than swallowing a drowned insect in one’s robust merlot.

We sipped Italian Chianti and decided it would compliment a cottage comfort meal of spaghetti and meatballs. We tasted an Argentinian Malbec and muttered “mmm – steaks on the barbecue.” We swirled around a Pinot Noir from New Zealand, a Californian Cabernet and something unpronounceable from Great Wines of China. China? – really. It wasn’t bad … we decided it would go nicely with Chinese. The great wine regions of Ontario were well represented, Strewn from Niagara and Crew from Erie – great for the cottage we decided.

We sipped our way through most of the afternoon, and for most of the day our romantic city escape and cottage prepping plan seemed well founded. Then, two things happened. Firstly, we started to realize the value of using the spittoons. No matter, we had wisely booked into a local hotel and had taken a shuttle to the show. Still, the wonderful wines had probably clouded my judgement a bit, and had made my wife less tolerant. Wandering down one of the last aisles I came across a wine tasting seminar being advertised. “Get Naked With Wines” it was called. I stared in at the young, nubile speaker and immediately signed us up.

When the pretty vintner swirled around wine in her glass and said things like “you have to check the legs, the lighter the wine the faster they run, the fuller, the slower,” or “a slight hint of melons and the essence of candy,” or “this is likely a little more body than you’re used to,” I thought she was speaking directly to me. Worse than that, my darling spouse thought that I was thinking that she was speaking directly to me.

Cottage Prepping! We have some newly discovered wines we want to savour dockside. I can swirl a rich, robust wine around in my glass, look over at my wife and proclaim, “beautiful legs.” Perhaps that will get me back in the good books. Or, maybe, such tasting theatrics are redundant, a good bottle of red sipped at our favourite place on earth will suffice.

Happy Making Waves

I always enjoy seeing two motorcycles passing each other on the highway or on a winding cottage road, the way the drivers give each other that two-fingered side wave.  It is a very cool gesture; calm, casual, stylish and trendy.  It says, “We are brethren, kindred spirits simply because of our chosen mode of travel.”

I have tried to get the same sort of sophisticated acknowledgement going when I pass another driver of a pickup truck.  I want to start my own trend.  So I hold my arm out of the open window, (something that since childhood your mom always warned you against lest a passing vehicle takes it off), clap my palm on the door and give a one-fingered waggle.  It just doesn’t catch on.  The other drivers give me an icy, unfriendly stare that says, “Are you a bit odd, or are you perhaps just mocking motorcyclists?”  Hmmm, maybe pickup drivers are just not fashionable enough – perhaps it would work better if I drove a family minivan.  Maybe other minivan drivers would be more hospitable.

I tried something similar when I was peddling my mountain bike down a narrow trail, I gave a passing cyclist what I thought was a very groovy hand-waving acknowledgement.  Not only did the other bicyclist not return my friendly gesture, but I was so focussed on my own savvy signal that I lost my balance, teetered out of control and crashed into the trailside tangle.  I guess I should have used my bell.

I thought that the only way I could gain any sense of satisfaction was to invest in my own Harley, or at least a small scooter.  I wanted to join the motorcycle fraternity.  I brought the idea to my wife, who simply scoffed and waved me away.  At least even the idea of owning a motorcycle had garnered a wave!

Then, feeling downcast and sullen, I decided that a day on the water might brighten my mood.  I took my pontoon boat, Big Red, out for an afternoon’s outing on a certain Muskoka lake.  I passed a runabout going the other way.  Everybody on board waved at me.  I passed a sleek jet boat and the same thing happened.  I passed a 100 year old man in a polished wooden dippy and he raised a hand in salute.  I passed a sumo wrestler on a jet ski and he gave me a fashionable wave, without even losing his balance.  Canoeists waved, sailors waved, people in all shapes and sorts of marine vessels passed and waved.  I boated in and out of the channels to pass as many boats as possible.  Everybody waved.  I waved back excitedly, frantically, like some kind of lunatic – or at least so said my kids.

People on the docks waved and I waved back, but then realized that the people on the dock were all young men and not waving at me but at my daughters on board.  “Get a boat if you want to wave!” I yelled.  A rower waved and a wake boarder waved; everybody young and old, big and small waved and was friendly.  A kayaker waved quite energetically, although, in retrospect, perhaps they were waving frantically at me to slow down or keep away.  No matter, nothing could dampen my sense of comradery.

Well almost nothing.  I waved excitedly at the police launch – and they waved me down and asked if I had been drinking.  I hadn’t, of course, I was just happy.  They checked my boater’s card and safety equipment and waved me on my way.  I was just thrilled to be part of the boating fraternity – elated to be part of any network for that matter, or at least one that waved at each other.  What a wonderful, welcoming, sociable bunch boaters are and I am just so delighted to be finally making waves.

A Canada Day Beaver Tale

A friend of mine was attacked by a beaver.  Now, don’t laugh, it’s true.  He told us so himself.  We were at the cottage and there were a few of us, outdoor types, sitting around the campfire exchanging bear stories, when he joins in to tell us how he was nearly mauled by this plump rodent.  You can imagine our mirth at his little yarn – we all shared a good laugh.  He was serious though, and visibly shaken recalling the experience.

This friend is a forestry worker, a consultant.  As such, he spends much of his time in the outdoors.  He is in the bush through all seasons and in any weather, sunshine, rain and snow.  Until the time of the attack, his only worries were the occasional black bear, and the black flies and mosquitoes that torment him each Spring.

He has a dog that accompanies him on his wilderness treks, a Siberian husky that loves the outdoors, the adventure and the exercise.  Well, not too long ago as he was busy working in the bush, our friend heard the dog barking nearby.  Now huskies are not natural barkers, so he deemed the disturbance worth investigating.


He found the dog facing off with a rather large beaver – the beaver was confidently eyeing the canine.  Fearing for the beaver’s well-being, this caring forestry worker called off his well-behaved husky and ordered it to stay at a distance.  He was fascinated to see this beaver so far from any water.  There was no pond, lake or river in the near vicinity.  As he was admiring the pluck of the adventuresome mammal, he was shocked to find himself under attack.

The beaver charged, and our poor friend was quickly back-peddling.  The awkward looking attacker darted in with more speed than seemed possible.  Our hero dipped and dodged, weaved and wobbled, until he found himself with his back to a tree.  The beaver gnashed his large front teeth.  It seemed like curtains for our friend, but like a well-written movie, he found a large stick lying by his right hand.  Just in the nick of time, he stuck out the broken branch and held the ferocious creature at bay.

The beaver backed off a little and, seizing the opportunity, our brave forester sprinted off.  He did not look behind him, did not worry about his dog, did not stop until he had reached the safety of his truck.  You can imagine how we laughed when we heard this campfire tale, giggled until our bellies hurt.  I feel sorry for laughing now.

I have shared my friend’s scary account with others around the lake, and in turn have been given several similar stories of suspense involving the ferocious flat-tailed tree-eater.  One poor fellow required stitches in his backside.  A beaver had blocked his way over a bridge.  He left the safety of his vehicle to gently shoo the cute critter from his path.  The beaver charged and the man turned and ran.  The fleet-footed fur-ball caught him, pinning the man between truck and bridge guard rail as he struggled to open his door.   The beaver latched on to the startled victim’s posterior, gnawing on it like it was a poplar tree.

An old rancher friend from the west told me of his own experience.  When out riding his horse, repairing fence, he caught site of a beaver far from any pond.  Before the cowboy could spit a tobacco plug, the creature had lunged at his mount’s front legs.  The beaver put the run on the horse in such an expert fashion, that the cowpoke considered training the agile rodent for cutting cattle.

Now we all have our cottage stories of Castor canadensis – of the damage they cause, the trees they thin, the marsh systems they help create, or simply the sound of their wide tail smacking water on a still summer’s night.  What has put me in mind of these violent tales is that today, as I am writing this, it is Canada Day, a day when we salute our country and feel pride for our flag.  It is true we often complain that, as national symbols, the Americans have their bald eagle, the Russians their fearsome bear, and the Brits their king of the beasts, the lion.  We have our amphibious rodent. Though these buck-toothed engineers may be industrious, hard-working and skilled, they have never been credited as ferocious warriors.

“Well, now you know the rest of the story.”

Cottage Workshop – Building a Squirrel-proof Bird Feeder

I have built the ultimate squirrel-proof bird feeder.  I have defeated my arch-nemesis, Chirpy.  Finally, in the end, I have won our on-going battle.  I am victorious!

I know what you’re thinking.  What am I going to do at the cottage all summer if I am no longer battling with my sinister rival?  And, how will that rascal Chirpy actually win out again in the final paragraph of this column?  Well, obviously you haven’t read the title above.  This little narrative isn’t about duking it out with a bushy-tailed rodent, or about fighting with nature.  No, it is about the wisdom that I am about to impart to you, the reader, so you too can become the ultimate cottage do-it-yourselfer.  Or what I like to call D.I.Y., to save on my word count.

It started with a brilliant idea, one that I stole from a neighbouring cottager.  He had several bird feeder stands built judiciously around his grounds, easily visible from the back deck.  The feeders sat atop four by four posts dug into the ground, while old stove piping fixed halfway up prevented squirrels from climbing.  “We (meaning me) could build that,” states my darling wife.  She often says that about intricate building or renovation projects around our cottage, though I usually think it is her devious way of making me look foolish.  Here, however, was a project that perhaps I could take on.  It looked simple enough.  And with a few minor design modifications of my own, I could take ownership of this little project.  The Ultimate Cottage Daze Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder Stand!  It kind of has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

So, off I went to the local lumber yard to pick up a twelve foot, four by four post and a handful of wood screws.  I had some old metal ducting stored in the shed that I knew would come into use one day.  So I dug the post into the ground, tacked on the metal to make it rodent-proof, and built a cross-piece on top from which hung too well-stocked bird feeders.  Then I headed indoors to witness Chirpy’s agonized reaction to my wonderful invention.

As I peeked out of the cottage window, I watched Chirpy survey the situation, from all different angles.  He looked up with his paws on his hips.  He scratched his chin.  He nodded his little head.  Then he climbed up a nearby maple tree, walked out to the end of a branch, and let his weight droop the spindly limb down to the top of the feeder.  I dissembled the post, dug it out of the ground, and moved it far from any tree or shrubbery.  I put the stand back together and hid in the cottage once more.

Chirpy returned, and took in the new situation.  He paced off three metres from the base of the post, turned, and sprinted up, his momentum taking him past the slippery metal (like a snowmobiler skipping their high-powered machine across an expanse of open water – for whatever reason).  I dissembled the unit again and added a cone shaped metal cap.  The squirrel repeated the same process and then just used the cap as something to push off of, catapulting himself higher, in a circus-like trapeze manoeuvre, grabbing the base of a feeder before swinging himself aboard.

I dissembled the unit again and added a length of stove pipe.  Chirpy climbed up between the stove pipe and the post like a mountain climber scaling a chimney-shaped crevasse.  I dissembled the stand for the forty-third time, and closed in the bottom of the piping.

Then I waited, peering out secretively from my window.  I waited and watched and waited.  I got thirsty while I watched and waited, so I grabbed a beer from the fridge and then returned to watch and wait some more.  Chirpy came out and surveyed the situation.  He gave it a try, but he slipped backwards and fell to the ground.  He tried a couple more times, but failed.  Chirpy went off to the trees.  I had won – I had finally won!

For the next few days I returned to my secret spying window to marvel at my great invention.  I hadn’t seen Chirpy for a week.  Hard as it is to believe, I kind of missed him.  So I decide to take a stroll along the forest trail telling my wife that I want to find Chirpy and gloat, but when I do see him he ignores me.  I can’t help but notice that he is looking a bit thin.  And is that a whole chirpy family that he has in his hole-in-the-tree home?  Perhaps he has to provide for all of them.

I return to the cottage and dissemble the feeder stand one last time.  I strip it of the metal, the stove pipe, and the copper cap.  I build a miniature wooden ladder up the side for easier climbing and then fill the feeders with Chirpy’s favourite seed, suet and peanuts.  After-all, squirrel watching is just as much fun as watching silly birds.  Now, I am angered when I notice that the birds; the sweet chickadees, tiny sparrows, colourful jays and handsome woodpeckers are using Chirpy’s feeder.  I run from the cottage screaming and chase them away.

So stay tuned to another season of Cottage Daze, and particularly for my next cottage workshop project, the Ultimate Cottage Daze Bird-Proof Bird Feeder!  I have a plan.


Just like they do in those fancy cottage magazines – read on for the step by step design and building instructions, made easy, for squirrel proofing your bird feeders and annoying your squirrels.

Cottage Workshop – The Ultimate Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder

Materials:  one 4×4 twelve foot post,  a handful of wood screws, some 6 inch bolts salvaged from the last dock repair, two dock boards left over and stored under the bunkhouse, a three foot length of dented chimney pipe from two years ago when you replaced the old cottage chimney with a new insulated one, a couple pieces of two by four that had previously been used to level the barbecue, a few bent and rusty nails – (for hanging feeders), a spade with a broken handle (that you snuck to the cottage from home when your wife tried to take it to the dump), the new bird feeder you got your wife for Mother’s Day instead of flowers – (which only caused one or two problems), and some bird seed – (which your wife served you for dinner as a result of the previous miscalculation).

The Plans:

  1. Dig post 3 feet into the ground – preferably sitting straight, kind of.
  2. Fasten old chimney about three feet off the ground – paint to taste.
  3. Cap the chimney section with an old metal dome-shaped roof cabbaged from a previous squirrel-proof feeder that cost a lot of money but didn’t work.
  4. Bolt old dock board at top of pole, braced by odd pieces of two by four.  Put in a few extra screws to secure, and add a couple of bent nails from which you can hang feeders.  Should be in a ‘T’ shape.
  5. Hang feeders and fill with bird seed.
  6. See squirrel on bird feeder, so disassemble entire unit and try again, making minute adjustments to design until you succeed.
  7. Repeat as often as necessary, or until it is the cocktail hour on the dock.

Left in the Dark

It is another thing I like about the cottage – I love escaping the city’s lights. Our cottage doesn’t have any electricity, so at night it is lit by propane globes and oil lanterns. They illuminate the cabin’s polished wood interior in a warm soft glow.

There has been much talk about light pollution in cottage country. At our lake, this has yet to become a real problem. Here, the night sky still exists, and has not been lost in the lights, street lamps or general glow of civilization. Often we can look along the more populated south shore of our lake, and see only a dozen or so distant cottages with their lights on. And, while looking up at the sky from many places often comes with the restrictions of buildings, hills or even trees, lying out on the rocky point of our island, the sky is big, a total dome overhead, and the starry display on a cloudless night is often spectacular.

I love the total darkness that we have here, and have summered at this place for so long, that I can find my way around the trails in the night without need of a lamp. And, if one needs help, a simple flashlight will do. During a recent family gathering at the cottage, my kid sister and brother in law decided to make the place a bit more resort-ish. They had brought a couple dozen solar lights with them, and had spiked them in an organized fashion alongside the trail that led from the cabin to their bunkie. I was horrified. Our island had taken on the look of a tropical resort with Tiki torches, or perhaps of an airport runway at night.   Though their scheme was reasonable and sound, meant to make the journey from main cottage to their bunkie easier in the dark, I found that the shadows cast by the dim lights had me tripping over roots or stubbing my toes on rocks.

Rather than acting mature and simply talking to them about these glowing standards, I decided my best and most practiced strategy was to act childish. While everyone sat around the evening fire, I snuck off and moved the lights, changing their path, so rather than leading down the trail, they curved off into the middle of some rough bramble. Then, quite pleased with myself, I hid behind a tree and tried to control my juvenile giggles. I heard someone approaching, then the rustle of leaves and the snapping of branches.   There followed the thump of someone falling and the oomph of landing hard – all the calamity capped by a sharp and unsavoury exclamation. I felt bad for a brief second.

“Which one of you fool kids moved my lights!” my sister’s husband cried. I chortled through my nose and ran back to the cottage through the darkness.

I felt a bit sheepish and foolish on the following morning in the light of day, especially when I saw my fine brother-in-law, his arms and legs scratched from prickles, taking down his trail of lights in a huff and storing them away in the shed. Still, I am happy to be rid of them. I guess my point was taken.

The Cottage at the Bonfire

The Cottage at the Bonfire

To celebrate my small victory, that night, after the sun had disappeared in the west, our bonfire had been doused, and the lake was dark once again, I gathered everybody on the rocky point. Adults and kids lay out on our backs like tumbled bowling pins, helter-skelter, staring up at the brilliant canopy of stars. My son used me for a pillow, and my wife and daughters snuggled in by my side. Only a few cottage lights were to be seen on the mainland. With no lights, clouds or moon, the display of stars was amazing. We watched overhead for hours – as falling stars lit a comet-like trail and flashing satellites drifted slowly past. We lost ourselves in the wonder of the Milky Way and tried to pick out the constellations.   The dark night was beautiful, and peaceful.

When you venture to your cottage, try your best to leave the bright urban glow behind – the city lights are pretty there, but not here. Make a point of turning off unnecessary lights, not just for yourself, but also for your cottage neighbours. And, most importantly, don’t forget to look to the heavens. Some people never see that sight. It is sometimes nice being left in the dark!

*For those who love technology, there are “Night Sky” apps available for your phone to help you identify stars and constellations – and then you can use your device’s flashlight to find your way back to the cottage at the end of the night.*