I hear the soothing call of the Common Loon (GaviaiImmer) and am instantly relaxed.  Rare is the bird call that is equally melancholy as it is uplifting.  Maybe it’s because I only hear its call while at the cottage where schedule and pattern melt away like the ripples off the dock.

I know model railroads are the world’s most popular hobby but amateur bird watching is also one of the most common.  Not that I can claim to be an avid birdwatcher yet considering I do absolutely nothing to attract them at the cottage, I am amazed at our frequent flying visitors.  So much so that I now own a powerful set of Bushnell binoculars alongside a copy of Ted Floyd’s Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

There has been one constant barb in my bird watching.  I consider myself a pacifist but am ready to stage a full scale assault on the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).  It’s obnoxious Caw! Caw! Caw! reminds me of those detestable self-centered loud mouths constantly stealing the limelight.  Mr. Crow has me overtly plotting his ultimate demise.  “I’m buying a B.B. Gun!” I grumble to my husband in the pre-dawn cottage morning hours.  If only the loon was more egocentric in its early morning conversations – just loud enough to block out the unbearable Crow and his repugnant band of brothers, the Ravens (Corvus corax).

If there was one consolation, it’s that their chatter is limited to the morning hours only (though you do have to be an early riser to consider this a consolation!).  Rarely do they interrupt my evening routine with the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) or my late afternoon chat with the Osprey (Pandion haliatus) who graciously (along with my Loons) alert our fisherman to the whereabouts of the day’s catch.

Aside from the more common sightings of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilocus colubris), Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus verius) and numerous Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata), I am proud to report that this summer I have also visualized a Pileated Woodpecker (Sphyrapicus verius) and a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula).

Someone please tell me what is to be done with these American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos)? Even their scientific name suggests they no longer belong on this earth and should have died off with Tyrannosaurus!  I will not plot their ruin with a B. B. Gun but am not certain can we live in peaceful harmony.  Adding insult to our co-existence that they follow me home and plague me and my garbage all winter long as well.  I am also not comforted knowing that the life expectancy of this flying pest can be up to 30 years!  This means the same crows may haunt my cottage mornings until well into my 70’s.  Eewww.  Somehow I will have to content myself with the fact that more birds bring joy to my cottage days than those who do not.

Long live the Loon!

Our family has two dogs.  One is a border -line psycho collie and the other is a tender shepherd and Bernese Mountain Dog mix.  The former has a vocabulary of roughly 60 words and never relaxes as he awaits your very next command while the latter assumes every command is a request to be licked to death or to roll over and have his belly scratched.  We acquired these beasts a year apart, some 6 years ago and despite their differing personalities and activity requirements, tend to get along very well. 

When our cottage was finished about 3 years ago, it did not take long to discover that our mild mannered hairy mutt with separation anxiety issues was best left on the dock and not locked in the cottage when we went on boat rides.  This lesson learned after replacing several window screens and expensive pine door trim as he maniacally tried to free himself of his detention to pursue us.  So he became our dock beacon, our Brandy Wears a Braided Chain Made of the Finest Silver From The North of Spain patiently waiting for our excursion to end and his People to return safely to dry land.

While vacationing at the cottage this summer, one evening we decide to head off to the Lodge for dinner, a short boat-rode away.  Without a mindful glance at the weather forecast, we soon realized upon our arrival that a storm was a-brewin’.  Halfway through dinner, the skies unleashed their pent up emotion during an otherwise glorious summer and it rained hard for 20 minutes.  I nervously mentioned that I hoped Koda had the sense to wait under the deck for us and not on the dock.  As dinner ended, we dried off the boat as best we could and returned only to find that Koda has abandoned his post.  A quick few whistles were not met with the usual bark replies and I concluded that he must have run away to the forest to be with his brethren.  One of the kids bounded up the path (note:  only kids can bound up our cottage path) and yelled from the top “He got in!  He’s up here!”  Koda had not only managed to find shelter from the storm, he managed to open the door to the cottage and find it with his brudda from anudda mudda in the warm, dry comfort of our cottage.  Someone once suggested that perhaps our lever door handle was not exactly bear-proof and we now know with certainty it is not Koda-proof!  I nervously scoured the entire cottage and perimeter making sure he hadn’t invited any other abandoned wildlife into our sanctuary.  No harm no fowl – I mean – foul. 

Koda was always one not to leave your side if you were lounging on the deck or dock – a habit which we chalked up to his separation anxieties brought on no doubt by his abandonment as a puppy.  Since the Night That We Do Not Mention, things are a little touchier and Koda is a little extra anxious.  Little whimpers signal his unease, torn between accompanying me to the dock for morning coffee time and my husband’s still sleeping body.  Hopefully a few extra dog treats will ease him back to normal.  A trip to the canine psychotherapist is not out of the question but perhaps a few extra tummy rubs are also in order. In any case, my husband has a new project:  building Koda’s Kottage – a cozy shelter should we ever manage to stray from his sight for more than 5 minutes ever again!

Late Sunday afternoon, I mournfully packed up after two weeks at the cottage.  Heavy heart?  Hmmmm, maybe just the newly formed lard ass I am lugging around now that the potato chips are gone.   I admit I am in the deep IMG_2566depths of post-vacation despair.  Seriously, it’s more like despondency.  I had the best vacation.  I hosted much of my family (some of them are still speaking to me), spent serious quality time with my husband and kids (who now think that midnight swims are normal behaviour), successfully (yes, please read:  successfully) water-skied for the first time in fifteen years (everyone was so stunned that mercifully no one took a picture), and tied for 1st Place for our family’s annual Loony Award (must complete daily dip in the lake by noon).  I read countless trashy magazines but also managed 2 serious books (Ernest Hemingway:  A Moveable Feast being one of my new favourites).  I recanted my grievance to Mother Nature as the thermometer hooked around the dock ladder showed the water temperature creeping past 82ºF.  With over 300 pictures, I can now gaze all day at the most unbelievable screen saver.  It’s time to give back to my community.  I’m starting a new support group:  SHAM:  Shrug Holiday Apathy and Melancholy.  United, we will find our way to prosperity and productivity once more … or perhaps another bag of potato chips.

DSC01931It turned out to be less of an omen and more of the foundation settling in.  After reading of the miseries of family reunions on the same newspaper page as an article about cottage guests from hell, I steadied myself for an avalanche of relatives for the August long weekend.  The elders who built the foundation were decisively not invited; hopefully they understand that I intended for the next generation of the family tree to anchor their roots.  My siblings and their kids and my first cousins and their kids, all (22 of them) descended upon our cottage in the Land o’ Lakes region.  The Saturday weather was summer-perfect and I was soon able to soften my stance and melt into a family gathering with hysterical fun.  The warm hugs outnumbered the dirty looks, spontaneous laughter easily crushed any awkward moments of stilted conversations, and tearful memories of recent tragic family events dissolved into the gratification of what the “here and now” has to offer.

Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking:  twelve bottles of wine later – who wouldn’t be gratified with the “here and now”?  But wine time can all too easily turn into whine time which wasn’t the case.  We learned of each other’s recent jobs – new and old and hopefuls, new challenges and undertakings, new homes, new high school and middle school grad celebrations and of course, the litany of aches and pains that are typical of nearing middle age (some of us anyway).  Or are those aches and pains typical of being Latvian?  More likely they are associated with those 12 bottles but I’ll leave that for my new Monday evening support group that I am bound to join sooner than later. 

I read that four out of five people you survey will respond they’ve endured a miserable family reunion.  I may be presumptuous as hostess but I hereby proclaim the First Annual Cousins Cottage Weekend a success.  My aunt stated at a recent family gathering, that we, as immigrants, are always trying to be better than the best, top of the heap and pick of the crop.  All our collective planning and communal cooler sharing, cooking and cleaning up  ensured our gathering would be the one out of five surveyed that can say their family reunion was a triumph.  It’s in our blood…

 … along with a 0.08 blood alcohol count (mostly Amarone).

It was an omen. On the front page of Monday’s Globe and Mail Life section were two articles. One titled: Who are these people? Four out of five people say they’ve attended a miserable family reunion. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/family-and-relationships/who-are-these-people/article1224281/   I have actually been on the Harbour Hopper in Halifax and roared in unison, “Ribbit, Ribbit” with fellow passengers to Haligonians passing by and am pretty sure my vacation mates probably looked the other way while muttering, “She’s not with us”. Then on the same page, one of my favourite Globe columnists Judith Timson, wrote a very forthright article called Water hogs and septic skeptics, or rather how not to be the cottage guest from hell. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/how-not-to-be-the-cottage-guest-from-hell/article1222876/

campfireSo guess what I am doing the August long weekend? I am hosting a family reunion … at our cottage. Uh oh. Too late to back out now; all have been invited, guest list is set and the potluck assignments dispensed. Little do they know that with pen and Polaroid in hand, I am now well equipped to capture all the important family moments and will be taking notes: Who will be the Cottage Princess? The Dock Depressor? The Weather Whiner (I’m pretty sure that will be me)? The Towel Eaters? Or the Food Folly Twins? My cousins and siblings better beware! I’m pretty quick with the quill these days and may invent a few new nicknames. Hmmmm, Martini Maven from Mississauga? ‘Smoresaholic (Ooooooooey gooooooey, that could be me too)?

Fiery family dynamics aside, the first article concludes that the “opportunity to recognize shared values and traits is among the benefits of a family reunion” (that was a doctor quoted in the article, not me). In the ever increasing social media circus that surrounds us (including blogging, I guess), there’s nothing like face-time to stay connected. So if I get frazzled next weekend and tell someone to “go jump in the lake” … well … I just hope they will… and I will join them.

hammock2Never underestimate the power of the Hammock.  Forget for a moment that it is under-appreciated as furniture; I’m finding out that its value as an alternative form of treatment for countless ailments has been rather fully researched.  There are baby hammocks which are womb-like baby beds for full term infants, there are swing hammocks being used as a therapeutic tool for people with sensory processing disorders, autistic children use hammocks to regain equilibrium and water hammocks are used to relieve osteoarthritis pain.

 I recall my grandparents’ old grey hammock suspended between two trees on their cottage property and whose hooks needed to be carved out occasionally as the tree grew.  I recall the beautiful hammocks in the beach houses of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I now have one of my own.  Well, to be truthful, I bought the first one for my husband for Father’s Day and the whole “ownership” thing just got a little out of hand.  So we now have three.  While its therapeutic value is commendable, I’ve opted for its use under the most simplistic terms:  for relaxation.  I had briefly forgotten about hammocks.  We put two up at the cottage this past weekend – the first one is located on the sun deck in a hammock stand and the second is suspended in the screened in porch.  We are already disputing where the third should be located.   

Amid a global recession brought on by unprecedented credit instability accompanied with staggering job losses, I am turning to my hammock for leadership and direction.  I – and a few others I know in this world – can take a strong dose of taking Nothing seriously – easily achieved with a hammock.  It’s really difficult to worry about anything while in a hammock.  There is no need to worry about the repercussions of sleep deprivation while in a hammock.  As I woke from my hammock reverie with a book outline tanned into my legs, my thoughts immediately turned to my daughter and what had become of her during my weekend hammock slumber.  There she was… curled up with Daddy on his hammock… books on their laps too.

 Ah, the hammock.  You should get one.

mother natureDear Mother Nature,

After the rain, the sun shall shine, right?  Whatever I did to offend you, I shall repent.  I can see now your supremacy is untouchable.  But enough with the rain already.  Other than a brief moment of sun on Canada Day – very brief and very late in the afternoon – it has been raining for days!  Did that Noah enter into a better covenant with you?  I’ll double what he’s paying you.  Name your price, just please let the sun shine for a few hours!.

I’m cold and I’m wet and I’m pretty darn miserable.  I’m about to finish my second book this week.  I even went swimming in the rain yesterday.  I watched Space Buddies for the third time and my kids aren’t even around.  I want to test drive my new clothesline.  I can take no more.

I noticed on your blog (aka Environment Canada weather site) that you will be showering us until next Friday July 10th.  Not only will this rain fall on me but on my two kids at camp near Bancroft and my daughter at camp in Algonquin Park.  Surely they do not deserve the wrath intended for me and my transgressions.  Please leave them and their camper friends out of our quarrel.

 I humbly request you reconsider this current course of action and allow my newly painted picnic table to finally dry.  Surely seeing flowers bloom in the sunshine and children frolicking in the lack is all part of your grand scheme?  I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.

Your loyal and soggy servant,

beaverI have not picked up a newspaper now in over a week (but, yes, I do know that Michael Jackson has died).  My kids are off to camp and my husband and I are on our own with the two dogs.  Since delivering the final troupe of campers on Monday I have puttered around the cottage taking the occasional momentary glance at my carefully constructed “to do” list – all the things I needed to get done at the cottage while the kids were away. 

I am more than a little irked that my husband has now crossed NINE things off his list compared to my single crossed out accomplishment.  I tell him I am still recuperating from the anxiety and effort that go along with preparing three kids for camp.  I tell him that I still haven’t decided what colour to paint the picnic table.  I tell him that the damp weather is sucking the life out of me (well, that would probably be the mosquitoes).  My lack of inertia at tackling my list may well be the result of the terrible weather we’ve had since the weekend but more likely it’s because I love making “to-do” lists, I just hate the “do” part.  I find myself ill prepared for today’s tasks.  I forgot that the stores are closed today (Canada Day) and have no paint for the picnic table, no closet organizer ready to install, no bracket for my dinner bell, no towel racks for the upper bathroom and no top soil ready to spread over the septic bed.

I should be happy that despite my lack of tangible accomplishments so far this week, I have successfully managed to read a book, kayak our bay, consumed a bottle of champagne while countless creatures flew and swam by me on the dock, and prepared a number of yummy cottage appetizers and dinners for two.  I’ve also been a very apt associate as I held the dock fenders while they were screwed into place, I lugged a couple of very heavy rocks to the new fire pit enclosure and then spread the sand that was my husband brought up to the fire pit, held one end of the clothesline while the other was secured to a tree and provided prompt and plentiful advice on the requirements of the new trail-in-progress while cheerfully dispensing his Advil.

So what’s to feel guilty about?  I noticed plenty of fishermen out there this morning while sipping my coffee that probably have even less to show for their effort (they will tell you otherwise, of course).  So in my final three days of “vacation” before I head back to Ottawa, I am eager to continue along the same production line I’ve started:  my success will not be measured by how many tasks I’ve crossed off my list, but how many tasks I can add to my husband’s list.  And that beaver better not show up along my dock again lest he’s willing to take part!

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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