Category Archives: cottage

The Three Rs: Reading, Writing, and Re-charging

This summer, I took the longest sustained pause since completing my PhD. I knew I needed a break, but my time kept getting eroded. I decided a year ago to safeguard this summer to recharge, and also to focus on my non-academic writing. With caring for aging parents, and then launching right into the PhD, life had been taking priority over the creative work for more than a decade. Six manuscripts had been parked that I wanted to get back to. I brought three with me on retreat, knowing that my writing focus tends to change with the weather.

It rained six days out of seven quite consistently, sometimes with violent wind, thunder and lightning; so while not a good summer for painting and outdoor cottage repairs, it proved very productive in terms of one of my writing projects. A poetry manuscript that I’ve been working on for a while, but hadn’t figured out how to bring together, is now nearing completion. And it feels so good! It’s like taking back a vital part of my self that’s been lying fallow for far too long. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but I find that academic writing just doesn’t allow for the same level of free-thinking creativity; it just doesn’t offer the same buzz. And for me, creative work requires quality time that also supports the energy required.

Doe on the front lawn looks into the cottage to watch me knit

I took my writing retreat at the family cottage, a log cabin in the woods on a lake north of Peterborough. I was there for nearly six weeks, which proved to be an optimal amount of time. It was long enough to get good work done, but by the end, I was ready to come home. I also got some fun reading done; I caught up on almost a year’s worth of National Geographic, and read five novels, four of them YA fare. I knitted most of a sweater, noting my long association of writing with knitting. And in spite of the weather, I got out on the lake in my kayak several times.

Sitting on the front lawn, you can see and hear all kinds of birds: ospreys, blue jays, chickadees, scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, herons, loons, ducks, geese, wild turkeys, crows (few things in nature sound as goofy as an adolescent crow), and woodpeckers. The woods are also full of animals: black and red squirrels, chipmunks, racoons, porcupines, groundhogs, fox, and deer. It’s amazing to see them in the wild, but they tend to disappear on weekends when more people are around and the lake gets noisy.

Pileated Woodpecker’s snack

It’s quiet there. So quiet, that I sleep heavily through the night. So quiet, that you can hear insects, and when a Phoebe snatches one from the air, you can hear her beak snapping shut. The air sometimes has sweet undertones. Sunsets provide amazing light shows, and then the night is truly dark and still.

I feel well rested, relaxed, and more like myself than I have for a really long time. As with all holidays, one tries to hang onto that feeling for as long as possible. I’m back in Toronto, with the teaching term starting, but I’ve scheduled regular writing time, hoping to move forward with some other projects that’ve been on hold. I’ll let you know when I get a publisher lined up!


©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

Boats of the Kawarthas

The lakes north of Toronto are home to a panoply of wild boats. This handy field guide will help identify a few of the more common species.

Kayaks and canoes often travel in pairs, or sometimes flocks. They tend to stay near shore, preferring calm waters, and are most commonly sighted mornings and evenings. These quiet boats can seemingly appear out of nowhere; however, when occupied by youthful campers, can be readily heard across the lake. It is heartening to see that their numbers have noticeably increased in the last few years. Their unmotorized cousins, rowboats and sailboats, continue to be rare on these lakes.

Fishing boats also tend to stay inshore, believing that this is their prey’s preferred habitat. Unlike kayaks and canoes, fishing boats usually travel alone; however, like their cousins, they are also more commonly sighted in the mornings and evenings. Their occupants have a propensity for standing, often talking loudly, and are prone to alcoholic-induced behaviour. Because of their fondness for the shallows, they are frequently snagged on rocks, sometimes emitting loud swearing when this happens. Fish are wary of these boats, having witnessed or experienced release back into the water via a long overhand lob.

Moving through deeper water, majestic houseboats traverse these waterways at a slow, steady pace. These are often rented boats, piloted by less experienced drivers. They are most common on weekends, especially long weekends, when they can be quite raucous with loud music, alcohol, and fireworks. Although usually seen solo, they are sometimes observed docking together in small groups. Such clusters of houseboats often emit loud partying noises

Jets skis are increasingly common, usually travelling at speed, in pairs or sometimes threes. Although designed for a single rider, they can be observed with as many as three. As with houseboats, they are most frequently observed on weekends. These gregarious vehicles are noisy, and like showing off. Occasionally, one will stall in the middle of the lake, while another circles around, seemingly teasing or anxious. Rarely, two will stop for a conversation before speeding off again.

Another common weekend species is the jet boat. These excessively loud boats are recognizable by the high plume of water extending from their rear. Although jet skis share this behaviour, because of their heavier, more powerful motors, jet boat rooster tails are taller. They move at uncommonly fast speeds, and while sometimes seen solo, jet boats often race in pairs, or with a jet ski companion. These are competitive boats, that clearly enjoy showing off.

Common for decades on these lakes, motorboats, with either inboard or outboard motors, ply the waters, usually at moderate speed and volume. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be seen at any time of day. In comparison to some other motorized boats, like jet skis and jet boats, these boats are sturdier, take more passengers, and are usually quieter. In the past, these boats sometimes towed water-skiers; however, now they more commonly tow inflatables, frequently filled with screeching children.






Increasingly, oversized inboards, such as cigar boats, can be seen—and heard—roaring up the lake. These new hybrids are clearly an indication of the increasing affluence of weekend boaters, as they usually have only a single occupant, and like jet boats, can often be seen in racing competition. (It was upon witnessing one of these deafening races that this researcher had the fleeting thought that the male pilot should, “grow a penis.” This thought was not blurted aloud, as it would have been very unprofessional, as well as unheard over the din.)

Finally, spacious cabin cruisers are also increasing in number. The presence of these boats is another clear indication of the increasing affluence of weekend boaters, as they can take multiple passengers in comfort, allowing for sunbathing on the deck, and sleeping or other activities in the berths below-deck. They include cooking facilities, enabling occupants to eat while drinking, usually reducing their raucousness. Because of their self-contained luxury, cabin cruisers can travel greater distances than many other species, lending their stately appearance to numerous lakes on a given weekend.


©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

Reflections from Cottage Country

Catherine’s off being a writer in a cabin in the woods. Me? I’m on holiday, so I volunteered to write this month’s post. (Wow. Automatic spellcheck is amazing—especially when you’re not a great typist.) We’ve been here a really long time. It’s rained almost every day, so it’s been perfect for napping.

Even inside, there’s lots to see and do. There are lots of windows, so I can see all kinds of birds. One day, the lilac bush was alive with them! And I’ve seen all kinds of animals outside too! Some of them are about my size, but they look very different. One of them lives under the cottage; I hear her scratching or grunting sometimes. Her whole body is covered with these long sharp-looking spines. Early one morning there was a family of five little animals about my size staring in at us. They sat up on their hind haunches with their front paws hanging down like little hands. There’s an animal that looks a bit like a small dog, but he has the most amazing tail!

And there are these huge animals—bigger than a human! I hear them snorting in the trees. Sometimes they come out though and they’re enormous! One of them had little antlers growing from his head! They’re not very brave though. The smallest movement or noise and they snort and stomp, then run back into the woods.





Catherine’s here all the time—well, nearly all the time. It’s great because whenever I get a bit peckish, I ask her for treats; sometimes she complies. When there’s sun, she lets me go outside. She makes me wear this stupid string thing, and won’t let me go under the cottage or into the woods. The other day, I took her around the whole cottage and then down the road. I decided to turn back before the cottage was out of sight; I didn’t want her to get lost.

I’m loving the quiet and the sweet air and the moss for stretching in and the grass for eating and so much to see and experience! And lots of cuddles when it’s cold. I hope the weather gets better so we can go outside more. Not sure when we’ll be home; I’m not the driver!

Signed The Mystery Cat in Black aka Baboo aka Fawkes Jenkins

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

Update from Dr Jenkins

In the last year, I’ve seen nighttime overhead highway signs cautioning drivers not to stop due to high crime risk, and overhead highway signs cautioning drivers to be aware of moose. And I don’t feel like I’ve done much travel either. I did, however, take my first trip to South Africa. I lost a friend, attended a wedding, helped a friend celebrate his first birthday, and gained a cat. I built cat shelters and traps at Toronto Street Cat, attended a series of Graphic Medicine reading workshops, and went to the first Canadian Writers’ Summit and Taste of Little Italy with my long-time friend and fellow writer, Kathy Mac.  I went to Shaw Fest where the 2015 highlight was Peter and the Starcatcher, and this year’s highlight was Engaged. I went to Stratford for the first time in years, where I saw an amazing production of Shakespeare in Love. I attended a lot of concerts, with tickets both bought and shared by friends. I caught up on a lot of quality TV and some movies I’ve missed on DVDs from the Toronto Public Library. I enjoyed some non-academic reading for a change.

I taught a lot (and I mean a lot) of students, did a lot of grading, and had the joy of watching a few of my students gain awards or entry into grad school. I presented papers at conferences in Kingston (Queens) and North Bay (Nippising). I submitted a few things to peer-reviewed journals. I defend my PhD dissertation and convocated, so now it’s official and school truly is out.

This last year I breathed out, I walked, I observed, I took photos, I pondered, I cottaged. This fall, I’ve signed up for a wine course and an Italian course, because I finally can. I’m back to working out and I’m decluttering my apartment. I’m writing inventive academic work and applying to conferences in more exotic locales. And I’ve got six non-academic book projects to pick up again, now that I actually have the time and energy and focus. Stay tuned…

Meditation from a Hammock

This is my favourite place in the whole world. When I feel stressed, this is where I picture myself to relax and calm: lying in the hammock, gently rocking. It’s slung between two oaks, trees that I remember my older siblings jumping over, so these trees must be about my age. And as I lie resting, relaxing, I feel myself suspended between twin sisters, gently rocking me. I look up through their entwined branches, and realize that these trees’ roots must be similarly entwined, extending into the earth to similar depths though soil and past stone, that their branches extend into the air. And here am I, nestled in the hollow, between their branches and roots, caught in the air between. This is a safe place, a quiet and nurturing place. A place where I can relax, rest, read, a gentle smile on my lips. Where the day is timeless.

View from my Hammock

View from my Hammock

From here I can watch Loons and King Fishers, territorial Blue Herons quibbling over shoreline, and an Osprey with a clearly silhouetted fish caught in his talons. Nuthatches explore the ample branches and trunks seeking bugs; finding none, they move on.

Bluebottle casts a long shadow

Bluebottle casts a long shadow

Bluebottles sometimes alight on the canvas, soaking up the sun and casting long shadows. These trees are part of the Red Squirrel highway between the lakeshore trees and the trees in the woods. Sometimes, a Red Squirrel stops, puzzled by my presence, and stays a while looking down at me trying to figure me out.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a hammock, so I’d go over the hill to my uncle’s cottage and lie in his. It had a yellow floral pattern with a fringe on the edge, and was strung between two trees near the lake. At some point in early adulthood, it occurred to me that I could have a hammock of my own. I purchased one for $8 at a local surplus store. It was a string affair, barely big enough for me, and required ample rope to suspend it between trees. Nothing fancy, but it worked.

A few years ago, a friend donated her canvas hammock to the cottage after an essential tree in her Toronto backyard collapsed quite spectacularly. This is the hammock I’m lying in now; it’s much nicer and bigger and firmer than my previous hammock. The yellow twine I used to tie up the old hammock has given way to tree-friendly webbed ties that offer support without damage. The new hammock is big enough to hold a whole day’s worth of reading, and has spurred me to master the fine art of sipping wine while suspended.

Reading and relaxing

Reading and relaxing

Catherine Jenkins 2015 all rights reserved