Category Archives: cottage

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

Summer 2008

Summer’s barely arrived and I’m just back from my annual jaunt to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. As always, it was a great time, a complete time-out from day-to-day reality. I caught three plays while I was there: Sondheim and Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, GB Shaw’s Getting Married and JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. I enjoyed them all, probably for different reasons.

Night Music was produced at the Court House Theatre, the smallest stage at the Festival. Considering it’s a musical, that was an interesting decision. As someone who hasn’t previously seen it produced, I kept wondering if I wouldn’t enjoy it more on a larger stage. The production seemed a little uneven to me, but what do I know? Some great catchy tunes and one-liners. It was fun to finally see “Send in the Clowns” in the original context. Outrageous males egos justifiably taken down a few notches and a happy romantic ending to boot! Who could ask for more?

Getting Married is an early and not particularly well-known Shaw play. It demonstrates his usual wit and intelligence, this time around the issue of marriage, Edwardian style. Shaw skewers laws regarding women’s rights, men’s responsibilities and the lack of accessible divorce. Although many of these laws have changed for the better and the social safety net is more supportive than it was, there are still many truths here.

I especially enjoyed the atmospheric production of An Inspector Calls. Fascinating and timeless social commentary guised as a whodunit. An incredibly prolific writer of plays, fiction and social comment, Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls mid-career, just as WWII was winding down. Priestley works an unexpected magic with time and perspective, something we tend to associate more with post-modernist writers of a slightly later period. Well worth seeing.

Although I enjoyed the plays, I was also struck by the advanced years of most of the patrons. Although I’ve noticed this in previous years, it’s becoming more noticeable with each passing season. I start wondering if the majority of Shaw-goers are the original theatregoers who established their membership in the 1960s (the Festival was established the same year I was).

After I got settled in to enjoy A Little Night Music and had helped my neighbour stow her cane beneath our seats, she asked, “What are we here to see, dear?” Overhearing audience conversation at other shows, it became apparent that many of the patrons had no idea what they were seeing. They seemed to be there out of ritual, rather than interest. Which begs the question, what’s going to happen in the next ten years when this audience starts expiring?

I was also more aware of the Festival’s attempts to accommodate patrons with disabilities. At the Royal George, I watched two ushers wielding a ramp into place so an audience member could come and go through the side door. Although an elevator has been installed at The Court House, it’s inadequate to the demands of traffic and theatregoers still have to walk up several stairs, complaining loudly as they go.

The Shaw has also introduced headsets to aid the hearing impaired. Throughout An Inspector Calls, a portion of the audience, myself included, were exposed to the ongoing shriek of electronic feedback because a gentleman was using one of these devices improperly in conjunction with his hearing aid. There were also very loud comments between himself and his equally deaf companion declaring that the headset wasn’t working during the nearly silent atmospheric moments of the play.

While I support the Shaw’s efforts at providing resources to improve access, I humbly suggest that they invest a little more effort so that the enjoyment of other audience members isn’t so adversely affected.

I also took a day to just wander around downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. While I noticed some closed shops and peak-season sales last year, it was even more noticeable this time. Storefronts on the main drag were up for lease and the majority of shops seemed to have sales. It just seemed the picture of a small town in crisis.

Still, it was a lovely day. The sun was shining, the flowers blooming. I enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park while watching a little one with her Mum parade through the fountain. It was a day to relax, to be nowhere in particular, and that was a pleasant and welcome change.

Now I’m back home and back writing. I’ve just put the finishing touches on Charlie & Moon & Skye & I, something that’s essentially been finished for years. But it feels good to do the final polish and prepare to start sending it to publishers. It’s a long poem with accompanying colour photos, what some would call a gift book. Looking forward to having it out there at last. Also looking forward to bearing down on the other five book projects at various stages of incompletion. It feels good to be tapping into the time, energy and motivation to do my own work again, at long last.

Still ahead this summer, I’m making plans to visit my grade eight teacher in Wellington. She’s promised to show me the sights of Prince Edward County, a lovely part of the province.

I’ve also booked the family cottage for a couple of weeks and hope to spend that time simply relaxing, reading fun stuff and hanging out with friends. I figure I owe myself a real holiday before school starts.

Oh, I guess I should mention that. I’m returning to school this fall to begin my PhD in Communication and Culture. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, but it didn’t make sense with the family situation. I didn’t want to begin something and then have to pull out partway through because of a family crisis. So now that things have come to their natural conclusion, I can focus on this effort without that enormous weight. I’m excited and a little nervous to be going back, but I think it’s going to be overwhelmingly positive. The timing seems perfect. And as to what else I’ll get up to, I’ll see when I get there!thisisnot 5:31

Cheers and enjoy the summer!

© Catherine Jenkins 2008

Spring 2007

One of the classic spring activities for Canadians is the traditional opening of the cottage. This usually takes place on the 24th of May weekend (with the traditional closing date being Labour Day). Depending on the cottage, it’s age, how well it’s protected and sealed from the elements and other natural infestations, opening can take more or less time, but one generally hopes to accomplish cottage opening efficiently so the remainder of the weekend can be enjoyed lying in the sun sipping beer or some other (usually alcoholic) beverage.

As our cottage is a log cabin that was erected by my Granddad with assistance from my Mum in 1945, it is neither modern nor terribly well sealed. Consequently, opening can take a little longer.

What exactly is meant by “opening” the cottage? Opening is a series of chores, some simply domestic, like cleaning floors and toilets, etc., while others are more technical, like getting the power on or cajoling the water system into functioning, while still others pertain to outdoor chores like mowing the lawn and removing storm windows.

While this may sound quietly idyllic, relatively simple and fuss-free, one never knows what one is walking into until the door is unlocked. The clean-up may entail the removal of mice and/or other rodents (dead and/or alive), nests of said rodents, their droppings and/or the scattered remnants of meals and/or nesting materials. Best to wear a facemask to prevent the inhalation of fine particles of fecal matter (which may contain Hantavirus and God knows what else). Gloves are also strongly recommended.

On the first day, I was able to get the electricity on with the flick of a switch. Although the water system proved a bit fussier, with the pump requiring numerous primings and much fiddling, it eventually pumped up fine. I also removed the winter storms, just in time to watch mammoth clouds push across the lake and dump a torrent of rain. It was the first test of the newly re-shingled roof, at least the first test to which there was a witness. The roof performed admirably, the only leak occurring around the stovepipe. Glad to have at least some of the outdoor chores accomplished before the storm hit, I turned to the interior.

I vacuumed up mouse droppings and old insulation that had fallen from the attic, I scoured the toilet and sinks, I disinfected the countertops. And then I assembled about a dozen boxes of kitchen articles that had been deposited at the cottage three years ago when my parents left their apartment to move into a retirement home where such items were no longer needed. In the course of unpacking these boxes, I chanced upon a live mouse (not sure who was more startled) who I then reintroduced to the great outdoors through mutual agreement.

The first night I had difficulty sleeping due to persistent rustling sounds emitting from the kitchen where all the remaining boxes were lined up waiting to be unpacked. The following morning, I decided to continue unpacking the boxes on the lawn. I witnessed another mouse leap from a box beside the one I was working on and scurry away into the lily bed. Later, I discovered that one or the other of the mice I had evicted had abandoned its nest, leaving half-a-dozen pink and squirming babies. After a moment of sorrow and regret and having dismissed the feasibility of nursing them myself, I gently picked up the entire nest and carefully moved it to the shelter of the woodpile, telling myself that maybe they’d survive, but know it was highly unlikely. As awful as it felt, the upside was that I’d saved the cottage from yet still another generation of marauding mice.

I completed my cleaning by washing every plate, dish, saucer and glass in the place and carefully stacking them all in the disinfected cupboards. The second night, there was no rustling, no scurried footfalls overhead. Having removed all the live mice, the cottage itself was very quiet, allowing me to focus on the sounds of the surrounding woods and lake. Through the night, a family of Canada Geese honked, occasionally joined by the loons, and crickets ground out their tunes, while chipmunks and squirrels chattered at their territorial boundaries and rustled in the leaves.

In subsequent visits, I’ve cut the grass, restained the garage, filled in some potholes in the road, taken a run to the dump, installed new signs and purchased some new Muskoka chairs. I’ve also seen a fox on the front lawn, seen a few deer and watched various hawks and other birds scouring the property for food. I’ve watched people playing on the lake.

I’ve read books. I’ve sipped blender drinks. I’ve almost gotten too much sun. And mostly, I’ve enjoyed the calm of being in nature, among the trees by a lake, away from the demands of my daily urban life.

Fall 2006

We live in a time of super-sized snacks and downsized businesses, of microchips and macro-pollution, of corporate buyouts and televised natural disasters. A time in which the prescription and consumption of anti-depressants is running riot, when people have to pop pills to make it through another day of existence. We get caught up in the time turmoil of speed, unable to fully recognize, acknowledge or accept our human frailties. The 1950s concept that technology would reduce our working day, freeing more time for leisure, has failed to materialize; instead, we’re expected to keep up with the machine, be it computer, cell phone, BlackBerry (or BlueBerry as I keep calling them) or whatever. We just can’t get away from it. We’re at work 24/7, caught in a state of high anxiety, fight-or-flight adrenaline high, until the body can take no more and crashes into a neurochemically induced depression in an attempt to get some downtime. The human nervous system just isn’t designed to work this way, always in a state of high output, the switch jammed in the “on” position. Sooner or later, something’s got to give.

My trip to England was a chance to stop everything and reboot. I’ve been striving for better balance (one of my new year’s resolutions) and generally it’s working. Daily Yoga, affirmations and an attitude of gratitude really do make a difference, in part because they make me slow down and consider my reality, rather than my daybook, even if it’s only for a few minutes. But as fall approaches, a time when everything cranks into high gear simultaneously, I’m finding it more difficult to maintain that balance.

Through the summer, I’ve been taking frequent weekend trips to the cottage, usually with a select friend or two, just to have an oasis of time in nature, a calm. I’ve done a lot of necessary work on the cottage, but have also taken time to consciously relax and just Be. At home, I’ve been working on de-cluttering my apartment (another new year’s resolution), finally settling in after ten years of denial. I’ve been writing and that feels great-very affirming. And sure, I’ve been doing other work too, but at a reduced pace.

Over the horizon of this calm, I can see fall coming, the period when too much of everything happens and I get wound up and start waking up at four a.m. ready to start the day. When anxiety preys on my nerves, I’m “too busy” to write, to clean, to exercise, to go outside for a walk, to socialize, to… live my life. And I can already feel that anxiety creeping in, even though it’s only Labour Day.

On the subway last week, my head started spinning in anticipatory anxiety and I managed to divert by lapsing into this intuitive, intensely in-the-moment meditation. “Right now, I am on a train. Right now, I am on a train heading west. Right now, I am on a decelerating train. Right now, I am on a train pulling into Yonge station. Right now, I am on a train waiting for passengers to get on. Right now, I am watching teenagers goofing with each other. Right now, I am hearing the bells toll the closing doors. Right now, I am on an accelerating train. Right now, I am on a train.” Etc. It was a purely spontaneous, relaxing, centering, and joyful internal rant, one that drew to mind that I am only in the present and that the future can only be affected from the present moment. Right then, I wasn’t dealing with any of the subjects causing me anxiety; I was just on the train going home. Refocusing my thoughts on that present was very calming and made me feel happy. “Right now, I am on a train with a goofy smile on my face for no apparent reason.”

Since then, I’ve fallen into this several more times, internally repeating a rolling rap of observations of the now. Right now, I’m lying in a lawn chair on the front lawn of the cottage. Right now, the morning sun is barely creasing the cottage roof, just beginning to illuminate the page. Right now, crickets are singing. Right now, a fish jumped. Right now, a bird is rhythmically chirping. Right now, the grass is still wet with dew. Right now, it’s Monday morning and I’m still not back in Toronto, still not sweating over paying work. Right now, that doesn’t matter. Right now, the sky is such an intense blue, has such limitless depth, I could stare up at it forever.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2006