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.