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Northern Exposure

by Stephen Lautens


May 18, 2001

Having emerged from our Canadian winter, our thoughts turn to only one thing on Victoria Day weekend - opening the cottage. At least for the ten percent of us Statistics Canada says are crazy enough to have one.

That means this is the weekend when we chase the porcupines out from under the bed and try to get the pump to pump anything other than black sludge into the sink. 

It's hard to explain to a non-cottager the appeal of going into the woods to be denied all the comforts of home and being bitten by annoying, blood-sucking creatures (insert your own lawyer joke here).

It takes a little while to get used to the joys of cottage life. First of all, you quickly find yourself spending more time with the owner of the local hardware store than with your wife. He is your new best friend and source of arcane knowledge, like how to get wasps out of your chimney or a fridge out of your septic tank.

You have to be close to the hardware store guy since he also has all your money. There is a reason why the only ATM machine in town is right outside his store.

Cottagers quickly get used to relying on their own handyman skills. Every grocery store and bulletin board in town is covered with ads for plumbers and builders. The good news is they're cheap - the bad news is that none of them are really interested in coming to your cottage to do any work. They have their own cottages more in need of work than yours.

You also get used to the fact that the local video store only carries movies you've never heard of. For some reason they usually star the unknown relatives of semi-famous actors. According to our local video titles, there must be seventeen Baldwin brothers. And who knew Emilio Estevez makes a new movie every two weeks?

At least when you go in to pick a movie with your wife you're guaranteed not to come out with anything meaningful or poignant - unless you consider exploding cars or alien mutants to be tear-jerkers.

There are two kinds of cottagers - the kind that lives in harmony with nature and the kind that wants to pave it. My neighbour is definitely the kind who spends his entire weekend trying to bring the city to the country. First of all, he has a lawn in the middle of the woods. That means he has to weed and mow it. I figure once you start mowing the Canadian Shield, it's hard to know where to stop. I guess it's either when you run out of gas or when you hit the Arctic Circle, whichever comes first.

His wood chipper and chainsaw are going all weekend, and he spends the rest of his time pulling weeds out of the lake and looking for his fingers. He won't be happy until his property looks like a parking lot at a mall and the lake has a concrete bottom.

Still, he's better than my other neighbours who feel cottage life should be a constant beer commercial. For them, the weekend wouldn't be complete without a soundtrack by BTO and the roar of a Jetski. 

Me? I'm just happy that Queen Victoria wasn't born in January.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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