Ponderings of an Urban Hermit

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One reads of so-called “multiple personalities” – you know, those “Three Faces of Eve” sorts of things. That’s where there are two or more distinct people wrapped up in the same epidermal packaging. Though I’m not a psychiatrist – and goodness knows this is not a psychiatry journal – I have had my doubts about this multiple personality thing. For example: “I didn’t do that – it was my evil alternate sister who went through that red light.” Nope, doesn’t wash with me. 

But there may be an exception to my self-imposed rule. There are, I am convinced, cottage personalities quite distinct from what we ridiculously call “normal people.”

Where do we find these “normal people?” Well they are hurly burly gotta-get-there people. They live in cities and can even be found in the teeming suburbs. Though they be “normal” – that appellation applies for only ten, eleven months of the year.  What happens then?

Well, then, magically, once a year, due to the consumption of a magic apple or some such wizardry (actually it’s called “vacation schedule”), another totally different character emerges, chrysalis-like. The dreary city moth becomes the multi-hued and far grander butterfly. We call these butterflies, “cottagers.”

Leaving the urban household the key issue seems to be determining whether or not everything possibly needed has been packed. And oh yes, are the kids on board? But when the car enters the cottage driveway, clocks lose their hold. Urban conventions (for the most part) go by the wayside. A whole new value paradigm kicks in. (I apologize for using the urban word “paradigm.” It won’t happen again.

Me? Well I’m here at lakeside, contemplating. And even though I have made a MAJOR advance in life management, I still feel a need to analyse. As a result, I’ve cobbled together, from my own reminiscences (but solidly backed up by conversations with other cottagers), a little table. It is proudly non-scientific. In fact it is probably 85% wrong, 3 times out of 4. It will never be featured on The National. But I don’t care. I’m on vacation. (See? I have made progress)

My key conclusion is that we are dealing, in this urban –cottage phenomenon – not with multiple personalities. We are dealing with a cottage sub-species. So, this is genetic rather than psychological. We just can’t help ourselves. We are different creatures, not different aspects of the one. But in my own defence I offer this disclaimer. I’m only an Adriondack chair quarterback. You have to judge this for yourself. If your tireless analytical efforts have come up with different data please – do – share them with the editors of this journal. They’ll be sure to print them.

When I am “au cottage”

When I am “a la maison”

Showers! Ah showers. I love my shower. I may shower in the afternoon. Or in the evening. Sometimes I shower twice in one day. Sometimes not at all. There has even been the occasional joint shower – and I’m not talking about washing with the raccoons. I love it!!

I shower at 6:42AM ensuring a full two- shampoo rinse and a louffa rub. I have this daily essential down to 6.5 minutes.

I have been known to work on a single project from first light to last. It may be a new fire pit, a birdhouse or a boat ramp. These projects have several things in common: They are not guided by formal plans. They are of absolutely no economic value ands will not enrich my portfolio. They are extremely pleasurable. I am aware that they could be delivered by a professional in one tenth of the time, with 1% of the cost and with 98% less errors.

When my garage door malfunctions or my dishwasher goes on the fritz – I call a repairman. I even have someone come in four times a year to apply lawn treatment. I did plant a shrub in the back yard once. It died.

I am the Chef of Lakeside Inn. Without recipes, I am able to concoct five different types of stew and can prepare a Full English Breakfast without any need for instructions. When I serve my stew to assembled friends and family, I might even suggest they try some hot dog relish with it, that being the only pickle in the fridge.

It is so easy to bring home takeout from our favourite Chinese restaurant. Though we don’t cook “au ville,” there are changes blowing in the wind. We recently discovered the miracle of adding fresh vegetables and cold cuts to the top of a frozen pizza. We consider that “home cooking.”

One day I spent an entire morning observing Lady Slippers. How could I have so long missed their magnificence? I found purple ones and white ones and every shade in between. I took several dozen photos – from every angle – and in every light situation. I loaded them on my computer and had thoughts about how I might build some of them into our family’s Christmas letter.

I‘m good for the first five minutes of the evening news before I conk out. I’ve seen the first 20 minutes of maybe 500 TV movies. I wish my lawn maintenance guy could get those %$$#*& dandelions out of my otherwise immaculate lawn.

The weather is of supreme importance, though global affairs are of no interest whatsoever. Nations could tumble. The price of gas could go to $5 a litre. But I need to know whether I should gather some wood for the stove if rain is expected and the thermometer is going to tumble to ten degrees overnight. I am Man the Provider, Husband the Housekeeper.

For reasons beyond my comprehension,  I read whole sections of the classified ads daily, and that’s before I get to the obits. During the workday I’ll bring up the news from the several Web sites I have thumb-nailed on my screen. I attach great importance to today’s votes in the House of Commons.

My “environmental clock-chimes” wake me up. They are two screechy crows heading from near here to God Knows Where – calling to each other all the way – much as did Red Skelton’s Gertrude and Heathcliffe. Then, round about noonish, there is a hum battle between the dragon flies and the humming birds – which completely entrances me until I am called in for soup and sandwiches – just mere seconds away from possible expiration due to dehydration and starvation.

In the afternoon, those wily chipmunks capture my attention. I think of them as Chip and Dale. I guess that gives my age away.

As I lay my weary head down to sleep, I am caressed by our Very Own Lake Loon. How wonderful, I think, that we should be blessed with our own loon. Are there lakes without loons? How do those cottagers get to sleep? I drift off.

There is an extremely annoying mourning dove that coos – incessantly – every morning from my neighbour’s house at 6:15AM, and I don’t have to get up till 6:30. I could throttle that creature.

My cottage wardrobe consists of two battered pairs of sandals; six pairs of shorts (of which two pair are trouser cutoffs); two dozen T-shirts; and a sundry array of bits and pieces acquired at the local war surplus store and next-to-new. I have a gorgeous camouflage jacket that I picked up for $5 at the surplus store.  It goes smashingly with my second hand hiking boots.

One day I added up my coats and jackets – came to fourteen. That’s after I re-hung them so they would be in colour ascending order on their hangers.

She Who Shares My Life advised, with Frown Rampant – that the sink was plugged up. I threw myself into the task. Two trips to town, $50 in parts and advice, and I went at it. Two hours later – Hurrah! With only a bruised knuckle, and my pride illuminating the lake – I am Plumber!

We have a tradesmen and service rolodex. We are thinking about putting it on a database where we will record satisfaction levels, costs and nasty habits to watch for (like saying 3 hours when they really mean 3 days).

When the mercury peaks at the lake, there’s nothing finer that an ice cold can of Coke – Classic, of course. I like to roll the can over my forehead a few times before I chugalug the entire thing in five gulps. The down side is a severe ice cream headache and an hour-long burp session. But who cares? I have a week to get over it.

Saturdays in July, when I’ve just got back from a visit to the neighbourhood shrine, otherwise known as Canadian Tire, I really look forward to sipping a chilled lime Perrier with crushed ice in a tall glass.

My Dearly Beloved and I are fascinated by the sky – at all times of the day and evening. And the local birds, which we struggle to identify because that is, for some reason, important. We are making great strides in learning about the different tree species that surround our cottage. This year, we have been reading about the genetic “wisdom” of these ancient creatures.

Are there sunsets in the city? I must go out some evening and look.

I am Cottager. I am Committee Man. There is no single thing that can be handled at the lake without consultation and research. The placement of a rock in the garden could involve three meetings and a neighbour’s inspection. The rock might even be moved, and moved again, before finding its final resting place.

I confide in my banker and my investment counsellor, They are under orders to burn all notes taken during our meetings. Were one of my neighbours to make a suggestion to me about my garden I should probably never speak to him again.

I have at least a dozen good ideas before breakfast. And have been known to act on one of them before nightfall, or summer’s end. There are, after all, only so many cottager committee meetings that you can fit in.  I have ideas on new ways to position lawn furniture so that one can watch both the lake and the woods at the same time. I also thought of a clever new way to discourage biting insects by mimicking their humming noises. That way, they will think I am one of them.

I work for Ebenezer Scrooge. He sent a message to all employees at New Year’s – in which he said – “This year, I want to see more in the box thinking around this place.”

Though we have avoided getting a TV we do have a phone. We need a phone because we got a call last week. We are giving some serious thought to placing a call today.

Our suburban dwelling boasts two satellite connected TV’s and two high-speed computers. We also have five telephones. I guess that’s so we won’t have to run that far from one of our three bathrooms.

Canada Day. We celebrated it by doing what we did on June 30, and what we will likely do on July 2. We marveled at our country’s great wilderness and wildness; its’ culture of thinking before doing; its’ people and its’ history. And how lucky we are.

We went to Parliament Hill once for Canada Day. It was amazing. Looked like there were 100,000 people there We bought hot dogs and pops and then went home.

Interested in my other work? Here’s my book on success without conflict.


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