There is, thank heavens, no 15 minute wait at the train crossing. The crews apparently take the opportunity to climb down from their freight trains in this little town. Unfortunately, this means that the train’s mile-long tail blocks the road to the cottage. Today I quickly turn onto the road that runs parallel to the tracks and it changes from pavement to black top to gravel, getting ever smaller. Signs warn me repeatedly that the tiny dirt road is now private so what am I doing there and, moreover, I am ordered to stop for snakes and turtles neither of which I see. Finally, after the usual panic that surely I have missed the hidden turn, I find it and bump over rock and hillocks into a clearing in the woods where the cottage sits basking in the sun.
Beach picture from previous year
I step out of the Yarris into 95 degree heat with my usual grace after long sitting and hobble around until I can get things stretched and operational. Then I carry my Tim’s tea around the cottage down to the beach where I can see the others. On either side of the clearing, a 50 or 60 year-old wood of birch and maple and beech stands, unmoved and calming.
There are 4 children playing in the water and 5 adults sheltering under a white canopy, one of whom is my sister, Georgia, the founder of the feast, for it is Georgia who has rented the cottage with her carefully saved substitute-teacher’s pay.
The cottage can sleep 12 in its 2 bedrooms and loft, but there is also a brand new cabin hidden in the woods where the children and their parents are staying. It, like the main building, is fully screened against insect predation. Both have screened porches and the larger one has a big deck looking out on the lake.
A group of 6 has been there already for a week. Georgia and my older niece arrived yesterday. My niece moves from the bedroom she has shared with Georgia and re-makes her bed in the loft, not an easy choice to make because the loft is open to the noise of the main room below. She is honouring her elder.
The Wilderness Effect
I have shared houses with my daughter’s family and never experienced the wilderness effect in them. They were in Los Vegas, however, the last place on earth for the wilderness effect. Even though there were just as many people and emotionally charged events – a memorial service for grandpa and a wedding, there were no meltdowns. Plumbing disasters, inconvenient babysitting expectations, varying standards of housekeeping, but no need for interventions or group therapy sessions.
On the other hand, not one of our camping trips in the High Sierras passed without it. Others at the same campsite above the Kern River dealt with the wilderness effect by drinking copious qualities of beer and howling like wolves to scare off bears. In our camp, usually on the 3rd or 4th day, we found ourselves sitting in a circle listening to an older child express his angst or holding a screaming younger child or shaking heads in disbelief when gran nearly perished from insomnia. (Something about the altitude and all those stars wheeling overhead.) It must be all that fresh air, all this patient trees, the safety net of the family that brings it on.
In this case, it starts with wind. Saturday morning, Georgia has just come up from sitting under her new orange umbrella, 4 others are sheltered in the shade of the canopy and the children are hunting mussels in the lake. I am in the cottage with a view out the glass front. Suddenly, the umbrella’s neck is twisted and broken and the children watch in disbelief as a great funnel of sand flies up. Those under the canopy shield their faces. The canopy, metal frame and white cover intact rises, hovers six feet over their heads, turns on its side and speeds thirty feet across the clearing to land 15 feet up in the trees.
True the cottage sits at the end of a long stretch of water, wooded on both sides, that forms a wind-alley but this is ridiculous.
Much of the rest of the morning is spent debriefing and fishing the canopy down with oars.
Dinner at a hibachi bar, in a town an hour away, is scheduled this evening, to celebrate Georgia’s approaching 70th birthday. We have reservations for 14. Three more, including Georgia’s other grandchildren are expected to arrive soon.
I am on the screened porch when I hear an uproar from the cabin. One parent arrives, very het up, seeking intervention. A passionate difference of opinion has arisen over appropriate child discipline. The most objective of our group is sent forth to reason. One half of the blended family, having secured the car keys, departs precipitously, leaving the other half without transportation. A less objective person, that is to say a mother, makes the trek to the cabin. The remaining children and parent are whisked away for lunch in the aforementioned town.
Those of us left behind contemplate the wilderness effect.
I make a quick trip down the private road and over the tracks, to buy Georgia a bunch of Gerber daisies and a bottle of Moet & Chandron. I stow them in the cabin to keep them out of sight. When I carry them to the main cottage later, I meet an exasperated 7 year-old.
“What are they for?” she asks.
“They’re for Grandma Georgia’s birthday,” I reply.
“I guess you didn’t know my birthday was on Wednesday,” she says.
“I didn’t,” I reply. “Sorry. What would you like for a late birthday present.”
“I’d like to find my pink dress,” she declares and stomps away.
Alas, it turns out that her pink dress had been carried off by the departing parent in hastily packed luggage.
As a fitting end to a perfect day, the hibachi chef sets his hat of fire.
More to come.