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Author and journalist

The cottage rental, 2015

That title looks harmless, doesn’t it? Perhaps pleasant, perhaps nostalgic. Maybe your family had a cottage when you were little – maybe you got heartily sick of going there. Maybe it’s the source of some of your very best memories.

Our family camped. My dad was in the Army so we moved around too much to put down stakes somewhere, and we just couldn’t afford one.

I visited the cottages of friends and dreamed some day I’d have my own.

Thirty years in Toronto made that a distant idea. Then last summer, someone at a party mentioned they were selling their cottage, on a peninsula, two hours away, Crown land (i.e. undeveloped) across the lake. It’s most people’s checklist of a great real estate purchase. I went into a frenzy that surprised me, alarmed everyone else in the family and caused a couple of the worst fights my husband and I have ever had.

He grew up without a cottage. He knows there’s a lot of work owning one, and it can get monotonous, and it can eat up your summers. He’s right. I need nature at this time in my life, I said. I want to be near living things. I want to own a piece of Canadian shield.

We went at each other like ninjas.

Finally, we compromised: as an experiment, we would rent a cottage July and August of this summer. Realize the ways in which it’s different from owning, contemplate the ways in which it’s the same.
The girls may or may not come up. They witnessed one of those fights, and “come join us at the cottage” makes them avert their eyes.

I’ve been packing tiny containers of spices and folding towels for the last several days, just like my mom used to do when we were going camping. She was ingenious at remembering things like rubber bands and twist-ties or finding a nesting set of plastic cups that quenched the thirst of four people and collapsed into one, like a Russian doll. She had a system for water conversation – cooking to washing bodies to Dad’s shave to washing dishes – the Kyoto Accord could have used.

We, city people, have guidelines on what constitutes an event or meeting important enough not to go or to come back early. We’re taking this one weekend at a time. We go up for the first time tomorrow. I’m nervous as hell.

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