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If you’re lucky enough to venture to cottage country this summer and fall under the influence of a clear blue sky, you might learn a few things.
First and foremost you may realize that not everyone who goes to the cottage does so willingly. Among husbands, wives, and teenage sons and daughters, reluctant hang-a-shores abound.
If your spouse eschews this seasonal exodus, and you think your marriage might be doomed because of recreational incompatibility, it’s worth remembering that many people are born without that most Canadian of all chromosomes—the one that enables sitting idly for long stretches of time, laughing-off weak-spirited toilets and telecommunications networks, ignoring the indefatigable scope-creep of dirt and sand, and shrugging indifferently amid the pandemonium caused by leeches and black flies.
You will learn that God’s country demands secular luxuries in order to be liveable and no matter how much stuff you cram into your car, you will invariably forget something important like deodorant or toothpaste. Your first day of vacation will be spent traveling to the nearest town where the economic engine is driven by the sale of beer, firecrackers, inflatable toys, worms, and overpriced cheese puffs.
You may discover that the nostalgic childhood memory of s’mores is more enjoyable than the s’mores themselves. That camp fires are great but children with flaming marshmallows on sticks shouldn’t wear flip flops. That kid food rules at the cottage and the 500 g bag of well-intentioned baby spinach cannot compete with the Orange Snack Bin of Death.
That the five stages of beach cover-up removal resemble Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Physiological, “I hate my body and I need to cover it up”; Safety, “My wrap is my security blanket, even if I am boiling to death”; Love/Belonging, “Oh, look! There are other people with pasty white flesh in bathing suits having a good time, maybe I could join them?”; Esteem, “I deserve to cool myself down”; Self-actualization, “Watch out people, here I come!”
That it’s not love that will find a way but mosquitoes. No matter how blameless your screening system appears to be these little bastards want a piece of you and they need no Robert DeNiro-esque rhetorical goading to do it. Anyway, it’s not really a Great Canadian Cottage Vacation until you’ve slapped yourself silly all night long.
That in the absence of appliances clothes washed in a sink can be clean enough but you will have renewed appreciation for the labour-saving miracle that is a rinse cycle.
That sleeping-in guilt dissipates just in time to have its void filled by hot-dog guilt: knowing that you’ve let your children consume well beyond their quota of nitrates.
That even as you continue to shake down the tin-roofed shanties of back-country roads, the ones with hand-painted plywood signs promising fresh blueberries and home-baked goods, your Grandmother spoiled you for anyone’s pies but hers.
That an old fisherman is a young fisherman’s best friend and a fishing pole, if the boy wants to kiss it first thing in the morning, might well be his first love.
That the parent on the beach to whom you have a visceral and wholly negative reaction, whose constant coaching, pathological second-person referencing and pedagogical nit-picking reminds you of the most annoying version of yourself is cause for much soul-searching.
That if you study them long enough all insect bites will look like a bulls-eye.
That trapped in a plastic bucket-turned-boxing-ring a crayfish and a worm will battle to the death and the odds of severance are stacked in the crayfish’s favour. That Infinite Jest can be read in two weeks if you skip some of the tennis stuff, but you should never take borrowed reading material to the beach because nothing attracts a kiddie water-shooter ambush like someone else’s book.
That on the basis of unit economics, portability, and self-service, Mr. Freeze’s Freezies are the forever and always blue-ribbon winner of summertime snacks.
That enforcing the pages-per-day of a summer reading program will make you incredibly unpopular. That you can redeem yourself by delivering a tray of watermelon slices to the beach and that old-fashioned triangles do quite nicely: simpler is better and there’s no need to sculpt the rind into a handled basket or a frog in full ribbit.
That the Northland is absolutely still true and strong and mostly free except for all the rules about garbage and fires.
That nothing can rustle you to sleep like a gentle breeze through a stand of tall trees. That waking up to the sound of a loon calling across a quiet lake kicks an alarm clocks’ ass and can make you feel prouder and happier to be Canadian than any over-produced beer commercial ever could.
That a little rough-and-ready living makes you appreciate the comforts of home.
That you can’t wait to go back for more next year.