because i was on holiday, all the dark skies parted, and everything was magic

* * * * *

The distance from our home in Kingston, Ontario to C's cottage on the Northumberland Strait is roughly the same in length and character as:

a) Napoleon's retreat from Moscow

b) Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole

c) Moses wandering the desert for forty years

d) one thousand, three hundred and forty-six stomach-lacerating miles

e) all of the above

* * * * *

Days 1 and 2 are the travel days, the just-get-through-it days, the o-my-god-the-traffic-in-Montreal days, and I-forgot-all-about-mullets-until-we-reached-rural Quebec days, the days of carefully timed stops and yes I'll have gravy with the fries and up hills and down valleys and trees and lakes and then trees and lakes again, and too hot then too cold, recycled air and endless ribbons of pavement and those yellow lines fishing deep inside you, pulling you through a sort of non-time that seems endless. Oona sang endlessly mashed-up versions of the "Dorothy song" and the "brain song", and DING DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD, and would not stop talking until I finally asked her, "Oona, would you please stop talking for just two minutes?", and she might have held out for thirty seconds. "TWO MINUTES, DADDY!" she said. Not even three yet. You'd think choosing the chicken at the St-Hubert in Trois-Rivières would be the smart choice, but mine was like something shot down in flames over the English channel.

Days 3 and 4 are the acclimatization days, arriving and cleaning and waking up to no coffee and driving into town to do three hours of shopping at Walmart, at the liquor store, at the grocery store, everyone all up and down the shore visits all at once before you've had time to even take in where you are, and then you have to visit everyone else, up and down the shore, and you take your child down to the ocean but all she wants to do is collect nets full of seaweed, still it's lovely warm water and a string of sand bars stretching around the bay, hitting golf balls with a nine iron from "island" to island, not caring how many I lose, and finding myself in a kayak for the first time, and using it to ram C's, and already the salt is persistent on my skin, the first chance I get I have a clean shave but I've forgotten my grooming scissors at home so there's some sexy tufts of hair poking out of my nose. C's sister (they have their own cottage in the next set of lanes) puts on a barbecue but Oona's brain reveals itself to be running on fumes so I scoop her up and take her back to the cottage and bathe and soak the determined sand out of every crevice and put her down to nap with threats of taking away her princess blanket which seems to do the trick because she's only half-crazy afterwards.

In many ways, Day 5 is the kind of day that epitomizes what I don't like about the cottage: hot and windy and with a two year-old who won't eat her lunch and won't have her nap. There are good sand bars in the morning but it's like wandering your way through a windy Martian landing, and after awhile you just get tired of being blown around. The heat and the wind both kick up a few degrees in the afternoon, and any attempts to find your own nap will be slowly strangled by all the hot air rattling its way through the cottage and the miniature person in the next room who may or may not have removed her pull-up and is danger of peeing/pooping all over the bed. Did I mention the persistent blob of congestion somewhere behind my left cheekbone? And while the antibiotics I secured before leaving Kingston have failed to deal with this conclusively, they have produced some wonderfully erratic effects on my digestion system. Pure vacation magic, I'm thinking, but then little Gray (the local carpenter/organic farmer, deep thinker, casual hipster, and friend) shows up with a sheet of plywood that we need, and we have a visit, and C takes Oona out to meet the full frothy ocean, and then suddenly it's supper and time to get Oona fed and bathed and finally to sleep. And the temperature comes down and the wind subsides and I'm feeling better about things, in fact good enough to narrowly squeak out a Trivial Pursuit victory over C, who laughs in my face for thinking that Al Jolson was black.

Day 6: rain. I get Oona out on the bars early but by lunch it's full sheets of water, hanging down, going back and forth over the cottage. Tauntingly. C has a cold so she pretty much checks out. At lunchtime I methodically stuff Oona to the point of unconsciousness so I can read my fucking book. 

* * * * *

What is festering and buzzing and threatening me with grievous harm whenever I even *think* about coming to terms with it?

a) the monstrous hornet nest in the back shed

b) graphic design as a career choice

c) finding a publisher for my second book

d) all of the above

* * * * *

Sometime around midnight I'm standing on the front deck watching the night sky flash and twitch with distant lightning, and I'm somewhat amazed at the lack of mosquitoes. There has been a lot of wind.

* * * * *

Day 7: wind. After a shower (at Murray Corner, I'm only allowed to shower every two or three days, or else C will yell at me about ruining the pump), we drive into Sackville. We go to the hardware store, the laundry mat, the drug store, the bank, some shops, a grave yard and a restaurant. I have the lasagna, which is excellent, and Oona even half behaves -- any eating establishment that she does not exit being carried upside down and screaming is considered a small victory. Then we take the long/back way 'home' to the cottage, with all the windows open, going 80 km/hr up and down this battered secondary highway, so she has a chance to sleep. That evening we go out to *another* restaurant, this one of the French-Canadian, obscene-portions variety, because it's C's sister's family's last night at the shore. I get through about half my dish of fish cakes and fries, which are not that good, and Oona only has to be escorted outside three times. The day ends over beer and an explanation from Uncle Nicky that extramarital sex is always, as a rule, more exciting. Good to know, Uncle Nicky, but please keep your hands to yourself.

Day 8: starts early, in the cold half light, around 5:30, because it has become necessary to introduce a giant hornet nest in the back shed to the Agent Orange-like qualities of heavy duty insecticide (or a wasp 'bomb'). Because Oona has been using the wind-up flashlight as a toy, so that it's now buried in baskets of so much squawking plastic junk that I can't even *think* about disturbing this early, I have no aid to help me see the opening of the hornet nest, so I just bomb the whole thing, with the entire can, from a  range of between four and five feet. A few drowsy, escaping hornets drop like little stones. I then move a good thirty yards away, but I can still smell the chemicals. 

A mixed day of sun and wind. I tape and prime the kitchen counter, which C wants to paint, read quite a bit of my book, mow the front half of the lawn, spend a good two hours with Oona on the bars, where she keeps stealing my hat and putting sand in it, go for a floating kind of swim wearing that hat *and* my glasses, because I'm tired of an ocean that's blind, and stepping on crabs and fish. Checking in the afternoon, I find all the hornets very, very dead. After supper, C and I watch The Nature of Things, which explains that autism is related to micro bacteria in our gut. Who knew?

Days 9 and 10: Halifax. Leave around mid-morning. We pass Cobequid Pass and Shubenacadie Grand Lake, before finally reaching Fall River, and the house of cousin Eleanor. And what a house! Her husband Jonathan has built one with so many rooms that their purposes need to be invented. Oona and their little boy DJ play away, from room to room, while the adults dine and drink and tell stories about how poor we were in the 80's. The next day we go down to the Halifax harbour front, which strikes me as one of the slickest tourist spots I've seen in this country. Driving back to the cottage, as on any mid-length drive (two to four hours), I choose the radio, because what else will give me the reason to ever hear Gino Vannelli again? More alarmingly, I discover that C is a closet Bog Seger fan. Don't touch that dial, jackass, she says. 

The ocean that afternoon is frothy but almost warmer than the air.

Day 11: Did I mention that Oona has started to call us "Tina" and "Dare-woh"? Cheeky. Right now it's only sporadic, but at this rate she'll be drinking coffee by kindergarten. 

At the end of a thick afternoon nap I have a dream about a sort of chest in sunshine, something like a treasure chest but not quite, something almost more retail, like a display, because I'm looking at the things within and they're all these great ideas, these things I could make myself, and in my dream my mind is really clicking away with all this inspiration, and suddenly it's all gone, as I hear Oona in the next room say, "I pooped! I pooped!", and I have to get up and change her. 

On Day 11 we go nowhere and do nothing. The sky is a gloomy sort of blue but the ocean is gorgeously warm. 

Something to note, thankfully: no menacing clots of jellyfish, no mosquitoes (a few bites, in little clusters on your wrist or heel, but nothing really), no horseflies stalking you to the ocean's middle distance.

Every time I walk into the ocean I think about this fellow who did himself in that way, right after his wife killed herself, because he wanted to follow her. 

Day 12. Late in the morning we go into Cap Pele, listening to cd I've made which is mostly electronica and Oona trying to remix her own "Dorothy" songs into. Lunch at the kind of big counter place where you take a number, and I order the *medium* chicken poutine, because I've never had poutine before, because that particular heart attack is probably close enough, thank you, and the fries-gravy-shredded-chicken mass is enough to feed a sub-Saharan family of six for a week. I can *barely* finish it. Then it's paint supplies and a washer cap at the hardware, more wine at the liquor store, then a rather shocking trip to the grocery store, not because they're playing Bon Jovi over the crackly sound sytem but because they must get their stock from a time capsule, circa 1979, and I'm reluctant to pay eight dollars for any name brand with an exclamation in it. Also: everyone speaks French and looks at you cross-eyed.

In the afternoon we're out on the sandbars and in the ocean with our ridiculous inflatable boat, trying to convince Oona that water is not, in fact, acid (too much Wicked Witch maybe). The weather is pretty glorious and the water, after you've been in it, simply some kind of afterthought. 

Day 13. Last day of July, so long and I hardly knew ye. Yesterday was described by C as one of those "high summer days", sun beaming boundless crushed breeze pellucid water with no chill floating with your hat and glasses on, looking up at the sky, wondering if this is what everyone else gets so excited about, maybe even I could see it. A little. So then the end of July and the beginning of August and that would seem to be summer's full wink, and after that you take your chances. 

Today the heat was much more full on. I tried to break it up, in the morning taking Oona down to the provincial park to discover magical "bridges" (wooden, ornamental, about six feet long, over nearly nonexistent streams) and the playground, which had handfuls of white rocks, and could be imagined as "grapes" for "supper". An old man, in full Adidas gear, jogged by and farted. "You're happy daddy?" Oona asked, because I was laughing. The park was full of camper trailers -- a claustraphobic form of holidaying that I do not understand, at all, unless you're nineteen and dating a pair of sisters, and have good recovery time. After stuffing my pockets with someone's crushed pinecones (!) we return to the cottage so I can cut the last quarter of the lawn and then go for a swim. After lunch it was too hot for either of us to get a decent nap, so while C took Oona down to the ocean and its growing archipelago of sand bars, I soaked the bottom half of a window frame in industrial marine paint, just to stop some rot until it could be replaced. Then more swimming, and wind picking up, and my thighs gently asking me to stay out of my trunks for awhile. Fine. Did not under- or over-cook the burgers for a change, which was vaguely gratifying. 

Nice breeze in the evening, which I always like because it keeps the mosquitoes away. Day 14 is supposed to be rain, and I'm starting to be ready to go home.

Day 14. We experience something I'm told is called 'the blow'. It's really nothing in the morning, when I walk Oona down to the store, and I even wonder out loud if it's imbecile day down at Murray Corner, as we encounter three of them wandering about, in different directions, with their tongues hanging out, but by noon the weather starts to show its teeth, and becomes a kind of wind storm infused with water. The outside world gets blown around, including the lawn chairs, right off the deck. Meanwhile, we're stuck on the inside. This is fine until late afternoon, as Oona has declined her nap again, and is pretty much punch-drunk by suppertime. Mashed potatoes and your choice of meat for supper, which C lets get cold while she takes a phone call. 

By eight o'clock, the world is calm again, but then the wind restarts a bit after ten. 

Three days to go. And the three bottles of wine that C insisted would last her through the week are all drink, drank, drunk, not even two days in and the poor beggars never had a chance. 

Try to read Salman Rushdie's Fury but it seems to lack just that. There's much more of it in Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with Mary Katherine imagining her way over sidewalks of dead bodies, with a smart kick here and there for good measure. I wondered why I'd never heard of this book, until I got to the ending, which was disappointing in the same way as a fat girl's vintage dress. Plus I had to endure C in the meantime, who pranced around the cottage singing, "Oh, we've *always* lived in the castle!"

Day 15. Hello, Sun. That's okay, start slow. I work a little more on the bedroom window, amazed that some caulking had survived the winter in the cottage storeroom, and then we all go over to the beach at the provincial park, since the ocean refuses to gives us any beach of our own just then. Lunch, shower, nap. Then we have sand bars again, big ones stretching all down the shore, so we go for one of those long, end-of-day walks. Trying to do too many things at once, I char dinner a bit. Mel and Gray drop by, and we talk about the ecological end of the world. Some reading, writing, then bed.

Day 16. Grey. Fog. I get up early to draw, even though the light isn't very good. Oona's up early too, but we always leave her in bed until it's time, and meanwhile she can talk to herself (no singing, because she can't control the volume, and no books, because five minutes later she's yelling for more). Later, as she's watching cartoons, I notice that all these kids' shows now have some sort of "exercise" written in, with the main character asking the home audience to help accomplish something by waving their arms or jogging on the spot or something, which is a bit like taking all the preservatives out of Wonder Bread ... bullshit.

I do some more spot painting around the place, then re-zip the front quarter of lawn one more time. C's dad comes by for a visit, but since he won't buy a new hearing aid, it's all more of a one-way thing, with him talking on one subject or another and the rest of us just nodding or yelling at him a lot. He and Oona have some good cuddles, though. 

We have two bald eagles living next door, in the tops of the highest trees. In fouler weather, they glide by at twenty feet or so, reminding us how imperial they are. I can certainly understand that aspect, and why Americans would choose it, but they're not the nicest looking creatures, are they?

Day 17, last day at the cottage. The sun shines munificent and warm. I don't get up particularly early, but decide to go for broke and have a shower anyway. Surprisingly, C does not yell at me. My mood is a bit sour, for some inexplicable reason. Perhaps because it's a day of little things, little trips and little chores and cleaning and packing and thinking about what goes where, and what must be emptied and what will be thrown away at the very end. There's some kind of little furry thing scuttling around the shed, and a raccoon leaves a tidy shit pile on the back lawn. Supper is from the local take out, and I have a kind of burger reputed to be very much like a Big Mac, only this version weighs about seventeen pounds. 

People are fat in New Brunswick. Not just a I-need-to-lose-twenty-right-here kind of thing, but these people all look like the Bibendum, only more balletic on skinny little legs, moving side to side, in a kind of shuffle dance, the way that fat people do. They make me feel skinny, which is a bit like making a bear feel like he's not so hairy after all.

Days 18 and 19: driving home. Jesus. At a diner somewhere in the middle of nowhere, C points out that it was very 'common' of me to use the salt and pepper before passing it over. I have never heard of this. Later, she almost forgets a cooler on the roof of the car. "That's okay," I say. "A common mistake." We pass a sign for a casino called The Eagle's Nest, and I wonder if it's run by Nazis, and C tells me about a siding company called The Vinyl Solution. This is a holiday Monday, which is my own planning mistake, as I forgot about it, and we get stopped on the highway several times, and it's mostly down to the stupidity of crowds of cars. We arrive home three hours late to find the cupboards swarming with ants. Hello, poison.

* * * * *

What would be the best way to summarize my 2012 vacation?

a) Woody, with smoky overtones and a caramel aftertaste.

b) About ten times better than last year's.

c) Sometimes painful, sometimes enjoyable, but always pervaded with a sense of apocalypse.

d) All of the above.


  1. My rabbit is toilet trained and she can't even say "I pooped!"

    Don't you hate people who don't have kids?

    Glad you're back. I was sure this would be the year you let yourself just float out in the ocean.

  2. wow! first off i can't wait to read book 2. secondly, can't beat the carmel aftertaste. thirdly, glad you had a great time. sounds pretty relaxing. oona is full of beans it sounds and cute to boot. ah 2. those were the days!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Your holiday account makes addictive reading!
    Oona is so very cute in these photos-


Post a Comment

Popular Posts