A good friend of mine in Toronto had been encouraging me to explore nature in Canada and spend time in her cottage. So, on my birthday weekend, I headed to Bobcaygeon. I hadn’t written much in the past few years. Just like any other muscle or machine, writing skills too can become dull and rusted if not exercised or used. Hence, I really wanted to spend time documenting my experience and to just write without paying attention to the inner critic. What follows below is what I experienced in the land of Kawartha over a period of three days. Its original version was the letter I wrote to her for introducing to me the cottage country life.
This note is being drafted from the porch of her cottage during the early hours of Sunday morning. My writing pad is too cold. Let me go back in and get some gloves.
Yesterday, my day began with a rush to get the car rental place to pick the car. On the streetcar to Queen and Parliament, I had a very profound experience. A woman was trying to get on to the streetcar along with her little daughter in a crib. So many passengers in the streetcar, including myself, were so busy with our services, gadgets, thoughts and several other engagements, that we did not notice that the mother was trying to push the crib up on to the streetcar. The person who sprang into action to help was the one I judged to be troublesome because he was talking to himself. It was a good lesson for me. First, I should be more aware and present and not be lost. Second, anyone, regardless of their problems or state of mind, is still capable of human empathy and compassion and therefore they themselves deserve the same respect and empathy from me, instead of judgments or scorn.
What followed was a little rollercoaster of emotions. Mother gave the very young daughter, probably two or three-year-old, her due place in the coach by treating her like an individual who could have her own likes and preferences. She asked her where she would like to sit – on her lap or on a separate seat by her side, instead of deciding that for her – something I do not observer often in parenting. Then she pointed the daughter to the leaves that were falling from trees with every blow of wind as if they were tied delicately only waiting to fall. She asked what colors those leaves were. She explained to her that that is why it was called FALL. Watching and hearing all this against the backdrop of trees swinging with wind and dropping their leaves with every swing was very emotional and profound. I felt that what she was encouraging her child to do was what even adults should do – be present and observe the changing weather. This fall won’t come for another year. One doesn’t need to drive to places to enjoy the fall. That tiny toddler could have all her share of Fall amusements in a Toronto streetcar because she was observing all that with bewilderment in her wide excited eyes. My eyes had tears watching and thinking of all this. I cannot forget the dreamy face of that child.
My drive to the cottage was wonderful. I stopped at a farm in New Market and picked some early Gala apples, some peaches and a hot cup of apple cider. I realized that I hadn’t had apple cider since my time in Indiana five years ago. This was freshly prepared and had no preservatives and therefore had a shorter best before date. That’s my favorite thing to do in small towns – consume things closest to their sources in the least adulterated state before they undergo processing on their way to the city. Apples indeed looked different from their way to the ones in the Loblaws in the city. They weren’t shiny for sure! Also, I learned about the different varieties of apples in Ontario and about their tartness and sweetness through the chart prepared by Apple Growers of Ontario.
My next stop wasn’t too far away either – it was called Rose Farm. I saw a board saying fresh home potato fries. I do not know exactly where this was. It was a beautiful cute place with kids and pumpkins all around. Clouds had lifted away, so it was bright, slightly chilly and cheerfully sunny. I queued up at the Fries counter. Apparently, they grow these potatoes there and I think they fry fresh batch for every order – no wonder the queue moved slowly. There was a nice polite kind couple behind me. Perhaps in their 50’s. I asked them how far up north they planned to go. They replied, “probably not too far, just a day trip, since the weather was nice” . When I shared that I was going to Bobcaygeon, he said, ‘Oh boy! the land of Kawarthas! You still have some ways to go up before you get there! When I was ordering fries, he insisted that I ordered gravy too. And if I did not like the gravy, he would buy that from me. Indeed, I did not regret it – gravy was delicious!
The rest of the drive was gorgeous too. But at one point, I became anxious. Probably in Peterborough, when I was seeing the word Kawartha all around. I was feeling that I already passed the cottage. From my friend’s details instructions about how to get there, I was under the impression that the place might not be on the google map, at least not accurately yet. That’s why those instructions because otherwise, people might be likely to miss the cottage. Hence at this point, I decided just to follow the google map without stopping anywhere and figure once google says I had arrived. I could check the rest of the farms and interesting places on the way back to the city.
Thankfully, Google brought me straight to the cottage and I noted my friend’s last name! I had printed the instructions, just in case. So, the first step before I stepped out of the car was to pull out those instructions. I was really excited to walk upon the fallen pine and maple leaves on the ground and realize that I was finally here! When I walked behind the house and saw the lake, it was really breathtaking. Quiet, with occasional ripples. The place itself overall was very quiet – just what I needed in order to hear myself.
I had reached here around 3:30 p. I spent some time in logistics. Then I changed into winter boots – glad I remembered to pack them and then I left the cottage to walk and explore around. I walked in every direction and would turn around at the end of any path like I was on some depth-first search. I had some exchange of greetings with some of neighbors. I got back to the cottage and found the lake very inviting. So, I picked up the book, ‘Lost in translation’ to read by the lake. The booked seemed a bit difficult to read. Perhaps because of several foreign-sounding Chinese words and also lack of context since I knew so little about Beijing and China. The sounds of passing vehicles weren’t helping either. So, I decided to write instead. I wrote a long letter to a friend in India. I kept writing till it became too cold and I decided to walk back in. Inside the cottage, I think I spend significant time just standing and observing. I could spend several minutes standing in front of every corner and wall of the cottage, admiring how thoughtfully every inch of the space here had been designed and developed. All the modern amenities were present here but in an eccentric way! The ‘vacant’ or ‘in-use’ sign in front of the toilet was the first example of the ingenuity of the art in this place that I noted. Very simple tools and means had been used to tell a story on every wall. A piece of wood with an interesting pattern and cuts. The countless New Yorkers in the bedroom. I still haven’t gotten to check out all the covers yet. How did they get that idea? Lamps that have a cover of cloth or Canadian flags to provide just the right light. How did they think of all this? The sign that points to the lake, the paintings on the stools, the world map of experiences – everything was so eclectic here that I could not help thinking who was the brain behind all this. I mean art on stool tops – which are often ignored because their only use is for people to place their bums! But I found the art of clouds and maps on those too! This place indeed was a visual treat to my eyes.
I tried to make a fire. I couldn’t. I am not so skilled in these survivor skills and outdoor processes. Perhaps I should come next time with friends that are much more confident in that stuff. But I remembered the warm cozy feeling I got when, on phone, my friend told me that fire was also a nice company. I never thought about that! Hence, I tried anyway.
I had carried a few eggs and onion in an empty beer crate. So, I made an omelet and ate by the little flow of a ‘fire’ that I could make. After cleaning up, I tucked myself up in bed by around 8:30 pm with my book Maurice which I was surprised to find in my bag!
I was woken up by a phone call at around 11. After I finished the call, I noted light at several places inside the cottage. I wondered if I had left some lights on? I walked into those bright patches and looked up. I could not believe that it was moonlight! It probably was full moon night. It actually was because that morning I spoke with my mother and she told me that she had fasted. Well, I had a new admiration for moonlight. There was some moonlight on the pillow too, where I slept. It wasn’t disturbing. It was diffused. I remembered that she had told me about stars that could be much more visible in this town. It was quite cold so I was a little hesitant in stepping out at this hour of the night. But I did not want to miss the stars, so I got hold of a cap and gloves and another jacket from my bag and slowly stepped out. When I saw what I saw, it was jaw-dropping. The sky was full of stars. And stars so near. Stars in the sky and in the lake. It was beautiful. I have the picture but only in my mind.
I got back in and went back to sleep. Those extra layers proved useful as the temperature started dipping fast.
In the morning, when I woke up, it was still very dark. There wasn’t much moonlight either. It was hard to know what time that was. But I wondered if I really needed to know that to make the decision of leaving the bed or sleeping more, considering that I was on vacation and not on any timeline or schedule. I did look at the clock, which by then I knew was an hour ahead in time. I left the bed and came to the porch area to write some. I noted outside some smoke. It was a bit bright by now. I came out. It was majestic. There was water, a layer of mist and trees. It was spooky and mystical. Reminded me of the Redwood forests of California. Since it was early morning, there were no vehicles zipping by. I took a picture, but that picture could barely capture the scenic moment that my five senses witnessed.
I got back in to write more. Inside the cottage, I often found myself fixated on one part of the cottage, studying the wall and then without moving the body, studying the objects around. Then a realization would dawn upon me that I had not moved in a while. So I very slowly and intentionally took a few steps to grab my writing pad and to settle this time in the relaxing chair by the fireplace. I wondered what caused this careful calibrated slow movement because it was not so in Toronto. First, there was this pervasive silence in there that I did not want to disturb. As I wrote, the only I sound I heard was that of me scribbling on paper. Second, even though there was no one inside, but it felt like every object and piece in here was telling a story and the cottage was full of storytellers who are just napping waiting to be woken up to tell their tale when I was near them. So, I wouldn’t walk up to them unless I am ready to hear them.
After a while, I wanted to do something else. It was hard to decide between reading, doing exercise, making breakfast or taking a walk. I ended up choosing none of those, instead took the car keys and headed out. I decided to do walking meditation and my friend had told me about a long railroad trail near Fenelon Falls. The car was freezing, but once I hit the road, it began to warm up. I anyway was bundled up heavily.
On the way, I saw a small stationed vehicle and some fruits and two humans. Even though I took this trip to get away from the city, but an almost complete absence of human interactions made the sight of another human an exciting moment. So, I took a pause there. It was an old couple just setting up their farm produce cart. I was the first person to stop by. It was just interesting to see them doing what they were doing. Both husband and wife wore flannel shirts and the man wore a hat too. They had corn, apples and several other seasonal farm produce. I asked them how long they had been living here, doing that and how they spent their days. They shared that they moved there only three years ago, from Markham where the man was still a grower (he was a sixth-generation farmer) but the woman was a supply manager at a farm. I just realized that we did not even exchange names. The man lamented that farming wasn’t the same anymore. The government had messed it up by turning this into an agri-business and they had no clue about farming. They spent their days attending that several acre farms and ‘feeding chickens, feeding pigs, feeding whatever’! 😊 . I was curious if they missed the city life of Markham which they referred to as ‘huge city’ and if they had found friends and community there. She shared that one could find that anywhere if one wanted. She found really nice neighbors there. They often trade goods and services. They needed some help with a machine and wondered where they could hire some help. But their neighbor offered to help fix and said, ‘hey those eggs look good, I could use some’. It was so interesting to note that the barter system was still existing in this day and age barely a few hours from Toronto! They had several churches there. After chickens were done giving eggs, they would just take the chickens to the foodbank that they supported. Hence, they had found a community and support system there. They just loved this life living close to nature and their son and daughter who lived close by, so they got to be with their grandkids, ‘which is a lot of fun’.
I did not want to get a full basket of apples. I asked if I could get just two. ‘Yes, you may, and that would be fifty cents’, she replied. I purchased two and headed to my car. On the way when I took one big bite, it was sweet as honey!
In another 10 minutes, I reached Fenlon Falls or so google said. I thought it was a place for real falls. I found out that it was actually a town. Like Sioux Falls in Dakotas! Most places were closed. As I waited for the walk sign on my way to the Tourist Information Center in the ‘downtown Fenelon Falls’, At the next traffic light, I exchanged greetings with an old lady who complained that that walk signal took forever to turn ON. The information center was closed too. Thankfully one health food shop was open and they told me the way to that endless railroad walk.
As I began to walk, I once again thought that I should put some time. I set forty minutes and then silently rebuked myself again for being subservient to time and machines – ‘why can you not stop when you do not want to walk any further or when you are tired? Why do you need a clock to tell you that’? I decided to walk as far as I could in forty minutes and run on the way back. I tried to be aware of the fullness of breath and its emptiness. I had expected dense foliage and woods, but this turned out to be a paved path with a lake on the left side and houses or cottages on the right. The day began to warm up or perhaps this place was warmer than the cottage anyway because it was a few kilometers south. I wondered if I could really complete the walk because my feet were melting in those woolen socks and winter boots. I saw a big green farm. So, I decided to deviate for a bit and stormed into the farm and continued my stampede on this bright sunny pasture till I reached the end and then I stormed back to the trail to continue. There was no music. Only me, my thoughts and my breath. And of course, the occasional passing of ATVs, bikers, walkers, dogs, lake, houses and green. Once the timer was up, I had to prepare for running. I was also curious to know how far I’ve come. I censured myself again – is that important? Is anyone counting miles?
Well, I had to lighten up, both figuratively and literally. Metaphorically, I needed to stop judging myself and perhaps lighten a load of thoughts and more important my reactions to them. Literally, I had way too many layers that bundled me up when I left the cottage in the cold morning. It would be hard to run. So, I removed one jacket and tied it around the neck, zipped up all essentials in a pocket lest they should fall when I ran and then I put some music on. As I began to run, I might have looked like a walking shop of winter wear. It was so not how I ran in the city. I was still wearing three layers on legs and carrying plenty of paraphernalia in the pants’ pockets. Those winter boots were heavy as well. To my surprise, I reached back the beginning of the trail rather sooner! It was bright and beautiful. I threw away all jackets and music machines on green grass and felt so light. I tried to do sun salutations but felt weird doing them with shoes on. So, I threw off the shoes and one layer of lowers too. It felt like summer, with a mild sweet cold. I thought of doing 12 sun salutations, but after a few, when I was distracted by my thoughts, I went easy on myself and did something else. I sang a bit. I was probably like a puppy who just rolled in the joy of sun, trees, and grass. Then I stretched some more and then laid flat under the tree and observed the leaves dancing with winds, shining in the sun. Every branch would bend and sway and yet not break and would keep its leaves intact with all the strength it had. As I enjoyed the green earth beneath me, and admired the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and the dance of nature all around me, I felt grateful that I was able to experience all this with help in different forms and shapes, such as that friend’s friendship, my good health and so many resources that universe has shared with me. I felt life was good!
I stretched some more and then spent some time staring into the lake. Nearby, a little girl ran around a tree. After each round, she would wave at her mom and resumed her revolving. Once she was done, she would do the same around a smaller tree. Once I was done the observing, I got back to my tree where I had thrown away my belongings and did some rapid exhalation exercise. I felt hungry so I wrapped up and got back to my car. When my friend recommended me the Kawartha Coffee Company, I found my next destination. On the way at the same intersection, I saw the same old lady who also recognized me and retorted this time, “Are we doing this again!”. What a small town this was!
What a huge patio! Patio probably was bigger than the restaurant.
Initially, I sat outside with my caramel apple cider and pumpkin apple crumbles but I found it a bit inconvenient to share them with the stubborn honeybees on the patio, so I went inside. I walked on the Bolton street till the end where I saw the lake again.
On the way back, I checked out a store of British clothes. What could I say, those clothes and that fashion were just that – British?
I was tired from all the moving around, so I got back to the cottage and settled myself by the lake to resume the book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl. Surprisingly, It was very warm and sunny here at the lake too. In fact, I had to go inside and get sunglasses to read. I might have read a few pages when the tiredness and pleasant warmth of the sun and perhaps the content of those pages served as a lullaby. I came inside the porch and laid down there with the book and a blanket. I do not recall when I might have dozed off, but I was several pages ahead now in the book when I woke up. It was a bit cold now, still bright but not sunny anymore. Probably 7:30p. I came in and bundled up again. I made a cup of tea and turned my tanpura ON to do some music practice. Around 9pm, I tucked in with the book Maurice again and soon slipped into dreams.
Monday morning was rather clear, perhaps since it rained the whole night, hence no mist on the lake. I began the day with more writing. It was still cold, so I stayed indoors. After some time, I decided to have my breakfast by the lake. It was quite an experience to have a hot breakfast in the little chilly windy surroundings of the lake. Then I bundled myself up for a quick walk upon the foliage of fallen maple leaves on the little silver lake road.
There were some patches of the bright sun where I tried to breathe in some warmth. I got home, made tea and settled to finish writing. I decide to ignore the clock. By the time I finished, it was close to noon. So, I began the winding down exercise to conclude my stay. After clearing up, I finally decided to brave the cold and test that outdoor shower! I could not open the door. So, I went outside the cottage with limited clothes and entered the shower from around the house. The wind was sending chills down my body but as soon as the first drops of hot water fell on me, I began to collect myself. I hadn’t had this experience in a long while. An outdoor shower of a house – probably in a small town in India. It was incredible!
I packed up everything and hit the road again. While driving back, I reminisced about the past few days in the cottage country. I cannot thank my friend enough for opening her home to me. That was very generous of her. I also noted her generosity in encouraging artwork of everyone who visited the cottage – whether kids or adults. She had put up drawings, sketches, paintings, carvings of so many people who had spent time there, regardless of how simple or sophisticated those were. That art captured a slice of the memory they created during their stay there. I saw some artwork from 1993. No wonder every corner narrated some stay in the cottage.