By Nicholas McCallum - Staff Writer
In June of this year, writer Nina Dragicevic contributed an article to the Facts & Arguments section of The Globe and Mail wherein she delivered a rather scathing critique of cottage life. As I prepared for my own yearly stint up to the Bruce Peninsula, I could not help but feel the harshness of her words dog at me as well as a tradition that has come to replace any major holiday in terms of its personal importance. Therefore, as is my nature, I pondered and questioned my own motives for engaging in this annual custom, and since I enjoy a good argument from time to time, ultimately decided that the only thing I could do to relieve myself of her sanctimonious talk was to respond.
It's me, your 30-something stereotype who's been brainwashed into participating in the contemptible movement known as “cottage culture.” I'm sorry you had a terrible time abandoning your concrete jungle for a couple of days, unable to stymie an urban-induced sense of cynicism, but really, you should have just stayed home. It must have been an excruciating ordeal (especially for your dogs!) to not have to navigate through and around derelict containers of rotting Thai food or crinkled bags of Doritos that roll past like tumbleweed with their sun-shimmering declarations of mass consumption.
I've been making the four-hour trek to the Bruce Peninsula for close to twenty years now, and maybe my sense of entitlement is too ingrained for me to recognize the folly of wanting to escape the confines of city life, but I find there's only so much that mindful meditation and a well placed terrarium can get a person.
However, I will admit, there is a sense of urgency to my need for a place where everything is greener, bluer, more quiet and clear. Personally, I enjoy being able to see to the bottom of a lake from my kayak or canoe—it sure beats the sludge-brown river water I'd sooner try to power my car with than wade into. But perhaps it's less urgency than anticipation.
It struck me as I was driving up just this year, your judgmental voice in my head as I tried to enjoy the countryside where Mennonites hang laundry and travel by horse-drawn carriage. Sleepy rural towns constructed of red or yellow brick come one after another after another until the spaces in between become even wider and you can tell when you're nearing your destination, not because of some abstract (perhaps you'd say dull?) passage of time, but because of how noticeably the terrain changes. The porous limestone. The White Spruce and Eastern Hemlock that hang tall and sometimes crooked along the two-lane highway.
To do 120 kilometres an hour here would be disrespectful to the towns who no doubt share your disdain for our seasonal migration, so I do my best not to be too intrusive.
As my wife and I drove along with our own two dogs, listening to the Top 40 as per Ryan Seacrest (God forbid we stumble upon classic rock), the clouds became a dark-blue-almost-black, the kind that tugs at your inner nature and incites an excitable, irrational fear; an animalistic awe that comes whenever we recognize how small we truly are. I could see the trees and crops turned into themselves as they blew and shivered against the coming rain.
That's when it hit me.
Rain is their reprieve, a rejuvenation from the daily drought of life, and I could feel that same expectancy come over me once again, as if in answer to your underlying question. Your argument against cottage life appears tragically Millenial, and I'm loathe to use the word. You rail against the frivolous expenses of the Jones's, because much like the rest of us, you haven't the resources to secure these luxuries for yourself at the moment. Yet you partake (albeit begrudgingly) in your friend's beer commercial vacation just to be polite, which inevitably becomes little more than another excuse to ridicule and criticize those around you, as is the way of today's social media urbanites.
I found it suiting that this summer I began reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which, if you're unfamiliar, recounts the story of a man and his son travelling across the American countryside together. Pirsig's words struck a chord with me shortly into the novel, when he comments on the people of the towns he passes through versus the mindset us city folk have been raised to sacrifice: “They're not going anywhere. They're not too busy to be courteous. The hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about. It's the others, the ones who moved to the cities years ago and their lost offspring, who have all but forgotten it . . . Conned, perhaps, into thinking that the real action was metropolitan and all this was just boring hinterland.”
City life is convenient, yes, but it can also be keenly impersonal, no matter how many messaging apps one may have. So I go, for as long as the city and a modest income will allow, not because of any commercialized sense of patriotism, but for, as Pirsig calls it, the “hereness and nowness of things.” Time disappears. It both freezes, yet somehow manages to always pass faster than you'd hope. But during those moments when the droning sound of traffic is replaced by a gentle or violent tide, when the days are determined more by a whim than any set schedule and the world becomes slightly more knowable, I find myself breathing easier. A brief but much needed departure from the everyday that revitalizes and prepares me for another long year filled with oil spills, Black Friday sales, and Judd Apatow movies.
At my cottage, I am free.