After the fire

I have never experienced the complete upset of watching a fire ravage through an area even remotely close to me before, so when we heard the news of the Parry Sound 33 fire I had no concerns. How bad can a little fire get here, it’s not BC or California. They have wild fires, but it couldn’t happen to our little piece of heaven. Boy, was I wrong! We had packed up our car to head north on July 20 for a typical weekend, but just as we were about to leave we got word of evacuations happening on the Key River. I think I was still kind of not believing what I was hearing, and that we would be back to normal the next weekend.

Watching each for each report and constantly check Facebook for updates from the Key River Area Association, my Dad, Nick and I were so worried and constantly analyzing what we had read and what could it all mean. We all had visions of our little slice of heaven going up in flames and what that would mean for us. Would we have a boat? What about the dock?  Then of course bigger questions like how does one go about rebuilding a cottage in a water access location, and how long would that take, and how many others would need to be rebuilt too? We also considered that if this was the way the cottage was going to go it was probably the best as insurance would cover the clean up and hauling out of the mess.

Map of the fire damage. We were so lucky to not have any damage.

The fire grew so rapidly, and we all just watched with horror and baited breath waiting for news of our cottage. Finally on August 10 after almost 3 weeks of evacuation and restrictions, we were allowed to go!!! There were river restrictions to allow the water bombers and helicopters to do their job. We had to be off of the river by 8am and nobody was allowed on the river until 8pm. We made the journey North at 4am and safely arrived at the harbour by 7. We had packed enough provisions for a week, including a new generator as the power had been off for 3 weeks and we had no idea when it would return, and all the gas to power it. We had finished loading and the battery in the boat was flat, luck had it that we were able to get a boost and we high tailed it out of the harbour to make it to the cottage for 8.

At the highway there was no sign of damage, so as we left we had no idea what was in store for the river. I could smell the burnt trees before I could see them. There was blackened stumps and rocks, a moonscape is what some people have referred to it as. The rocks are bare, just blackened by the fire and ash. It was patchy damage and there were some signs of life close to the river and some areas where you could hardly tell. Some cottages had fire within a couple of feet of the cabin, They are so lucky! We continued on down the river no knowing yet, and as we came out of the narrows into the bay before our cottage we had this huge sense of relief. It looked the same! as we pulled up to the dock I think my dad, Nick and I simultaneously relaxed and started to laugh a little. Our cottage was there, our little solar lights were all still where we left them, Dad’s planter was looking a little over grown, not even wilting!

On the way up the river.
One of the camps for the firefighters. They did such an amazing job!
Almost to beaver creek on the river.
More devastation.

We started to unload and walked up to the door of the back cabin, and the smell of rotting fridge was in the air. We were lucky to only have 1 garbage bag of rotten food, and also lucky that someone came and got it as soon as we had finished emptying it. We thought we might be able to continue using the fridge but as it turns out, it was the worst smelling thing I have ever smelled. We are lucky that we have an ancient fridge in our front cabin that was unplugged and just waiting to be used. Its a Crosley Shelvador from roughly the 1950s, and it started up and ran no problem. So we took our rotten fridge and set it out at the end of the dock for clean up. The city paid for the clean up of old appliances. Practically everyone had at least one fridge sitting on the dock.

Cleaning out the fridge.
Getting rid of the rotten fridge. So glad we didn’t have to haul it out.

It was so great to be able to spend a week at the cottage. It was a much needed break for everyone. The girls swam two or three times a day and I joined them at least once a day. The water was beautifully warm and so clear from the lack of boats stirring up the bottom. There were helicopters flying overhead at least 5 times a day, we got quite used to hearing them buzzing around and watching. A couple of them flew quite low over our cottage and the dogs thought that they could take it on and proceeded to chase it as far as they could. It must have been quite a laugh for the pilot to see two Pomeranians and a beagle chasing him.

 

 

Ava enjoying the sun.
Ava and hazel enjoying the morning sunshine.
Leah getting ready for breakfast
Nothing like breakfast outside! The noms are watch closely for spilt food.
Harvesting soe yummy potatoes
Splashing in the puddles
Sunset. This year the sunsets look very tropical.

 

Leah is finally tall enough to paddle the little paddle boat all on her own. She loved that sense of freedom. She and Ava spent many hours just paddling around our little bay looking at water lilies and watching the crayfish, turtles and fish swimming around in the shallows. We did get some good sunset cruises in, even with the restrictions. Dad and I took Leah out to explore one of the islands we go to a lot. It has great swimming and a nice place to pull up the boat. Hopefully when we go back up for our week in September we will be able to have a picnic lunch somewhere, and explore a new island.

Leah and Ava took Hazel for a ride in the boat. All three of them loved it.
Conservation officers making sure everyone is safe, and obeying the travel restrictions.
Last sunset of the week

With the summer drawing to a close, I am looking forward to one more full week at the cottage and perhaps a couple more weekends in the fall. Wow did that season fly by.

 

May Days

I finally put my office back together after having it torn apart for the better part of a month to redo the flooring. It is much easier to use my computer when I have a desk to work at, being home helps too. I was away for the first 3 weekends in May. I got to attend a fantastic Symposium for Animal Health in Quebec City. I learned so much and had some awesome networking opportunities. I also learned that I really need to go back there and eat more food and tour around a bit more. We went to visit Nick’s relatives in Kingston the following weekend. It one of my favourite cities to visit for the food and time with family. We always stop in at Pan Chancho’s and I finally got to eat at Wooden Heads (http://woodenheads.com) The pizza was awesome, and some of the conversations we overheard were very entertaining.

We finally made it to the opening weekend of the cottage, with a new boat in tow. That drive up with the boat attached is one of the most nerve wracking things to me. Which is why we make Nick drive the truck up. It was one of the most smooth launches we have ever had. The trailer handles really well. We had been itching to get to the cottage since we closed it. Friday afternoon the weather was perfect! We got the water all hooked up, the composting toilet set up, and we discovered a family of mice had moved in for the winter. I spent most of the rainy day on Saturday cleaning up. I was glad that it was raining because at least I didn’t feel bad about wasting the sunshine being inside.

Saturday morning was spent getting the garden cleaned up and planting in the potatoes, they grow so well in the compost we have. As the weather gets warmer we will be taking up some tomatoes, and some herbs for cooking. The girls were so desperate to go swimming that I finally agreed to take them. The ice had only been out for maybe a week or so and the water was at most 60 degrees. Leah hopped in a refused to admit she was freezing until a boat went by and splashed her. She was in cottage by the fire in no time after that. Ava managed to get her toes wet and said that was enough until the water warms up.  There was a power outage while we were there. I am so happy that we use the BBQ for most meals and we have some beautiful cast iron pans that we use on the wood stove to make breakfast. Bacon cooked in a heap in a pan is so delicious and it makes the cottage smell so good.

breakfast cooked on the wood stove! So yummy.
First toe in the river, She was so brave. I probably won’t get in until end of June.
Ava followed suit and was chasing her sister in.
Getting the compost turned into the garden and planting the potatoes

On Sunday it was sunny but cold. We got the smoker up and running we made a great chicken, we brined it and then did a dry rub and smoked for a couple of hours. It was so tender and flavourful. I definitely want to give that a go again. It was great to catch up with everyone after the winter and relax in the fresh air. The Beavers were busy in the swamp this winter, building lots of new dams and creating quite the large mosquito breeding ground.

Our smoker all ready for the chicken!
Wood all chopped and ready to use, mostly Maple and Birch.

The weather is always the best on the day we have to leave. The girls had their bikes out and we enjoyed several cups of coffee on the deck watching them play and the river lazily flowing by. We took the boat out into the bay for a few minutes. The wind was just a bit too cold to last long, I found myself wishing for a toque. Then we came home and slowly ate our lunch, and then packed with a mad dash after noticing the time. We seemed to lead a bit of a mass exodus from the river. I’m guessing everyone does the same thing. At least the drive wasn’t overly long either way this time. As summer progresses the traffic will get worse. One day I would love to just stay there for the summer,I guess that is for when I can retire.

Fist sunset of the season, there will be plenty more to come!

The cottage box is starting to build up in the front hall again. I sense another trip soon!

 

Fall Things

October is coming to a close and I’m finally finding some time to catch up on the many things that have happened since the last time I posted.

We enjoyed a beautiful weekend at the cottage. It was the last one of the season for the girls and myself. With such perfect weather it is really hard to close up and say goodbye for winter. We enjoyed a morning in the bush picking cranberries, and hiking around the swamp.

Learning about cranberries.
Cranberry in the sun.
Cranberries.

We stopped for a snack on the top of one of my favourite rocks and actually took a family photo for once. (see, we do things together)

All together!

After our hike, Leah and I tested the water, it was still pretty warm being the last day of September, however it was still chilly and the swim turned into more of a quick dip. However that is something that can go on the calendar as the latest swim of the season.

Leah deciding that the water might be just a little on the cold side.
I went for quick dip after supper, I’m so glad I did, but I am so glad that there was a fire in the cabin to sit by after!

Back home we got our apple picking done (look – another family photo! We are getting better at using the timer on the camera) and made several batches of apple sauce, a bunch of apple pies in the freezer and a couple apple crisps for the freezer too. I also made 11 jars of poached pears. I can’t wait to try them! The garden is finally producing some beautiful tomatoes and I grew enough tomatillos to make a jar of salsa verde properly rather than making it with mostly green tomatoes.

The girls enjoying the fall sunshine and a wagon ride!
Leah showing Dad how the wagon works.
All together again!
A beautiful apple catching the evening light.
Fresh heirloom tomatoes from the garden!
Salsa verde stewing.
The girls love the leaves that fall in the backyard.

This weekend I got most of the spring bulbs planted. I think this is the best weather I have had for planting. Im usually out in mitts and a hat, hoping that its still warm enough for the bulbs to settle in for the winter before frost sets in.

Cyclamen in full bloom, they are loving the heat too.
Planting bulbs. Loving the new Felco secateurs that my mom got for Nick for his birthday. Naturally, I use them whenever I can get my hands on them.

Im hoping that the weather holds out for a few more days so I can get the last 120 bulbs in. The girls are getting excited for Halloween, They have their costumes ready and I will hopefully get some pumpkins this week. Pinterest has some new and great ideas (as always) that I am excited to try. Off to bed now, school in the morning.

The summer house

We have spent most of August up at the cottage this year. We only missed one weekend. It is wonderful to spend the time there, our northern garden seems to be much happier than its counterpart in the south.

We started off august with a full week at the cottage. It really helps everyone unwind and enjoy life at a slightly slower pace. One of my favourite things is watching the kids play in muddy puddles and splash in the river.

Early morning on the river. Mist rising off the water as the sun rises
Kids are up and ready for action!

My grandmother had a wonderful old washtub at the cottage. It has served as a bathtub for the youngsters for the last few summers. They are realizing that they both don’t really fit anymore. Amazing how much difference a year makes.

Wash tub fun.
Swimming. The water is always warm enough for the girls.
Evening swim, Best way to settle down for the night.
Hunting for frogs.

This photo isn’t the best, but it is a view from the kitchen sink. This may sound very housewifely but it just warms my heart to watch the kids play outside while I wash the dishes. I love watching them find fun new games and things to do without really being in their way.

Watching Ava play

We had a great reunion of a family that used to own our cottage. It was great to share stories about our time up there. Most of the things haven’t changed, Even most of the furniture is the same.

Reunion with the Long clan.

Out cottage is home to a somewhat rare lizard called the 5 lined Skink. They have established a viable colony under our cottage and we see them running through our garden and on the rocks. This year we were there for some hatchlings! They have a vibrant blue tail that stands out on the rocks. We also have had numerous sandhill cranes move into the swamp. They have a very interesting call, I think it sounds like what a pterodactyl would sound like.

Baby 5 lined skink.
Sandhill crane

Blueberries were fantastic this year. We had many breakfasts of blueberry pancakes. We also picked lots for the freezer. There is nothing like a hint of summer in the dead of winter.

Blueberries all ready for the freezer.

We had so many great sunsets. I will only share a few… I need to go through my photos and edit/delete some. One night I took 200 photos. The sun and sky change so fast every picture feels like its better than the last.

Sunset from the first night.

We went out into the Bay with our friends for the last night and the water was perfectly calm. One of the most beautiful nights this year. Leah loves to drive the boat. She’s learned all about the markers and what they mean.

Leah driving the boat. She loves to be the captain.
Sun setting into the Georgian Bay.
Almost gone.
Last rays of sunshine.

We are heading back for another week at the summer house tomorrow. It will probably be the last long stretch of time for the summer. The mornings are cooler and the days are shorter. I guess that time of year is upon us. Leah starts school in a week, and we will be able to get back to a good routine soon, I hope.

Last Minute Trip

We had a great quick trip to the cottage. We left late Friday afternoon and came back on Sunday. The little time we had up there was perfect! The sun was shining and the breeze kept the bugs at bay.

a girl and her dog
Still best friends.

The girls spent the morning swimming. The water was warm enough for them, I think I will wait another week or two before I’m ready to get in.

Getting in the water for the first time this season!
Ava loving getting back in the river
Leah, acting like a fish. She didn’t want to get out!

We spent most of the day just relaxing and doing cottage things, like gardening, and playing with chalk, and a bit of fishing.

Leah practicing making patterns with chive flowers.
Ginger taste testing the chives.
Muskoka chairs, a drink and a dog. #cottagelife
Hawk, looking handsome.
Leah helping plant some tomatoes.
Ava planting some Jonny jump ups.
splashing in the puddles.

It is always hard to leave when you hear how hot the weather is at home, but alas we have to go to work. Then back we go next weekend!

September at the Cottage

This week of the year tends to be one of my favourite weeks in the whole season. It was even better this year as the warm weather stayed the whole time. Most of the summers only cottagers head south on Labour Day, leaving us pretty much alone and the river is almost silent. It is an excellent time for hikes and being out on the water. We got stunning sunsets every night, this time of year the sun sets straight down the middle of the river.

My dad and I went out for a quick walk one evening, and he got a picture of me that pretty much sums up my life. You can dress the girl up, but that doesn’t mean you can take her out.

Out for a walk in my Ralph Lauren dress… Country girl at heart.

We saw lots of birds, bears and some very special red squirrels who claimed the cedar trees beside the cottage and they yelled at us every time we walked out the front door. We were fortunate enough to see a mother bear and her cub swimming while we were out for a sunset cruise with friends of ours. It was such an amazing site to see, I was very thankful to be in a boat and far away though.  We saw some Common Mergansers swimming in our little bay fishing out all the little minnows. I also caught sight of what I think was juvenile gar fish, most likely the spotted Gar. Leah caught her first fish, and I hope she will be as hooked, pardon the pun, as me.

Child catching a sunfish on a dock
Leah caught a sunfish
Common Mergansers
Common Mergansers

My dad got so much work done on the cottage this week. All the logs and sticks from the beavers this spring got burned.

 

bonfire at sunset
Dad supervising the bonfire

He and Nick did a lot of painting, while I worked on cleaning up the insides. We still have lots of things left over from my grandparents, and stuff that was left by the people before them. It is kind of like a museum going through some of the stuff.

Nick and I got the smoker up and running again this week, and we finally have a pretty good grasp of smoking ribs. They spend about an hour soaking in a homemade dry rub, followed by 6-8hrs on the smoker, followed by an hour or so being basted in a homemade BBQ sauce. Each time we do it, it gets a bit better. Some day my dad and I might actually get around to writing the recipe.

I got my old paddle boat out for the girls and leah learned how to drive it very quickly, and we spent a lot of time paddling around our little bay looking for fish and turtles.

Out in the paddle boat with the girls and the dog
Out in the paddle boat with the girls and the dog

The girls swam almost every day. The water was so warm and a great place to cool off after a hike in the bush.

Ava starting to swim on her own
Leah loving the water
Leah, Ava, and Ginger drying off after their swim

I spent most of my time with the camera at sunset, each day brought a new stunning view.

Sunset on the Key River
Sunset
Sunset
Sunset
Last sunset

Cottaging

There is something so special about cottage country. The air, the water, the rocks, and not to mention the people. It is as if time kind of stops up there and things are done as they used to be. Outhouses and open cook fires are pretty much the norm, most of the cottages out on the bay don’t have electricity and rely on propane or diesel generators, some have upgraded to solar. Giving the kids a bath involves an old wash tub and using lake water that is run into the tub early in the morning so it has a chance to be warmed by the sun.

Wash tub bath
enjoying a wash tub bath together!

Mornings are for the odd jobs, fishing, and hiking in the bush.

Fishing on the dock. Sunfish and perch are fun for the kids to catch
Leah mucking in the swamp

Afternoons are spent watching the boats go up and down the river, swimming and lounging on the deck with a good book.

Leah loving swimming in the lake
Ava napping while out on a shore lunch

Shore lunches have to be one of my favourite traditions. We all pack into our neighbour’s big boat and head out to an island in the bay and spend the day exploring, fishing, swimming and grilling the sausages we brought for lunch because none of us are avid fishermen.

Papa telling a story to the girls
Driving the boat

Nick has been working on getting my grandfather’s smoker up and running, and we are getting ever closer to homemade smoked ribs, Let me tell you they are SO yummy!

Nick tending to the smoker

We went on a blueberry picking expedition, and turns out there weren’t really many out there. Just lots of horse flies and mosquitos. We did get enough for some waffles and pancakes though.

Hiking to the blueberry patch.
Leah hunting for blueberries.

Ah sunset, my favourite part. We sometimes take the boat out and do a sunset cruise, other times we just sit in the Muskoka chairs on our point and enjoy it from there.

Watching the sun set over the Key
Crescent moon in the sunset.

Now we are home again, and the garden is crying for weeding and the tomatoes are ripe for the picking.