The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Cottage

Goodbye To Summer

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau. But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, August 30, 1947.

“It’s hard to believe!” muttered Jimmie Frise.

“That summer’s over?” I sympathized.

“No,” said Jim, heatedly. “That here we are, all packed and waiting for Joe Badeau to come with the launch and take us away. And not one – NOT ONE – thing have we done that we planned to do this summer!”

“We fished,” I pointed out.

“Yah, but the roof!” cried Jim. “We planned to stain the shingles on the roof. We’ve got the shingle stain down there in the boathouse, and it’s been there since early July!”

“And the verandah and steps,” I recollected.

“Yes, and the paint for them,” declared Jim angrily, “has been right there in the boathouse, too.”

“And the wharf!” I remembered.

“Yes,” said Jim bitterly, “the wharf! Remember the plans we drew last April and May, of the new wharf? Those sketches must be around here somewhere.”

“Aw, Jim,” I consoled, “it’s always like that at a summer cottage. Nobody ever gets the jobs done that they plan in spring.”

“But, Greg,” protested Jim sharply, “this isn’t the first year we’ve fiddled away on that wharf. Last summer, don’t you remember, we came up here with every intention of repairing the wharf and putting some new logs under the far end?”

“Well, last year,” I pointed out kindly, “don’t forget, there was a nail shortage. You couldn’t get spikes …”

“Spikes!” cried Jim. “Why, the year before that, we got a whole pailful of six-inch spikes! Don’t you recall? They’re down in the boathouse, too!”

“Ah, yes,” I admitted. “Then, this is the third summer…”

“And the blankets!” went on Jim, enumerating our sins. “My wife brought up all those blankets from the city for us to wash in this lovely soft water”

“We never got around to it,” I excused.

“Never got around to it?” expostulated Jim. “We never got around to anything!”

The baggage was all stacked on the cottage verandah. Inside, all was clean and tidy and ready to be abandoned to the long silence of fall, winter and spring. The shutters were up. Screen doors removed and stacked in the spare room. Pails turned upside down. Kettles emptied. All left-over food of every description packed in a carton to take home. And in a little while, around the islands, would come Joe Badeau with his launch to carry us off.

“Blankets,” I pondered. “I can’t understand why we didn’t do the blankets. There’s nothing I like better than tramping blankets in a tub.”

“You can’t wash blankets in a city,” agreed Jim, “the way you can up here. A tubful of warm water. A good mild suds. And us in our bare feet, tramping, tramping, tramping…”

“And then, two separate tubfuls of clear water to rinse them,” I reminded. “Tramping and tramping again.”

“And don’t forget the shaking,” gloated Jim. “The two of us with a blanket between us, shaking and whipping the water out, until it is white and fluffy.”

“And then,” I concluded, “hanging them on the line, in a fresh west wind, on a fine sunny day. Man, no new fangled washing machine can wash blankets like that!”

“How sweet and soft they are,” sighed Jim, “for the winter!”

“But,” I sighed too, “we didn’t do them! We didn’t get around to it.”

Jim got up off the trunk he was sitting on and stood staring out over the bay.

“What DID we do this summer?” he demanded. “Let’s just pause and take stock of ourselves. I tell you, it’s nothing to feel smug and easy about. When you think of all the things we had set down in black and white…”

“Listen, Jim,” I soothed, “summer is like that. Summer cottages are like that. You aren’t supposed to do anything, really, at the summer cottage. At home, in the spring, when you’re dreaming of summer, you are in the grip of the city and its purposeful spirit. You make a lot of plans. That’s part of being in the city. But the real joy of summer is to let everything go hang ….”

“But you’d think,” cut in Jim, “that we would at least have enough sense, enough energy, to attend to the upkeep of the place. Most of the things we intended to do were necessary repairs and upkeep. I can’t think why we didn’t stain those shingles on the roof, for one thing.”

“Or the wharf,” I admitted. “We were in swimming every day, down there at the wharf. There’s all those logs there, on the beach. All we had to do, any day, was go and get an axe, a hammer, and that pail of spikes out of the boathouse …”

“Exactly!” cried Jim. “Every time we were in swimming, that dilapidated old wharf was right there before our eyes. What happens to people like us when they seem to go blind to their duty, to their plans, to their intentions …”

“Aw,” I soothed, “when you’re in swimming, it’s so cool and pleasant and dreamy.”

“But that wharf!” protested Jim. “GLARING at us.”

We both turned our embarrassed gaze down at the old wharf. I don’t know how many years old it really is. It is a composite of many years and many wharves. Some of the logs and a few of the planks must date back 30 years. The stone-filled crib that is the foundation of the outer end has been skewgee as long as anybody can remember. The inner end leans upon the rock, inches under water when the water is high: cockeyed and aslant and high and dry when the water is low. It has been unsafe to walk on for five seasons. Guests and strangers alike have sprained ankles on it; picked up splinters; skidded off into the water from it. It is an eyesore and a public reproach.

Yet, with a few pieces of log pried under it for legs with a couple of fresh chunks spiked on to the trembling crib, a dock fit for another 10 years could be made by two gentlemen in their bathing suits in about, say, 40 minutes.

“Conscience, Jim,” I propounded, “must be at its lowest ebb in summer. It may be that conscience is like a barometer and has its high periods and its low periods. Maybe the seasons have a lot to do with human conduct. For instance, I would think conscience is at its highest fury about the middle of February and at its lowest about the end of July.”

“All these jobs stared at us,” gloomed Jim, “day after day. And we utterly ignored them.”

“Human nature remains,” I uttered, “a profound mystery. For centuries, great minds – philosophers, teachers, preachers, kings, politicians – have been studying human nature with tireless zeal. Billions of words have been written by men of every race and clime, trying to solve the mystery of human nature. But guys like you and me go right on being mysterious, even to ourselves.”

“What time is it?” demanded Jimmie, with sudden intent.

“Ten-twenty,” I informed him. “Every once in a while across the centuries, some great leader rises up who thinks he has got the mystery of human nature solved. And he sets forth to master the world with his knowledge. Hitler was the latest of them …”

“Joe Badeau will be here at 11,” stated Jim, taking off his city coat and starting to unbutton his city shirt collar. “We’ve got exactly 40 minutes ….!”

“No, no, no, Jim!” I protested, leaping up.

“We’ll put on our bathing suits,” he declared. “In a jiffy. We can hoick a couple of logs under this end of the wharf. I’ll get the spikes and the axe …”

“Aw, Jim, Jim!” I begged. “You can’t make good in 40 minutes the errors and omissions of a whole summer. Look, sit down, take it easy. It’s our last few minutes here in this lovely place …”

But Jim had popped indoors and seized our bathing trunks off the hook in the store room. He came forth and tossed me mine.

“Jim, be reasonable, “I pleaded. “Joe Badeau always arrives ahead of time. He’ll be rounding the point in five or 10 minutes.”

“Come on,” commanded Jim, filled with an extraordinary zeal.

And he popped out of his trousers and shorts and into his trunks.

“I’ll go get the axe, and the pail of spikes,” he announced, striding off the verandah, “and we can haul a few short logs.”

Now, I like a dip about as well as anybody. But this I was one of those coolish August days with a brisk west wind ablowing, and the cool water of the deeper lake being churned by lively waves.

“Jim,” I called, “we don’t both have to be in our trunks, do we?”

“Don’t hedge!” shouted Jim over his shoulder “Here’s our chance to make some amends to our character. Come on, get into your trunks!”

Character! Is surrendering to the soft and Idle charm of summer a weakness of character? Is it wrong to enjoy the bounty of the seasons? Why should summer end in a hasty scramble, as though we were slaves, and conscious the driver with a whip? Why should not summer end like a song, lingering in the heart?

I got into my trunks.

I listened for the far mutter of Joe Badeau’s engine. But the August wind and waves denied me.

Jim unlocked the boathouse and came out with the axe and a large bucket containing the six-inch spikes purchased three, maybe four, years ago, for this very purpose. I picked up the hammer and the swede saw from its nail. The swede saw is that lumberjack weapon like a modernized bucksaw. It melts its way through old dry logs.

“Snappy, now,” ordered Jimmie. “Let’s select three or four good stout logs.”

Boldly, he jumped into the water up to his armpits at the deeper end of the dock and scrutinized the underpinnings.

“We need a six-foot log on this side,” he announced very engineeringly, “and the mate to it on the opposite side. Here on the crib, I should think three pieces, let’s see, four feet long, will tighten her up.”

“The ice, this winter,” I prophesied coldly, “will swipe the logs from under…”

“Then, we need a nice light log, about 20 feet long, as a crowbar, to hoist her up a little while I spike the…”

I walked off the dock and into the rushes along the beach where sundry logs, drifted in over the years, were either lying half-buried in the sand, or were dry as old bones up among the shrubbery of the shore:

Jim came behind me with the swede saw.

“Here’s one,” he announced. “Cedar, at that!”

And out of the harsh grass, he hoisted one end of an eight-inch cedar log, dried and bare from maybe half a century of weathering. Out of its middle, we cut two fine posts six feet long. The swede saw released the imperishable aroma of cedar with the sawdust.

A little farther along, we pulled out two old pine sawlogs that probably escaped from the lumberjacks’ booms years ago when they were cutting through this part of the country.

“Enough here,” announced Jim. “to build an entire new crib.”

With the saw, we cut four good billets for the crib.

“I think I hear Joe Badeau!” I exclaimed.

We both paused to listen.

“I don’t hear him,” said Jim.

Neither did I.

So we went and hunted up a long, light log for me to use as a pry or lever, while Jim was setting the new legs under the dock.

All these selected pieces of wood we dragged over to the wharf. Using a boulder for a base, I thrust one end of the 20-foot pole under the edge of the wharf, and then leaned all my weight on the other end. This raised the more dilapidated end of the wharf slightly, so that Jim, in the water, could jag one of his six-foot logs underneath, upright, for a leg or support. With his six-inch spikes, driven in obliquely, he secured the legs to the battered old stingers.

Working fast, Jim set both legs in place and then moved around to the crib. This was where I entered the water too, to tow the crib pieces into place and hold them while Jim, with the axe, drove spikes wherever he could find a spot they would bite between the fresh logs and the old cribbing,

“I hear him!” I announced.

Jim harked a moment.

“Okay,” he said, “we’ve just got time to get half a dozen rocks to put in the crib.”

Many of the original rocks had fallen out of the crib during the years of disintegration. Three or four we found with our feet on the lake bottom, and these we lifted easily, in the water, and set back in the crib.

“That’ll hold her,” I suggested, hopefully.

“The crib is the foundation of the whole thing,” asserted Jim. “Come on.”

In the neighboring sand, we found and uprooted half a dozen more boulders, which tear the arms out of you to carry. We were exhausted by the time the crib was declared full by Jim.

“There!” he heaved. “Now I can face the winter with a decent conscience!”

Joe Badeau was rounding the point, a mile away.

We dashed up to the house, dried, and dived into our clothes. Together, we carried down the trunk. Individually, we toted down the dunnage bags, grips and cartons.

“There,” cried Jim. “Feel how solid she is!”

The old wharf DID feel solid.

Joe Badeau was 100 hundred yards out.

“Hi-ya, Joe!”

Jim dashed up to the cottage to lock the door.

I stood on the wharf while Joe steamed in.

The wind was with him.

His boat is old, his engine older.

Often before this, it had failed to respond to his rusty gear shifts and throttles.

On it came.

“Hey!” I warned.

Jim was half-way down the rocks.

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau.

But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

There was a splintering crash. Everything gave way. The old wharf just tilted up and surrendered.

In went all the baggage, the trunks, the cartons, the dunnage bags, the grips.

And me.

“How’s your conscience?” I gritted, as Jim lent me a helping hand back onto the rock.

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau. But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

Editor’s Notes: This is another example where you can see the difference between the original colour image, and the microfiched version, especially in the case of later Montreal Standard stories where the image is split over 2 pages. This is the only example of a Montreal Standard story where I have the original, and you can see that the picture is not printed in full colour. I’m not sure what this printing process is called, but it can be seen in some older magazines, which I assume was cheaper.

Skewgee means slanted or crooked.

A Swede saw was a name for a modern bow saw. It was invented in the 1920s by a Swedish company.

Rattlesnake Roost

And out of the log came a magnificent specimen our little Massasauga, about 30 inches long.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 18, 1945.

“Haaaalp!”

It was Jimmie Frise’s voice coming from the back of the cottage.

“Halp!” he bellowed. “It’s a rattler! Come quick!”

The cottage thudded with footsteps flying from all directions.

By the time I got there, Jim was braced against a clothes prop, which he had wedged into a grassy crevice beside the wood pile.

“Got him, I think,” panted Jim. “Somebody get a paddle and poke in around the end of the clothes prop.”

Which I did. Cautiously, I poked and parted the grass. There was no warning buzz.

“You’ve missed him, Jim,” I announced. “There’s nothing at the end of the clothes prop.”

Jim carefully withdrew the prop. We all listened. There was no sound of any kind except Jim’s breathing.

“Are you sure it was a rattler?” I inquired. “Some of these rock grasshoppers make a…”

“Doggone!” cried Jim. “I saw him. I nearly stepped on him. He was about four feet long.”

“Rattlers don’t grow that long up here, Jim,” I submitted. “Thirty inches is a whopper. I bet it was a fox snake you saw.”

“Does a fox snake,” inquired Jim bitterly, “make a noise like a buzz saw?”

“No, and neither does a rattler,” I retorted. “It makes a dry, buzzing sound, a sharp, unmistakable buzzing, with a sort of dry leaf quality…”

“Aw, this was a rattler,” cried Jim. “Everybody stand back and watch your step. I was just going to pick an armful of wood for the stove and there he was a great big chocolate brown brute, crawling up that crevice. The minute he saw me, he sort of drew himself together and started to rattle. I’ve seen lots of them. I know a rattler when I see him.”

“A fox snake,” I stated, “has a trick of vibrating the tip of his tail in the hope that he’ll be mistaken for a rattler.”

“I tell you this was a rattler, and a big one,” asserted Jim angrily. “I know a fox snake. He’s slim and bright colored. This was a fat snake, dark chocolate brown…”

“Coffee-grounds color,” I suggested.

“Darker,” said Jim. “I grabbed the clothes prop and by the time I got back, he was just heading into the wood pile at that crevice. I thought I had him pinned.”

“If you’d pinned him,” I said, “We all could have heard him rattling even inside the house.”

“Okay, if he’s in the wood pile,” said Jim, rolling up his sleeves, “Let’s get him. We can rout him out.”

And Jim started poking the prop in amidst the piled wood.

We took up various vantage points while Jim poked and poked amongst the billets. After a few moments, I took the paddle and, standing well clear, jabbed and banged.

“If there was a rattler in there,” I ventured, “We’d have heard from him by now.”

“Well, there’s a rattler in there,” asserted Jim hotly.

Taking No Chances

We took a few more exploratory pokes. We stood back and listened. And then, to express my convictions, I stepped up and picked an armful of wood. Cautiously, I will admit. And picking each stick with my finger tips, as it were. And keeping myself on springs, ready to jump, if necessary.

Jim threw the clothes prop away petulantly.

“Okay,” he said. “If you want to be a fool.”

“Aw, Jim,” I said, “You exaggerate rattlers. Their bite isn’t much worse than a few bee stings.”

And I carried the armful of wood into the kitchen wood-box with that debonair quality which is, I suppose, the most irritating of all human poses. We regathered on the cottage veranda and I lit up my pipe and set myself for a lecture on the natural history of rattlers.

“This rattler we have up on the Georgian Bay,” I propounded, “is called the Massasauga by the scientists. It’s the same one that used to abound around the Niagara gorge and up in the Bruce peninsula. It’s nothing whatever like the big diamond back rattler of Texas and the southern states. That’s a huge snake, with enough venom to kill a man in a few minutes. But our little rattler is a lethargic, fat little reptile that ordinarily runs around 20 to 24 inches. A 30-incher is a whopper.”

“They’re mighty dangerous creatures,” declared Jim, rolling down his sleeves, and glancing sideways off the veranda towards the wood pile.

“Personally,” I said, “I’ve never known of anybody dying from the bite of one of our little Massasaugas…”

“Aw,” snorted Jim, angrily. “Our little Massasaugas!”

And he mimicked me rather wickedly, sort of blowing himself up.

“It stands to reason,” I continued. “Nature doesn’t overdo anything. This little snake eats mice and frogs as its largest prey. So nature equips it with enough venom to knock out these small creatures. If a larger creature gets bitten, all it does is swell up and get numb for a while.”

“I don’t like being numb,” muttered Jim, “Even for a couple of minutes.”

“When I was a young guy up here,” I pursued, “I saw an Indian girl who had been bitten on the thigh while kneeling in a blueberry patch, picking berries. She got a good fair puncture, by two fangs, right in the fat of the thigh. She was pretty sick. Her leg swelled. The poison seemed to have a nerve-shattering effect, either that or the thought of being bitten by the snake. For she was simply a quaking jelly of fright and nerve collapse.

“Boy, just the sight of a rattler gives me the quakes,” said Jim, getting up and standing at the far end of the veranda to look at the wood pile.

“It also affected her breathing, or her heart,” I continued. “Because she had difficulty breathing. And it ached terribly.”

“Well, did she die?” demanded Jim.

“No, we got her out to a doctor who had a cottage near here,” I said, “It was too late to open the wound to bleed. He gave her sedatives. And after a couple of days, the swelling went down. And she was okay.”

“I bet she never picked another berry,” muttered Jim.

Just Kicked Them Aside

“I saw her for years afterwards, I countered. “She was the best berry-picker of all the tribe. And as for rattlesnakes, she said she just kicked them aside whenever she encountered them. She said having a child was 10 times worse than a rattlesnake bite.”

“Do you know of any other cases?” asked Jim.

“I once interviewed a railroad man,” I said, “who was bitten on the wrist while picking berries along the tracks one day when the freight train was sided. He suffered agonizing pain, his arm swelled up like a stove pipe, he went through all the nerve agony and smothering feeling the Indian girl described.”

“Yet,” cried Jim, “you think it a small matter that there is a rattler in our wood pile right outside the door!”

“George Hebden Corsan,” I recounted, “the naturalist and health expert, was bitten by a copperhead down in the States when he was a young man. And he recovered. And he credits the snake venom with giving him the tremendous heart and wonderful stamina he has enjoyed all his life…”

To hear you talk,” declared Jim, “you’d think you would encourage rattlers around here.”

“Well, in a sense I do,” I pondered. “After all, we can’t let blind prejudice rule us. The rattler is the greatest mousetrap in the world. A rattler will hang around a mouse nest until he has trapped and eaten every mouse in the place. He is a lazy snake. He doesn’t have to hustle out of any enemy’s way. He just waddles through life heavy and fat, and lets go his warning whenever any danger threatens. He finds a good mouse territory and stays right there.”

“We have a plague of mice this year,” ruminated Jim.

“I’ve never seen so many mice around the cottage as this year,” I agreed. “Probably because we have killed all the rattlers within miles of us. We have upset nature’s balance. I bet that woodpile has a dozen mouse nests in it.”

“So we ought to encourage that big black rattler,” snorted Jimmie. “And put saucers of milk out for him at nights!”

“A rattler,” I said, “can do no harm unless you interfere with him. He minds his own business. Which is catching mice. He gives everybody fair warning. Not many other dangerous creatures do that. He is equipped with dangerous poison. So nature also equips him with a warning signal. It turns after due consideration, that the rattler is one of nature’s better ideas.”

“What a mind!” breathed Jimmie.

“We can have our choice,” I said “between a nice respectable rattler which does us no harm in the ordinary course. Or mice, which do nothing but harm in the ordinary course. Mice can ruin our cottage. They can get into the mattresses and the bedding. They can stink out the joint. They can do maybe a hundred or two hundred cash dollars’ worth of damage in one season. Yet, because of an ancient prejudice in the human mind, we persecute the creature whose business in life is to save us hundreds of dollars a year!”

“I never heard such reasoning,” bit Jim.

“It’s the same in human nature,” I pointed out. “There isn’t a successful business enterprise in the world that hasn’t at least one human rattlesnake in it. Nobody likes him. He is dangerous. One bite and you’re done. Yet he is so useful, crawling around the factory or the office, he keeps the mice down so wonderfully, that it would be crazy to get rid of him. In fact, the business would go to pot without him.”

“A horrible simile,” cut in Jim. “Human rattlesnakes.”

‘Yes,” I said, “and they’ve usually got a warning, too. They are people who give plenty of warning of the sting they carry. They go about cleaning up the vermin in the plant. Keeping down the mice nests and the pests that would soon eat up all the profits.”

“Horrible,” said Jim.

“We’ve got a great problem facing the world right now,” I pursued, “in the Nazis. You have to keep the balance of nature or suffer the consequences. You have to keep the balance of human nature the same way. There are certain people in the world who play the role of the rattler in human affairs. The Nazi is clearly marked, like the rattler. He gives loud warning. All the years before the outbreak of war, anybody who know rattlesnakes should have recognized the sounds coming out of Germany.”

“The rest of the world,” pointed out Jimmie, “did exactly with the Germans what you advocate we do with our woodpile. The rest of the world said, let’s encourage the Nazis to keep down the pests of the Communists.”

“Hmmm,” I said, finding myself out on a limb.

“The principle of keeping dangerous creatures in the hope that they will keep down troublesome creatures never did work.”

“What we think of as pests aren’t pests at all. They are creatures with the same right to life as our right. When we in our arrogance, set up a cottage in the wilderness, invading the natural territory of the mice, we are not content to set up proper defences of our property. For a few more dollars, we could build a mouse-tight cottage. But no. We set traps and spread poison and make war on these little people whose domain we have invaded. And we end up, finally, by taking the point of view that it is better to let rattlesnakes live to keep our property safe. The politicians of Britain, France, and America made that same mistake. They, too, arrived at the stage of encouraging rattlers rather than making their premises tight against their fancied pests.”

Jim had me.

“Well,” I said, “if it comes to that, how about the right to life of the rattler? You talk about our arrogance in setting up our cottages in the domain of the mice. How about setting up our cottages in the domain of the rattlers? Hadn’t we human beings better get right off the earth? We’re interfering with so much!”

“We’re the only creature in nature,” said Jimmie, “that can manufacture a trap or build a mouse-proof dwelling. I say we should rid the world of its rattlesnakes and other dangerous creatures, while at the same time organizing our own economy so as to interfere as little as possible with the non-dangerous creatures. For every rattlesnake we have to kill, let us invent some new measure for making the world safer for mice and all other fellow-creatures who do us no damage save dollar damage.”

“Fellow – creatures?” I sniffed.

“Sure,” said Jim. “We have to work out a philosophy of life. We haven’t got one yet. Every 20 or 30 years we go on a wild rampage against each other, slaughtering our fellow-humans, only because we have no philosophy about life as a whole. Our religion, our politics, our philosophy, take no account of any life but human life. All other life, animal and vegetable, is lawlessly sacrificed to our own ends. It is time some strong philosophic sect rose amongst us western races – we’re the really dangerous ones – which takes into account all life on earth, from the lowliest to the highest.”

“Buddhism?” I inquired.

“Let’s invent one suited to us,” Jim suggested.

“I could grow very fond of rattlers,” I mused. “When I was a boy up here, I used to collect them.”

“Collect them?” shuddered Jimmie.

Old Ananias Greg

“Used to go out in my canoe,” I explained, “at dusk, along the sandy and weedy beaches where the rattlers are hunting frogs. I had forked stick and a potato sack. I would push my canoe among the reeds and spat my paddle on the water. If there was a rattler on the beach, he would give a little startled buzz. Then I’d go in and tire him out with my forked stick. He’d strike and strike until he was exhausted. Then I’d pin his neck with my forked stick, pick him up and drop him in the sack.”

“And take him home and cook him, I suppose,” gaggled Jim.

“Naw, they’re nothing to be afraid of,” I assured him. “I’d keep them for a few days in a box, feed them frogs, and then send them to the Biological Station. The students loved them.”

“Pffff,” shivered Jimmie.

“Come on,” I said, rising. “Let’s go out to the wood pile and I’ll chase your fox snake out.”

“It was no fox snake,” said Jim.

We took the clothes prop and the paddle and poked and shoved and heaved the wood around. Not a sound.

“Jim,” I said, “If there was a rattler in that woodpile, we couldn’t have come within 10 feet of it without the gentleman giving us a warning.”

“It’s nice,” said Jim, “to have somebody right on the premises who knows so much about rattlers.”

“Go ahead,” I said, “Pick an armful of stove wood. I’ll take a load of these big chunks for the living-room stove. The nights are getting cool enough for a little fire.”

Jim hastily snatched up an armful of the stove wood and took it into the kitchen box to split for the kitchen stove. I poked and poked around for a particularly nice selection of these pieces and carried them into the living-room.

As I approached the stove, the armful got a little out of hand, as big armfuls do. And they started to slide.

“Look out!” screeched Jim.

“Let ’em go…” I began.

But an awful and age-old sound bit the silent peace of the living room. It was a sibilant, writhing, stinging sound. Not a buzz, not a dead leaf sound, but a very living sound, one of the oldest and most malignant sounds in all nature and from all time.

One of the billets I was carrying was a hollow oak log.

Thirty Inches of Snake

And out of the log, sliding and lashing and zinging its nine-jointed rattle in a fury of temper, came a magnificent specimen of our little Massasauga, about 30 inches long. And landed with a rich plop right on the living-room floor about a foot from my feet.

I dropped the whole armful on him.

I leaped back and snatched the nearest hunk and bashed it down.

“Easy, easy,” screeched Jim. “Don’t mash him on the good floor!”

But philosophy is a fragile thing. And what a man says or even what he believes, can hardly stand up to the test when it comes to his own living-room.

So I bashed several times more, all the while dancing on my toes like a hen on a hot griddle.

And Jim stood back in the corner roaring. With laughter.

And when I had done and the serpent was flattened all over the floor amid the cordwood, I felt very weak and took to trembling.

And Jimmie, emitting whoops of laughter and joy, took me and led me to the couch, where I lay down, very grateful.

“What a picture,” roared Jim; “what a picture you made, hopping around on tip-toe and at the same time trying to hit that poor little creature with a log of stove wood!”

“I don’t mind rattlers,” I explained weakly from the couch, “except in the house…”


Editor’s Notes: A clothes prop is a long wooden pole with a forked end, used to raise a line of washing to enable it to catch the breeze.

The Massasauga rattlesnake is Ontario’s only venomous snake, and is currently threatened, which means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

The Eastern fox snake is non-venomous, but is also threatened or endangered in areas of Ontario.

George Hebdon Corsan was known as the “The Nut Man of Islington”. In the 1920s he had a regular column in the Toronto Star called “Wild Life on the Humber”, and Greg knew him personally, and said he was “the only crank and fanatic I have ever known who has a sense of humour, delights in being a crank, rejoices in his fanaticism, and knows exactly what each and every person he meets thinks of him!”

Weekend Party

Jim worked the cord of the motor while I bailed water out of the boat…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 4, 1936.

“You’re coming up,” said Jimmie Frise, “to my cottage this week-end.”

“Maskinonge,” I asked, “or bass?”

“Both,” said Jim. “I have a letter here from the family saying that a great big monster has been rolling every morning out in front of the cottage not fifty yards off shore. They say it will go twenty pounds.”

“They’ll have it before we get there,” I suggested.

“They are saving it for you,” said Jim, kindly. “We can have a grand time. We’ll get there about five p.m. Saturday and go straight out fishing. All we have to do is push the skiff out from the dock and start casting right off our beach. It is grand musky water. Then, we can take the outboard and scoot down about a mile and a half to gravel point where the bass are as thick as swallows around a barn.”

“Boy, this sounds grand,” I cried. “When do we have to leave there for home?”

“We don’t have to leave until after supper Sunday evening,” said Jim. “That’ll get us in town by midnight.”

“It sounds like a real week-end,” I enthused.

“I’ve been wanting to take you up for the past three summers,” said Jim, “but somehow we never could match up our week-ends. But this time you’re coming.”

“Sure I’m coming,” I declared. “That musky rolling out in front of the cottage has got me. What bait do you generally use?”

“Oh, spoons,” said Jim. “Cast in spoons, little brass ones, with black feathers on the hook. But bring your whole outfit. We’ll go after them in a big way.”

And when we set sail Saturday noon, Jim’s car was so laden with boxes of vegetables and baskets of peas and all my fishing tackle that we could not see out of the rear view mirror.

“I love this week-end business,” I told Jim as we lurched through city traffic heading for the broad highway. “This business of loading up supplies. It’s a sort of Christmassy feeling every week. We poor husbands lonely at home, watering gardens, going to movies, sighing around the house in the heat. And then comes Saturday, and we get almost the same old feeling we used to get years ago when we were going to call on our best girl. We buy gifts. Instead of roses, we buy meat and vegetables and marshmallows and canned fruit. And with high hearts and a flush on our faces, we head for the wilderness, where our dear ones, amid the cool and pleasant wilderness, have hardly thought of us all week.”

“I wonder,” said Jim, “if other parts of the world are as happy as Canada, in regard to summer resorts? The minute a Canadian gets enough money to buy a car, he has got to have a summer cottage.”

“Imagine,” I cried, “having a place to park our families in summer where there are great big muskies and tough fighting bass right off the front porch! How many muskies did you get last year, by the way?”

“Oh, you know me,” said Jim. “I talk a lot about fishing and I buy a lot of tackle, and I plan to go fishing a lot. But I don’t really fish much. By the time I get to the cottage, I want to lie in the hammock.”

Eager and Gay

“Not this week-end, my boy,” I assured him. “You’re with a real fisherman this time.”

“That’s what I need,” agreed Jim. “Somebody to egg me on.”

“Listen, we’ll pull up in front of your cottage,” I planned, “and unload the tackle out of the car straight into the skiff and push right off? Is it a bet?”

“You’re on,” agreed Jim delightedly.

So we arrived at the broad highway and began the four-hour battle. All bright and gay, the country smiled encouragingly as thousands of us debilitated city dwellers fought our way north, east and west. Good cars and old cars, cars laden with provender and cars loaded with mattresses, camp cots and tents; trucks grinding their obstructive way while long lines of us sweatily horned and tooted and glared sideways back at them while we passed; sport models full of superior and carefree youth that zipped by us more sedate citizens; tie-ups, old junk cars coughing up hills; ah, the parody of Saturday afternoon. If it were not that we were as bridegrooms, if we were not eager and gay, we would never so much as take our cars out of the garage of a Saturday afternoon.

But Jim drove and cussed and sneered; and I leaned out the window and shouted uncomplimentary remarks to drivers of less agile craft than ours; or retorted to the jeers of others whose cars were more agile than ours. And in due time we came to the end of pavement, and launched forth into a highway of gravel, where we ate dust, and skittered and bumped over washboards, and finally left even the gravel to take to a narrow little backwoods road where, if you meet a car coming against you, either you or it has to back up to a wide place to pass.

And about the time we struck this country road, the sky had darkened, rumbles of thunder warned of weather, and down into the leaves that brushed the sides of the car spattered the first big drops of summer rain.

“All the better for fishing,” I assured Jim. “You aren’t afraid of a wetting?”

“The best muskie I ever got,” replied Jim, “I got in a heavy rain that made the water leap up in a million little jets.”

And at six p.m. daylight saving time, in a world gray and sweeping with rain, we arrived at Jim’s cottage. And from indoors, as we turned in, came a bevy of gay young people, and we unloaded the chariot and the boxes were happily hustled indoors. But I could sense a certain embarrassment. I could see them catching Jim’s eye and giving him signals. And in a few minutes Jim came out heartily and said:

“They’ve got some kids staying with them, so I guess it’s the tent for us two old campaigners.”

“Grand, Jim,” I cried. “I love the sound of rain on a tent.”

“We had better put it up now, rather than when we come in from fishing,” suggested Jim.

“Right-o,” said I.

But then we were called for supper, and by the time supper was over and I looked out across the dimpling water, where the rain still slanted and peppered, it seemed to be getting a little dark.

“Jim,” I said, “let’s slam the tent up or we won’t get out to-night.”

Caulking the Old Boat

Jim went hunting and came back with a roughly-bundled tent of an oldish grayish color, and then we both hunted for the poles which never turned up.

“We can cut poles in a jiffy,” said Jim. Which we did, and they weren’t very good poles. We unrolled the tent and figured it all out, and struggled with the poles and the billowy canvas, and the rain still spattered and slanted. We had to go and cut pegs for the guy-ropes of the tent, and it got darker all the time.

“Just cut pegs for the corners,” said Jimmie. “We’ll do with a rough job tonight.”

“We’ll never get fishing,” I said. “But we can be up bright and early.”

The tent was pretty damp by the time we had it more or less erected, and the ground was soaked. But Jim got camp cots out of the cottage, and presently we got to bed.

“Early to bed, early to rise,” said Jim.

“The mosquitoes are fairly bad,” I answered.

The sun waked us. I could tell by the angle of the sun that it was not really early. In fact, it was the voices of children in the distance, apparently in swimming, that really wakened me.

“Jim,” I cried, looking at my watch, “it’s after nine, daylight saving.”

We leaped out of bed to find a lovely sunny morning, the water still as a mill pond, and nobody up yet.

“We’ll just go in and snatch a bite of breakfast,” decreed Jim. “And away.”

Quietly, so as not to wake everyone, we had a bowl of dry cereal and bread and jam. And then we gathered up our tackle and headed for the little dock in front of Jim’s.

“The boat,” said Jim, “was kind of leaky last week but I told them to leave it in the water to soak up.”

The boat, however, was on the beach, turned over. And I could see right through the cracks in the keel.

“Can we get a boat handy?” I inquired, businesslike.

“It won’t take ten minutes to caulk this up,” said Jim. “I brought a can of new caulking stuff for it.”

Which he produced from his fishing tackle box.

“Jim,” I said, “don’t fool with this skiff. Let’s rent one or borrow one, handy.”

“The nearest place to rent one is six miles up the lake,” said Jim, “and I wouldn’t dream of borrowing anybody else’s boat around here. Anyway, they are likely all out fishing.”

“Well,” said I. So I laid down all my tackle, rod cases, steel boxes, leather bags, nets, gaffs and what not, and helped Jim pry the lid off the caulking cement.

“This stuff is elastic,” explained Jim happily, cutting himself a sort of spreader from a stick. “It dries quick, the man said. But it is elastic and sticks in the cracks.”

The stuff was very liquid. We stirred it and spread it carefully in the wider cracks. Then we found smaller cracks and nail holes and carefully stuffed the cement into them.

“This is a great old boat,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t get rid of it for any boat they make nowadays. It’s a pleasure to handle this boat.”

We just went on stuffing and spreading. We found some quite large holes at the ends.

“Now,” said Jim, “let her dry, a few minutes, and away we go.”

“Let’s Prove We’re Anglers”

I sat down and batted mosquitoes away.

Jim walked out on the little dock. It was high and dry and the piles of stones that supported it were at least ten feet from water’s edge.

“The water in these lakes,” said Jim, “is dropping every year.”

“Maybe if we waited a few years,” I said, “we could come up and catch the muskies on dry land.”

Jim started moving stones from under the ricketty dock out towards the water. There is something attractive about moving a stone.

Jim moved about four stones. I got up and picked one up that I saw him deliberately avoid. I hoisted it. Waddled down to the water with it. Plunked it down.

“Boy,” said Jim, “you’ve got a back.”

“Short men are good at lifting,” I explained.

“We might as well do this,” said Jim, “while waiting for the boat to dry.”

One by one, we hoisted the stones. Jim tried several he couldn’t even get knee high, I hoisted them easily.

“I never realized,” said Jim graciously, “how strong you really were.”

“I was always a good lifter,” I assured him.

We got them all shifted. We made two good strong piles of them, and Jim said we might as well shift the planks, now that we had got the stones moved. It was only a matter of ten minutes before we had a nice little dock rebuilt, right where it should be.

We were just testing the caulking on the skiff when there came a strong call from the cottage.

“Dinner!”

“Dinner,” I said. And my watch showed noon.

We went up and squeezed in at a very crowded table, with several of the smaller children sitting at a side table, and had a great big summer dinner of cold meat and salad and about five cups of tea the way you can drink it at a summer resort. And it was two o’clock, daylight saving, when we walked out on the veranda, and Jim sagged into the hammock.

“Come, me lad,” I laughed at him. “None of that!”

“Just for five minutes,” said Jim. “Just to start digestion.”

I sat and rocked while the veranda filled with youth; and old Jim, with a grin on his face, closed his eyes and enjoyed a brief snooze.

“Up you get,” I commanded. “We’re anglers. Let’s prove it.”

“Oh, me,” groaned Jim, and rose heavily and went indoors to get the outboard motor, I helped him carry it down. The skiff was not yet dry. As a matter of fact, the cement only had a sort of crust on it, which broke when you stuck your finger on it, and the sticky stuff clung to your finger.

“Let her go,” said Jim. “The water will harden it.”

We launched the skiff, carefully.

“She leaks,” I noted.

“You bail,” decreed Jim. “It will close up in no time.”

He adjusted the outboard. I bailed. I batted mosquitoes. The lake was glassy smooth. There was a haze. I scanned the water for the boil of a monster musky rising. But only the dip of little water flies disturbed the glassy smoothness.

Jim wound up the engine cord and jerked. The water bubbled. The engine hissed and sucked. We moved, in slow bunts, forward with each jerk of the outboard cord.

“Hm, hm, hm,” said Jim, opening this and shifting that. He stuck his finger in the fuel tank and inspected the mixture. He gave little quick pulls of the cord. Long, slow hauls at it. He twiddled gimmicks and gadgets.

“Hm, hm, hm,” said I.

But bailing was necessary. There were several small clear little pencils of water spouting up out of the bottom of the boat from places we had not suspected.

“Paddle her in to the dock,” said Jim.

“What with?” I asked politely.

“Oh, I forgot the oars,” said Jim. “Paddle her in with your bailing can.”

I paddled as best I could the little distance we had drifted. Jim unscrewed the outboard and hoisted it on to the wharf.

“It won’t be a second,” said Jim. “I know the insides of these things like a book.”

I went for a little walk along the beach while Jim took the thing apart. I came back and sat down and watched him, as he unscrewed and unbolted, examined, refitted. He got covered with black grease. He seemed so concentrated, I hated to disturb him.

He tried three different bolts in the one nut he was holding, so I said:

“Jim, it occurs to me we ought to get an early start home so as to miss that dreadful traffic. A day like this, I bet it would take seven hours to get back to town.”

Jim pondered. He tried the three small bolts in two other nuts.

“Hm,” said he. “What time is it?”

“It’s three-fifteen.”

“Not much of a day for fishing,” he said, gazing at the glassy and brassy lake.

“I don’t think a fish would look at a bait on a day like this,” I agreed, rising. “What do you say if we get an early start and avoid the traffic jam?”

“I’m with you,” agreed Jim. “I’ll take this thing back to town and have it overhauled. By next week, the boat will be thoroughly tight. We’ll make a day of it next week.”

We got a box and Jim put all the loose parts of the outboard in it. We packed our stuff into the car.

“I should attend to a couple of leaks in the roof,” said Jim. “They were nearly flooded out last night. It wouldn’t take ten minutes to slip a few shingles in under the spots that leak.”

“How about doing that next week?” I asked. “Time is flying. We don’t want to get into that traffic jam.”

We made our farewells to the one or two who were not having the afternoon siesta.

“Next week,” said Jim, gazing tenderly at his cottage, the placid lake, the dock, the boat, once more upside down, its repaired bottom bright with spots of pale cement, “we’ll make a real day of it.”

“Yes,” I said, “yes, yes, yes, yes.”

Only I made each yes sound different from the others.


Editor’s Notes: For some reason, Greg says Maskinonge, which is French for Muskellunge, which is the pronunciation he normally uses.

As mentioned before, the weekend only started on Saturday afternoon back then, and it was common for men to stay in the city and work while their families would spend all summer at a cottage. The men would then go up on Saturday afternoon, and leave Sunday afternoon.

This story appeared in both So What? (1937), and Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

Up Where the North Begins

By Greg Clark, January 8, 1938

“Do you realize,” said Jimmie Frise, more to make conversation than anything, “that right now, in the dead of winter, there are more than 40 different kind of birds living right around us here in Ontario?”

“Song birds?” I inquired.

“Yes, song birds,” stated Jim, “although they aren’t singing just now.”

“The silly things,” I said.

“Ah, they’re quite happy,” said Jim. “You see, a bird’s normal temperature is over 130 degree. They don’t feel the cold the way we do.”

“The silly things,” I repeated. “When they’ve got the means to go south. When all they’ve got to do is up and fly away, and in about a week’s easy going, be in Mexico or Yucatan.”

“Well, you see,” explained Jim, “these are northern birds. They nest up in the Arctic. They think this is real balmy to-day. They’ve come a thousand miles south already. They think this is down south.”

“Huh,” said I.

“It’s all a matter, “elucidated Jim, “of relativity. The birds that nest here go south. The birds that nest in the Arctic come down here.”

“And the ones that nest in the south?” I inquired.

“They go right into the tropics,” said Jim. “Birds are very discontented.”

“Discontented?” I scoffed. “You mean smart. They grew wings. And what did we grow? Just legs. Fat, slow, lumbering legs. And where can we go on legs?”

“Ah, but we grew brains,” pointed out Jim.

“Well,” I maintained, “a bird has brains too. All it needs. And when a bird thinks, with its little brain, that it wants to go to Mexico, all it does is get up and fly there. But when we, with our big, fat brains, think we want to go to Mexico, what do we do? Can we get up and go there? No, sir. We can just sit here and think about it. I think humans are saps, if you want to know.”

“We stay here,” argued Jim, because we’ve got the ability to build houses and be warm. A bird can’t protect itself against the winter, so it has to leave.”

“Still, the more I think of it,” I insisted, “the more I think humans are saps. If instead of wasting time learning how to build houses we had grown wings, we’d have been better off in the end. Now that we have chosen to remain in one place and dig ourselves in, what good does it do us? Are we any better off, sitting here like slugs in a cave, than if we were skittering hither and yon? I mean, use your common sense, Jimmie. Who decided for us that we would be better off stuck down in one spot, the way we are? That’s what I want to know. Who chose for us all this living and dying in one spot, like a lot of cabbages?”

“Good heavens,” said Jim, “you can’t rebel against human nature.”

“As a matter of fact,” said he, “it takes a long time to alter human nature or any kind of nature. It takes ages of time and countless generations. One thing is sure, we two can’t change. Each of us is like a coin stamped out in a mint. All that ever happens to us is that we grow a little worn and faded. But the imprint stays on us to the end.”

“It’s cruel,” I said.

“And the comical part of it is” went on Jim, “that for countless ages to come, there will be guys exactly like us, thinking the same silly things, yearning and dreaming, but never changing a whit.”

“It’s dreadful,” I muttered. “I’d like to meet up with those birds, about two million years ago, who decided to be us.”

“There is only one thing to do,” said Jim, a little importantly. “And that is, make the best of it. Instead of running away from life, attack it. Instead of cringing from cold and dark and fear, stand up and walk right into it.”

“Ah,” said I. “Hero stuff.”

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Life in the end is just one slow, steady defeat. Nobody ever wins. We lose our strength. We see all our works crumble. Our friends fall away. We die. We can’t possibly escape, so why run? Why always be cringing and whimpering and running like hell?”

“Who’s running?” I demanded.

“Why,” cried Jim, “you were even wanting to fly.”

“I was merely wanting,” I stated with dignity, “to be comfortable.”

“Comfort,” stated Jim, “is relative. Here we are sitting in a comfortable house, slouched down in a couple of easy chairs, with soft music coming from Los Angeles, across five thousand miles of blizzard, and there isn’t a thing we want, from a drink of water to a heated sixty-mile-an-hour vehicle out in our heated garage, that we can’t have. On a night of storm and tempest, here we are as snug as a couple of bugs in a buffalo rug. Yet in five minutes, without the slightest effort, we can be in a beautiful theatre looking at the greatest actors and most beautiful actresses culled from America, England, Germany, Sweden. Or, in ten minutes, we can be sitting at a silver cluttered table, in a swell cafe, eating chicken sandwiches made by a French chef.

“Mmmm,” said I, sitting up.

To Escape From Comfort

“Yet,” said Jim, “I am willing to bet you that there are men, at this very hour, lying in a little silk tent in a deep excavation in the snow, a thousand miles north of us, with their husky dogs snuggled around and a fire burning gaily: and those men, miles from any human habitation, lost in a wild blizzard raging, are more comfortable than we are.”

“What will they be eating?” I inquired.

“Bacon,” said Jim, “and flapjacks smothered in maple syrup.”

“Mmmm,” I repeated, sitting up higher and scratching my head

“You see?” said Jim. “The less comfort you have, the more you enjoy comfort. The trouble with us is, we never escape from comfort. To really enjoy life, we ought to expose ourselves to discomfort a little more than we do. We ought to take up skiing, or go for long tramps in the open. We ought to suffer our climate occasionally, so as to appreciate how cleverly we have skunked it.”

“To tell the truth, Jim,” I confessed, “I’ve often looked at those pictures of winter camping in the outdoor magazines with a curious impulse. I’ve darn near gone on winter camping trips.”

“Darn near isn’t near enough,” retorted Jim.

“Many’s the time,” I assured him, “I’ve thought of having a winter house party up at our cottage.”

And Jim, with a joyous glitter in his eye, slowly rose from amongst the cushions of the big chair, and looked at me with open mouth. And that is how it came about.

Our first idea, then and there talked out and elaborated for a lovely and enthusiastic hour, was to take all our families. We even got to the list of provisions. We even telephoned long distance for forty cents to the postmaster at the little village, seven miles from the summer resort, to ask how the roads were at this time of year. And he told us they were swell. Plowed every day.

But our families were all tied up. Jim’s had skiing party engagements and Sunday teas; mine had all promised themselves in various ways for at least three week-ends to come.

But those lists of provisions fairly burned in our pockets. And when Jimmie took me up to his attic closet and emptied out old dunnage bags full of mackinaw coats and hunting pants and oil-tanned moccasins that hadn’t been used for fifteen years, the family side of the enterprise began to fade anyway.

“They’d turn it,” said Jim, “into a taffy-pulling, dish-washing, community-singing sort of thing. We’ll make it stag. We’ll just go up and spend the week-end tramping over the hills and visiting the settlers in their snowed-in cabins. Will they be surprised?”

“And,” I said, “we can take along our guns in case we jump a cottontail.”

“And,” contributed Jim, “I’ll bring along that Bird Guide of mine and we can identify some winter birds.”

“Swell,” I agreed.

A White Vastness

Really, the drive up was beautiful. The highways are kept scraped as clean as the pavement. The vast white country, miles and miles, is utterly new, despite all the years we have passed through it in summer. A thousand interesting and old-fashioned interests attract the eye, the farmers in sleighs, the villages and towns so steamy and quaint-looking under their mantles of white. Except for Jim’s anti-freeze having got thin and a little boil-up we had south of Severn Bridge, we made as good time as we do in July. But the engine boiling halted us a good hour on the road and then we had to go by easy stages until we got to a garage; and in all a couple of hours were lost. But even the visits to garages were interesting in winter. Everybody up north has a different air, in the off season.

At last we reached the gravel road that goes east towards “the Lake,” as we call it, and here the plowing was not so governmental as on the highways. In fact, we slowed down to about 15. I think all those country drivers you see bumbling along at 15 in summer practice most of their driving in winter.

It was dusk when we passed through the village, the last outpost of civilization. We stopped in to see the postmaster and storekeeper and had a jovial chat. It was dark when we started the last seven miles in to the cottage. But the headlights threw a glorious beam on the fantastic and wholly unfamiliar scenery of the road we knew in summer. And when we reached the lane that leads down to the lake, by the cottage, the snow-clad boards pointed down two deep ruts between enormous lake-blown drifts, and we knew we could take the car no farther.

Shouldering our packs and provision boxes we left the car at the corner and walked down the ruts. Under the stars, a white vastness stretched afar where in summer the dark lake lay. With merry shouts and scrunching feet and not a little leaving of boxes of provisions to be come back for later, we followed the ruts past the last settler’s house its lights glimmering in the distance, and waded through drifts along the abandoned road, past strange shuttered cottages of neighbors, utterly foreign now and came with a feeling of Commander Peary, to our own cottage, memorable despite the masses of snow, crouched amidst its tapering firs.

We unlocked the door. It was bitter. I lit a match and fumbled up at the iron switch box that turns on the power. It clicked. But no light came.

“H’m,” I remembered. “They cut off the power into here at the end of the season.”

“There’ll be lamps?” said Jim.

With matches, I hunted lamps in remote back shelves of closets. But careful housewives had emptied lamps.

“Get the fire on the hearth,” I cried cheerily, “while I find the coal oil.”

So Jim, with matches went out and scratched up kindling at the woodpile against the house and I went seeking. All the tins rang hollow. In vain. I searched drawers for candles, looked along the mantel for colored candles in silly summer candlesticks. There were none. Jim was kneeling at the stone fireplace, and faint flames fluttered uncertainly.

“The kindling is wet,” he said. “Frozen. You never should pile wood against the house, on account of the autumn drip. It soaks it”

“Get her going,” I said. “This house is like a tomb. It’s colder than outside.”

Jim struggled and burned leaping flares of newspaper, and piled and repiled the kindling but got no fire.

“Here” I said, “You go and pick up those boxes of provisions we left and at the same time drop in at the settler’s. It’s only couple of hundred yards beyond, and borrow a bottle of coal oil. I’ll show you a fire.”

A Losing Battle

So Jim went out into the starry night and I got to work on the fire. But it was true. A woodpile that does fine against the house in hot summer is no good for winter. All the wood was frozen. I went out and floundered about breaking twigs off trees I got a little fire going but the larger wood refused to take hold. I went out and tore down the woodpile to get at some of the under sticks. But autumn’s drip had saturated them all. Jim was a long time coming home.

In the intervals of making the fire blaze a little, I pulled cots out of the adjoining rooms and set them in front of the fireplace. I put the dunnage bags on them. Spread out some of my stuff.

I heard Jim coming in. At the moment, the fire happened to be just failing for the tenth time

“I called at the settler’s,” said Jim, “but there was nobody home but a big black dog who wouldn’t let me look around the woodshed or anything.”

So we went out and floundered in the drifts and collected two or three large armfuls of twigs and what we hoped were dead branches, and I found a couple of pieces of loose board on the back veranda, and we got enough fire going to light the room enough to spread out our blankets. But the chunks of maple we leaned up so invitingly in the blaze would not take fire. They hissed. They sizzled. But they would not take fire.

“Let’s get into bed,” said Jim, “while we have enough light to see.”

Which we did. And it was good, with all our clothes on, to snuggle down amongst the blankets and lie watching the little fire fight and struggle and snap and crackle in its valiant battle for existence. But even as we drowsed, we knew it was a losing battle.

In the night, a moaning waked us, and on the window, we could hear the sound of snow. The room was dark, the fire was dead.

“Blizzard,” said Jim, heavily.

As host, I went into the adjoining room and brought out a couple of mattresses to lay on top of us.

In the morning, gray and terrible, the window was snowed up and a drift had blown in unseen cracks. The floor was inches deep in places and our boots lifted pathetic mouths up out of it, as though gasping. Jim crouched out of bed and hastily burned some more newspapers.

“We can go out,” he said, “and find some wood now. We’ll be eating in half an hour.”

“Jim,” I said, emptying my boot, “how about eating at that Chinese restaurant we had supper in last night?”

“That’s 30 miles,” stated Jim.

“Even so,” I suggested.

So we got dressed stiffly and packed up our stuff and carried it out to the car, which was all but drifted under; and, it being Sunday, no snow-plow came by this early, so it was a long, anxious drive the seven miles out to the postmaster’s, where we had breakfast and bought shovel and waited until the snow-plow came by, and enjoyed a long, pleasant conversation about the old pioneer days with plenty of extra cups of coffee.


Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

Coal Oil is a fuel not unlike kerosene, derived from coal rather than petroleum. Some would still refer to kerosene as “coal oil”.

Cool at Last

By Greg Clark, July 31, 1937

“Ice,” said Jimmie Frise, “is badly needed at my cottage.”

“And mine, too,” I confessed. “Welcome the day when they get electric power through this neck of the woods and we can have an electric refrigerator.”

“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “Going for the ice is one of the few remaining pleasures of the summer cottage. Look at us. Radio. Indoor plumbing. A gasoline pump for the water tank.”

“On a day like this,” I sighed, “I could wish to be modern in all things.”

“The swellest kind of a day,” retorted Jim, “to go for the ice. Think of the dear old ice house. How cool it will be inside. The dark damp sawdust. It will be a pleasure just to get inside it.”

“Will you row the boat?” I asked.

“I’ll row over,” said Jim. “You row back, after you are refreshed by a few minutes in the ice house. It will revive you the way no swim can. Not even a cold shower.”

“You know,” I mused, “on a day like this, Jim, we Canadians can pat ourselves on the back, just for being Canadians. Just for surviving. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps no place on earth do they have such extremes of temperature as we have in Canada? In the summer, it is as hot as India. In the winter, it is colder than Russia. To be a Canadian, you’ve got to be made of real stuff.”

“Asbestos,” agreed Jim, “on the outside, with wood alcohol for blood.”

“In about four hundred years,” I stated, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Canadians take on a racial type, a sort of cross between the Negro and the Eskimo. We will gradually acquire a dark brown hide as the result of our summer. And a smooth featureless skin covering a thick layer of blubber, like the Eskimo, as the result of our winter. I bet we’ll be an interesting looking people, in about four hundred years.”

“Come and get the ice,” said Jim, rising.

“Sit down, sit down,” I begged. “This is a day for thinking twice about everything. Let’s think about things for a while. The sun will be going down in a couple of hours. We can get the ice any time.”

“Our ice box,” said Jim, “has got a humid smell. It is moaning for ice.”

“You skinny fellows,” I sighed, “are lucky. There you are dressed in thick canvas, and as cool and dry as a cucumber. Here I am in shorts and a cotton scanty, and I’m oozing slowly to pieces. Suppose you get the ice today, and I get the ice to-morrow? For both of us?”

“No,” said Jim. “It takes two to get the ice. One to dig in the sawdust, and the other to crowbar the hunk out and chop it. And then it takes two to carry the ice down to the boat.”

“You could drag it,” I explained.

“If I have to go alone,” said Jim, “I’ll bring only my own cake of ice. Depend on that. I look upon going for the ice as one of the last old-fashioned pleasures of summer resorting. Summer cottages are getting so sissy the last few years that there is really no sense in having them. You might as well be at home. In former days, you went to a summer cottage not so much to escape the heat – for really you don’t escape the heat – as to restore your mind and spirit by a taste of the simple life. Your cottage was primitive. It had outdoor plumbing. You carried the water up in pails and washed in a blue enamel basin hung on a nail at the back door. You had a wood stove and the kitchen was so hot, your wife never had to worry about reducing. The summer cottage kitchen reduced her. There was a woodpile for you to work on cool evenings or gray mornings. There was no radio. You had candles and sometimes lamps. The mattresses were made of hay and you could hear the mice tickling along the rafters and gnawing, the minute the last lamp was blown out at night.”

“I remember,” I sighed, happy just to be listening,

“Alas,” said Jim, “we have conquered even the mice. Even the ants. We’ve got modern spring beds, running water, electric light in most of them now … it’s not for the simple life we come to summer cottages now.”

“What is it we come for?” I dozed.

“Fashion,” said Jim. “Custom. That’s all it is. As a matter of fact, most summer homes nowadays are more refined and civilized than city homes. They are civilized, sophisticated. We used to get bitten by mosquitoes. Now it is the love bug that bites them at summer cottages.”

“Mmmmm,” I muttered reminiscently.

“Here, wake up,” cried Jim. “Let’s go.”

“Jim,” I said earnestly. “I love to hear you talking about things like that. You’re quite a moralist, do you know that?”

“I’m the ice man,” said Jim, champing the jaws of his ice tongs. “Come on, snap out of it.”

Which I did, and sufferingly went and got my ice tongs and followed Jim down to the rowboat. It is a pleasant row over the little bay to J. Brown’s Ice House and Lumber Yard. Even on such a day as this, with copper sun glaring and hurling down its thunderous heat, it is pleasant to sit in the stern of a rowboat and watch an aggressive man like Jimmie pulling at the oars. I think the nicest sensation in the world, on a day like this, is not to feel your own muscles working. It is positively pleasant to behold another man’s arms bending and hauling, and feel your own arms resting limply along the sides of the boat. Actually pleasurable to see somebody else bending and straining and feel your own back loose and limp against the cushion behind you. They talk about the lovely sensations of athletic sport, the consciousness of action. The sensation of inaction is far lovelier.

And presently the skiff grated on J. Brown’s beach, scarred by generations of ice haulers such as we, and we unbarked. The J. Brown Ice House and Lumber Yard has, over a period of fifty years, come to a splendid working arrangement with the cottagers of our neighborhood. J. Brown himself long ago discovered there were far too many things expected of him around a summer resort to allow him to dance attendance on an ice house. So you just go and help yourself and at the end of the season you go and settle with J. Brown, making a rough estimate of the number of hunks you have taken. It is the same with lumber. If you need a few scantlings or a plank or two you help yourself. J. Brown comes around in the evenings and closes the ice house door in case it is left open, and asks any small boys who might be around if they have seen anybody take any lumber. It’s the best way to do business, as a matter of fact. Worry and keeping accounts is what takes the pleasure out of business.

Jim led the way up the ladder of the ice house and cheered me up the climb with shouts of delight.

“Just wait till you get up here,” he cried. “It’s like a cave. It’s air conditioned.”

So I hurried up the ladder, and it certainly was a lovely sensation to step out of the slanting rays of that angry declining sun onto the soft damp sawdust into the shadowy cool of that old cracky ice house

“You dig. Jim,” I said. “I’ll chop.”

So Jim took the old spade and stabbed around in the sawdust to find the latest layer of ice. He found it and proceeded with large graceful sweeps to fling the sawdust aside. He presently bared a dark and wetly gleaming cake of ice. With the crowbar, he wedged it loose from its neighboring cakes and then stood back.

I rose and took the axe. There is something about chopping a cake of ice that wakes the sculptor in a man. The feel of the little flying chips of ice is pleasant to the skin. To make a nice neat split in the big cake of ice is the aim of every good family ice man. To achieve this, you tap and tap, cutting a channel along the top, then a channel along both sides, and finally, you give it a good sharp crack with the axe, and it splits with the grain, neat and tidy.

“I Told-You-So” Stuff

Jim, while I was chopping slowly and carefully, was prodding around in the sawdust with the spade to see what the neighbors had hidden as usual. Sometimes it is a parcel of fish, wrapped in newspaper and secreted deep in the sawdust against the ice in a corner. It is interesting to examine these packages and know just what is going on in the community. It helps you separate the liars from the fish hogs.

Jim found two packages and we ceased work long enough to open and examine them, however one was a leg of lamb and the other was two cartons of eggs.

Then, having successfully parted the huge block of lee into two handsome sections, one for each of us, we hooked the tongs into one of them and hauled it to the door and dropped it down.

“One piece at a time,” decreed Jim. “It will give us all the longer in this cool place.”

We descended the ladder into a humid, heavy world, and carried the ice down to the skiff after dousing it with the pail of water. Then we returned to the ice house for the second load. Inside, it was so lovely we both sat down in unspoken agreement and lit cigarettes. Jim saw a swallow’s nest stuck against the side of the wall and we proceeded to study it.

And suddenly the ice house went dark.

“The wind,” said Jim.

“There’s no wind,” I stated. And plowed across the sawdust to push the door open. It was stuck. I kicked it. It would not open.

“Jim,” I said, “the door’s fastened.”

“Don’t get excited,” said Jim, “it’s too hot.”

He looked through a crack in the ice house wall.

‘H’m,” said Jim. “it’s old J. Brown himself. Hey, Mr. Brown.”

But Mr. Brown has been hard of hearing for twenty years. I found a crack to peep through and saw J. Brown slowly walking along the beach path that leads past the lumber yard to J. Brown’s house, half a mile away, which is also the post-office and the general store and the dance hall and garage and everything.

“Hey,” I roared through the crack. “Hey.”

But J. Brown was aimlessly walking away, scratching his head and stopping to study his lumber piles and to gaze out across the oily lake under the descending sun.

“Hey,” we harmonized. And pounded on the walls.

“Jim,” I said, “there will be nobody else for ice at this time of day.”

“If you had come promptly, when I wanted you to.” said Jim.

“Never mind that I-told-you-so stuff,” I snarled. “Figure how we are going to get out of this.”

“He padlocks it,” said Jim.

“And leaves the key in the padlock.” I sneered. “So near and yet so far.”

“Have you got a pocket knife asked Jim, feeling his own pocket blankly.

“Mine’s in my tackle box.” I accused.

“Well,” said Jim cheerfully, “we’re cool al last. Let’s enjoy ourselves.”

It was already dim in the ice house. The light that came through the cracks was red and warm. But it was not cheering.

“Let’s try for a loose board,” I commanded.

But Jimmie just started to scout around for a soft spot, scooped himself nice nest and lay down with a comfortable sigh. I was left alone to go around the walls, trying each board for a loose spot, panting and prying and shoving; in vain.

“Don’t grunt so,” said Jim, luxuriously.

“Jim,” I stated, “I have nothing on but these shorts and this cotton dicky. I’m liable to catch pneumonia in here.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” sighed Jimmie, snuggling.

“I’ve been sunburned,” I informed him loudly, “and my skin is tingling now and I’ve got little chills already.”

“Keep moving then,” said Jim dreamily. “Shovel or take reducing exercises or something.”

Nothing Like Exercise

Instead, I tried looking out the cracks for the sight of rescuers. I went all around the ice house once more, feeling for loose boards. I tried a couple of long shouts out a knothole, but Jimmie protested violently.

“What’s the good of all the racket,” he demanded, “We’ve just got to wait until our absence is noted and they come hunting for us.”

“They’ll never notice our absence,” I declared. “We’re never home on time. They won’t even think of us until midnight.”

“We’re cool, aren’t we?” said Jim. “We’re comfortable? This sawdust is soft, isn’t it? All right, sit down, relax, and let’s continue that discussion you were so anxious to continue a while ago. Let’s see, it was about Canadians being made of the real stuff. Asbestos hides and anti-freeze for blood, wasn’t it?”

“Jim,” I said carefully. “I’m starting to shiver. I’m getting a chill. I’m going to catch pneumonia.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” demanded Jim. “Slap you to restore circulation?”

“I’m sunburned,” I said. “We can’t do that.”

“Then,” said Jim. “exercise. Swing your arms. Bend. Walk briskly about.”

I kept still for a minute to make sure I was really starting to feel shivers, and then, feeling shivers, I began to exercise. Jim just lounged in the sawdust, his hands behind his head, watching me. I swung my arms, bent my knees, ducked, swung, in the exercises familiar to all old soldiers and all fat ladies. I worked myself into a nice warm flush and then discovered that, if I stopped, the cold clammy air of the ice house really did chill me.

“Now you’ve done it,” I informed Jim. “Now I can’t stop this monkey business.”

“Walk around,” said Jim.

But, as it was now dark in the ice house, walking about knee deep in loose sawdust was not amusing at all. So I continued, slowly, the calisthenics.

“I can hear you puffing,” said Jim, from his comfortable resting place. “I wish I could see you.”

I made no answer. Every man, in his life time, makes some such a friend as Jimmie.

“I was thinking, this afternoon,” continued Jim, on the veranda there, that you were looking kind of flabby. This will do you no end of good.”

Still I made no answer.

“At our age,” went on Jim. “men have to guard against a creeping desire to just loaf and sag and go limp.”

“Jim,” I said firmly, “please shut up.”

“I’m a moralist,” said Jim. “When I am not an ice man, I’m a moralist.”

And then we heard a boat engine. It sounded like Jim’s. It had the same miss, the same sputter and stagger and almost stop.

“That’s your engine, Jim,” I shouted, leaping for a crack to yell out of.

“If it is,” said Jim, still unmoved, “whoever is running it certainly won’t be able to hear you yelling.”

So there we had to wait, helplessly listening to the engine, sometimes thinking it was coming our way and sometimes thinking it was going away, until at last there could be no doubt that it was coming straight for the ice house beach. Then we heard laughter and answers to our calls. The kids unlocked the door, J. Brown always leaving the key in it, and they asked us what we were doing.

“We were going to spend the night here,” said Jim. “It’s the coolest place in the country.”

But they persuaded us to come on home.


Editor’s Notes: Before refrigeration, ice would be collected from lakes in the winter, and stored in an ice house, which was a large warehouse like building. It would be insulated with sawdust throughout, which could keep the ice through the summer. In the city, ice would be delivered, but in this story, it was self serve, where you had to go and pick it up. Ice boxes, were just that. A wooden box or cabinet that you would put the ice in, along with whatever you wanted to keep cool. The melting ice would drip water into a pan kept below. Ice boxes were not very good, as the cooling would be uneven, and you obviously had to replace the ice as it melted. There were more elaborate ice boxes as time went on, resembling fine furniture.

This story was reprinted in “Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing“, 1980.

Unknown Guests

By Greg Clark, June 30, 1945

“Don’t forget,” reminded Jimmie Frise, “overalls.”

“I’ve got them down,” I replied, checking the list. “And how about nails. Three-inch nails?”

“Aw, there’s a whole pailful of nails underneath the cottage veranda,” said Jim.

“Those old rusty things?” I snorted.

“We don’t want to be too finicky about this job,” reasoned Jimmie. “First thing you know, we’ll be spending our whole holiday building that summer kitchen.”

“Look,” I asserted. “We’ve been planning this back kitchen on the cottage for nearly six years. We’ve had the lumber under the cottage for five years. It’ll be getting mouldy. We’ve drawn and redrawn the plans dozens of times. We’ve gone up to the cottage every year with the fullest intentions of getting to work and building the kitchen. But every time, we’ve put it off.”

“For good reason,” said Jim.

“Aw two days would do the job,” I insisted. “Yet we’re so excited when we arrive at the cottage, we’ve got to drag the skiff out of the boathouse and go fishing even before we get the screen doors on.”

“Well, you remember 1939,” reminded Jim. “We went up fully prepared to build the kitchen. But what happened? The first three days it rained steadily. Now, rain is no good for building. But it is swell for fishing.”

“Yes, and then it turned hot, you remember,” I recollected. “And it was no good for fishing. But too hot for building. So we just snoozed on the veranda. Before we realized it, our holiday was over. And no kitchen.”

“Nineteen-forty,” recalled Jim, “you were overseas.”

“That was your chance,” I inserted.

“I didn’t like to do it without you being there,” explained Jim. “After all, this is a joint effort, this kitchen.”

“I think we drew our first plans about 1936,” I said. “We bought the lumber in forty-one.”

“Well, you were overseas in forty-two, forty-three and forty-four,” counted Jim lamely. “I thought of starting it each year. But I didn’t like to take advantage of you.”

“Hm,” I sniffed. “I’d have been glad to come back and find it done. But this time, my boy, there will be no ifs or buts. We’re going to get that kitchen annex built. It is going to be first consideration. In fact, what do you say if we make a pact right now that we don’t even hitch up a fishing rod until the last nail had been driven and the last brushful of paint has been applied?”

“Do we have to paint it the first year?” protested Jim. “Isn’t it a bad policy to paint newly built wooden structures right away? Shouldn’t we let the wood set at least one year?”

“We paint it,” I informed him. “The paint is up there. In the boat-house.”

“I bet that paint has perished, after all these years,” said Jim.

“How about it? How about a pact?” I demanded. “Not one cast, not even a fishing rod rigged up, until the kitchen is done.”

“Suppose a great big lunker,” submitted Jimmie, “were to come and start jumping right off the end of the dock? Suppose we arrive in the middle of the swellest fishing weather we’ve ever seen in our lives? With a soft little fitful southwest wind, and overcast sky, kind of warm and humid…”

“Kitchen first,” I stated firmly.

“Well, I’ll trust to your common sense,” concluded Jim. “Or I should say, I’ll count on your weakness of character. Let’s agree to put the building job first. Priority Number One. And then see how strong we are at withstanding old and familiar temptations.”

“I’m determined,” I said, returning to the list. “Let’s see. Ten pounds of three-inch nails. A pound of assorted screws for making shelves, etc. A couple of new paint brushes. How about the saw?”

“The last time I saw it,” said Jim, “It was hanging on the usual nail in the boat-house.”

That Cottage Feeling

I gazed into space, picturing in my mind’s eye the old crowded boat-house with the skiff and the canoes turned upside down on the floor, the rough shelves sagging with old paint, cans, bottles, old rusty screen door springs. I could see the paddles hanging from their double nails. The oars laid across the rafters. The cartons full of badly neglected decoys. The canoe carriers on the wall and, hung from nails, the rusty old saw, the rake and sundry other tools.

How is it that a summer cottage seems so much dearer to our hearts than any city home? It may be that while we shift and change from house to house in the city, the summer cottage was the one we went to as children; that we grew up in as boys and young men; where we took our young sweethearts and did our courting. For a great many thousands of us, the summer cottage is more really our home than any other.

“What’s the matter?” inquired Jim, noting my expression.

“I was just thinking of the cottage, and the boat-house,” I said. “I go all weak inside when I think of them. Jim, it’s a queer thing, but I’ve been all over the world, visited every country in Europe, spent months on end in the great cities of the world, seen all the famous sights like the Bay of Naples, the Highlands of Scotland, the Alps and the Rockies. But I wouldn’t trade a little area of about four miles square, up on Georgian Bay, with that cottage in the middle of it, for all the rest of the earth put together.”

“That sentiment,” agreed Jim, “costs human nature billions of dollars every year. Rather than get up and go and conquer the world, people prefer to snuggle down in their own little old familiar spot.”

“Travelling is a great mistake, Jim,” I assured him. “Nobody should travel. It is the greatest disillusionment of all.”

“I’d love to travel,” said Jim. “To see the world.”

“The world as you imagine it,” I informed him, “is far more beautiful and wonderful than it really is. Wait till the boys get home from Italy. They’ll tell you. When you think of Rome, what do you imagine? You imagine what the poets and painters and great writers have done. You imagine a very ancient, historical city, filled with magnificent churches and buildings, with bridges heavy with story, glorious classic fountains hundreds of years old, made by the hands of artists whose names are remembered with the names of kings and heroes. Keats, Shelley, Browning – all our greatest poets lived in Italy and sang its beauty and its splendor. Keep that, Jimmie! Stay right here in Toronto and cling to the beauty those poets created for you. Because of all the dowdy, ramshackle, junky old cities on earth, Rome is the champion.”

“No!” cried Jim.

“It stinks,” I said, “It is huddled and muddled. In the same city block will be all that is left, a few jagged scraps of untidy wall, of some historic ancient building, along with enormous bright pink stucco apartment blocks in the latest Mussolini tradition.”

“But,” protested Jimmie, “I’ve seen photographs! Not just paintings. But photographs of Rome!”

And Texas, Too

 “And to get that photograph,” I assured him, “the photographer working for the highly capitalized tourist industry, the railways of the world, the great shipping companies, had to crawl all over Rome to get that one decent shot. He had to scramble up over quaking roofs of smelly tenements, he had to wiggle and wangle and scheme and get ladders. He had to get that picture from just certain angle that would show none of the incongruities all around. That’s part of the disillusionment. Not only did the photographers take trick pictures that show only the one perfect angle of some noble building or ancient relic, but the painters and the poets all stood in a special spot in which to behold the beauty they have made imperishable. But when you go travelling, you have no time to climb tenement roofs or to get step-ladders or wait until a special sort of moonlight comes to soften and spiritualize the view. No. You go to see the Colosseum, and it looks like the back end of the Exhibition Grand Stand in Toronto. You seek out the palace of some ancient duke on one of the seven hills of Rome. You find the hill all right. It has a lot of those pines of Rome and plenty of those skinny black cypress trees that remind you of cemeteries. And there, half hidden amid the brush-wood of the noble garden, with a lot of rather weather-eaten statues standing stupidly about in frozen attitudes, is a house about the same as the house of any well-known biscuit manufacturer or cough syrup patentee up in Forest Hill Village here in Toronto.”

“Aw, no,” protested Jimmie.

“Italy!” I snorted. “It’s a fleabitten, shaggy, grisly gray country, about the same as Texas.”

“Texas!” cried Jimmie. “Why, what’s the matter with Texas? It’s one of the greatest states in the union and the biggest.”

“Texas,” I submitted, “is the biggest lot of nothing I’ve ever flown over. Parched, bitter, greenish gray, a sort of mouldy color. Mile upon mile, hundreds of miles, as far as the eye can reach, of moon-like desert, stuck with oil derricks, pocked with dry concrete cisterns, the poor Texans try to catch rainwater in, if ever it rains …”

“Say,” Interrupted Jim. “You’re attacking some of the most touted scenes on this earth.”

“And California!” I cried. “The droopiest, shoddiest, beaverboard civilization I’ve ever seen. Everything droops. The palms droop, the poor, stiff, enslaved palms that stand like pitiful servants just wherever some silly property owner wanted them – and no place else! The palms droop, the people droop. Their houses all look like temporary movie sets they built for one show, a long while ago. But they’re living in them yet. Shoddy, gimcrack, fake …”

“But how do you explain the worldwide reputation of California?” demanded Jim.

“The poor guys that found themselves stranded there,” I explained, “had to make up a lot of stuff to tell each other, in order to keep sane. They made up this imaginary stuff and finally began to believe it themselves. Then they started spreading it. It’s the same as with the poets and painters who wrote about Rome and the Alps and Paris – in the spring! They got stranded. And had to make some money to get back home. Or – they made it up to escape, in their own imaginations, from something pretty grim. Or – best of all, perhaps, they followed the old human custom of telling fabulous tales about some place they’d seen which the home folks had never seen. Everybody loves to impress the neighbors. The poet Browning, as you know, got in wrong at home in London. So he and his wife spent a lot of time in Italy, writing beautiful poems about Italy in order to make their friends and enemies back in poor old frowsy London feel sore …”

“Now, you’ll admit London…” began Jimmie, who has been there.

“Aw,” I scoffed, “what is Piccadilly Circus but a wide intersection with a bunch of retail stores around it? What has Piccadilly Circus got that Queen St. and University Ave. hasn’t got?”

“Well…” said Jimmie, scandalized.

“Three days in New York is enough for anybody,” I assured him. “Paris is just a lot of self-conscious wide streets full of foreigners who seem to all have their beady eyes on you. Algiers? About like Winnipeg with a Shriners’ convention on. Madrid…”

“What’s the matter with you?” cut in Jimmie hotly.

“I’m just thinking about Georgian Bay,” I confessed softly.

Well – we got the nails, the paint brushes, the screws and a lot of little odds and ends like coat hangers, shelf brackets and stuff. And the great day came. And we drove to Midland and got the livery launch that takes us 30 miles up the shore amid the myriad islands. And we hove in off the wider spaces of the open bay into the channels that led us through ever more familiar scenes until, rounding a lonely bend, there, snuggled down on its rocky promontory was our well beloved cottage.

Its screens were all on.

“Jim,” I cried, “who could have put up the screens?”

We stared. The cottage had a specially happy look.

“Why,” I exclaimed, “Jim, you old rascal, you’ve painted the steps!”

“Not me!” assured Jim, staring.

Something Had Happened

The livery launch wheeled wide to pass a shoal that stands in front of our landing. And as it did so, we caught a glimpse of the rear of the cottage.

It was decidedly unfamiliar.

The kitchen had been built!

There, where the back door had formerly opened out on to a flat bare rock, stood a fine lattice-sided kitchen, painted the very green we had always planned. It was exactly the kitchen we had sketched and planned and drawn amateur blueprints of for the past six years.

“Why, Jim,” I shouted above the engine, “you old scallywag! Letting me believe, all this time …”

“I swear,” declared Jimmie with astonished eyes, “I know nothing whatever about it…”

“The dock!” I yelled.

Instead of the old dock, high at one end from the passing of many a winter’s ice, was a level one, with a massive new pine log bolted across its fore edge.

In complete amazement, we drew in, tied the launch and while the driver unloaded our luggage, we hastened up the slope to see the marvel.

There was the kitchen, perfect in every detail. With shelves, exactly as we had sketched them. Painted our own shingle green. The lattice strips expertly laid on, to allow the breeze to blow through. A professional, a workmanlike job.

“Did you speak to anybody in Midland,” I inquired, “about going ahead with this… maybe …”

“To nobody!” assured Jim.

The woodpile was higher and straighter than I had ever seen it. It had one section of almost all birch wood. Then another section, beautifully piled, of nice shiny pine cut into neat little sticks. Kindling.

We unlocked the back door and went into the main kitchen. It was spotless. All the pots and pans were hung more neatly than we had ever left them.

We went into the living-room.

“The fireplace!” gasped Jim.

Our old fireplace, with a lot of the mortar gone from between the rocks, with a couple of the end stones, in fact, in danger of falling out, had been transfigured. It was re-mortared throughout, a fresh set of fine stones had been fitted along the top.

We stood speechless before our beloved fireplace, and gazed around the shining room.

“The note,” said Jim.

For from the mantel hung a large notice.

THANKS

“Dear Friends–

“The five undersigned are members of a bomber crew that had to bail out due to engine trouble on Feb. 23. We all landed in sight of your cottage and took the liberty of breaking in as it was extremely cold and we did not know where we were. We trust we have done you no injury. We are extremely grateful for all the things you left, the firewood in the fire, the canned food in the cupboard, the tea, sugar, and the big tin of flour. We caught some rabbits in the stamp and all in all were very comfortable for five weeks until discovered last night by a passing party of lumber scalers. To pay for the supplies, we have done a few odd jobs for you. We found several different sketches and plans of the summer kitchen, so combined the best features of all. We hope you like it. And we left a fire ready for you too in the fireplace.

Very gratefully yours…”

And then followed their five young names, each with his trade and calling: Student of architecture, carpenter’s apprentice, stone mason, investment broker and student of theology.

“Jim,” I said huskily, “what kind of an afternoon is it outside?”

“Soft,” said Jim, “a southwest breeze, kind of fitful, humid, and a little overcast!”

A Cottage Almost For Sale

By Greg Clark, June 7, 1941

“I’m going to have to rent the cottage,” stated Jimmie Frise dismally.

“Rent the cottage!” I cried.

“With the new war taxes and everything,” said Jim, “I just can’t afford to have a summer cottage. I’m going to rent it.”

“And who’s going to take it?” I demanded hotly. “Doesn’t everybody have to pay taxes?”

“I can get somebody to take it,” said Jim.

“Yes, but what more right will he have to take it than you?” I demanded.” “If you can’t afford to keep a summer cottage, nobody else can. So keep it. Everybody’s in the same boat now.”

“I can find somebody with a little more money than me,” explained Jimmie. “The taxes and stuff have moved me quietly out of the class of people who can afford summer cottages.”

“You don’t follow me,” I protested vehemently. “If these were normal times and you had lost money in the stock market or something normal like that, you would be justified in giving up your cottage. But everybody is being taxed. Everybody is going to have to live on less money. Therefore, how are you going to find anybody to rent your cottage? And if you do find somebody to take it, doesn’t that prove he is a chiseller who hasn’t declared all his taxes?”

“You’re just sore because you won’t have those fishing week-ends up at my place,” smiled Jim.

“I don’t let my personal concerns interfere with my reasoning,” I informed him. “But it doesn’t make sense to say that you can’t afford to keep your cottage so you’re going to rent it to somebody who can’t afford to rent it.”

“Plenty of people,” said Jim, “can get along very nicely on the money I get, without going short. I’m just a poor manager, that’s all.”

“So you’ll rent that dear little cottage,” I said, “to some good manager? My dear boy, if there are any good managers, they’ve got a summer cottage of their own already.”

“I can get $200 for the summer from that cottage,” said Jim. “And boy, I need that $200.”

“There is nothing you can buy for $200,” I informed him, “that will be worth half so much as those two months for your family and you up at the lake. Not for $500 could you buy anything of equal value.”

“I don’t want to buy anything,” explained Jim. “That $200 would go for things I’ve already bought.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “economize on other things. Economize on your car, put it away in the garage all summer. Economize on your food bills, on your clothes, on your summer wardrobe. But don’t try to economize on the health and happiness of your family.”

“Or,” said Jim, on the good fishing of my friends.”

“It is Your Dream Home”

“Any more cracks like that,” I stated, “and I won’t even visit your cottage.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be visiting it anyway,” said Jim. “Unless maybe you’d like to rent it?”

“I’m not interested, Jim,” I said. “You know my beliefs in the matter of summer cottages. I don’t believe in tying myself down for the whole summer to one place. I like to see various parts of the province during the summer.”

“At your friends’ cottages,” said Jim.

“I pay my way, don’t I?” I said indignantly. “Didn’t I bring a whole ham on that last visit to you last August? And two baskets of tomatoes, and a basket of melons, and two boxes of candy and toys for the kids? Didn’t I?”

“You remember the details, all right,” admitted Jim.

“I certainly do,” I stated. “I make it my business to bring the equivalent in supplies and gifts of a sum of money equal to what I would pay at a good summer hotel. For whatever period I come for. I’m no cheap sport. I pay my way.”

“You’re very good,” agreed Jim. “But it isn’t the same as owning your own cottage. Or even the same as staying at a summer hotel.”

“Do you resent my spending a few weekends with you?” I exclaimed. “I thought we had more fun than…”

“Sure, sure, I love to have you up,” said Jimmie. “In fact, our fishing trips are the highlight of the whole summer to me. But I was just wearing down your objections to me renting my cottage. I’ve made up my mind. I’ve written out an ad to put in the paper. And I’ve painted a sign ‘Cottage for Rent’ to nail up on the cottage this week-end.”

“Well,” I said glumly, “there goes about the nicest cottage in my whole collection.”

“It’s a great little spot,” admitted Jimmie. “It won’t be easy to pass it up. We’ve had a lot of fun there. You can move all over the city in the course of the years, and leave one house after another without a pang. In fact, you’re often glad to be rid of the last one. But a summer cottage is different. No matter how shabby and run-down it may be, a summer cottage becomes your true home in a sense a city house never does. It is your dream home.”

“You said it, Jim,” I insinuated. “You have no idea how you’ll miss it this summer, when you and your family are slowly baking and frying here in town.”

“It’s a straight case of dollars and cents,” said Jim quietly. “I have thought it all out.”

“Have you visualized the haggard eyes of your little children,” I demanded, “looking at you when you come home here on one of those blistering August afternoons?”

“We’re going on plenty of picnics,” explained Jimmie. “We’re going to bring down from the cottage some of the deck chairs and other summer furniture to fix up our garden. We’re going to bring down the outboard engine, too, and I will rent a skiff down on the lake off Sunnyside and take the family on the evenings for sails along towards Oakville and Hamilton.”

“How pleasant,” I sneered.

Jim Makes a Decision

“I’ve set out a regular program,” continued Jimmie, “picnics, sails along the lake, al fresco suppers out in the garden on bright deck chairs and rustic tables. After all what’s the difference between Muskoka and Toronto when it comes to temperature?”

“About 30 degrees,” I stated loudly.

“Don’t be absurd, retorted Jim. “Don’t you remember last summer some of these nights when you could hardly draw your breath it was so hot and stuffy up at the cottage? You were there in the hot spell. We had to practically live in the water.”

“And where will you live during the hot spell here in town?” I inquired. “In the cellar?”

“It isn’t five minutes from my house to Sunnyside,” said Jim. “And we can put our bathing suits on right in our own house here, too.”

“You are making a great mistake, Jim,” I said.

“I am making $200,” replied Jim.

“Which the government will take off you,” I pointed out.

“You have put up a good fight,” said Jim, “but you have lost. I am definitely giving up the cottage this year. The ads go in next Monday. I am going up to the cottage this week-end to bring down some stuff. The deck chairs, my outboard engine, and a new three-burner oil stove we just bought last summer.”

“Are you hiring a truck?” I asked.

“No,” said Jim, “I thought maybe you would be interested in a little trip to the country. And if we took your open ear, we could pack all that stuff in it.”

“Well, I’ll be …”I gasped. “You deprive me of one of my favorite summer cottages, and then you …”

“An open car carries twice as much as a closed car,” said Jim.

“But I’m not making any truck out of my sport phaeton,” I snorted. “Especially three-burner oil stoves. What are you bringing that home for? Isn’t the new tenant going to have a stove?”

“There’s the old oil stove out in the back shed,” explained Jim. “We don’t like to use second-hand stoves. The food always seems to taste of strangers. So we’re bringing the new one home to store and let the tenants use the old one.”

“I think my family has me dated up for this week-end, Jim,” I said.

“Very well,” said Jim shortly.

The Farewell Journey

But the more I thought of it, the more I felt I should accompany Jim on his farewell journey to the cottage. After all, Jim and I have been friends since boyhood. I was a cub reporter when he was a cub artist doing diagrams of where the murder took place, X marking the spot where the body was found. We have been to wars together and killed thousands of fish and not a few ducks together. And, as Jim says, a summer cottage comes to mean more to you than any mansion you might inhabit in a city.

So I intimated to him that the date my family had made for me on the week-end had fallen through and that I would be happy to use my touring car for transporting his lares and penates down from the cottage.

“What are lares and penates?” asked Jim.

“It is Latin for outboard motors and three-burner oil stoves,” I explained.

“And we left Friday night, seeing we are all on the five-day week now which gave us Saturday and Sunday at the cottage, to do a real job of farewell.

The bass season does not open for nearly a month, so there was no use torturing ourselves by going out in the boat. We just loafed about the cottage itself. Sat on the veranda and smoked; walked back over the hills and woods where already the heavy hand of summer was laid. The birds had pretty nearly finished nesting and young birds were everywhere. The wildflowers were all over and done. The season of silent growth was one, the season of leaf and wind that leads straight to autumn and harvest and lying leaves and death again.

Between walks. we went over the cottage rather sadly setting out on the veranda the things Jimmie wanted to take home. The engine, the stove, three deck chairs and a new mattress that was too good to let unknown strangers have.

We also tore down a whole raft of colored pictures from the rotogravure and from the movie magazines which, in past years, had been tacked up on the cottage walls.

We tidied things up and hid away some of the things Jimmie was sure would be lost or mislaid by strangers, such as paddles, a little hatchet Jimmie was very fond of, an old rake and things like that.

“I’ll hide these under the back of the cottage,” said Jim. “which will give me the feeling of coming back some other year. These things will be waiting for me, even though strangers call this place their own for a while.”

“The new people,” I said, “will probably change everything around. They’ll tack up new pictures clipped from the rotogravure. They’ll probably shift the beds around.”

“I can easily shift everything back again,” said Jim.

“They’ll no doubt break things,” I pointed out. “Some of the china, and maybe a window or so. Are you going to allow a family with children to rent the place?”

“I wasn’t figuring on selecting the tenants,” said Jim. “For $200, almost anybody …”

“Some women,” I said, “are dreadful housekeepers when it comes to a summer cottage. They just feel it is a holiday and they let things go hang.”

“My family can soon redd it up,” said Jimmie.

“You’ll have to come up after the season’s over,” I suggested, “and clean her up then.

Some women leave the kitchen like a pig pen, dirt and filth all around the sink, and stuff left in bottles and packages on the shelves. That attracts the mice in, and when you come up next year the place will fairly stink.”

“I’ll be up in the fall, all right,” assured Jim. “The minute those people get out, I’ll be up here with a gang to clean house, you bet.”

“Are you putting on any extra insurance,” I inquired, “in case these people are careless with lamps and things? Or any insurance for damage kids might do?

“I think I’ll try to rent it to a couple of old maids,” said Jim. “How about piling the stuff in your car now?”

“Why,” I protested, “we’re not leaving yet, are we? I thought we’d be leaving after supper.”

“There’s no use hanging around,” said Jim miserably. “The longer I hang around, the worse I feel about the whole business.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pile the stuff in the car.”

So we carried out the mattress and the engine and the chairs and stowed them in the car. We were just carrying out the three-burner oil stove when a strange thing happened.

Right off the little wharf in front of the cottage a huge black bass leaped.
It was not an ordinary leap. Jimmie and I have both seen thousands of bass leaps. This was like a ceremonial leap. The bass came out of the water in a loud, ringing splash which attracted our attention as if it had been gunshot. There, in the lovely light, the bass seemed to hang in space. It curved and dropped, with another resounding splash, back into the water.

Jimmie and I set the stove down in a single movement. We tightened our belts and walked quickly down to the wharf. There, on its white sand nest, lay the bass, a huge one, fanning the water with tail, and fins in motionless stance.

Jim stood and stared with entranced gaze. I dared not open my mouth.
The great bass, fanning immovably, seemed to eye us with his red orbs. Jim waved a hand. The bass darted from the nest and then came darting back.

I tossed a little chip on the water. The bass rose like a torpedo and hit the chip a terrific slash with his tail.

“Oh, boy,” muttered Jim, “oh, boy, ohboy-ohboy.”

He turned and marched back up to the car. He seized hold of the end of the three-burner gas stove. I seized the other. Jim backed into the house. I followed. In five minutes, we had the chairs back, the mattress on the bed, the engine in the cupboard and everything all hunky dory.

Then we went and sat on the cedar chairs and put our heels on the railing and lit our pipes and blew smoke out on to the silent air.

For the first time, Jimmie spoke.

“That settles it,” he said firmly.


Editor’s Notes: For story-telling purposes, Greg implies he does not have a cottage. He did at Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay.

Lares and Penates were Roman deities who protected the home. It came to be a phrase meaning a person’s home and household possessions.

Rotogravure is a printing technique, and was also used as a term to refer to the illustrated sections of magazines.

“Redd it up” means to clear something away, to tidy.

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