My summer vacation started off with a rare visit from my brother Eric, the first in a decade or more. After picking him up from the train station (the Toronto train was 50 minutes late due to slowdowns for hot tracks - they expand and make the railroad bumpy), we drove home and looked around the old homestead. After dinner, I had a chance to chat while we walked around the neighbourhood and along the river.
The next day, I had planned to leave early in the morning, to avoid the hot (34C) and muggy weather we'd been having. As usual, mom's events intervened and we delayed to set up and take down a Canadian Friends of the Hermitage lecture, though I did get time to pack during the lecture; who says that procrastinating doesn't pay off? Finally, a bit after noon, we left, on the hottest day of the month, at the hottest time of the day, on a sticky drive to Dorval.
The drive was routine, just hot (and bumpy past Rigaud), and even the multiple 10km single lane highway construction zones didn't slow us down. We got to Dorval and stopped at the Provigo supermarket for supplies. The drive through Dorval itself was made more interesting by the lack of traffic lights, just temporary "Arret" signs at intersections where new lights were being installed (the old ones were really dumb, taking more than a minute for the walk signal to go on, and then turning all lights red - you could safely cross diagonally if you wanted to).
Some construction worker's truck was parked in Betty's spot (Betty was away visiting relatives for the week), so we dropped the luggage at the dock and I parked the car in the remote visitor's area. The water was so low that the dock wasn't floating on the shore side any more. I've never seen it that low in June, or other times of year. There was enough depth on the other side for the ferry to come in, but it required a bit of unusual maneuvering and sideways motion - they ram the nose of the ferry into some tires attached to the bank and then go hard port to push the tail against the dock rather than taking the usual wide turn, which would have grounded the ferry on a mud bar. The mud-bar also blocked the barge grounding ramp, much to the dismay of the town workers who now have to toss the garbage onto land by hand, rather than moving it by truck.
Normally, when you cross to the island, the weather gets nicer because the water cools down the wind. Not this time; it was still hot on the island. So hot that the candle in my upstairs room had softened and completely flopped over the side of the candlestick and ended up with its wick pointing down. We had store-roasted chicken for dinner, in the somewhat cooler downstairs dining room. Actually, we had two chickens since they looked so small in the store, but they somehow got larger during transportation and we ended up with way more chicken than we could eat. The next few days would feature chicken leftovers. It was still hot that night, even after a cooling rainstorm, which made sleeping difficult. Opening windows and setting up the fan helped a bit, but the most effective trick was to let the hot air out the window without a screen (it's used as a fire escape). Note that you should turn off the lights before you do this to avoid attracting bugs.
We went shopping on Sunday morning. The others for groceries and I for rope and hooks, a difficult thing to find at a mall with no hardware store. Why rope and hooks? Was it for a swing? I finally found a couple of 100 feet polyethylene ropes and matching eye hook screws at Zellers, after wandering around most of the store. That's a bit too much rope for a swing, and that rope was only rated for 110 pounds, plus it floats, so it's obviously not for a swing. The others had finished shopping and were loading groceries into the car by the time I caught up with them.
The next stop was the train station to buy tickets for Liana's trip back to Ottawa. The hard part was getting there, involving repeated exploration of the Dorval traffic circle, until I finally figured out which lane lead to the station.
The pleasant sunny afternoon provided a good opportunity to launch my project. With help from Eric, I rolled a large barkless willow log (about 90 cm diameter, 2m long, formerly part of the neighbour's willow tree), down to the river. There, I screwed the hooks into one end and tied the rope between them and a tree. I had to heave it over the rocky river bottom for quite a distance until I got to deeper water, where it finally floated. Good thing I had the extra rope! By the way, the beach and shore rocks are hard on bare feet, but once you are far enough out, the bottom is made of much more comfortable mud and river weeds.
The log was actually big enough to support my weight - for a second or two before it rolled and dumped me into the water. Clearly a stabilizer system was needed. In Red Green fashion, I scavenged for parts. I used a long weathered 2x4 timber, a couple of smaller logs and some nails (the duct tape of beach construction) to fashion a pair of outriggers. That worked fairly well, partly because the outriggers would hit the bottom, and well enough in deeper water if I sat on the middle of the log and didn't move around too much.
Now it was time to explore. I pushed the log upstream and out, and rode it down. The lack of bark made it fairly comfortable, except for the sharp wooden spurs in a few places where twigs or leaves had been. The trip took several minutes because the river was low and moving slowly. Along the way, I heard a strange shrieking noise rising in pitch like someone spinning tires on ice, carrying some distance over the water. It was a choir warming up for an afternoon garden concert.
On the next trip I pushed a bit further out and ran into a cooler current of faster moving water, which took me near the new island appearing off the down-stream neighbour's beach. I noticed that one of the rocks, which the waves were breaking against, was strangely rectangular. The next trip was an expedition to investigate it, which revealed an old engine block complete with crankshaft. On the way to the new island the bottom drops considerably, possibly because of wave action or perhaps because of ancient dredging for the downstream neighbour's abandoned crumbling concrete yacht dock. Either way, it was deep. While drifting over it, and looking at large concrete blocks and strangely flat layers of bricks, I saw something under the glittering waves which looked like a column from an old building. Had I found Atlantis? It was about the right size, a long cylinder, but with bulges like the Michelin man. Maybe it was an old boiler? I'll leave it for future explorers to investigate.
Half the time on Monday morning was spent taking apart the barbeque and cleaning out decades of rust, burnt hamburger ash and spider webs. The other half was spent hunting for the control knobs which fell off into the weeds when I had turned the BBQ upside down. In the afternoon I picked up Maris and her family at the train station and brought them over to the island. They had a two hour overlap with my brother, whom we saw to the ferry with the traditional waving of farewell from the dock. After that Maris and family went for a swim in the pool, the first of many. We had a nice barbequed hamburger dinner, with Jim providing expert cooking advice and help.
After dropping off Liana at train station, we spent Tuesday morning visiting Maris's old childhood home. A new interchange at highway 20 prevents you from seeing it from the road, so we drove through the back streets (with Maris excitedly pointing out her friends' houses) and pulled into the driveway of her old house. The driveway has been moved to the other side of the house, the front door as well. The house seems in reasonable shape, except for the sagging roof. Nobody was home.
We continued down to Beaconsfield road and went past, with stories along the way about all the shops. We stopped when we saw Renate Heidersdorf's La Palette Art Gallery, where Maris had learnt to paint as a child. We saw from the outdoor display cases that children could be taught to draw very well. I was impressed by the use of shadow and light in the shading of a flower by a 12 year old girl. Renate wasn't in, but her mother recognized Maris's mother's name and showed us around the art gallery - which had been set up for an exhibition of the year's work. There was quite a variety of techniques, though pencil prevailed. Crackled acrylic was popular too, I liked the copper relief drawings, Jim liked a colourful tropical frog painting. Again, general good use of shading (while drawing pumpkins for example) impressed me.
We continued slowly down Lakeshore Road (now called Chemin Bord-du-lac), past Pointe Claire and other familiar sights. Upon spotting Dorval Island in the distance, we knew we were getting close to the shopping center. There we bought books - the excellent Burning City by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell for me and assorted children's books and activity things for the kids.
Back on the island, I didn't get a chance to read my book as 3 year old Hannah wanted to play. She seemed to be particularly fascinated by the concept of inside and outside. She liked putting the toys I found (there is a good selection - assorted trains and plastic tracks were popular) into an old Fisher Price Schoolhouse, which had a hinged side and roof. She also found out how to lock the front screen door by placing the hook in the eyelet. She kept on locking that door whenever she was near, making her a kind of anti-doorman. Meanwhile her 8 year old sister went to the beach collecting clam shells and snail shells, which she then coloured and used to make figurines.
Another popular activity was swinging in the hammock, suspended by two formerly very tall trees. Even Jim enjoyed it. We also listened to records on the gramophone and sat on the front porch chatting. Tiring of colouring books, I tried riding my log boat. It worked well until the waves knocked off the stabilizer logs and I got dumped into the water. Naturally that was when the audience on the beach was at its largest.
After a fun morning of play and other activities, I had the sad duty of taking Maris and family off the Island and to the train station. The rest of the evening was spent quietly reading and finishing off Burning City.
Thursday was the day for tea. We went for a morning visit to Betty's cottage (the other Betty) where we saw the workmen building a new river wall out of rocks (there's a bit of a scandal on the island this year about people "stealing" rocks from other people's beaches - actually you only own stuff above the high water line). She has a nice attic room with a folding ladder - the whole house has a similar neat and trim ship-like design built by her late airplane mechanic husband. She told us about the visit by her church group, and other events on the island.
In the afternoon we held a tea for Louise and Margie, and Riley the dog. Much news was exchanged, though we couldn't understand what Riley was saying.
Friday was cool and rainy, an excellent day for a car trip. Even the long stop at the single lane construction zone wasn't annoying. I got back in time to go to the Friday night RuneQuest game, where Ian came up with a good ending for my water worm kidnapping adventure (apparently the worm was supposed to protect the villagers, but they had forgotten the magic).
Copyright © 2001 by Alexander G. M. Smith.