Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Be it ever so humble, there's no place like my cottage bench.
I dream and watch the Trent River from it for hours. Hassles of the Big Smoke that is Toronto burn away like the morning mist under the June sun.
I escape to it in my mind from any corner of the world. When the spirit feels battered by the awful sights of the refugee camp. When the plane is delayed for another three hours. When the visitors become as tedious as feared.
Most of us have a peaceful hatch in our mind when we need a magic carpet to flee misery. In Dan Brown's latest bestseller, The Lost Symbol, his hero, Robert Langford, imagined that he was lying beneath a vast night sky when he battled his crippling claustrophobia.
I still have the bench I bought 30 years ago. It's rotting and sagging but the kids perch in it to watch the evening fire and roast gooey treats. The second bench is just a memory. It was so fine, it was poached. And the current one looks like it was cut out with axe but it's a comfortable sit, and that's more important than looks.
Yet the second was a thing of beauty. A Costco kit for around $119 that sat under a leak in the boat house for years when my enthusiasm waned within minutes of the purchase. . One rainy day, my procrastination had become silly even to me. So I ripped open the rotting cardboard to find the boards were just fine but the instructions had a hole in the middle from mildew.
But the French version was fine. So I phoned the daughter-in-law in California. She is so francophone, the Plains of Abraham were named after one of her ancestors - her family lived on the edge - and the composer of our stirring anthem, Calixa Lavallee, was another relative. Marie translated, through giggles, my atrocious French, so for once that compulsory duplicate French instruction was useful.
My wife and I did everything right. Soaked the boards in various preservatives before assembly with really good screws and carpenter's glue. My finest assembly yet, after cursing Ikea for years.
Great to sit in. And we celebrated with the first of, we hoped, many cold beers. Maybe some tea too.
Then came the cold November night and my eternal search for some plump pickerel. I groped through the gloom to the end of the point and made my first cast. Lost the minnow. Cursed that I hadn't brought a flashlight out but backed up to my bench to sit and bait the hook again. I went sprawling. Someone had stolen the bench on which I had spent so much time.
My theory is that the louts who occasionally float in party barges off the point and curse and drink beer and maybe even fish figured it would be a great lark if they liberated my bench. So they clambered over the rocks that edge the point and shoved it aboard their pontoon boat. Too bad they didn't break a leg.
Of course I had branded it with my initials in a secret nook. So I searched up and down both sides of the Trent. No luck. Just irate dogs. So I added the bench to the strange assortment of stuff that I've had stolen over the years, which includes a wheel barrow and aquarium.
The river that runs through my life is as magnetic as a fireplace when it comes to staring and dreaming. A big fish jumps. The carp school in sex play. A loon keeps company, our two solitudes not meeting but not at war either. The lights come on in the cottage and the choice now is between the assaults of the bugs and falling asleep before the TV.
Give the kings their thrones. I'll take the cottage bench and the river and my thoughts....

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