Ode to a genuine cabin from Qualicum Beach

Cabins are actually a very specific type of building

It’s about the third week of May, a Northern Ontario May. The ice has melted from the lake, the blackflies have floated to the surface, and for the cabin-minded, the summer has begun.

The season’s prelude includes the packing up of the old Dodge for a thirty-mile dusty drive, re-packing all into the Peterborough with its faithful 5 hp Johnson, and a slow, ten-mile passage up the lake to the island.

Once docked there’s no restraining me from the year’s first circuit of the cabin. It starts with a rush, but quickly slows to a savouring walk as I inhale the perfume of pines, note small signs of decay in the wooden boardwalk, make certain that my favorite trees have escaped both lightning and beavers, check the ropes on my swing, and perhaps notice a slight tilt to that corner of the cabin supported only by a judicious column of native rocks.

And then the opening fanfare begins. Dad hands me the cabin keys and I leave him to lift the supplies to the dock while I scurry to release the padlocks on the shutters and prop them up, each with its sturdy pole carefully stowed under the cabin beneath each set of windows.

While I dance about impatiently, Dad strolls up to the kitchen door — always the first to be opened.

The overture to our summer’s symphony plays quietly in the background before its crashing crescendo when we finally stand inside the cabin.

My olfactory sense takes over. The smell of long-captured air, of raw wood, of dusty upholstery. It’s the perfume of leisure, of listening, of lying on the old black bear rug, of wood-stoked warmth, of no-guilt reading, of struggling into a wet bathing suit, of smoky breakfasts with Klim-basted cereal.

This is the smell of summer; all my cabin-blessed summers.

Our inhalations satisfied that lazy weekends lie ahead, we begin a slow interior tour of the cabin. First the tiny kitchen with wallboard but no paint; an old porcelain sink and minute counter; pantry shelves still lined with a few staples in varmint-proof tins; no birds’ nests in the stove pipe; a pile of kindling ready beside the Quebec heater; the pump of course, still dry.

From kitchen to the dining room; trés elegant with ceiling, wallboard, blue paint and cedar strips over the joinings; decorated with red-framed paintings of haughty water and shore birds; round, extendable oak table and chairs and matching buffet; in one corner, a towering kerosene-fired refrigerator; opposite, a fine mahogany and leather seat from the cabin of the still-in-the-slings-in-the-boathouse launch.

To the living room now; yellow-painted wallboard and fish in the frames, but no ceiling; a whole wall of French doors with scalloped blinds and soft curtains of see-through beige; outdoor Muskoka chairs inside for storage; a-fore-mentioned bear rug; wicker chair and couch; ‘my’ bookcase with nursery rhyme stencils on the sides; a Craftsman–style desk/table with piles of Dad’s Esquires, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post’s and Reader’s Digests; two folded-up roll-away beds.

And a piano! A big, intricately carved upright my dad used to play for the silent movies, now much favored by the squirrels. We try a couple of simple tunes — @#%$&*! — the felts on middle C and G went for rodent bedding this year!

The felt mattresses in the two cramped bedrooms seem to have survived.

From my bunk I’ll soon listen to “The Shadow” and “Inner Sanctum” on the old battery radio (once it’s put into operation) while staring up at the sturdy rafters and timber of the roof above my bedroom and over its wall to the heights of the living room. At night I’ll hear the plaintive loons and whispering whip-poor-will; in the mornings arise to the joyous call of the white-throated song sparrow calling from the mainland.

This is the place my Dad named “Nancy Mac’s Green Cabin”.

Says Webster, “Cabin — a simple, one-storey house built simply or crudely.”

I doubt that Parksville can compete.


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