After the storm: a Muskoka chair and chilled chardonnay

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The Gazette, Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It being the cottage, there's always something.

Last year it was the earthquake, a 5.0 on the Richter scale, which shifted the foundations and knocked down the chimney of our cottage on Lac Saint-Pierre-de-Wakefield.

Four years ago it was the tornado that roared down the lake with such force that it blew out windows and uprooted huge trees.

Three nights ago it was the windstorm that appeared out of nowhere around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday evening. With winds later estimated at 140 kilometres per hour by Environment Canada, the storm uprooted three trees on our property, one of which fell on the power and phone lines.

"It was pretty scary," reported our neighbour, Sandy McDermott.

"Worse than the tornado?"


How bad was it? It lifted our Muskoka chair, designed to weather storms, up off the dock, and dumped it on the lawn 50 feet away. It lifted a neighbour's rubber raft, anchored by a 30-pound cement block, right out of the water. It flew 20 feet into the air before landing on their lawn.

Forty-five minutes later, the same freak storm raced down the Ottawa River at 96 kilometres per hour and destroyed the stage at the Bluesfest on LeBreton Flats, sending the band, Cheap Trick, and nearly 10,000 spectators scurrying for cover, many of them at the nearby National War Museum. Miraculously no one was seriously hurt at the concert site, although two people drowned on the river in storm-related boating incidents.

Normally I would have been at the lake on a Sunday evening in July, firing up the barbecue, or quite possibly out in our 16-foot canoe. Big Red is a very light boat, weighing only 48 pounds, and would not have done well in the storm.

Fortunately I was in Toronto visiting Zara, our 2-year-old daughter, helping her, her mother and grandmother celebrate the birthday of her grandfather, Fareez Kheiriddin, who turned 86 on Sunday.

By the time I got to the office in Ottawa on Monday, my neighbour, Wolf Schwarz, was on the phone with a damage report.

"No power since last night, and my phone just came back on," he said. "You have trees on power lines at your place, and your phone is out. Hydro-Québec says you have to call an electrician to repair the connection to your meter."

At first Hydro-Québec said power would be back on by 6 p.m. Monday, then by 11 p.m., then by 7: 30 a.m. yesterday, then by noon. As I was driving in to work yesterday on Highway 307, four Hydro-Québec repair trucks passed heading in the other direction. I hope one of them was headed to our corner of the lake.

I'd been meaning to stop for ice for the freezer on the way to the lake Monday evening, but of course the stores in the village of Saint-Pierre were closed. "Fermé, panne electrique," advised a hastily drawn sign in the window of Tessier's, the local grocery. Never mind our fridge - what about theirs?

Well, I was planning on barbecuing anyway, and a steak was conveniently thawed in the freezer.

For the rest, a gas barbecue does not depend upon electricity. And while we have a satellite dish at the lake, we don't really go there to watch television.

As for light, we have three antique gas lamps from the basement of my grandparents' house on the Mira River in Cape Breton. The house has been in the family for at least 125 years.

But we had no gas for the lamps.

"No problem," said Schwarz. "Just take a few of the solar lamps from the dock." The solar lamps are meant to warn boats at night, when the dock lights up like a runway. "They'll light the cottage right up," he said.

He was right. They did. My grandfather, Angus J. MacDonald, used to say you could read a newspaper by the light of a summer moon in Mira. I never thought of reading one with a solar lamp. Maybe that's the future.

Meantime, our Muskoka chair is back in its proper place under the flag at the end of the dock. The perfect place, with a glass of chardonnay, to contemplate the remains of the day.

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