I may be going squirrelly at the cottage!

I never take it for granted that our family is lucky enough to have a cottage. My grandfather built it on Twelve Mile Bay – that opens into Georgian Bay – back in the early 1960s. My twin brother Tim and I were there for the first summer after it was finished in 1964. I even have a few faint memories from back then when we were both four years old. Most of all, I remember frogs and the mosquitoes. And now, as I write this missive, nearly 60 years later, we’re preparing to open up the cottage for its 59th summer. I know. We’re blessed.

Anticipating summer weekends at the cottage is almost as fun as the weekends themselves… almost. But in a departure from past practice, we’ve actually already been up to the cottage during the winter and spring a few times in recent years dealing with a few calamities. Last year a very large white pine that stands tall right next to our deck – or rather stood tall – toppled over in high winds missing our cottage literally by a couple of inches. It was a shocking sight when we arrived to inspect the damage courtesy of an email from a cross-country skiing neighbour. There was very minor damage to the roof and a window inflicted by a few branches on their way down to the ground.

This year, our very early visit to Twelve Mile Bay in February was to do battle with a squirrel that had managed to infiltrate our cottage. And why not? Hibernating indoors is far preferable to the squirrel’s more traditional subterranean lodgings. I’ve done a lot of hibernating at the cottage so can vouch for its pleasures, though I’m not nearly as messy. As soon as we stepped into the cottage and its sub-zero February temperatures, it was clear we had a very unruly and inconsiderate guest.

This is not the first time squirrels had breached our castle walls. Years ago, when we were just kids, we heard scritchy-scratchy (it’s a technical term) noises emanating from our corner kitchen cabinet. Our father boldly opened the cabinet door whereupon a red squirrel lunged for freedom coming to rest on top of our father’s head. Dad calmly stood up and walked quickly out the front door, the squirrel riding regally atop his cranium. Perhaps his full head of hair – something I still envy in my thinning years – offered the furry creature some comfort.

I was reminiscing about this famous incident with my twin brother the other day and we both agreed that if a squirrel ever landed on my head, I would not have had the presence of mind to exit the building calmly. No, my mind would have deserted me and much flailing about and shrieking would have ensued.

Back to February of this year, we found the hole in the roof fascia chewed open by our trespassing rodents giving them access to our attic. Then it was a simple task of gnawing through our ceiling tiles to give them the run of the place. So, there we were, in February’s freezing cold doing our best to address our little problem. My brother Tim was on his stomach on the roof dangerously close to the edge and the perilous 20-foot drop to our stone patio, doing his best to screw a piece of sheet metal tightly over the hole in the fascia the squirrels had chewed. And did I mention it was slippery on the icy roof?

Tim was secured by a rope tied tightly around his waist. I stood up there too, on the other side of the roof’s peak holding onto the rope for dear life – Tim’s dear life. The rope continued to the ground where my older son, Calder, had secured it to a tree as a final backstop. If I had slipped or felt compelled to scratch an itchy nose or answer my phone, Tim might have slid off to dangle in midair as the anchor tree did its thing. But against all odds, we got the job done. We don’t know for sure if our February mission was accomplished, but we’ll know soon enough when we open the cottage for another summer on the bay. Fingers crossed.

About Terry Fallis 85 Articles
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, Operation Angus, is now in bookstores.