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Opening The Windy Poplars
Excitement coupled with grief
Last week on a whim, Chad and I packed up our backpacks (along with five large tote bags full of pantry ingredients and wine glasses - necessities!) and headed northeast to Nova Scotia for the long weekend. Given the house isn’t insulated and an 11-hour drive, we haven’t been back since Fiona claimed a handful of the windy poplars last fall. For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me until then, that schedules permitting, we could go to the house whenever we wanted. This might sound counterintuitive as it is our home, but the comings and goings of having a summer cottage are unfamiliar to me. We have not yet found our rhythm.
I have never been in charge of opening a home for the season or any other time of year for that matter. I have simply lived in one full time. The idea of the act however gave me an air of great responsibility and maturity. “We are going to open the house” I said confidently to friends without really knowing exactly what that meant, but focusing instead on how good it felt to say. When romanticized, “a house to open” sounds promising and adventurous. It makes me want to reach for an artisan looking broom to beat the rugs and clear the cobwebs and cook something nourishing best eaten in bowls with spoons.
The truth is, I have no idea what we’re walking into, and I must admit that amid the excitement of figuring this all out, I also hold resistance and vulnerability about returning. We lost Joshie, our nearly 20-year-old dog, last summer and lived through a terrifying storm. What would this year hold? Would I regress into the deep grief of losing him in the spot where he left us? Or had we already put our “time in” for an advance return of an uneventful few summers? I am hoping for the latter.
We arrived late last Wednesday with a sliver of daylight that Chad very much needed to turn the water back on. The pipes are located in the crumbling basement with no electricity. Note #1 on the list we’ll make for next year will say “arrive in time for plenty of daylight!”
Note #2 will read "don't hide the keys to the basement door so well you forgot where you hid them!” Which added an extra 30 minutes or so when trying to turn the water on, racing dusk all the while.
As well, two small mice sadly laid in opposite corners of the kitchen in similar situations creating a minefield of dead, black house flies throughout the house. Note #3, “do not set mouse traps! The fly carnage outweighs the inevitable outcome of unwilling, sacrificial and adorable rodents!”
The power had also gone out at some point over the last few months, so the minimal items we had left in the fridge were no longer and a small amount of filmy gray mold grew in the freezer. Note #4, “empty fridge and freezer completely, unplug and leave doors open!”
Note #5 will say “remember to be gentle with yourself. You loved that dog more than anything else in the entire world. The grief and pain you hold will shift and change and occasionally still knock the wind out of you. It will be with you forever and you’ll carry it with you to any house you are lucky enough to open.”
I’m sure this list will continue to evolve.
Around 10 pm, after the water was running clear, the mold had been bleached away and the flies were swept up with Chad’s shop-vac (no fancy broom available, unfortunately), we opened a bottle of mediocre wine, sat down on the couch and both let out a big sigh. As inaugural events go, this one was pleasantly successful. I might even trepidatiously say it was “uneventful.” I’ll be keeping you posted.
P.S. I’ll be back on Sunday with a new recipe for paid subscribers.
A quick note. Kelly Marages read and pushed me on this essay. She is wickedly good at all things editing related, should you ever need someone for something like this.