Writing Retreat

Writing Retreat

Huddle up in a cottage, just you and the dog, no internet, no TV, just work on the cookbook stories, it will be so productive. A writing retreat, so fancy.

Jesus H Christ. Or it will be a sitcom, a comedy of errors, or a hot mess.  

A friend generously offered me their cottage for as long as I wanted it. No charge. The dream!  I packed the dog, all healthy food, no booze, and my camera, and headed off on the first hot summer day of June, mid-pandemic. Can you see the mistakes that were already made? 

Upon arrival, I was met by my friend who went over how the water pump worked and handed me a key. The back bedroom was her brothers, but I had the rest of the house to use as I pleased. 

In the middle of the kitchen, there was an island of sorts, an old pass from the Lord Nelson hotel, I’m not sure how it ended up there, but it was gorgeous. There were a ton of old baking pans and utensils that I couldn’t wait to get ahold of and start photographing. 

The cottage itself was a classic ski chalet tucked into the Wentworth Valley. There was a large stone fireplace at its centre, and vaulted ceilings with skylights (she said they might leak, so watch for that if it rains). Sounds idyllic yes? There was one teeny tiny problem. I don’t like clutter, at all. There was not a surface or piece of furniture that didn’t have stacks of magazines, medical journals, books of all kinds, DVDs and knick-knacks. Every chair, bed, table, and windowsill - packed. As we were saying goodbye, I just kept repeating in my head, it’s fine, not my house, not here to organize, here to type. Head down, work. IT’S FINE.

When she left, Caramel and I made our way around the property, met the neighbours, and had a lovely stroll by the river. Mel was in heaven, I was being eaten alive by every fucking flying bug that exists on the planet. In the summer they clearly vacation in Wentworth. I threw sticks while batting at the air and then I coaxed Mel back to the cabin with a promise of lunch. The heat of the summer was in full swing, the first really smokin' hot days had begun and the cabin was already getting pretty toasty. I opened the front and back doors to get some airflow through the house and then went about organizing a place to write. I moved the magazines off a mid-century chair that was near a rather precarious-looking extension cord so that I could plug in my laptop. I moved a small end table nearby for my notes and water glass, found a footstool and stepped back to look at the situation. If I only concentrated on that small little oasis, it was perfect. I unpacked my laptop, poured another glass of water and sat down to work. 

It only took me an hour to stop trying to check social media, because the reception was terrible, exactly what I wished for. I wrote for 4 hours straight before Mel and I headed out for another trek. This time I bathed in bug spray before opening the screen door. Do you know what Wentworth flying assholes enjoy? Bug-spray. I toughed it out though, I’m a good dog mom and she was having a blast jumping in the river and playing with rocks and sticks.  

We turned in early, I read a book randomly plucked from the windowsill until I fell asleep on the hospital bed that was in the main room. Their parents had loved the cottage and the bed had been brought in when they got older but still wanted to spend time there. I just couldn’t be arsed to clean off the other big bed, which is where Mel decided to sleep. She liked her own space, and the large double bed by the front door was just the ticket. 

The following morning we woke with the summer sun and decided to go across the street to the ski hill and hike up to the top. Such a great way to start the day! Until it wasn’t. We trudged up, Mel doing the hill at least five times to my single assent, near the steepest part of the climb, the long grass became sparse and it was replaced by gravel, which is slippery in sneakers. Down I crashed, swearing the whole time. Mel ran over and gave me a cursory once over to ensure I was still well enough to throw sticks and must have deemed me fine because she bounded off again.  I sat for a minute, took some photos, attempted to will myself to appreciate the view until the stinging stopped and I had picked all of the gravel out of my leg. 

We made our descent just as the morning sun really started to heat up. A quick dip in the river for Mel and we headed back to the cabin to work. I made a second cup of coffee and took my place in my little Norman Rockwell vignette. I began typing. I wasn’t at it for an hour before I saw the first one. A flying ant, on steroids. Then another landed on the table next to me, then another, and another.  I checked to make sure both screen doors were closed, they were. I fished around and found a fly swatter, but it was now Laura versus the Ants. My brother Leiningen, I can now relate to your tale. 

During the coldest months of the year, flying ants must have nested in all the cracks and crevices created by the abundance of paper products in the house. My arrival timed perfectly with the hot air filling the valley, waking them up. I am not someone who is scared of bugs. I am someone who does not choose to share space with them. Or enjoy having them land in my hair, on my hand as I type, in my water. Even Mel was concerned. She may have just been concerned because of the flailing and yelling. 

Outside the horseflies were waiting for me, inside I was fighting a losing battle with giant ants. These were not ideal conditions to write. I think I may have gotten one story down. By 4 pm I’d had it. Cereal wasn’t going to cut it tonight. Mel and I hopped in the car to go in search of a burger and fries. Heading down the secondary highway, listening to a bit of Roxy Music, sunroof open - trying to stay optimistic. There must be a restaurant around here somewhere. We went in the direction of Tatamagouche and arrived just after everything closed for the night, because, pandemic. We turned to head back to the cabin and I remembered that we had passed a convenience store. Going to have to make do. Kraft dinner was perfect, easy, I was quite hungry. Luckily I hadn’t told Mel about the French fries, we had mostly been singing and discussing insect murdering on the drive. 

We walked back into the cabin with a determination to make this work. I boiled the water for my noodles and mixed a drink with long-forgotten booze from the cupboard. I had packed lemons for my water, so my cocktail had a garnish and everything. Mixed up my KD and took a seat in my vintage chair. Picked up my spoon, scooped up a primo bite, and a flying ant promptly landed in the middle of it. And then another one in the bowl for good measure. Cue more swearing. I threw the bowl in the sink and grabbed my computer and bug spray and stormed back outside. We sat by the river, but instead of spraying the spray on me, I kept shooting it at whatever came near. This too made writing quite a challenge.

With the limited cell service, I saw that there was to be an eclipse at daybreak. We packed it in that night as soon as it got dark enough and I set my alarm for 5:30am the following morning. Mel went to her bedroom and I curled back up on the hospital bed with a blanket over me even though it was hot as hell in an effort to keep the ants off me. 

The following morning, after a fitful night of swatting at something and nothing, the alarm went off and Mel hit the floor to come to say good morning. She came into the room, and about five feet from where I lay, hit the brakes, looked under the bed I was in, and booked it back to her room. Awesome. Great. Fantastic. What the actual fuck is under my bed? I called her, but she refused to come back. I was hungry, tired, needed coffee, and there was probably a snake under my bed. couldn't stay there all day.  I hopped from the bed to the floor as far as possible and ran to the kitchen. I could see Mel on the bed by the front door with her ears tucked back looking at me. So brave, what a guard dog. She was a lover, not a fighter. 

I made some coffee and poured her breakfast into her dish. She came into the kitchen, taking a path as far away from the bed as possible in the crowded room, she couldn’t resist breakfast. She ate quickly, keeping one eye on the bed in the corner. As I drank my coffee, I watched the ants waking up from what was probably a very restful night for them. I packed my shit up. Uncle. I’m out, enough relaxing. I lasted two days, 

I don’t know what, if anything, was under the bed. Caramel was a bit of a chicken, it could have been a piece of paper she had never noticed before. Or it could have been a snake. I wasn’t sticking around to find out. 

The rest of the book was written at my kitchen table. Zero bugs, zero snakes. AC. and my darling dog always nearby. 

❤️ Laura

 

 

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