This poem describes a very Canadian ritual. Many cottages nowadays are really holiday houses accessible all through the year and boasting every mod con, but the one in this poem is a log cabin on a small lake. It could only be reached by boat or by a long and arduous trek through the woods. It was first published in Hill Spirits (Blue Denim Press 2012), an anthology of poems and stories by writers from Northumberland County, Ontario.
Shutting up the Cottage
October again and we’re crammed in the car,
Gawping at splotches of operatic trees
singing their swan song, facing south.
Ah! How like Thomson, we cry,
or Jackson, or even MacDonald!
We flick through landscapes, as
though they were plates in a book.
The crowded seats are loudly warm
with bundled children, sweaters, and
the dog. No match though for the heated
colours up against the windows.
Above the hill, a white bird
hangs on stiffened wings,
peers at the brassy copse below
and drops behind the crest.
We’re driving north—but not yet far
enough to register the cold hillsides.
We cling to jewelled showers of falling leaves.
And at the cottage, walking under trees,
a slick, wet shining under sodden feet,
wood paths bubble with
children’s summer laughter.
The water line is coiled and sleeps—
a guardian snake beneath the floor.
The games we played together and the books
we read alone are stacked away.
Essential stores, canned tight against the mice,
are lined precisely on the shelves,
bright soldiers for the winter.
The fire is out and in its ebbing warmth
we bolt the shutters against storms
to come. The padlock on the door will yield
our shelter to a visitor in need,
but hold our secrets fast.
Those evenings when, backs slumped
hands cradled a flange of cards above
the scarlet, painted surface of the table,
faces, convulsed with laughter,
confronting others full of anger and despair.
As cards drifted pale and slippery
into the lamp-lit pool, reddened light
smeared the players’ cheeks, bulging
with the cruel glee of tricoteuses.
The days of plunging into dark water
are over for the year.
The wild adventures and the stories,
that we never told, float under
the rafters waiting for spring.
It’s time to leave,
to turn from winter stalking on
the forest’s edge, spilling down the hills,
on whose northern flanks,
black furrows stripe a field.
A flock of gulls speckles
the ground, like old bones.
The dying grass lies pallid
Against the fence. Clouds
screen great poles of light that
strike pale stones, dark soil alike.
Later, after dusk, we meet
the sequined city. Shuttles of light
weave patterns between the stars
and diamond glitter drives out
memories of autumn colours.
The cabin crouches dark and quiet.