The Return of Cabin Girl


I have come up with a plan that Adam Stein deems “sufficiently asinine” to meet his approval. This verdict is from a man who bussed across China during the SARS epidemic, so I am proud.

Ranger Tim owns a log cabin on Kedey Island in the Ottawa River. It’s a beautiful cottage, built by a retired cop from Ottawa. Not surprisingly, the ex-Mountie didn’t manage to get the logs to fit as perfectly as the Finns who built the Beaver Rock camp in the 1920s, and so this cabin is not exactly winterproof. In fact, Tim clocked it at 26 below in the kitchen last February, with the small woodstove going full blast. I would start weeping and shedding extremities at those temperatures, but then, I am not Canadian.

So I am going to help him to build a small winter cabin before the Ottawa freezes, which should be any minute now. I’m considering it a second autumn. He doesn’t have a job. I don’t have a job. We have copies of A Pattern Language, The Timeless Way of Building, and several worrying titles along the lines of Fun Projects With Your Chainsaw. He just bought an outboard motor, a secondhand chainsaw, and several boxes of woodscrews. I bought steel-toed safety boots. I am all set for Cabin Girl: The Sequel.

Kedey Island is almost civilisation. Just across the river is a village that could be in rural Connecticut, and the bright lights of Arnprior are just six miles away. The Pilates-and-Pinot-Noir yummy mummies of Ottawa’s Glebe are forty-five minutes away. But when you can only leave the island by boat, it feels closer to Laos than London. Water comes from the river. You chop wood to stay warm. You “flush” the toilet with ash from the fire.

Kedey Island cabin

When I arrived from Ottawa yesterday morning, I paddled the groceries across by canoe and then helped prime the pump to squirt Ottawa River water into the washhouse. No more sweet Lake Superior water; this stuff runs brown and silty. The well stinks, so we ferry drinking and cooking water across from a kind neighbour’s house. My tasks so far, other than bringing order to chaos, evicting hundreds of spiders, and making large pots of soup, are mysterious. I will be “chinking”. I will be digging a trench to sink the waterline. I will be splitting wood. I will be…um, sitting on the sofa playing hooky with my laptop while Tim goes to Canadian Tire.

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