Winter at the Cottage – by Doug Dodge

Many of you may already know that I am an off-grid boat access cottager at Big Hawk, and this has certainly limited our ability to enjoy the winter months (call me chicken). However, I recently had a conversation with Doug Dodge from Big Hawk. He and his wife Mary-Anne spend a lot of time at their boat-access cottage in winter, so I asked him what winter was really like. Here is what he had to say:

I recently retired and my wife and I have had the good fortune to spend most of the winter months at the cottage. I have always wanted to do this but never knew if I would like it or get bored after spending days upon days ‘up north’ away from the many activities of the city. Well, guess what; I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in this winter wonderland these past few months. I have never been bored nor have I ever got tired of enjoying the splendor of the north in the winter.
A good friend asked whether I enjoyed the summer more or the winter at the cottage. I took a long pause while considering this question. Certainly, there is the obvious beauty of crystal blue skies and pure white snow-covered lakes separated by a ribbon of dark green pine trees. There is however, much more that winter has to offer.
Winter at the cottage presents different challenges and yet provides many unique, rewarding experiences. First, you have to stay warm and so ensuring there is sufficient well-seasoned fire wood is a must. We didn’t know how much wood we would go through having never spent as much time at the cottage in the winter; save for quick weekends and the occasional extra Friday here and there. Turns out that we didn’t have enough stored for maintaining heat in the cottage for weeks on end. Luckily I met another couple across the lake that spends their winter on the lake. They heard of our situation and were generous to give us an extra load of their dry firewood. I had not met these good-hearted folks during any of the 13 summer seasons that I have been on the lake. I consider myself fortunate that our winter presence allowed me to form this new friendship.
In some ways, this should not be surprising. I have found over past winters that I have met more cottagers on our lake and adjacent ones than I have in the summer. Unlike the summer months when friends and family are always eager to visit, the solitude of the winter months allow you to meet other cottagers who are also alone at their cottages. Instead of hanging around and lazing on the dock in the summer, you tend to venture beyond your cottage site and meet the few others who you encounter at the local marina or simply out on the trails. Snowmobiles, cross-country skis and snowshoes allow you to easy explore well beyond the confines of lakeshores. For example, there are thousands of kilometres of snowmobile trails that can take you past some of the most majestic unspoiled scenery that you can imagine. This past week my wife and I snowshoed beyond the back of our property and discovered new hills, streams and vistas that we never knew existed so near the cottage.
In a few days, we are hoping to help a neighbour tap and collect sap from his maple trees. We are anxious to participate in the process of boiling down that sap that becomes the essence of any pancake breakfast. I imagine that tasting the sweet local maple syrup or simply looking at the bottle will remind me again of the enjoyment of this past winter. Indeed, it will be included in our unique opportunities and experiences that winter cottaging have provided us with.
I recently met a lady whose family has been on the lake for years but who never considered going to her cottage during the winter. It seemed that she simply drove up for that particular day just to see what the lake looked like after heavy snowfall a couple of days earlier. She was astounded by the number of cars parked at the local marina and the myriad of activity on that Saturday afternoon. There was a lineup of snowmobiles waiting for gas, ice fishermen scooting by on their ATVs and others asking if she would be here long enough to attend the weekly ‘Garden Party’ held around a bonfire on the ice. It was amusing when she asked how I heated our cottage. I sensed that she was ‘reconsidering’ not having ever come to her cottage in the winter. It seems that I might make yet another new friend on the lake.
If you haven’t reconsidered spending time at the cottage this winter, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Oh yes, that question whether or not I enjoyed the summer more or the winter at the cottage? I vote for the winter.