Thursday, 7 August 2014



Summer Bids Adieu, Heads for Door (Us Too)


Our August long weekend is the last party thrown in the full furnace blast of our short summers. Labour Day is still to come but September with its shrinking days always arrives with the breezy, melancholy timbre of dénouement: summer’s been and gone. Here in Alberta, August’s first Monday is Heritage Day. Who knows what they’ve dubbed it in the other provinces and territories as it’s not a federally sanctioned holiday. Dead prime ministers need not bid on naming rights.


Alberta Beach is a village on the shore of Lac Ste. Anne which is a short drive west of Edmonton, just time enough to listen to a single CD. Conveniently located cottage country. Neighbours have asked us ‘out to the lake.’ Our hosts are Don and Dolores. Their vacation property has been in Don’s family for generations. Dolores was born and raised across the road in a lovely, painstakingly maintained house where her mother still lives. Don was the one boy of summer who kept coming back. Dave, their elderly neighbour, an Edmontonian who doesn’t get out to the lake as much as he used to or would like to, was a great friend of Don’s late father. Their game was horseshoes. Their old sandpits have been landscaped over. Don’s and Dolores’s two sons have erected a badminton net on the manicured lawn. Any birdie whapped into the beckoning branches of any pine tree is out of bounds. Rawlings baseball mitts and a CFL football rest on the plank L-shaped deck waiting for later. Plus ca change; generations come and go. Warmly welcomed visitors must necessarily feel like intruders.


For our friends and their extended families these are the good old days. An invited glimpse is a small gift. In the nearby village which has swollen to the size of a boomtown for the long weekend, it’s Polynesian Days. Every structure, every railing, every trellis is festooned with plastic grass skirt drag.


Saturday’s celebration parade is heartbreakingly quaint, organized, assembled and marched from a sepia time. The two lead Mounties in their full dress scarlet serge are applauded; everybody remembers what transpired recently in New Brunswick. The Shriners’ Precision Motor Corps lays mini rubber to the asphalt. The elderly riders are wearing safety helmets instead of Sidney Greenstreet Casablanca fezzes. Maybe an era is ending. Is LinkedIn and its digital ilk killing community-based do-good networking organizations? Decoder rings and secret handshakes are old school. Fire trucks follow ambulances, hangers-on throwing candy at the watching kids. You hope there isn’t a crisis of some sort elsewhere in the county at this moment because the cops, the firemen and the EMTs are all here, boxed in by the two float car jam and the ever-circling Shriners on the main street.


Don is a builder and developer so Don’s family cottage isn’t a cottage at all anymore. He and his boys have worked hard to transform it. The house has more mod cons than our own back in the city. Televisions hang from the walls like fine art. Lac Ste. Anne is relatively shallow. You can slip off the end of the dock and wade for at least the length of a football field before the water level is higher than your head. Awed by the setting and aware of all the effort, I ask Don if blue-green algae is a concern of his. Blue-green algae isn’t a marine plant. It’s a particularly nasty form of bacteria which thrives in proximity to humans as we tend to leak, spill and pump all sorts of interesting fluids and materials into fresh water bodies. The water in Pigeon, a recreational lake less than an hour’s drive south of Edmonton, is toxic with the stuff. Don’t get wet, don’t even think about boiling the water for bathing or drinking and whatever you do, don’t eat the fish. Especially the ones washed up on shore. Don says blue-green algae has been spotted in one remote bay and that it’s not an issue now and it’s unlikely to become one. I dearly want him to be proved right.


There are thousands of wildfires aflame in the boreal forests of western Canada. Their smoke, drifting down from the far north, turns the setting sun bloody. Its strip of red light on the calm surface of the blue lake is as true as a laser pointer. The waning moon rises, a perfect half circle of pale yellow. Chinese lanterns launched from somewhere in downtown Alberta Beach float in a stately orange sequence in front of a startling plain black curtain before burning out. I wanted to see stars.

The calm dawn is eerie. We’re up and about before everyone else. There is mist on the water. The lake and the sky have fused into one monochromatic sheet. There is no horizon. The smoke from our cigarettes blends into the humid morning air. We quietly pack up the silver sports car. We are following cottage etiquette: we brought what was required of us and we will not overstay our welcome even though Don and Dolores have said it’s more than okay. But thanks anyway. Expecting coffee and breakfast would be wrong. We good guests pull out and pull away only to encounter fog on the highway. We’re low-slung and invisible but relaxed, the road home seems clear.

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