Our Network: Camp Comfort Retreats

Bert Desbiens,

March 2, 2006

Walking my dog at Camp Comfort....

I start putting on my walking sneakers and I have hardly begun lacing one shoe that my dog Cara is already prancing around, running back and forth between the door and me.

“Take it easy,” I tell her, “I’m not going to get ready any faster if you keep hopping around like that!”

But that does not stop her. By the time I’ve put the other sneaker on, grabbed her leash and put on my hat, she’s scratching at the door. I open the inner door and she bumps her head on the outer door, looking back at me with her brown eyes as if to tell me to hurry it up, damn it! I grab my coat, toss it across my shoulders, knowing full well that she’ll give me no time to put it on.

I open the outer door and she races across the porch, takes a flying jump, runs around the corner of the cottage and makes a bee line for the lake.

It is barely eight in the morning and the sun has just started baking off the mist that still lingers close to the shoreline on this late spring day. It’s a bit nippy at that hour and I finish donning my light coat while I walk down towards the shore. There’s a big splash announcing that my chocolate Labrador has just jumped into the lake. By the time I reach the shore, she’s already swimming around in circles. A pair of ducks takes off, spooked by the sudden invasion of their peaceful domain, loudly quacking their disapproval.

There are a couple of sticks lying in the water close to the pebbled shore, remnants of yesterday’s numerous fetch-the-stick sessions. I throw one into the water and Cara jumps after it, swimming vigorously. She grabs it in her mouth, does a lazy turnaround and swims towards shore, grunting loudly like a pig, which never fails to make me smile. She drops the stick in shallow water and shakes the water off her coat while I hurry to get out of the way. There’s no way I would want to get wet on this crisp morning.

I pick up the stick and toss it back into the water and she goes for it. We do this several times until the stick routine starts to get a bit boring. Tossing stones into the water gets her going for a while longer but that too soon pales out. She’s a retriever but her retrieving instincts are not that strong. My wife’s cousin who lives in the cottage two lots down with her husband raises purebred working black Labradors and she says that Cara has been bred as a show dog and that the retrieving skill is slowly being bred out of the show variety. “A big fat city-bred show dog” is the expression she uses to describe Cara. This is done in good humour but you can sense behind the gentle jibe that she thinks that her working labs are the best. Her dogs are working dogs and she and her marine biologist husband take them up to the Arctic regularly.

Cara is sitting on her haunches, looking up at me as if to say “What’s next?” Time to do something different that will hold her attention for a while longer. I grab one of the sticks and throw it in the opposite direction, up the path leading around the cottage towards the road. She takes off vigorously and bumps against my leg as she goes by before I have time to get out of the way. She’s done that to me several times before and I should know better by now than standing in her way.

“Cara, damn it, watch where you’re going!” I swear at her. My reprimand does not faze her at all as she’s already running back towards me, the stick firmly in her mouth. I run my hands down my pant leg, wringing out as much water as I can, knowing full well that I’ll have to continue on our walk with a wet leg.

I take the stick from her and toss it further up the path. She takes after it and brings it back. I toss it back and she retrieves and we do this several times as we progress towards the road that services the row of cottages along the lake.
Though I’ve by now seen it many times, I still stop at Kyoko’s Garden and admire the work Tom’s put in so far in the testimonial he’s building in memory of his late wife. It’s still a work in progress that will take another year or two to finish but even in its incomplete stage it is already a sight to behold. They got married on a bright sunny summer day in Disraeli, the Hashimoto clan having come together from far and away to witness the happy moment for one of theirs they knew would be among them only for a while longer. Later that day, we all partook of some meshoui in rows of tables lined outside in the area in front of the shed, under a jerry-rigged canopy made with tarpaulins. Big roasts of beef, pork and lamb roasted on a spit over burning maple logs. Wonderfully good! Just the thought of it makes my mouth water.

We turn the corner onto the service road and Cara runs ahead, having forgotten the stick that I’ve thrown up the way, more interested by now in the multiples scents that she’s been picking up along the way. Hares, partridge, deer are some of the wildlife that we see around here from time to time. As for Cara, she sees them with her nose and she keeps busy sorting out different scents as she inhales and exhales in short rapid spurts, finishing her study of each scent with a brisk blowing out of her nose to purge the remnants of the last scent, getting her nose ready for the next one.
It’s only a short walk until we get to la Petite Gare, a replica of the train stop-off station that used to sit there in the heyday of the train era. Cottagers would come by train from Sherbrooke, Montreal and the USA and, in the other direction, from Thetford Mines, the Beauce region and Quebec City. Several photos of that era are pinned on the Petite Gare’s billboard and, looking at them, you can almost hear the excited banter of people busy getting their children and their baggage off the train, eager to experience anew the relaxing activities that are particular to a well frequented cottage area. The children have hardly got off the train that they’re already running around, teasing each other, playing tag games and being generally obnoxious, as kids who have been cooped up too long in a train wagon are bound to do, and getting a head start on the good times they’re sure to have at the cottage. With a little imagination, you could smell the steam and the coal smoke from the locomotive puffing slowly down the track as it waits for the people to disembark, its little shiny brass bell sitting on top of the boiler rocking back and forth, happily chiming away.

It’s mostly through the efforts of John McManus and people like Tom, I think, that the Petite Gare was rebuilt. Tom was visiting us in Hull a few years ago and explained to us that he had developed a plan to finance the building of the Gare’s replica. A group of cottagers would set up a company and they would sell shares in that company. Individual shares would sell for fifty dollars apiece. Marie and I thought that this was a good idea and, to prove the point, I plunked down fifty dollars right there for Marie’s share as she is a descendant of the Codères, a long-standing family of Lake Comfort cottagers. Tom loudly announced right there that Marie would become the proud owner of share Number One. Months later, Tom delivered the share illustrated as a period document, number one stamped on it.

I take my eyes away from the pictures, looking for Cara, hoping that she has not strayed too far while I was busy reminiscing. She’s a few paces away, her nose buried between dense bushes, sniffing things that turn out after further inspection to be deer droppings, I think. I’m no expert at this thing, but that’s what the stuff looks like to me.
“Come on, let’s go this way!” I steer her towards the abandoned old curvy road that used to be part of the main highway until they straightened it out several years ago. Marie remembers that this road was already abandoned when she was a child staying at the cottages here some forty years or so ago. You can still see large pieces of pavement here and there but most of it has broken into small pieces due to frost action and to vegetation forcing its way through the cracks.

We walk in the direction of St-Gérard until we get to the point where the old road rejoins the present road. There’s a gravel road that takes off on the other side of the highway and it climbs the hill, past farms over there. From the top of that hill you get a breathtaking view of the lake and of the whole area. “Tomorrow we’re gonna go up that hill and admire the view,” I tell Cara. She wags her tail as if she understands what I mean.

I get Cara to turn around and head back. I watch her saunter about, following her nose, sampling scents that abound in the overgrown area. I tell myself that she’s a beautiful animal and that she enjoys a visit at the cottage as much as we do, if not more. Pets and Camp Comfort go together hand in hand, I’m told, and I remember Marie pointing out to me the little makeshift dog cemetery somewhere around here next to the old road. I recall that it’s difficult to spot and it takes me a little while to see it as it lays in an unkempt area and the high grass tends to mask it. Several homemade crosses and monuments adorn the site, some of them have dog tags pinned to them, silent homage to the affection that their owners lavished upon them. I tell myself that, if I were a resident cottager at Camp Comfort, I probably would bury Cara in there when the time came. I’m sure that her soul would rest peacefully alongside the others who are already there.

We cross the access road and continue along the eastern portion of the abandoned road. A couple of minutes later, we come to a wooden bench erected in the shade of some high bushes, put there by some cottager who must have liked to walk this way as much as my dog and I do. That bench was put there by John McManus so that there would be a rest stop.

Every time I come this way, I sit on the bench for a while, rest a little and listen to the birds happily chatting in the trees. My happy thoughts are interrupted by a loud chirp and Cara takes off like a bullet in the direction of a tree standing a short distance away. I follow her and stop next to her. She’s sitting on her haunches and craning up at the tree top. “What is it, girl, that’s got you so excited?” I ask her, looking up at the top of the tree, trying to see what might be causing all this excitement. Loud angry chatter comes down at us, telling us to go away and leave the area to the wildlife. It’s a chipmunk, the loudmouth of the northern wooded areas.

I get Cara away from there and lead her down the road. The old road curves back towards the existing road and we are close enough to have our quiet walk intruded upon by the noise of the big semis speeding along, in a hurry to deliver the goods they’re carrying, their big tires making a loud buzz as they drive close by.

We’re happy right then to turn away from the noise and to take the shortcut that takes us down the steep incline down to the cottage road. It must have been an access road of some sort at some point in the past as it shows distinct signs of having being leveled in some places. We’re only a short distance away from the old railway tracks when I hear a train coming from Beaulac-Garthby. I hustle Cara across the tracks, ask her to come to me because I want to leash her, not knowing how she will react to seeing a train go by. I take her a short distance away and firmly tell her to sit.

We watch as the train goes by. It’s a diesel locomotive pulling half a dozen nondescript boxcars. It’s quickly gone by, leaving in its wake the empty feeling of someone who, as a kid, used to watch a convoy of three giant steam locomotives pulling upwards of one hundred railway cars of varied designs and purposes. Boxcars full of unnamed merchandise, round tank cars delivering chemicals to the processing industries in the area, flatcars carrying construction equipments, automobiles, boats, board lumber and even some whole logs. And the whole thing followed by the caboose which looked to us kids like it was hitching a ride just for the fun of it. At least that’s the way it felt, and the smiling people who rode it and waved at us doing nothing to dispel that crazy notion.

Trains, nowadays have diesel locomotives and no caboose. They’re not fun anymore. It’s no wonder that merchandise prefers to travel by semis these days. If I were merchandise, I would too. If the ride got boring, I’d want to get there as fast as possible.
Leaving those sad thoughts behind, we make our way back towards the cottage. Though it’s still early in the season, we see signs of cottages opening up and being made ready for occupancy. Boat docks around here are of the mobile variety since the water and ice action brings havocs to permanent structures. People take them out of the water in the fall to store them on the shore and put them back in in the spring. Some are pretty rudimentary, ramshackle even, but others are of a fairly intricate design. There’s at least one that I know of that’s equipped with oversized cartwheels. It must be a cinch to put it in the water and take it out at the end of the cottage season.

Loud barking tells us that we are getting close to the cottage owned by Marie’s cousin. I hold on tight to Cara’s leash, eager that she is to race down there and join in whatever dog fun is going on in that pen. There are four black labs in the fenced dog run and they go back and forth from one end to the other, loudly barking at us. We hurry along, not wanting to cause too much of a ruckus. As we get away, I hear someone yelling at the dogs to shut up. It must be Marie’s cousin’s husband and the dogs must know he means business because they shut up almost immediately.
Cara turns into the road leading to the cottage. I keep her on the leash still because I don’t want her to go into the little frog pound that Tom has build as part of Kyoko’s garden. There are toads in there and she knows it.

Marie greets us at the door with a towel and gets busy toweling off the areas of Cara’s fur that have not yet dried up during our walk. “You guys had a good walk?” she asks, busy drying off Cara’s fur. She affectionately ruffles Cara’s ears and Cara tries to get away from the gentle roughhousing that Marie’s giving her. She gets away and gives her coat a final rigorous shake.

“Yes, we scared a pair of ducks, got into an argument with a chipmunk and watched a train go by.” That gets a smile from her.

I go back to the mudroom to hang my dog-walking things and make my way to the kitchen area. I grab a piece of cheese and some green grapes and walk around, looking at some of the picture hanging on the walls. There’s a picture of the inauguration of the Petite Gare with the township’s notables in attendance. Next to it is framed share of the Petite Gare’s company. Also, a group picture taken at Tom and Kyoko’s marriage in front of the church in Disraeli with the Hashimoto clan closing ranks around one of their members’ rare precious moment.

I make my way to the bathroom to get ready for shower but Cara races me for it and stops in front of the toilet bowl. She sniffs the water and looks up at me as if to say “I’d like a fresh bowl, please!” I’m happy to oblige. I turn around and start gathering my toiletries while Cara is busy schlopping in the bowl.

I strip, put on my bathrobe, grab a towel and my shower necessities. By the time I walk across the living area, Cara is already up on one of the sofas. She makes a couple of turns, plunks herself down at one end and rests her head on her crossed paws. She lets out a loud sigh and closes her eyes in contented bliss. Ahh, a dog’s life!
I make my way out, headed for the log cabin and the shower up on the second floor.

Version: 1.0 (January, 2006)