My friend Jeannie is building a cottage. It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream, born out of necessity. Jeannie, who’s American, grew up in another cottage on our lake in Ontario. About 60 or so years ago, her father, a former steel man from Pittsburgh, was given a lifelong lease on an ancient hunting and fishing lodge affectionately known as The Cliff House. With no electricity or running water, he transformed the dilapidated old building, sanding the floors by hand, restoring the crumbling chimney, and keeping the bats at bay. Jeannie and her brothers spent their entire summers there, watching the sun set over the lake from the screened in porch. She married and had two children of her own. There were many dinners and cocktail parties in that old lodge. Jeannie’s dad, an avid fisherman, would host a fish fry every summer, and we’d have G&T’s on the porch, and cocktail sausages served up on original Fiesta ware. Then, Jeannie’s mother died of Alzheimer’s. Her husband, a man who never knew how to be happy, upped and left her, and then her father died. And when her father passed on, so did his lifetime lease. The owners needed the Cliff House back, or some such nonsense. I don’t know what their plans are, but for the past three years, it has sat there, windows boarded up, paint peeling, slowly slipping back into dereliction. “What a shame”, people said, as they cruised past the lodge. “What’s Jeannie going to do?’”


Jeannie decided she needed a place of her own, for herself and her two grown children. Enough of these lifetime leases; Jeannie went and bought a huge piece of land, bigger than she needed, and certainly more expensive, but it was the only plot available. It has a marsh, populated by turtles and blue herons, and plenty of shoreline. It does not, however, have hydro, or running water, or any easily accessible spot on which to build a cottage. Nor does it have a road. “Jeannie’s lost her mind”, people said, as they cruised past the marsh. “How’s she going to build a place there?” Undeterred, Jeannie bought some cottage plans, and retained a local contractor. That was well over two years ago. An unseasonably rainy summer last year delayed things considerably, but Jeannie never faltered. In fact, she just moved in last week, even though the place is nowhere ready. She is hooked up to water and propane, and she arranged to have two massive white linen Restoration Hardware sofas hauled up the hill, so she’s sitting in style, like Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. “Jeannie’s nuts”, people said, as they helped themselves to hors d’oeuvres at her opening cocktail party. “White linen?”


Along with the herons and the turtles, Jeannie inherited some other wildlife. Turns out that the property used to be a bait site for bears. In other words, guides would feed bears to populate the area for hunters. So Jeannie has bears, the way city dwellers have raccoons. You know what Jeannie DOESN’T have? Doors. That’s right – the doors that were ordered are the wrong size, so right now she’s making do with screen doors. Twice she’s had a bear show up in the middle of the night, peering through the kitchen door like a nosy neighbor. So far, it hasn’t tried to come in, but it’s just a matter of time before a Jeannie sandwich seems like a good idea, and those white linen couches look awfully comfy.


It doesn’t seem fair to have a bear, not after everything she’s been through, but Jeannie isn’t one to back down. This land is her land, hard fought and well won, and she’s not going to let some hairy interloper get in her way. “Jeannie’s crazy”, people say, “but you gotta feel sorry for the bear”.


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