Get Off My Back!

My favorite term during the summer months is “cottage” and I’m not referring to the kind that’s followed by the word “cheese.” I will confess that neither my husband nor I are your typical campers. We’re not really roughing it when we’re staying at the same cottage that we’ve rented for the past two summers in the Finger Lakes region.

We spend the majority of our days attempting to suntan, and by noon we resemble over-boiled lobsters. We laze around the dock reading cheap magazines, filling each other in on the latest Elvis sighting or alien invasion. A waterfront property with three bedrooms, ceiling fans and scalding hot water, it’s not exactly your quintessential camping experience.

Do I miss battling the winds while trying to set up camp? Do I yearn to be woken up at six in the morning, blinded by the sun piercing in through a hole in our tent that even a strip of duct tape refuses to cover? Do I dream of resembling a drowned rat after an evening of rain? After much consideration, the answer is still a resounding NO.

Instead of a sleeping bag, I slip effortlessly beneath our sheets that smell “Mountain Fresh” like a glistening drop of morning dew sliding down a single blade of grass. I close my eyes, soaking in the sounds of bullfrogs croaking and crickets chirping like a dry sponge in water. I was made for cottage life, even if my idea of getting back to nature consists of buying herbal toothpaste and organic firewood.

We affectionately nicknamed the fire pit area “Proposal Pit” since that’s where my husband proposed. A true romantic, he waited until nightfall when the campfire sounded like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, the evening sky peppered with a thousand winking stars. When I finally managed to squeal out a delighted “yes!” to his proposal, he immediately reached down into the murky waters of Cayuga Lake and pulled out a bottle of expensive champagne. Smiling, he claimed the bubbling beverage to be “naturally chilled.”

Besides romance, my other weakness is for canoes. I love to canoe out across the mirrored waters of Cayuga Lake in hopes of spotting a baby beaver, or possibly even a crane. Members of the reptile and amphibian family need not apply, and Girl Guide or not, I still could not “Be Prepared” for my wildlife adventure last summer.

Having memorized every rock and lily pad for miles around, we decided to venture out with our blue-green spruce colored canoe in a nearby swamp. We portaged over a gravel road and dropped our canoe into the swamp, splashing ourselves in the process. Having only to swat at every third bug or so, I was thankful to have remembered to coat myself with as much bug spray and sunscreen as a muffin tin.

We canoed in swampy waters for over an hour, basking in the afternoon sunshine and paddling our way around tiny countries of algae, lined with tall fence-like bulrushes. Having grown up with a swimming pool, I was reluctant to get out of the canoe unless it was absolutely necessary. My husband laughed at me as I flattened myself like a pancake in order to get under a small bridge, getting a sliver up my nose in the process.

Shortly after we shimmied our canoe over an abandoned beaver dam, we saw a family of ducks. They were the cutest little balls of fuzz I had ever seen, so naturally I wanted to watch their swimming lessons from a closer angle. The water was as shallow as my ex-boyfriend at this point, so I was forced to get out of the canoe.

Wearing my husband’s flip-flops that were five sizes too big, I had to be careful where I stepped. Steadying myself with my trusty paddle with every step I took, I selected the biggest and flattest rocks to make my way towards the fuzzy ducklings. I was in midstep when I happened to glance down at the perfectly rounded rock that I was just about to step on.

I froze, disbelieving what I saw. I had almost stepped onto the back of an enormous turtle, its shell the approximate size of a pickup truck tire. I felt the color drain from my face despite the fact that we had been tanning all week. Slowly, I pulled my foot back and waited for my body to reconnect with my brain.

I wanted to scream and jump back into the canoe. I needed to paddle away from that ghastly looking beast as fast as my flabby arms would take me. Unfortunately I had read one too many alien invasion stories and I feared an attack from the killer turtles. As a result, my husband’s name escaped my lips as no more than an audible whisper.

It felt like days before he finally noticed my panic-stricken stance. Expecting to see something closer to a tadpole than Jurassic Park, he viewed the prehistoric looking creature in the same manner that I had. From inside the canoe.

We stared at its scaled legs and dragon-like tail protruding from its enormous body. I felt indescribably relieved that I noticed him before I decided to engage in a game of hopscotch on his back.

It was at that moment that I remember wishing that I was in a turtle-pool, instead of being in a pool-of-turtle. Armed with our paddles, we forgot all about the ducklings. I took extra caution on the return trip to the cottage. I poked and prodded at every rock with the butt of my paddle before even placing so much as a toenail on it.

To this day, I have no desire to go to Turtle Island, nor to purchase any Turtle Wax. I still hesitate when people pass around the box of chocolate Turtles at Christmas time. It may be true that you can’t rush a turtle, but take it from me, the reverse is definitely not true!


by Lorraine Archer
Lorraine Archer enjoys visiting the Finger Lakes region. She resides in Ontario, Canada.