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July 1, 1999

Sittin' On The Dock of The Bay

Is this the life or what? I'm sitting on the dock at the cottage, the sun has long-since set and the last shades of red are fading from the clouds on the horizon. It's the first long weekend of the summer and I am celebrating it with a glass of Glenlivet on the rocks and the last of my Cohibas, a cigar so smooth and wonderful to smoke that all others pale by comparison. These are heady days, bro. It just doesn't get any better than this. The lake is still and quiet and I am amazed at how tranquil it is up here. Or is it...

Now that I think of it, the constant "glub glub" of water lapping at the underside of the floating dock I'm sitting on gets a little monotonous. It sounds like I'm anchored off Bimini in a fishing boat. But I know this has to be northern Ontario because of the sound those birds above me make as they swoop and dive for bugs. That strange screeching sound has meant Muskoka to me since I was 5 but in all this time I've never known what bird actually makes it. How's that for being in tune with your surroundings? But the background string section is definitely courtesy of crickets. Any kid could tell you that.

The unmistakable hoot of a steam whistle rolls in from the distance. Either someone's shift just ended or the Segwun is cruising nearby.

Two women silently drift around the point across the bay in a canoe. Unfortunately, no one has told them how easily sound carries over water and I am accidentally party to a rather intimate conversation. Canoes should come with warning labels about that. (NOTE: While I don't particularly share your husband's passion for them, white heels with jeans don't necessarily make you look like a slut. If you've got an ounce of class you can pull it off...)

In the cottage to my left, there is a faint but constant mumble of people talking punctuated by brief whoops of laughter. Ten bucks says they're playing cards.

Across the bay a phone rings. It's that office phone warble that is second only to keyboard tapping in the nightmares of foley operators. It rings 18 times. I don't know what is dumber. Calling someone and letting it ring 18 times OR sitting on your dock counting 18 rings on the phone across the bay. Both of us need more to do.

The slow rumble of a CN freight train lumbering along the tracks through Bala drifts by on the breeze. The sound slowly builds and then fades off, never having gotten very close. But it seems to take forever to fade off, the sound dying so slowly that like that last chord of A Day in The Life on Sgt. Pepper, you're left straining so hard to hear its last gasps that you're never really sure when it ended.

Is it just me or has someone been slowly cranking the volume on the crickets?

From across the bay, a screen door whacks shut for the sixteenth time today. Somebody needs a new door return.

"Mom! Jeremy won't leave me alone!" Where the hell did THAT come from? Who is Jeremy? What is he doing? Why do I care?

A truck gears down descending an incline on Highway #169. I'm way too far away to hear traffic from there but the guttural moan of that guy's tranny protesting gravity is loud and clear. I wonder if I could hear an accident? That might be cool in a Cronenbergian kinda way...

Twenty bucks says the card players are drinking. The game keeps getting rowdier and rowdier as the night wears on. A woman's voice that would sound more at home in Brooklyn than Bala squawks, "It's a Pawk Avenya. A Pawk Avenya fer cryin' out loud...".

The phone rings again. Fifteen times. Somebody's in love.

The little gal previously so aggravated by Jeremy lets off a laugh so sharp and shrill that is ricochets off the hills to my right and echoes back after a full two second delay in two staccato burst that sound like a seagull trying to imitate her. No other sound has echoed back like that all night. It must be the register of her voice.

The waves from a boat in the main channel of the lake finally make it into my bay, grinding the floating section of my dock against the cribs of the stationary part. I'm not anchored off Bimini any more, I'm in a creaking pirate ship in heavy seas off Antigua. I pour another scotch and decide to spend the rest of the night with my left eye closed. Arrgghhh.....

A heavily loaded boat pulls away from a nearby dock, the engine labouring against the water it's trying to plow through. It slowly comes out on plane over the course of a minute or so and the engine sinks back into a comfortable drone.

The moon suddenly makes it over the ridge of pines to my left and the effect is like someone turning a spotlight on the bay. The boat at the dock beside mine is suddenly illuminated in a weird dark-sky version of dawn and its big white Johnson outboard seems to be glowing from within. Full moons always weird me out.

A car drives so slowly down the road on the crest of the ridge across the bay that there is no audible engine noise, only the muffled popping sound of gravel crunching under rolling tires.

Some kind of animal crashes through the woods over my right shoulder and it's all I can do to stop myself from looking back. It's probably just a skunk or a raccoon but my imagination has sold me on the scenario that it's a massive, snarling grizzly bear, walking upright and smashing trees aside on its nightly trip to my dock for a drink. Can grizzlies swim? Do they like scotch? They'd better - there is no way I'm wasting the last half of my Cohiba on a peace offering to some stupid bear... I don't care how big he is.

A boat rounds the point and heads across the main channel of the lake, staging its own night-time version of the Molson Thunderboat Challenge. It's running a Chev 350 and the howl of that thing wound out wide open, barely muffled by the water, splits the night like... [Cliche Avoidance System: ON]... like a really loud boat where there didn't used to be one.

A chorus of welcomes arises from the card players. Whoever joined them must have walked over because I would have heard a car. The queen of the Bronx is now yelling, "I TOLD yas it's a Pawk Avenya! I know caws! It's a Pawk Avenya fer chrissakes..."

What ever happened to the still of the northern night? Aren't there supposed to be loons up here? I'm about half a scotch away from going over and telling the card crowd to shut the hell up when the homemade chili that I made for dinner unleashes its inevitable side effect. Unfortunately, the Muskoka chair I'm sitting on turns out to have the acoustic amplification qualities of the soundboard of a Steinway and the resulting low F# had to have been clearly audible across the bay and beyond.

To each his own contribution to the din...

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