Sunday, May 10, 2009

"There's a Porcupine in My Outhouse" - a great cabin read

Just finished Michael Tougias' 2002 book, There's a Porcupine in My Outhouse - Misadventures of a Mountain Man Wannabe - about the author's misadventures in his primitive A-Frame cabin in Vermont in the 1980's and 1990's. Michael Tougias has gone on to write more than a dozen books, most recently about tales of daring rescue in New England. He's got a new book coming out next week, The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Cost Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue". In contrast to the topic of his new book, "There's a Porcupine in My Outhouse" is a light-hearted memoir of his early days communing with nature as a new cabin owner. Even in its most introspective moments, the book never gets preachy. He learns to appreciate the natural world around him while experiencing a series of hilarious mishaps. I found myself laughing out loud at so many incidents in the book, most when the author was with his friends, getting into all kinds of trouble. While his interactions with nature are full of wonder, as soon as other humans get involved, the laughs aren't far behind. Despite all the misadventures, it was the cabin that got him started as a writer. The first story he sold was about a fishing trip he took with his two buddies. Highly recommended cabin read.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Calling on Neighbors by Boat

We'd owned our cabin several months before learning the etiquette involved when calling on lake neighbors by boat. We have a small aluminum motorboat. Sometimes it's most convenient to jump in the boat and run up-lake to return a book or an empty piepan. But there are rules. I think they're a throw-back to the days before telephones, when people used to call on each other unannounced. But there's a charming subtlety to it.

1. Approach your neighbor's dock slowly, assessing whether they're home or not.
2. If you think they're home, do not shout or call their name.
3. Instead, you should slowly circle or wait just beyond the end of the dock. You try in this subtle way to attract your neighbors' attention. If it's bad weather, it's OK to pull up and hold onto their dock, but most people won't tie up. Just hold on and wait to see if your friends come out to greet you. If they don't appear you'll know they are not free to talk, and you can be on your way.
4. Most importantly, do not get out of your boat and knock on the door, unless it's an emergency or you're leaving something for them.
5. If you're leaving something for them, leave it inside or next to their 'front' door (the door facing the water).
6. If you're just stopping by to chat, and you see your neighbors are home but they don't come out, just pull away. Usually they'll tell you they saw you, but they were on the phone or in the middle of something very important.

We learned these rules the hard way. We were having dinner at our dining room table that has a view of the lake. Our place is far enough from the water that we can't usually tell who or what is at the end of the dock. A boat circled back and forth several times as we ate, and a woman in the boat waved. Since they didn't come up to get us, we ignored them. We learned later that they wanted to tell us that the mother loon on the lake we'd all been watching had just hatched her chick and was parading it on her back. This was a big event for birdwatchers like us and we missed it. But our friends didn't want to break the rules by running up to the house to tell us, or shouting. Now we know to come outside if someone pulls up to the dock, or makes a couple of passes by.