The cottage tradition continues

Shoreline in the evening.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The smoke from the evening campfire rose up and over the cottage my parents had built three decades ago. Stars and planets were beginning to twinkle through the broken canopy of the mixed hardwoods that clung tight to the steep hillside.

Through the thicket down the hill, the lake shimmered with the evening’s last light. All was still except for the crackle of the fire and a few katydids.

We humans broke the spell with inquisitive conversation. The couple with whom my wife and I shared this pleasant woodsy setting was new to the cottage neighborhood. For them, it was a dream come true to own a cottage an hour from home where they could find peace and quiet away from his busy construction work.

The Briar Hill fireplace that is the centerpiece of the cottage.
My father had made it clear that he wanted the cottage to stay in the family after he was gone. To honor that desire more than fulfilling my own dream, my wife and I purchased the cottage the year before my father died in December 2009. It has been a labor of love and restful retreat ever since.

Dad had had cottage fever for a long time. When a small building lot became available 50 years ago on his favorite fishing lake, he bought it for $500. I think he actually had to borrow the money to complete the deal. That’s how passionate Dad was about making his dream come true.

Design and construction of the cottage followed a decade later. Contractors laid the foundation, and built the massive sandstone chimney, which is the cottage’s centerpiece. Its earthy colored stone came from the Briar Hill scrap pile in Glenmont, Ohio.

There was nothing fancy about the cottage in either its style or structure. Basically a 24 by 24 foot square building, our artist mother realized setting the cottage on the lot diamond-like would enhance the view from inside and out. It was a most excellent decision.

Deer often pass close to the cottage.
After it was framed, Dad was determined to finish out the cottage on his own. In other words, he had lots of help from friends, family and hunting and fishing buddies.

Dad was way ahead of his time. He repurposed as much of the building materials as he could in the cottage. That included some white oak lumber he obtained on the cheap, and had planed smooth. It became the porch held up by beams he had salvaged from the old roller coaster at Meyer’s Lake Park in Canton, Ohio.

To Dad’s delight, many family gatherings were held on that porch. The problem was that Dad only saw the cottage as it originally was, not as it really was as it aged.

The porch, for example, began to deteriorate, despite Dad’s patching efforts to keep it repaired. As our families expanded with grandchildren, Dad’s organized gatherings became smaller and as tenuous as the porch itself.

When we bought the cottage and began the remodeling process, the first thing to go was the old porch. Dad wasn’t too happy with me. While he and Mom were still mobile, my wife and I gave them a tour of the refurbished cottage on what was to be Dad’s last Father’s Day.

A view of the cottage from the campfire circle.

Today we use the place as a get away to renew our spirits and connect with nature. Just like Dad, we particularly enjoy hosting others.

Like our new neighbors, we wanted Dad’s cottage dream to continue. Gazing upon that heavenly host of constellations, I think I saw Dad winking his approval.

The campfire circle hosts many enjoyable conversations on summer evenings.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Revitalization weekend at the cottage

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been an unusually stressful week for me. You would think that in semi-retirement, stress wouldn’t even be in my vocabulary. But it is.

Without going into the sordid details, here is a sampling of the week’s chain of events that had sent me over the top by Friday’s end. My six-year old grandson got whacked in the face with a metal baseball bat. The next evening, his daddy severely injured his right knee rounding first base in a softball game.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh
Our 10-month old granddaughter, Maren.

The following day our daughter reported that our 10-month old granddaughter’s first tooth finally had broken through. In and of itself, that was a good thing. However, Miss Maren was still pretty cranky, with other teeth ready to make their appearance.

Other nerve-racking events oozed into our normally quiet lives in Ohio’s Amish country, too. For confidential reasons, I won’t reveal the nasty details, other than to say one of the logjams required a plunger.

Clearly you can see that the weekend getaway to our cottage was just what the plumber needed. It was the necessary salve to my pent up emotional sores.

First of all, my wife and I feel fortunate to have the cottage my parents built in 1975. We purchased it from them a couple of years ago and finished it the way my mother had always envisioned it would be.

The cottage’s location alone has several advantages. Its rural hillside setting on the natural shoreline lake is the most obvious. Having good neighbors who own other nearby cabins is another.

The cottage by Bruce Stambaugh
Our cottage retreat in southeast Ohio.

But the cottage makes for an ideal sanctuary for other reasons. We have no landline. Cell phone reception is marginal at best. There is no television, no email, no Internet. Other than electricity, the cottage is the epitome of electronic reclusiveness.

Right after we arrived Saturday morning, we went to work cleaning up inside and out. Though the cottage was locked up tight and unused for a couple of weeks, insects not surprisingly managed to make themselves at home. My wife soon took care of that.

Meanwhile, I donned gloves and pruners and attacked the weeds with a mission. That’s no easy task on a steep slope that falls away quickly to the graveled lane below. But just being out in the fresh air was invigorating, and the exercise personally beneficial.

The real blessings came at the marvelous supper my wife prepared. We ate the tasty meal on the open-air deck.

For dessert, we simply sat on the porch and watched and listened. Cicadas intermittently sang their monotonous song. Colorful butterflies enjoyed the sweet fragrance of various wildflower blossoms.

Butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
A tiger swallowtail butterfly enjoyed a variety of wildflowers.

A Carolina wren serenaded us with its luscious calls. Chickadees and tufted titmice played and fed in the surrounding mixed hardwoods. Cardinals sounded their evening songs. A great blue heron grunted from water’s edge, hidden by the forest curtain.

A gentle breeze rustled the nervous leaves of a quaking aspen. Human induced sounds intruded, too. We have accepted the fact that lawnmowers, weed eaters, shouting children, dogs barking in the distance are all part of the cottage life at times.

Altogether this harmonic mishmash of sights and sounds must have worked its magic. I slept 11 hours that night.

With those revitalizing results, we should embrace the cottage’s graciousness more often.