Monday, August 8, 2011
The Log in Question
We were not yet arrived at Georgian Bay’s Belle au Clair beach on the 14th concession before B - alerted us to the latest contretemps among the cottagers. A piece of driftwood is a key player in this drama. As pieces of driftwood go, it is remarkable for its length and straightness. From its top to its tangled roots it is one straight shot, uninterrupted by branches or bends. As a pivotal player in a dispute, it is remarkably unremarkable.
B -’s Georgian Bay cottage is rented out for the month of July. For the past seven years she has rented to the same family, who are also friends with the neighbors on the beach. So the renters are no strangers to the beach and its dramatis personae. This is all by way of background.
This past month, the renter noticed the driftwood that – as driftwood is wont to do - had drifted up onto their bit of beach, that is, B -’s beach. Perhaps now would be a good time for a disquisition on beach ownership as it is adjudicated in Canada, with pithy allusions to beached whales, royal prerogatives and of course the Fast Fish/Loose Fish chapter in Moby Dick. The renter – we will call her Wendy – determined it would make an excellent table and stump chairs for sitting round her children’s bonfires. She called B -to inquire about this and left a voicemail. Not hearing back, she gassed up her chainsaw* and headed down to the beach. She yanked expertly on the starter cord and the chainsaw roared into life; its metallic shriek ripped through the peaceful susurrus of the waves like unmuffled Harleys in a nursing home parking lot.
Wendy had barely applied the rotating blade to the tender wood when Odette from the Island-that-is-no-longer-an-Island came rushing down the slope, over the causeway and onto the beach. Because a chainsaw is very noisy and drowns out all other sounds, Wendy was not aware of Odette’s approach. It was only when Odette stood directly opposite her on the other side of the recumbent driftwood, bellowing, “Stop this right away. You have no right,” that Wendy jerked upright, clutching and even proffering the still-roaring chainsaw.
(I do not know much about Odette, other than her persona non grata status on Belle au Clair Beach, but I am assuming that she missed the important childhood lesson to never startle or bother someone in possession of an operating chainsaw. This is how accidents happen.)
It was not reported what exactly was Wendy’s initial response to Odette’s exhortation. Versions differ. Gloria from two cottages down swears that Wendy told Odette to go back to the Island of Dr Moreau and stay there. Hugo says that Wendy reverted to her native Hungarian and emitted an aria of Slavic curses. According to Mr. Mitch in the pale green cottage, Wendy wordlessly brandished her still-roaring chainsaw in Odette’s direction.
Whatever was or was not said, all agree that Odette stood her ground.
Eventually Wendy switched off the chainsaw’s engine, to better enable the beach to hear the discussion.
Odette said, “That log is on our part of the beach. You are violating our property.”
Wendy said, “Look carefully, O-dette. The log is on the Barley’s beach and B - doesn’t give a flying fuck if I carve up a piece of flotsam.”
Odette said, “Please don’t use that language in front of my children.”
Wendy said, “I’ll say flotsam any time I damn well please. “ She mimed scanning the horizon and then said, “I don’t see any children.”
Odette said, “So long as you and your tools of destruction stay off our beach, your language can be as vile as you like.”
By now Gloria, Mr. Mitch, Hugo and Mrs. Hugo had ventured from their sections of the beach and stood at a safe but audible distance from the log in question and the interlocutors.
Wendy said, “It is the Barley beach and if you want to file a lawsuit over it, feel free. I am sure the judge will be delighted to see you guys back in court.” (For reasons that shall be explained later, this barb was particularly well-aimed. For now I will simply say that Odette and her husband - for whom lawsuits were mother’s milk, bread and butter, and their raison d’être -had recently lost an expensive battle over beach rights with their neighbors on the other side, and their loss was the cause of much merriment and glass-clinking up and down the beach.)
Odette retorted, “You are wrong. This part of the beach is shared property between ourselves and the Barley’s. Notice our tire tracks.”
Wendy said, “You are the one in the wrong. Again. Just because the Barley’s have allowed you an easement to drive to the island is no way means you have property rights. Where did you study law? Transylvania?”
Odette said, “I am not going to allow you to make this spectacle, and threaten me with your vile machine.”
Wendy said, “Who is threatening whom? Did I order you off the beach? Think again.”
Odette stood taller and said, “Until you can show me legal documents that prove this is the Barley’s sole property and that you have permission to destroy this piece of driftwood, I insist that you stop what you are doing. Immediately.”
Mrs. Hugo, who spoke so little that no one on the beach even knew her first name, interjected: “Do you really care that much about a piece of driftwood? Is it worth all this aggravation?”
Both Odette and Wendy ignored her reasonable question. Mr. Hugo patted his wife’s shapely buttocks as if she were a donkey.
Wendy gripped the chainsaw’s starter cord as if she might yank it into life again.
Odette said, “I will have the police issue a Cease and Desist order if you do not put that down immediately.”
Wendy said, “Just because you have a sleazy trial lawyer at your beck and call doesn’t give you the right to harass your neighbors.”
Mr. Hugo piped up, “I don’t think anything is being accomplished here. Why don’t you both go into your respective cottages and have a few cocktails to calm down. “
Odette’s final shot, spoken as if to the rapt audience at the Royal Theatre, “The last time Wendy had a few cocktails they could hear her off-key Marseillaise all the way to Penatanguishene.”
Wendy brandished her chainsaw once more but found herself at a loss for words. She strode over the dunes back to her cottage. Up on the sweeping deck she started the chainsaw up one last time, and revved it to make sure the sound carried all the way to the island.
*You are no doubt wondering, as did we, about the likelihood of a family arriving at their summer rental with their personal chainsaw. We can neither explain nor verify this detail.