Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Saved By Technology

With apologies to the fine and knowingly-named Toronto store, from whom this title was cadged.

In the summer of '01, we attended an enormous family gathering in a rustic cottage on the banks of the Rideau. I was diligently applying myself to a manuscript at the time and had made it a habit to wake early in order to do the work -- seven days a week, no ifs, ands or buts. I followed through on this habit, even at the cottage.

My first morning there, I thought it would be swell to try this on the dock. It looks like an ideal environment for the task, after all -- doesn't it? My watch chimed at 5:30. I pulled myself out of bed, retrieved my laptop, and stole down to the dock.

Half-an-hour into my work, a canoe appeared on the river -- some guy out with his Labrador Retriever. They came closer, and it became apparent he was aiming to use the dock. I smiled and said hello. He scowled at my laptop, glanced away and muttered "Yup". As he drew alongside the dock, his Lab jumped out of the boat and into the water. It suddenly occurred to me this mutt was fixing to greet me. I frantically mashed buttons to save-and-quit. The dog clambered to shore and shook himself off. I had a choice to make. I slapped the computer shut and quickly stowed it before the slobbering, dripping cur came and thrust its snout in my lap.

The dog's owner made an unconvincing attempt to restrain her. The damage done (lost data, safe technology), I resigned myself to putting on a good face: this glum canoeist, I reasoned, might be the cottage owner, and our use of the facilities was given to us at quite a bargain.

I admired his canoe -- a strip-wood beauty of some vintage. "Looks like the sort of craft Bill Mason would have used," I said. The guy brightened. Mason was in fact a friend of the family, and spent time caring for their canoes. He took a deep breath, then said, "Those were very different days."

He talked of how the cottage -- or rather, "The Cottage" -- was a place their family went to in order to escape the tyranny of modern life. Electricity came late to The Cottage; radio came some time later, and an old black-and-white TV set was introduced in the 80s. When you weren't swimming, hiking or canoeing, The Cottage was a place where you read, or played cards and board games -- a retreat that served to reinvigorate you for your vocational life.

"Technology has a way of taking that away from you, and levelling everything out," he said. "Just canoeing this morning, I counted seven new cottages, all larger than ours. All but one of them has a satellite dish on the roof."

"If it makes you feel any better," I said, "I was writing fiction." This appeared to have no effect on him whatsoever, so I thanked him for the cottage, and complimented his selection of books (Gibbon's Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire was there in its entirety). We shook hands, then he and his dog left.

Now, my brother and all my code-writing friends will attest to the fact that I'm all but a confirmed Luddite, but I do think we can be good stewards of new technologies. Later that same day I mentioned the incident to my brother-in-law. "Would he have felt any better if I'd been out there with a pad of paper and a ballpoint pen?" I asked.

He thought it over. "Parchment and quill might have been the safest option," he said.

So what gets me casting back to this strange encounter? This weird picture, on the homesite:

The picture links to this story. Now, here's my question: given the aforementioned encounter and my endorsement of a book like Full Catastrophe Living, am I entirely out-of-order when I think this picture and story are altogether daft?


Trent Reimer said...

The real question is what would you do if you came across the Zen vixen in the aforementioned picture?

I'm thinking the lab would get dunked a few extra seconds to make sure it was in the mood to unsoak its coat all over miss Zen. And if she kept her meditation; a quick five finger discount on the laptop computer before headin' back out to sea - arrrh matey!

Sounds like you defiled this guy's sanctuary and got off with a short sermon, eh? I know when I was involved with wilderness camping we looked at cottages themselves as a scar on the unspoiled wilderness and this gent might have received a "yep" himself.

I suppose the perfect camper would have to go into the bush naked and kill rabits with their teeth. Such a person could then procede to sermonize the mister "is-that-a-coat-of-toxic-shellac-on-your-fancy-cedar-canoe?"'s of this world :)

DarkoV said...

Any picture or story or endorsement or advert of a laptop anywhere close to liquid in larger amounts than a wine glass get me nervous and irritable. I just know something NOT good will happen. Seagull guana on the keyboard. Suntan lotion on the screen. Invisible sand particles in the cd drive. Some beach urchin heaves a sand-glued ball at the laptop, scratching the screen So, I may be the wrong person to be answering this question. The advertisements that have me absolutely seething are the ones that combine sandy beaches with wireless on-line banking. How much longer is that clown's laptop going to work as grains of sand blow around into the nooks and crannies of the machine?
You're a much better man than I am, CP. While I love dogs and cats, that Lab would have been greeted with a swinging foot (and probably a reciprocal bite on the shin form the dog). There you were having an artistic moment and Nature in a boat comes sploshing your way. WTF? You'd paid for use of the cabin and facilities, hadn't you? Visits by minimally hospitable owners shoudl not have been part of the package. Your friendliness is only exceded by the loss of those words. Did you, by chance, find him later on the lake, fishing? Good time to do belly flops around his canoe. The worst that could have happened was that you may have elicited more than a "Yep".

Whisky Prajer said...

TR - "toxic shellac": now that you mention it, that might well be the culprit that finished off Mason, poor sod.

DV - I felt some genuine sympathy for this guy, actually. This was my first exposure to the Rideau, and I was appalled at what a busy thoroughfare it was for motorized boats of every conceivable size - from whiny little Sea-Doos to thunderously gargling "craft", the parade was endless and depressing. Particularly during the weekend, the noise factor was not far removed from that of a busy truckstop. This guy and his mutt were taking the only opportunity available to them for some quiet canoeing.

However, by now you've surely spotted my passive-aggressive tendencies -- I consider this bit of on-line eyebrow-raising my just revenge!

Whisky Prajer said...

Say, did anyone else notice how Daddy's Little Pumpkin brought a bottle of water to her lake-side work-station? An emergency measure, perhaps: if a dunk in the lake doesn't "fix" her computer, an extra splash of French tap-water just might be required.