We are fortunate to have a modest summer home in the bush (woods) on a hill near Lake Winnipeg. This is our retreat, our place of renewal. A place where we feel at one with nature. But nature likes to surprise us.
This is a mystery story, so if you like mysteries don’t skip to the bottom because it will be like reading the last page of a who-dun-it before you have reached the end of the novel.
Like many mysteries there is some degree of background needed to get a full picture.
First you need to know that we have an English son-in-law who is a very handy and hardworking fellow. He says he doesn’t like to be idle. When he comes to visit us with our daughter and granddaughters there are always projects waiting for him, if he feels like taking them on. T and I get on well and enjoy working together. But sometimes our work plan isn’t fully thought out. That’s more about me than T.
I’ll tell you about a project that I hadn’t planned well. We wanted to renew the parking pad for my wife’s car. The ground was low and would get muddy. I wanted to build it up and put three inches of crushed gravel on top.
They sell gravel by the cubic yard, which meant I had to calculate the number of cubic yards needed for my project. Let me say, right now, mathematics and I do not get along. I am so grateful for calculators and computers. When I used to have to balance my cheque-book by hand, if I was within $5 of the bank statement I just assumed they were right and made an adjustment.
Anyway I understood a yard to be 36″ and a cubic yard to be 36x36x36 cubic inches. So 46,656 cubic inches equals a cubic yard. I thought I had two options, I could find how many inches long, wide and deep I wanted the pad multiply those inches and divide by 46,656. I decided dividing by 46,656 would be a challenge. Another way would be to use feet and decimals of a foot. Realizing that 3x3x3 would be twenty-seven and a little easier for division. The other option was to use the length in feet and partial feet and divide that by 3. Take the same calculation for the width, multiply those two together to get the area in yards then work out what part of a yard 3″ was. That should be easy, just divide the cubic area by something. I can’t remember exactly what I did but the answer came out to seven cubic yards. I ordered the seven yards.
T and I waited expectantly for the delivery of a nice pile of gravel to be dumped in the middle of the car pad from which point we could rake it smooth.
When the dump-truck dumped the load, T and I stood there with out mouths open. I think I may have made some movements with my mouth but no sounds would come out. I did feel a little dampness around my eyes. Do you have any idea how big a pile seven yards of gravel makes? We could have gravelled over the whole back yard to three inches deep. Apparently my calculation wasn’t quite correct – I must have missed a few divisions as what we really needed was three cubic feet.
T and I considered our problem (notice it has now become our problem – a problem shared is a problem halved!) Too bad it didn’t halve the amount of gravel!
Well we decided we couldn’t possibly use that much gravel for the car pad or it would be several feet high and need a ramp or swing hoist to get the car on top.
We found several places around the house where gravel would like nice and provide some drainage. I don’t know how many barrows full of gravel we shovelled and wheeled and dumped all around the property, but it was many. Finally we used a lot of gravel to fill up an area behind the garage that was too narrow to use for anything. This had been exhausting work and we were pretty done for the day. And we still had about three and a half yards of gravel left in the pile to make the car pad.
It turns out that raking a pile of gravel to make a nice smooth pad is also very heavy exhausting work. I don’t think T had stopped speaking to me because he was angry, I just think he was unable to speak in his exhausted state. It really didn’t help when my daughter and wife came out as spectators to watch. Women can say some very annoying things at times like this. But at least they had some great entertainment value out of my ineptitude. Still, I got my own back every time my wife had to drive her car up and onto her very high car pad. It was like the ‘DEAL of the WEEK’ where the car dealership displays one particular car on a high ramp! Naming the car pad Mount Rod seemed to be going a bit far when the neighbours got into the act.
But, this is just background to the actual project and subsequent mystery that I want to tell you about.
It was about five years before T and family came back for a visit. I don’t think the project was the reason for this lengthy absence. ON their next visit we all decided to spend the time at our summer cottage.
My daughter asked “Any projects for T, Dad?” – there was a look of the imp about her. Well, it just turned out that my wife and I had been thinking about how nice it would be to have a natural looking pond on the property. We are located on the edge of the Precambrian shield, which has lots of huge boulders and rocks – mainly dense, heavy granite. But our property is also mainly sand as we are at a high point on an ancient lake formed by a melted glacier (Lake Agassiz). Lake Agassiz is gone now but has left behind two huge lakes Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. There are two beautiful outcroppings on our property that with my artistic eye I could see would make very dramatic sides to a 7 foot long pond. All we had to do was dig out the sand in a nice curve and put down a rubber pond-liner. Sand is not hard to dig and compared to gravel quite light to move around in a wheelbarrow, if we had one. There was a smallish looking rock in the middle of the area, but we thought that should be quite simple to move.
T agreed this would be a good project and a pond would make a lovely feature for the property. We could imagine a couple of chairs under the trees, perhaps a few goldfish swimming around, some pond plants and maybe a couple of cool beers to sip on, as we contentedly contemplated our completed project in the warm summer breeze.
We decided to get started right away.
Digging out the sand went fairly well – except the old wheel-barrow had developed a major rust hole and wasn’t of any use. Carrying the sand away in pails required a bit more, well a lot more effort. Then we started to hit rock. We used a metal pole to tap down – the rock was quite extensive. We found the edges of the unto-now hidden rock. We started to dig down. Honesty requires me to note that T digs a lot more efficiently and effectively than me. It seemed only right therefore that he should do the majority of the digging. I am good at making tea in the morning and pouring beer in the afternoon. I can also make exceptionally encouraging remarks.
We got to the bottom of a large rock. Now the question was how we would get it out of the excavation. The edge of the pond was about two feet deep. We tried lifting. I am still seeing a specialist about my back. We then tried leveraging and rolling. Well, morning turned to noon, noon turned to afternoon. Afternoon turned to late afternoon. A few moments of rest had us reminiscing nostalgically about the gravel project which in hind-site seemed like fun compared to our pond fiasco.
However, we finally finished the excavation, removed the smaller of the rocks and made a feature, an island, out of the largest rock. We installed a heavy rubber liner and made an intricate fold-over at the edge to ensure no leaking over the rim, and finished off by digging up and carefully placing flat rocks all around the edge. We wanted the pond to look as natural as possible. T and I were very pleased with the final effect and it was with some pride that we filled the pond from the hose. The subsequent water fight involving the whole family did get a bit out of hand. Personally I consider it a foul for my daughter to be hiding behind the kitchen door with a full bucket of water (still a little sandy from the pond project), and dumping the whole cold bucket-full over my head as I was backing away onto the deck from the main fight.
After T and family had left and returned to Jolly Olde, we acquired some pond plants in pots so they could be removed over winter.
We went back to work and visited the cottage on weekends. The next Friday evening we were somewhat surprised to find the water level of the pond had dropped considerably during the week. We checked the liner very carefully and could find no holes or leaks. We refilled the pond. The next week the water level was once again down. Also, some of the plants had been tipped over. Perhaps it had been very windy during the week. We did wonder what was going on.
We refilled the pond, straightened out the plants and left the hose submerged in the pond ready to refill the next week!
We came back the next weekend. The hose was no longer in the pond – it had been dragged across the grass. The plants had been thrown into the shrubbery around the pond and the water was once again at a low point. So was my humour.
I wondered what could be happening. The hose and plants could be raccoons, but we hadn’t seen any for a couple of years. The plants could have been knocked over by deer – but not likely thrown into the bush. And with no holes or tears in the liner where was the water going? It was a mystery. I didn’t think our neighbours looked suspicious and they seemed friendly enough…
Having refilled the pond and set it straight we decided to go down to the beach after lunch. The weather had been very hot and a swim seemed really inviting. We have a neat little trail through the bush that takes us to the edge of our property onto a road a couple of minutes down a hill to the lake and beach. One time, when the mosquitoes were particularly bad, the girls named our private trail ‘The Tunnel of Doom’. During those times the four of us would run through the trail as fast as we could to avoid the mosquitoes.
This particular day, when returning along the trail/path at about 3pm, one of our daughters was in the lead, she suddenly stopped and pointing through the trees quietly said “bear!” Sure enough there was a bear on the other side of the trees. A big male Black Bear. We quietly and carefully went past and retreated to the deck. Did I mention the cottage is located in bear country? Our view is, they were there first, so we need to respect their right to be there and the fact they are wild animals, even though they do become used to the presence of people. Most of the time Black Bears will do all they can to avoid contact with people. They are exciting to see and beautiful to watch from a safe distance. It’s a real privilege to share their territory.
But, back to our bear. As we watched him from the relative safety of the deck, sitting very close to the easily opened back-door, we saw him slowly climb down into the cool water of the pond. He lowered himself into the water, submerging himself as far as he could. You could almost hear the sigh of relief as he cooled down his very warm body. The coat of a Black Bear is extremely thick and must make it un-bear-ably hot (ok unintended pun there). We were fascinated and quietly went to get a camera and binoculars. We don’t know what happened to our originals or large-scale prints, another mystery, but I have included three ‘snaps’ of our bear below. In the middle photo you can see how he has opened his mouth and has a look of relief.
But why was the water disappearing? At first I thought his long sharp claws had pierced the bottom of the liner. But there were no tears or punctures to be found.
When he got up from his bath and got out of the pond we saw what was happening. Despite his coat having waterproofing oils – when soaking for some time his fur collected a huge amount of water. After getting out of the pond he would shake himself and a great shower of pond water went flying around the surrounding area.
The next day was Sunday. We were in the back, on the deck, at three in the afternoon, when along came our bathing friend. Once again he lowered himself gratefully into the cool pond water (which we had topped up again) and stayed submerged up to his chin for about ten minutes. He could see and hear us as we sat on the deck but totally ignored us. Every day we were there that summer, our bear would come along at three o’clock (almost on the dot) and take his bath. I swear he carried a towel and a bottle of beer with him. The mystery was solved. Each day Mr. Bear soaked up and removed a large quantity of water. If the plants got in his way he just gave them a pat from his huge paws and they would go flying onto the bush. He also did not like the hose being left in the pond. Perhaps he was a little obsessive compulsive, we didn’t ask.
The next year we had young children visiting quite regularly, so the idea of encouraging a large Black Bear to come by for a swim didn’t seem such a good idea. Reluctantly I drained the pond, removed the liner and started to fill in the excavation. So Lake T as the pond had been known was no more. We didn’t see the Black Bear again. He may still have been going by on his rounds, but he wasn’t stopping by.
It was about this time, apparently, that T started singing the old Bernard Cribbins song “Hole in the ground”. For those who understand this reference, I do not and never have owned a bowler hat. (click on the link to hear the song).
Thanks for stopping by.