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  • Catherine McBride

Cabin Life

Ewings Landing, also known as Wit's End, is an appropriate moniker for a run-down cabin on the west side of Okanagan Lake, one that is still standing despite the intense forest fires that took out places next door, literally. The area is a disaster zone, in the midst of people rebuilding or giving up, having lost everything, including the heart required to start over. That's not why we were there, however. We were there to replace a front deck, quick and dirty.

The project came via mining exploration. This is how the world works, you meet someone, do a job together, they like you, they ask if you can do something related in a different location. Sure. Why not spend a week at the lakefront property, camping in the middle of a deconstruction/reconstruction zone?

Wit's End. Without much investigation, it was obvious that the new construction would be supporting the rest of the building. It was rotten and the roof was pulling off of the house.

"All I want is a party deck," said the owner. "Build it like a drill pad."

For reference, a drill pad is built with rough cut lumber, bulky posts, ready rod bracing and no stairs. No fine finishing. Which seemed in keeping with what we found at the location.

Clutter. Old pieces of furniture, broken bricks, brand new patio furniture, a fantastic Weber barbeque, planks of rotted wood, jars full of discarded knickknacks. The place was a jumble of history and neglect. Victorian loveseat with brocade upholstery and rosette armrests, a child's bucket and shovel, garden tools, old canning jars, rusty watering cans, and summer art projects that were never finished. That was just the stuff on the deck. We cleared all of it onto the lawn and went to work.

Demolition is interesting. It's slow, tedious and frustrating. The temptation is to smash, break and burn what is not usable. Pulling rusty nails from rotted wood can make a person highly impatient. Fortunately, the crew boss is not one of those people. He carefully preserved some of the original materials.

As we got the deck down to its essentials, its details were revealed.

The cabin itself was unoccupied for the week. We were invited to stay inside and now that we were there, and it was cold, that night, we moved in. Groceries, dog, work boots and all.

It felt like a continuation of the previous summer, our work family was back together. Same people, new location.

It's a strange experience to inhabit someone else's life. Unexpectedly, the fridge was full, the cupboards were jammed with duplicates and triplicates of things people take to the cabin. We stacked our Rubbermaids in the already cramped kitchen and treated it like a regular camping backdrop, we'd rest on its surface and leave no trace.

But that's not what happened. Tom Waits put it this way in a lyric: "We take on the dreams of the ones who have slept there."

The work progressed. We lunched on the dock, ate late dinners and indulged in prolonged sessions reading by the woodstove. Pictionary happened. The more time we spent inside, the more we got to know our absent hosts, through their bookshelves, their vinyl collection, grandma's hand-crocheted couch throws and cut glass ashtrays. The liquor cabinet from yesteryear. All the so-called junk took on new meaning - it was valued, it had history. These things connected all of them to their roots, to this place and to the reason they wanted it to stay the way it was.

Our work family unit became part of their history. We drank from their cups, cooked with their spices and we were careful not to disturb the flowerbeds or get the wallpaper dirty. We replaced everything we used exactly where we found it.

Cabin life moved in. Pranks, jokes, playlists. Teasing. An Easter Sunday dinner that smoked us out because no one thought to check if the oven was dirty. Text messages and phone calls home. Paddleboard evenings and the dog, straining to get at resident gophers and deer.

As we got closer to completion, the finishing touches crept in. We were invested, we cared, we wanted this place to be better than we found it. The decking went through the planer, both sides, before being rounded off with a nice router edge. We made the railing wide enough to hold several drinks and spaced the spindles so that no small heads could fit through and no small bodies could crawl underneath. Sanded for tender feet and hands.

As a final touch, we salvaged the original decorative wood pieces and put them back in place, using the before photos to make sure we had the proper orientation.

From our perspective, it was looking good. Parties could be had, safely.

There was only one detail we missed: our spacing was off. We left room between the boards for drainage, to let rain and spills, food crumbs and dirt fall through. A hazard for high heels.

Cabin life: you never know what goes on.

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