Keeper of the Keys — The Octagon


The Beattys and our cousins, the Hines, have cottaged side by side on Fairhaven Island, Lake Muskoka since the turn of the last century, connected by maybe 30 yards of path. Anchoring the right side of our channel view from Hillcrest, the small white single-story profile of Octagon always brought to mind Great Aunt Annie.  As gruff and unrelenting as my Uncle Laurie Hines could be, Annie, his mother, was gentle and endlessly kind.  When asked late in life about missing her late husband Will and others, she is said to have replied, "Oh I don't miss them dear, I always meet them on the path." Her lovely metaphor for our island’s living history, or so I thought.


Tim and I felt both at home and like complete interlopers taking over Octagon early September 2013.  Cousin Paul didn't want to sell.  We'd all grown up on these paths, but the burdens of upkeep along with a new business venture left him no choice.  Nature mirrored the dissonance of our first night within her 115-year-old walls. As we dined off the mismatched plates of four generations, a nor' westerly pounded Octagon's front windows. The heavens opened in a deluge.  We scambled to clean dinner pots to catch all the leaks.   Bedtime felt like camping in a thunderstorm with no tent fly.


About 2:30 a.m., wind still gusting, I half woke to voices—our boys, I assumed, still up talking and gaming.  The chatter continued, growing quite animated, even combative at times.  Finally, I got up, wide awake, annoyed and bent on saying so.  But in the living room, steps outside our bedroom door, I found nothing.  Darkness, silence, even our two bassets snored motionless by the fire.  Odder still, what I saw felt neither weird nor scary, but suddenly obvious.  I pictured Will and Annie, Laurie and his wife, my Aunt Ruth gathering not on the path, but within these eight walls to hash out this new chapter of their beloved Octagon.  And as I turned to shuffle back to bed, it seemed that things for all of us, both here and long gone, had been settled. Tim and I were not so much Octagon's new owners, but the new keepers of her keys and our duty of shoring her up to face the next 100 years could now begin.