A journey of a thousand steps starts with one red squirrel!

The purpose of a vacation, I believe, is to put our souls in touch with the earth. To calm down. To set aside the daily cares which, in the greater scheme of things, are not as important as we treat them on a daily basis.

I am on vacation.

I’m trying to do just that.

One practice which contributes to this is to walk past the motor boat and choose instead a canoe or rowboat for my transportation purposes. I use this mode of transportation to make my way to our non-hydro, dock-based library where I volunteer for August. I use the slow way to visit elderly cottage residents whom I haven’t seen since last year. I use the slow way to meet friends for coffee out on an island somewhere where, together, we banish the day-to-day stuff and share what’s really happening in our lives.

Last year we added kayaks to our ‘slow fleet.’ Sounds extravagant, but actually a kayak lets an individual negotiate in rougher weather and we’ve had a lot of wind and rain at the cottage this year.

Cursed with a bad back, my kayak selection dictated that I be able to enter it from a dock, that it come with ergonomic seats, an adjustable back support, and a hole big enough for our aging black lab, “P.” We found the perfect craft, and though they’re not seagoing, full rudder kayaks, they do very nicely for our needs. Mine is blue. My first husband’s is yellow.

The adjustable back is controlled by a handle and a toggle at the front of the moulded seat base. You reach down between your knees, release the handle and as you pull, up goes the back rest. You lock it in place with a toggle. I really like this feature and on a long paddle, it lets me adjust my back so I don’t tense up.

So, you can imagine on day two of our vacation, we loaded a cooler, folding fabric chairs, towels, beverages, and the dog into the kayaks and headed on a few-mile paddle to an outer island in Georgian Bay. Day two! [not a wise move].

I pulled my toggle at about the half-mile mark just to pull my seat back up a tad and the handle came right up to my chest. That’s because it was no longer attached to the cord that did the pulling. Hmmmph! Well, I can adjust this by hand at the back, I’m sure.

When we returned, I undertook what I expected would be a simple repair job. Part of ‘slowing down’ is doing all repairs yourself, in a remote, non-urban location where you ‘make do’ with materials at hand!

Thinking ahead, I hoisted the kayak up on the dock box [if you’re interested in my column about the dock box, see www.donnadouglas.com/columns/august 26, 2001] and then went up to the cottage for a few tools. I also brought down cord to replace. Of course, it didn’t occur to me to think about why the cord had broken away from the handle.

As I reached down below the moulded composite seat, I pulled out a few twigs. Then more twigs and pine needles and bits of cord. And then from a little hole at the underside of the composite seat (a hole way too small for my hand) I discovered thick nesting material. I climbed the cliff back up to the cottage for tweezer/tongs and began extricating an enormous amount of what turned out to be red squirrel’s winter abode. A lot of it.

I guess the ergonomic cord was in the way of the nest building.

Now, the nest wasn’t simply UNDER the seat. It was inside the moulded composite seat. So was the cord. Or, that’s where it should have been.

Clearly, the seat would have to come out. The bolts holding the seat to the frame of the kayak were attached by nuts that also were attached on the inside of another small hole inside the moulded, composite seat side. Another trip up for wrenches. And a large phillips screwdriver. And another trip up for different wrenches.

We’re up to about two hours of effort at this point but the seat is out. I’m getting smarter. I take the seat up to the cottage! Unbelievable quantities of squirrel’s nest are extricated from this little hole. I put the business end of the vacuum in there. It won’t go very far. It’s a small hole!

Now, let’s see how this cord is strung from the inside of the seat through a hole at the back, up the separate seat back, around a pulley system, down a tube and out underneath the back padding.

Who designs these things? Tiny, tiny little designers who work like elves, their arms nimbly fitting inside all these holes? Once this stuff is manufactured, who puts it all together? Tiny, tiny little assembly line workers who flip this stuff together with their eyes closed?

Keep in mind, this is my ‘slow’ vacation where I’m doing things that really matter.

Well, hundreds of steps later, I’m here to tell you there is no way cord will go through the front hole to be attached to the handle. I stiffened the cord by dunking it in melted wax (nope!), I heated it with a match so it would stop fraying (nope!), I used a very thin kabob skewer with a hook on the end to pull the cord out through the hole (nope!). Add to the steps a couple more hours of workshop assembly time.

In the end, the handle is now attached by three twisted lengths of wire which in turn are knotted to the cord which runs along the inside of the seat and out the back opening to coil up around the pulley and down a trough and out a hole under the back padding.

A simple day in the life of a slow moving water vehicle. I think.

Trouble is, the little devils are likely going to build a nest again next winter. Wonder what they’ll do with the wire?