Cottage Critters

By Sharon Lynch

Monika lay in bed while wanting to be somewhere else. A faint buzzing circled around her head. The situation reminded her of those cottage nights decades ago. Lying in the dark, tanned and tired after a day outdoors, the world had seemed perfect. An afternoon of picking wild raspberries, followed by a swim. The lake water had had a delicious stinging quality when it hit her many minuscule scratches left by the berry canes.  But the warm water and gentle breezes quickly made everything OK. Until bedtime. 

Monika was convinced then, as now, that there was some secret communication that alerted mosquitoes when she was available for biting. Was it the clean skin, a shade darker than mid-winter? Were they attracted by the earthy smell of old leaves and pine needles wafting in through the open cottage window? 

Whatever the reason, it seemed as soon as her head hit the pillow in those days, the flying predators found her. And of course, they were invisible in the dark. She couldn’t find them but they could always find her.

Now older but not much wiser when it came to these summertime annoyances, she decided to fight back. Turning on the light she listened and looked. And there it was, ready to take a bite from her arm. Monika smacked it into a red splotch. She felt no guilt. It was a matter of revenge.

But mosquitoes were the only cottage critter that Monika detested. Even spiders didn’t bother her. She quite liked looking at their lacy webs glittering with early morning dew. No one could ever object to butterflies fluttering over wild flowers by the outhouse. And the suicidal moths that flung themselves at the nightly porch light elicited only sympathy. 

Monika knew many people had problems with the bigger cottage critters as well. Mice for example. Her mother hated their nests when she found them in the dresser drawers come springtime. But Monika had also seen the tiny babies, eyes still closed and shaking bodies when she stumbled across a nest in the woodpile. Seeing the bits of fluffy stuff fitted between logs, she had felt only a desperate hope that the mother mouse would return for them.

Do worms, frogs and grasshoppers qualify as critters, she wondered, lying now in her dark adult bedroom? Once she started thinking of the pesky mosquitoes, more childhood memories flooded in. Her dad had taught her about fishing and she had enjoyed sitting in the quiet dawn, learning about patience. But baiting the hook with squirming, crunchy living things had taken some of the shine off the experience. She knew there were those who would laugh at this. And she had managed to hide her discomfort because having her father all to herself was more important. 

Minnows were one of Monika’s favourite water critters. Whether underwater with her goggles or simply looking down into the sunlit river, she was entranced by the way their glistening bodies shone in the filtered sunlight. And if she was lucky and stayed as still as she could, these tiny creatures approached her young feet as though curious about the giant in their midst.

Moving up the food chain, Monika now remembered the robins. Every year a nest of robins appeared over the back door. Their bald heads, consisting mostly of open beaks, begged for food. So vulnerable and yet in no time they were gone, thinly feathered and close to grown up.

So maybe I should thank that pesky mosquito she now thought. Its very sound was enough to take her back in time, when her days were filled with all the wonders of the natural world. Trees, bees and fish. Flowers, water and sunshine. Then she thought of how many people, both children and adult, who would never have the memories she had of lakes, and berries and cottage critters. Would her own grandchildren and great grandchildren be among them? And would they even know what they were missing?