CHAPTER 12 - Life at the Lake
On his sixty-fifth birthday, January 21, 1960, Rod retired. They left Pine Falls and lived for the balance of the winter in their cabin at Nutimik Lake. With the children raised and on their own, Rod and Toni could now look forward to a future of relaxation and enjoyment - they had found a spot they fell in love with; now they had the time and interest to make it their own special Shangri-La.
The property on Longbow Lake, close to Kenora, Ontario, had been owned by an elderly man who had lived in an ancient cabin close by the lake shore. The Schuetze's lived in this cabin while they planned and constructed their dream home. They chose a site that provided them with a commanding view of the lake, and situated the living room window to take full advantage of the view stretching east, the length of the lake. Longbow Lake derived its name from its shape - it was, literally, a 'long bow' - and their living room window provided them a superlative view of one half of the 'bow.'
Rod and Toni built their own home (Picture 12 - 1). Rod was a seasoned carpenter and Toni ably filled the role of his assistant. Together, they raised the walls, shingled the roof, completed the painting and a hundred other tasks. They hired tradesmen to install the electrical wiring and the plumbing, but the rest of the work they did themselves, and when the day arrived to move out of the old cabin into their new home, they had a special pride of ownership; one that comes from having achieved a long-standing goal.
Picture 12-1 Rod and Toni with their Longbow Lake home in the background
They sold the old cabin, and watched with interest when the movers came with a large flat-decked truck, loaded the cabin, and drove away with it.
Their home rested in the seclusion of a cluster of natural trees. Tall spruce provide privacy from the main road that accessed their back yard. The grouping of birch, and the lily pond in the front yard lent grace and living beauty to the picture of the lake framed by their living room window (Picture 12 - 2). The lake - the trees - sunrise over the water -- nature had done her share - now they would finish planting the yard with the varieties they loved.
Picture 12-2 Rod and Toni with their Longbow Lake home in the background
One day, after they had been settled into the house for a few months, Rod commented that he would like to build a sailboat, but was concerned about spending the money to do it. They were both accustomed to frugal living - it was a lesson learned in childhood, and honed during the early years of marriage, and now came quite naturally to them. Toni knew how Rod longed to have a sailboat to use on the lake and surrounding waters. She took a hand in the decision.
"You have always wanted a sailboat and now is the time for you to have it. Go ahead and build it - with the money coming in from your pensions, and with the garden we can raise here, there's no need to delay any longer."
During the next several months, as the car sat outdoors, Rod diligently worked in the basement garage, constructing a sailboat that featured many of the strong points Rod had noticed in boats over the years. Since Longbow Lake was connected by local waterways to numerous other lakes in the region, one notable lake being Lake of the Woods, Rod spent extra time and ingenuity on the sailboat's mast. Many of the connecting waterways were spanned by bridges of various heights and sizes. In order to take full advantage of the streams providing access to the other lakes, these bridges had to be considered. Rod found a way to hinge the mast so it could be laid horizontal to the water, to allow the boat to float beneath the bridges. At the same time, he made sure the mast was secure and durable enough to withstand the rigours of the wind on the lake (Picture 12 - 3).
Picture 12-3 Rod putting the finishing touches on his sailboat at Longbow Lake
The sail itself was made of factory cotton - a heavy, durable fabric, woven to handle heavy tasks such as the one it was now chosen for - but also heavy enough that Toni's modern sewing machine balked at sewing it. The sail had to be pieced - requiring a sewing machine built to handle heavy work. After the fire at the Poplar River trading post, one of the household items Rod had salvaged was Toni's old crank-operated sewing machine. The fire had destroyed the wooden portions of the machine, as well as all the belts. In the years since then, Rod had worked on it, restoring it to good working order. Many years after the fire, he had purchased the replacement parts and re-built the machine. A cabinet from a treadle model had been his most recent acquisition, completing the restoration. Now an opportunity had arisen where they could try the machine out.
With love, Toni sewed the huge sail that would give wings to their boat over the many lakes available to explore with it. Rod chose a special gold cord as trim for the sail. But the width of the sewing machine's pressure foot precluded machine-stitching it into place. So Toni, with infinite patience, whip-stitched it, by hand, onto the sail, all around the edge where Rod wanted it. "Whip-stitching by hand, at sixteen stitches to the inch - it took me some time to complete it," she laughs. They spent many happy hours in their sailboat, travelling for their own enjoyment, and entertaining family and friends who came visiting (Picture 12 - 4).
Picture 12-4 Rod in his sailboat on Longbow Lake
As always, Rod and Toni were fascinated with the wildlife inhabiting the area. When they first arrived, the birds and animals disappeared for a time, but slowly began to return to 'check out their new neighbours.' Loons were daily visitors during the house construction period, swimming in the lake, obviously curious about the strange sounds of hammers and saws that disrupted their tranquil setting. When the little new-born loons were old enough to start travelling, their parents brought them, piggy-back style, to watch the proceedings. Out in the sailboat, Toni watched the water slip by the side of the boat when suddenly a loon popped out of the water, uttered on brief squawk of dismay at his proximity to the boat and humans, and dove under the water again!
Other than ducks, the loons were probably the largest single bird variety on Longbow Lake. Their haunting calls were daily fare for the local residents, their habits became familiar, and if they were missing, their absence was noted. The Schuetze's came to love the daily loon calls, but on hot sultry evenings, the loons were much more vocal than usual, and their eerie cries echoed and re-echoed through the open doors and windows of local homes, and kept the local residents from their regular sleeping patterns.
One summer night, Rod and Toni sat up in bed to witness a light show that was second to none. There was a dramatic electric storm slashing its way through the region - blinding flashes of sheet lightning punctuated the darkness, interrupted by the rhythmic rotation of the search light of the Kenora airport. The brief periods of darkness were perforated by the lights of thousands of tiny fireflies in the branches of the trees. With the lake mirroring every lightning flash, each pass of the airport beacon, and the brief, but dazzling, display of the fireflies, it was a show combining the best efforts of nature and man in a never-to-be-forgotten night of beauty.
The drapes of the living room were never closed. The lake always had something to offer the eye - waterfowl, animals, nature's beauty. Glancing over the lake was to see a scene as it may have appeared in any of a hundred years previous. There were no signs of human habitation - no roads, electrical or telephone lines; nothing to dispel nature's total dominance of the picture. Moon-rise over the lake was breath-taking. With their sofa situated to enjoy the phenomena fully, Rod and Toni would sit and marvel at the huge, orange moon struggling to clear the dark wall of trees to spread its golden glow the length of the lake, right into their living room. On quiet nights, when the lake was still, the moon's golden path winked at them gently, producing a sense of harmony and calm, a perfect setting for deep and peaceful slumber, with a quiet, contented day to follow.
Rod had carved since childhood. Through the years spent in the bush, his carving had been sporadic - when he was unemployed, or confined due to illness, he had carved, but the business of providing for his family had always come first. Now his time was his own. With the house completed, and his cherished sailboat in the water, awaiting suitable sailing conditions, Rod's thoughts and hands returned to his carving.
He carved the things he knew best, on wood readily available. Most of his work was done on birch wood - it had a very fine grain, and was easy to work with. Birch was abundant at Longbow Lake - Rod had only to walk in the bush to collect it. He seasoned the wood for a time, so it would not split when he began carving.
Selecting a piece of wood, Rod examined it carefully, noting the grain, texture and considering what it would best lend itself to. Would it be better in a very smooth, or a more textured finish?
His first step in carving was to prepare a set of three-dimensional drawings, showing the different sides of the completed work (Sketch 12 - 1). He drew meticulously - filling sheet after sheet of paper until the sketch satisfactorily paralleled the picture he had firmly fixed in his mind.
Sketch 12-1 Top of wooden box with initials AEC
His workshop was in the basement garage. Here he stored his carving tools he had made so many years ago. Toni's steel knitting needles had made excellent carving tools - and Rod had made those tools that best suited the carving he wished to do. His first woodwork at Longbow Lake was to make his own wood lathe, on which he could make wooden items for his own use. First he made a set of handles for his carving tools. These handles were all turned on his own wood-lathe, and fitted precisely to each of the tools. Once the set of twelve was completed, he built a wooden box for their storage. From the day in the bush when Rod first made the tools, until today, these have been, and remain, a family heirloom, prized and cherished by Toni and the coming generations.
Picture 12-5 A display of Rod's carvings and carving tools snapped outside of Bunny Castle, on Whiskey Jack Lake
Rod carved the wild animals he had once trapped and shot for their fur and for their meat. He was completely conversant with the anatomy of beaver, fox, coyote, lynx, deer and moose (Picture 12 - 5) - he needed no lessons on body proportions, no suggestions that a leg should more correctly be aligned this way or that. He had worked with these animals so often, over so many years, it was second nature to him to know the shapeliness of the creatures he carved. They had been more than his quarry - they had been his livelihood, his companions - at times the only creatures he saw for days (Sketch 12 - 2).
Sketch 12-2 Drawings of a moose he planned to carve
But more than the animals, he carved flowers. Taking the blossoms from their garden, he studied them, preparing sketches for future works. Pansies, roses, columbines, leaves from maple trees - these and many others decorated sewing boxes and other items Rod created in his workshop (Picture 12 - 6).
Picture 12-6 Some more of Rod's carvings - note the matchbox on the right
Working with his wood lathe, Rod prepared many trinket holders, and some miniature sets of tiny bowls on a single wooden shaft. He located a large birch burl, dried it slowly and carefully, covering it at times with a damp cloth to decelerate its drying, and in time, turned out a beautiful wooden bowl on his wood lathe. Some of these treasured items remain within the family circle - others have been given to friends and acquaintances over many years.
The first winter Rod and Toni lived at Longbow Lake, they became aware of a red fox who, although wild, seemed less wary of humans than most foxes. The wild animal began coming around the house, and Rod gave him handouts of food. Talking with one of their neighbours, they found she was feeding him also. Soon Rod decided he would teach this fox to 'ring' for his treats. Attaching a cord to the doorbell, Rod baited the other end of the cord with a tasty morsel of meat. When the fox came around to check for his regular handout, he smelled the meat on the porch, just outside the kitchen door. Wary, but hungry, he mounted the steps and chewed at the cord. The ringing of the bell startled him, but he came to understand when the bell rang, Rod brought out more food.
Through patience and perseverance, Rod accomplished what he had set out to do: the fox became a regular visitor - he would pull the unbaited cord and sit down and wait for his meal. Toni could stand at the kitchen window and watch him - he was not afraid (Picture 12 - 7). However, there was one small problem - the fox did not adhere to the sleeping patterns of humans, and his regular time of arrival was between four-thirty and five o'clock in the morning, daily. Rod tired of rising at this hour to feed his red-coated friend, and Toni took over the duty. The fox disappeared for the summer, as many wild creatures do, but did not return in the autumn. The Schuetze's wondered what had happened, and on a television newscast heard of an elderly man who frequently saw a fox who appeared to have no fear of humans. On his regular walks, this man would watch the fox and wonder what his experiences had been. He began taking food as a treat for the fox - this became a ritual he looked forward to on his daily, solitary forays. A few weeks later a report gave the news that the man had found the fox, shot.
Picture 12-7 Red fox who came for dinner
Late one November afternoon, Rod said: - "Make up some sandwiches and coffee and we'll go for a drive." It was early in the month, before the heavy snowfalls came to clog the roads and make driving precarious. The day was heavily overcast and Rod stopped the car in a quiet, cleared spot where they could see a small pond with the first covering of ice over it. A shallow cloak of snow rimmed the pond and the surrounding grasses, Here they sat, in companionable silence, drinking in the peace of the bush country. Rod noticed a mink enter the scene, and they watched his activities as he scouted the area, checking for food, enemies and other matters of interest. Driving home, Rod commented, "This has been a perfect end to a beautiful day!"
With time to spare, Rod (Picture 12 - 8) turned more and more to caring for the welfare of, and enjoying the company of, the wild birds of the area. He carried peanuts in his pockets - a tidbit of information the local nuthatches soon stumbled onto. He was particularly fond of one female nuthatch who had a nest in one of the large trees in the yard. Toni watched them from the kitchen window one day - Rod was deliberately being slow at shelling the peanuts, just to see what the bird would do. She sat on his hand briefly, then began tramping around, midst the peanuts and shells in his hand, impatient to receive her daily fare and be on with her other rounds. When Rod offered her a choice of various sized pieces of nut, she would choose the largest she could hold in her beak and fly with, then fly into the tree where her three little ones sat on a branch, visible to Rod. Here she held the peanut piece between her foot and a tree twig, and proceeded to peck off smaller pieces and drop them into the open mouths of her hungry nestlings.
Picture 12-8 Rod at Longbow Lake
The chickadees and nuthatches, as well as other birds, came to know Rod and were always close at hand when he was outdoors. They would fly in large swarms around him, waiting for the expected offering of peanuts. As he opened the latch of the door, the sound carried to the waiting ears of his feathered friends, who escorted him everywhere, patiently watching for the expected offerings he carried. There was only one criteria the birds strictly observed - they came to Rod, and to Rod only. If someone else stood next to Rod, the birds would fly around, wanting the food, but unwilling to land on Rod's hand while a human, unknown to them, was so close beside their benefactor.
Rod's sister Gerda Schuetze Overaa came to visit one summer. She fell in love with the scenery of the region, and spent all the time they could spare in painting landscapes. She made many sketches for future works, and the time she, Rod and Toni spent together was a very happy, creative period for all three. (Picture 12 - 9)
Picture 12-9 Rod and Gerda - a happy reunion in a beautiful locale
The growing season at Longbow Lake was better than at Berens River. Rod and Toni both enjoyed their vegetable garden, and both worked in it. Toni loved flowers, and Rod lavished his attention on them, to produce beautiful displays for her. She was particularly fond of roses; Rod paid special attention to these blossoms, seeing they had optimum conditions for growing and flowering. Their yard and home, in summer, were a blaze of colour, the air fragrant with the multitude of flowers growing there.
Summers filled with gardening and sailing; visits from family and friends, the joys of nature and her creatures. Winters of peace and tranquillity; long hours spent travelling to exotic locales with exciting people, all through the medium of reading; long walks in the crisp air, enjoying snow clad vistas and rime-covered trees and bushes. These seasons interspersed with the pastels of spring, and the riotous reds, golds and browns of autumn. Rod and Toni were content, happy to be together and to share the peace and relaxation that is the true meaning of retirement. Their years at Longbow Lake were the happiest times of their lives, they loved the setting, their home they had built for themselves, and the good health they both enjoyed. It seemed like a slice of Paradise. Then things changed.
Housing around Longbow Lake expanded dramatically. Overnight, it seemed, houses and cottages sprang up, and new residents moved in. The tranquillity of the area was shattered by the sounds of construction; vehicles and boats filled the roads and the lake. Most of the new residents were, like Rod and Toni, retired and looking to enjoy themselves. They brought with them their cars and trucks, boats and boat trailers, dogs, cats, horses and all manner of other interests. To begin with it was great to have more neighbours - a larger group of people from which to choose one's friends from; and to watch the community develop. But as the weeks and months passed, the animals of the newcomers roved free, exploring everywhere, and creating havoc. To watch a strange dog dig up your favourite roses - a cat stalk the birds for which you have always been able to provide safe haven - to lose the beauty of the lake and the surrounding area to the constant drone of speed boats and the shrieks of their occupants - these were all blows that took too much of the joy from a lifestyle to which they had become accustomed.
Complaints to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police went unheeded, since they had no jurisdiction over an unorganized area, such as this one was. Those who were determined to maintain their own property as they had enjoyed it in the past would now have to fence themselves in - there was no way to force dog owners to keep their animals at home.
In time, Rod and Toni became frustrated and disillusioned. They gave up trying to maintain their lifestyle, deciding it would likely be better just to move along to another setting. They loved the lake and their home, but things had changed too much. They sold their property and moved further afield, looking for another quiet setting for their senior years.
When they left Longbow Lake, they left behind more than they first realized. They left their home - a very special location they both loved, and they never again lived in truly isolated conditions. They had enjoyed good health here, but their years were adding up - the future perhaps would be less kind.
Rod abandoned a large grandfather clock he had been carving (Picture 12 - 10). It was a huge cabinet model that stood on the floor - not feeling able to move it successfully, they parted with it, along with many happy memories and an independence they later found they could not recapture.
Picture 12-10 Toni with the grandfather clock Rod had been building while living in Ontario