Opening up the cottage is a North American ritual and it so happens that the usual time for this is just about any day now.

And when cottagers make their way to their cottages for the first time this year, what will they find? Perhaps a dock that has been damaged by ice, or even swept down the bay, a railing that has been damaged by a fallen tree or a roof damaged by branches brought down by snow. Inside, you may find mouse nests in the cottage linens, mouse droppings in the cupboard, and gnawed through flour containers in the kitchen.

Ah, such are the delights of cottage life. You never know what you’ll find on that first trip of the season.

One thing is clear. And that’s that people who do a thorough job of preparing for the winter in the fall are a lot less likely to suffer from a nasty surprise, come the cottage-opening season. For example, I once left a rusty old barbecue in the far corner of the porch of my parents’ cottage over the winter. It hadn’t been used in years and my plan was to take it to the dump in the spring.

I learned there and then that I should have dealt with it in a more timely fashion. When it was time to open the cottage, we discovered we had had a visit(s) from what we judged by the footprints to be a sizable bear. It looked as if it had tipped that old barbecue over, and then proceeded to shove it around the deck with considerable enthusiasm, leaving an indelible mess of soot, coals and ancient grease.

During the fall closing, you’ve got to be thinking about battening down the hatches, and stowing away stuff securely. Lock up the cottage tightly and put away anything that can be damaged by animals, wind and weather.

And for those people who have not been as conscientious as they should have been about draining pipes, tanks and pumps, I feel bad for you. Cottage opening will likely be a miserable affair, spent fixing burst pipes with a propane torch and solder in the back-bending and spider-webby crawl space.

In fact, leaving anything liquid in the cottage to freeze over the winter is a poor idea. Imagine the delight of finding leaking ketchup bottles and cracked relish bottles in the cupboard, and split shampoo bottles in the bathroom vanity.

Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design;

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