Dollar Lake: “Dune,” Extended family and teen wrangling

camping-tent-1-1427722You really have to love camping to be willing to do it with two unwilling teenagers, aged 13 and 15. When my sister Suzan and her husband Joe decided they wanted travel from Ontario to go tent-camping with us, I was a little worried about how they would survive being confined on a campsite with all of us. They were bringing their young son Luke and a new corgi puppy, Cruz. We had our own newly adopted rescue Jack Russell Terrier whom we had named “Jack.” He was only 10 pounds but was determined to be king of the planet. When Suzan arrived, Jack felt job one was to teach Cruz. It was not always pretty to observe and difficult to control.  A camping weekend sounded like chaos to me. Suzan was determined. We agreed to go not too far from home, which meant Dollar Lake Campground. Much moaning ensued. Since it is so close, there was always the risk that the boys may be seen by their friends and their lives would be, if not over, then seriously burdened with embarrassing peer-observed moments. Added to that was the trauma of being torn away from video games and various other screens. “Bring books,” Carl and I said to a wall of sighs and eye-rolling.

My sister and I have similar ways of talking. We are direct, ironic and have a peculiar way of talking LOUD ON STRANGE parts of SENTENCES. It is almost an accent. I blame it on being moved all over the country as Airforce brats. Bits and pieces of various geographical accents stuck. At any rate, our way of talking seemed to be incredibly annoying to pubescent sons. (Later, when Luke was 17, I had supper at their house. Suzan started to go into full throttle story-telling mode. Luke glanced at me in an apologetic way, patted her hand and said, “Volume, Mom. Volume. Breathe!”) It would not be easy for my boys to pass under the radar on Dollar Lake beach as Suzan and I got into full guffaws, story-telling and shouts at dogs.

On Friday night we put up our tents, cooked supper, then gathered around the picnic table. Shane played cribbage with Carl, Suzan and I took out our books. Joe put Luke to bed in their tent. Matthew took out his multiply-read, fraying copy of Dune by Frank Herbert. Suzan glanced up from her book and said, “Oh, you are reading Dune. Great series. Very provocative.”

Shocked, he met her eyes. “What, you have read Dune? You?”

I knew at that moment that I could not save him. The moment she realized that he was surprised and perhaps appalled, he was not going to hear the end of it. She laughed.

“What, you think I am not SMART ENOUGH?”

“No,” he stammered, “it’s not that, it’s just…”

“Oh, I get it. I am not IRONIC enough. I am not part of your TRIBE.”

Still, he puzzled out, “Are you sure you have read it?”

“The whole THING. Yes, Matt, I am a CONVERT, I tell you!  Look,” her voice went to a whisper as she grabbed the Tupperware container of cinnamon, “SPICE, Matt,” she hissed, “SPICE!”Dune-Frank_Herbert_(1965)_First_edition

He gawped at her, his face a little pale now in the Coleman lantern light. It was dawning on him, the enormity of his error.

“Matt!” she shouted waiving a small plastic disposable knife in the air, “Wait a minute here while I cut my pear WITH MY CRYSKNIFE!”

In the morning Suzan pointed to the French language portion of the bottle of hot sauce, “Matt! Matt! MELANGE. See, MELANGE!” He wearily raised his eyes.

My sister is a redhead and melanoma creeps about in our family, so she covers up. Later that afternoon we decided to go to the lovely Dollar Lake beach. Attired in white, voluminous cotton, slathered in sunscreen, carrying various bags and topped with a wide-brimmed hat, she moved 50 feet ahead of us. She was determined to get a good spot on the beach. Abruptly she stopped mid-stride. Pointing to a track of plowed ground about 20 feet in length, she shouted back to us, “Matt! Matt! Look, sandworm TRACKS!”

“Mom,” he pleaded, “can’t you make her stop?”

“Not likely,” I sympathetically responded, “you will have to ride this one out.”

Her husband Joe came alongside and patted Matt on the back. “It does end, son, I promise.”

Later Saturday night, Suzan challenged him to a game of cribbage. Perhaps eager to reframe their conversation in another direction, any direction, he accepted.  I read my book and listened. Their conversation inevitably drifted toward Dune because she asked him, very slyly, some open-ended questions. She intently listened to him. As the plastic pegs hiked their way around the wooden track, I heard Matt talk about the prophetic nature of Frank Herbert’s writing. He related it to authoritarianism in our time and the resistance of indigenous people to corporate mining. My sister talked about oil cartels and how “spice” was meant to be symbolize oil, that rich and horrifyingly power-filled resource that everyone was fighting over. I must confess, I did not know my kid was that deep or that my sister was so skilled in teen-wrangling. I realized that she simply took time to “see” him and meet him where he was. He saw in her an interesting person who was interested in him. They laughed a lot while they played.cribbage-2-1422672

I pondered by the firelight that this is a great gift of camping. It reveals the necessity of extended family. I don’t know if it takes a village to raise a child, but it sure does help to have extended family when you are raising teens. Aunts and uncles can see you in ways that your parents just don’t. They augment parental love. I sighed with gratitude and closed my eyes. For a millisecond peace prevailed. Then,
“Jeez! Linda! LINDA! Your DOG is prison-mounting my dog!  Get him OFF!”





Dollar Lake Provincial Park: The Park

Dollar Lake Park has been a favourite of ours since the boys were very little. It is close to Halifax which meant it was also close to our home should the need arise to flee for various toddler-emergency related reasons. For tourists and other visitors, this proximity means the great cultural life of the city is within a 40-minute drive. The Park is about a 20-minute drive from the Airport and Highway 102, which is part of the TransCanada. You can also quite easily go to Truro, the Annapolis Valley via that route. Alternatively, you take Highway 357 South and explore the Eastern Shore. (Travel Tip: you should gas up at the Irving by the airport or at Parker’s in Middle Musquodoboit if you are running low. There is no gas station within a thirty-minute drive).


A view as you enter Dollar Lake Park

The Park has a really great small beach, with just enough sand on its shores and on the bottom of the lake to make play, swimming and general water-lounging quite comfortable. Grassy areas under shade trees are available for those who are land-loungers. There is a life-guard on duty during the summer months. Picnic tables are not plentiful, therefore if you plan to spend a meal-time there and need one, come early in the morning to grab one. The public change rooms and washrooms are kept clean by diligent staff (although toilet paper frequently runs out on very busy days) and if you get hungry at the beach there is a canteen run by the non-profit Heartwood.

Dollar Lake.beach

(photo: nils) Dollar Lake beach

There are enough water taps near each campsite. However, the two nearest ours did not work. We had to walk a little farther to fill up our jugs. As I walked, I remembered when Dollar Lake used to be a party destination until the alcohol restrictions were imposed. It could get quite rowdy. Once, when Matt was about 5 or so, we went to fill up our water container at the nearest tap. A young man was attempting to add some water to a large pot with Kraft dinner remnants. He looked up at us, turned green, dropped the pot and ran into the woods. Orangey noodles littered the base of the tap. We picked our way around them. As we filled the plastic jug, Matt asked what happened to the man. I was about to explain what a hangover was, then thought better of it. Matthew happily mused that the raccoons would have a great KD feast that night. Thankfully, the Park is much more peaceful these days. The occasional whiff of marijuana will waft over you as you walk. I have never heard of weed-smokers starting riots as drunk people are wont to do, so we don’t worry about it.


Our campsite: “The Lakes”

The 119 campsites are organized around 4 loops, A, B, C, D. By the time we figured out we both had enough time off to book the Canada Day Weekend for camping, we got the second last available site, C4. On this weekend of rain-deluge we affectionately called our site, “The Lakes.” When I complained after stepping out of the camper into 2 inches of water on Saturday morning, Carl reminded me that there was a worse site. He had checked it out. It would have been the last campsite to go, which means people taking bookings are doing their best to put people into the best ones first. That’s a good thing. On that note, we walked around the loops. It should be said that all the campsites are of ample size. There are some stunning ones. Several on loop A overlook the lake and have beautiful views with the sound of loons during the day and owls at night.  Some of those are potential toddler-danglers, so take care. Loop D has a couple of sites that are spectacular. One is surrounded by rock formation. Last year, some ridiculously self-absorbed people spray painted on these rocks that their family had been gathering there for over 2 decades. I was glad to see this was painted over. Another D site has a kind of driveway and is placed deep within a wooded lot. When D loop was developed some obvious care was taken with site design.


A large wooded site on D loop


Another wooded site on D loop


A beautiful campsite amongst rock formations

We have hiked some of the trails. They are not lengthy and one of them has poison ivy so you will need to be careful. We did not hike this weekend because we would have been knee deep in mud.SAM_1180

The shower and bathrooms at Dollar Lake are clean. Staff are very careful about keeping them clean. I have special inside knowledge in this matter as our oldest son had a summer job at Dollar Lake many years ago. One of his main duties was to go into these to clean the toilets, wipe sinks and hose every inch of floor down. He is now a Mechanical Engineer and works in shipbuilding. Whenever I go into shower/bathrooms I think of him doing this work and the work he is doing now with care and precision. I feel a little proud. That’s not weird, right? In terms of facilities, the Park appears to be fraying at the edges. The playground equipment is rusting. There is a slide next to one of the showers that looks like it might fall apart at any minute. Two of the water camps next to our site did not produce water.  I suspect this is due to successive years of provincial cutbacks. This is shortsighted and a little strange given that the governments also declare tourism as one of the pillars of economic growth.

Nonetheless, we appreciated our time at this beautiful little campground.

Website link:

2017 Season Dates: June 9 to October 9
Park contact number: (902) 384-2770
Civic address: 5265 Old Guysborough Road, Wyses Corner, NS

Next Blog Post: Dollar Lake: Dune, teen-wrangling and extended family




Dollar Lake Park: blue water and blue language


A warm welcome


Just 30 minutes from Halifax


Rain, rain, go away


Pax looks wistfully into the cab of the truck.

As we might say in the Maritimes, we got the bugs out of ‘er on the Canada Day weekend. It was our first use of the truck camper. We were prevented from using it last year because of structural problems with the camper itself.

Carl talks to himself. He is an off the scale extravert so he processes his thoughts externally. Some days almost all of them, it would seem. He is a brilliant and kind man so clearly this works for him. It used to be a problem when we were first married. I come from a home in which people are silent a great deal of the time. When anyone looked up from a book or television screen to say something, it was very important to listen. It could be a momentous, even life-changing announcement. Not so much in Carl’s family. Carl’s day often takes the form of a running external narrative which I felt I had to listen to and respond to at all times. It was exhausting and, in the beginning, very aggravating. After a time, we worked out a system whereby he would tell me when he wanted to converse, after which I look up from my book or computer screen, listen and respond.

The rain poured on this first inaugural trip to Dollar Lake.  We hope someday this camper will be our home for a year or so. There is a lot at stake in it being comfortable and serviceable enough to house us all.  Nova Scotia can have some pretty substantial deluges, but this was a sustained tempted-to-build-an-ark kind of rain. There was water pooling everywhere. Unwanted, pooling water, it would turn out, was a theme for our Canada Day weekend adventure.

On Friday night Carl was making his final evening campsite rounds with the rain-phobic dogs. He was talking to himself, which was not unusual. I presumed the self-conversation concerned the puzzling problem of the intermittent but continuous running of the water pump. Then the language turned blue. That made me sit up and take notice. He doesn’t often do that. Let me just say at this point, that no one can creatively curse as flamboyantly and enthusiastically as a Newfoundlander. There were the usual words everyone is familiar with and then appeared the ancient Newfoundland Elizabethan English curse words. The problem must be substantial, I thought. There was some jiggling of outer kinds of gear and more cursing.   When he came in he revealed that the camper outdoor shower hot water faucet was seriously leaking. This is a disappointment since we could not camp all last summer because of a construction error. It also meant we had to shut the whole hot water system down.

Carl removed some panels below the sink. No blue language was involved, perhaps because indoor problem-solving external narrative is different. He rummaged around with tools and various things and managed to shut off some valves. The camper will go back, yet again, to the dealer for repairs before we take off for the Gaspe. We went old-school by heating up the water on the stove. We had heat, food, drinking water, dogs and each other. Camping is all about getting away from computers, cell-phone screens and getting back to basics. I guess running hot water is not a basic need after all. We had a fine time.

Next post: About Dollar Lake Campground