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At home in the neighbourly Cariboo

By G.D. Maxwell Ah, the sounds of summer. I'm doing my best to be pragmatic about the chainsaw screeching next door. It's a temporary aberration. I'm sure it'll stop sooner or later.
By G.D. Maxwell

Ah, the sounds of summer.

I'm doing my best to be pragmatic about the chainsaw screeching next door. It's a temporary aberration. I'm sure it'll stop sooner or later. Darkness will either intervene or time will run out on my neighbour's vacation. I can't complain; the couple who own the place use it sparingly, are generous with cocktails and have offered to lend me any screaming machines I'd like to borrow. Right neighbourly when you get down to it.

On the other hand, the bozos buzzing the lake on personal water crap are a new development. There are three of them - jetskis, that is, I suspect there's a whole nest of bozos accompanying them - all coming from the resort downlake. That's the good news, they're temporary. So far, no one who owns property on Sulfuric Lake seems tasteless enough to actually own one of the annoying machines.

Still, self-help isn't far from my mind. I discuss it with Chainsaw Al, the neighbour with the hate on for the big trees blocking his afternoon sun, and we decide we'd probably get caught if we just walk into the resort and beat the snot out of the miscreants with baseball bats. A Roman at heart, Al favours hanging a twisted, broken SeaDoo from a tree next to the road at the entrance to the lake with a big sign reading "This is what happened to the last jetski some a**hole launched on our lake. Sheridan Lake is 15 minutes back down the road."

"Nice touch, Al, but it hasn't been my experience that any of 'em can read. Besides, they might think it's a joke."

We decide on a compromise, something efficiently devastating but involving no bloodshed. A midnight raid with a pot of quick-setting epoxy. "Bet those little jets won't breathe so well once this stuff hardens inside 'em, eh?" we laugh, being careful to leave just enough passage to ensure the engines will start and run long enough for the backpressure to reduce them to scrap metal.

I'm not sure which privatized ministry we might petition to get jetskis banned from the lake but I am sure it would take a lot longer and not be nearly as gratifying as direct action. Power to the people.

There are, at last count, about 496 major things that can go wrong when you buy what is euphemistically referred to as recreational property. The most devastating include gems like discovering your house's foundation was built on stumps of trees instead of proper footings. Don't laugh, there's a rustic log home across the lake from us whose northeast corner rests on just that, a composting cedar stump. Given the precipitous slope of the lot it's built on and the unknown quality of the rest of its foundation, I fully expect to wake up one morning and see it doing a passable imitation of a houseboat.

Even the best house inspector can't tell you your septic system is one flush away from creating a backyard swimming pool or an indoor plumbing nightmare. The lake that looks so pristine and sparkling in the summer sun - and provides your drinking water - can easily prove to be a toxic soup of E. coli, Giardia, cryptosporidium and SPF 30. The list is both endless and boring.

All those things and more raced through my mind a year ago when my Perfect Partner and I were looking at Cariboo cabins. On the positive side of the ledger, lakefront property was inexpensive. A nice place with a bit of land on a pretty lake cost about the same as a closet or a parking place in Whistler. Property taxes were little more than dinner for two in the village with an indifferent wine. Sunshine and dry weather were alluring bonuses. Who knew this would be the Summer of Many Sunstrokes in Whistler?

As unpleasant as many of the potential physical defects might be, they can all be fixed with time, money and, possibly, a bulldozer. Nightmare neighbours though can turn a country retreat into a blood feud in no time at all.

That's why the barbed wire kinda worried me.

An expensive post and rail wooden fence framed the property we'd taken a shine to. But along the east side it was topped with a strand of barbed wire. Another ran just below the bottom rail at a height a dog might squirm through in its absence. Along the west, just a single strand at the bottom. There being no sign the previous owner ran cattle or belonged to the Hell's Angels, I suspected it might be there for spite.

"What's with the barbed wire?" I asked the real estate agent.

"I think the owners had some issues with the neighbours," he replied.

Now, as anyone who knows me will gladly tell you, I get along with everybody. But I had to wonder, were the neighbours such yokels or rednecks they ran this poor guy off? Or was he just another Cariboo jerk who couldn't get along with either of his neighbours?

Appearances made it clear the more bitter feud, the two-strand feud, raged between the owner and a weekender. The neighbour on the right, having only been deserving of a foot/dog level snag, was obviously a full-time resident. I appraised his property carefully. Nice log house, good looking workshop, solid carport with the mandatory battered pickup truck, empty spot for whatever else he drove, camper cum guesthouse anchored well back on the property with a makeshift roof sitting atop it and giving it some semblance of permanence, small garden, nothing to suggest he might be a moonshiner or axe murderer.

Still, the last thing you want to step into is feudin' territory. I knew no matter what a nice guy I was, I'd be tarred with the leftover brush of neighbourly squabbles if I bought a place that was the meat in a feud sandwich. With neither potential neighbour present - and time running out on our Quest for Cottage Tour - there was no rational basis on which to hang a decision. Familiar territory for me, admittedly, but most of my mistakes carry a cheaper price tag.

Walking out onto the dock and looking out over the placid water of Sulfuric Lake, I longed for a sign. Yea or nay. Had I been a religious man, I might have prayed for guidance. I thought about flipping a coin but there was none in my pockets.

And then, as if by divine intervention, there it was, the sign I'd been looking for. Tethered to the fulltime neighbour's dock was a sailboat. Nothing flashy, maybe 21 feet, but a sailboat in a part of the world where manhood is measured in horsepower. "This guy must be a misfit," I thought.

At least we'd have something in common.