The rules of cottage living

Almost by definition, the time we spend there is extraordinary.
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iStock photo of Monopoly game
By Jerry Dennis

Not long ago I spent a year living in other people’s cottages. There were nine of them in all, each on or very near the Great Lakes, extending from the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior in the west to the New York shore of Lake Ontario in the east. They varied a great deal in design, from an 80-year-old log cabin to a summer home so new there was still sawdust on the ground to what can only be described as a mansion, but I noticed some shared qualities.

For example, they all had big windows facing the water, for the first rule of cottage living is that looking out the windows is part of the entertainment. This is unavoidable because the best cottages have no Internet access or satellite TV, though many come stocked with a quirky assortment of movies on DVD or VHS and a beat-up player that sometimes works. 

Even so, standing at the windows watching water and weather will take up hours of every day.

The second rule of cottage living is that your sense of time needs to be adjusted. 

You can sense what it was
like during all those rainy days,
with card games and checkers
on the table, and always somebody stretched out on the
couch reading a book.

That adjustment is gradual. It usually takes three days to break away from the pace of your ordinary life and remember how to relax. As the hours open up you’ll probably have to get reacquainted with boredom. 

It’s boredom, after all, that motivates you to set up the Monopoly board, shuffle the cards for cribbage and euchre, and refresh your memory with the copy of “Hoyle’s Rules of Games” that is on a shelf somewhere in every cottage. Get bored enough and you’ll finally read “Anna Karenina” or “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” or “The Thorn Birds,” for cottage bookshelves are among our culture’s great storehouses of floor-thumping books that we don’t have the patience to read during our regular lives. 

The third rule of cottage living is that everything there — every picture on the wall, every dish of Petoskey stones and beach glass, every dog-eared book and board game — comes  saturated with memories.

Cottages are refuges from ordinary life, so almost by definition the time we spend there is extraordinary.

Over the years the best moments from all those weekends and summers soak into the pine paneling and hand-woven rugs and lumpy mattresses. If you listen carefully you can hear a generation or two of kids giggling in their bedroom while the grown-ups talk in low voices by the fireplace. You can sense what it was like during all those rainy days, with card games and checkers on the table, and always somebody stretched out on the couch reading a book.

The fourth rule, of course, is that it’s your job to manufacture new memories.

The fifth rule: Get outside the minute the weather turns nice.

And, the sixth rule should be engraved on a board and hung beside the front door where everybody sees it 20 times a day.

No lawnmowers!

Award-winning author and BLUE “Reflections” columnist Jerry Dennis lives near Traverse City.

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