It’s about the water, mostly, and the breeze that comes off it in the afternoon, and the stars that reflect from it at night. A lake, pond, river, or creek — it almost doesn’t matter. Something about water makes us want to sleep by it. The first people to arrive set up tents of bark or canvas; later come the cottages and grandchildren.
But it’s not just the water. It’s also about slowing down and relearning how to goof off. About seeing if you can thread a worm on a hook as deftly as you did when you were 10. About having the patience to collect buckets of beach stones and line them along the path to the lake.
Of course it’s also about the cottage itself, and the view from its windows. The view is likely to be of water. You’re fortunate if the first thing you see every morning is a lake.
I was a fortunate child. Our house on Long Lake could have been considered a cottage, but we never called it that. I disliked the word. It invoked a Beatrix Potter world of country houses with gingerbread trim and gardens heavy on the hollyhocks. I wanted my world uncivilized. I dreamed of living in a log cabin in Alaska, with a fieldstone hearth to warm my stew and good fishing outside the door. There would be no embellishments, except maybe a half-moon cut in the outhouse door and the dried head of a pike nailed to the wall.
Summer people thought they had to leave as soon as the water froze, but I knew better. I would cut enough firewood to last the winter and stack frozen haunches of moose on the roof where the wolves couldn’t reach them.
I still haven’t made it to Alaska, but I have good memories of cabins and cottages closer to home. Some of them would have been too genteel for me as a boy, with their running water and gas stoves, but I’m sure I would have approved of their fieldstone fireplaces and knotty pine paneling and bookshelves stocked for rainy days. When you looked out the windows you saw Adirondack chairs by the shore, a section of dock with a rowboat tied alongside, somebody paddling past in a canoe. Some had white-picket fences and flower gardens. Hollyhocks might have been involved.
What makes such places special to us? Partly, it’s tradition: The more time we spend in a place, the deeper the roots go. And there’s the escape factor, too. When I’ve asked my friends to tell me about their cottages and cabins, they’ve used phrases like “my refuge,” “my sanctuary,” “my getaway,” “the place that saves my soul.”
BLUE Reflections columnist Jerry Dennis lives near Traverse City and has collaborated with fellow regional artist Glenn Wolff on many books including the national bestseller “It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky” (DCA, Inc.; jerrydennis.net).