Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Clinging fiercely to rustic life

My lake, the one I've been escaping to since I can remember, gets busier every year. Why, on some days in July, you can't even find a folding chair at the Minnow Tank Tavern, and the Tiltin' Hilton ran out of cold Bud one afternoon last August. And, may I say, that the regulars do not find Bud Lite to be a satisfactory substitute. Bigger and noisier boats and swarms of jet skis buzz like angry hornets on weekends, sometimes drowning out the honking of the Canada geese. So, I was thinking I might get some personal time with nature if I started early.

Because I was on vacation and so was my husband, we didn't think either of us should have to eat my cooking. Plus, being at the lake is a built-in excuse for eating junk. It's all that's available. What's a woman to do?

Home improvements

We started trolling the skein of roads around the perimeter and little streets that dart back toward the inlets and channels. Places come and go every year. They have names like Good Food, Cold Beer or Captain Chubby's Cafe.

Decor is nautical/NASCAR, punctuated by neon from major purveyors of beer. My favorite place has revolving Clydesdales and a portrait of Yosemite Sam on black velvet. Normal lake food is all fried, all the time. Imagine our dismay when we went into a new place. The menu claimed they had imported beer and couscous with pine nuts as a side dish to grilled chicken. There was an hour wait. And things got even more peculiar.

On the way back to the cottage, we started noticing the trucks hauling drywall and shingles. One of them was hauling something that looked a lot like a hot tub. A hot tub. At the lake. It's not natural.

But every year a few more little fishing shacks are devoured by McMansions with satellite dishes instead of windsocks. I can only assume that on rainy days they console themselves with Play Station and HBO instead of Crazy Eights and Monopoly. I am seeing fewer picnic tables and more glassed-in sunrooms.

A year ago we spiffed up our cottage, hiring a contractor who has worked on several of the new houses. He told us about vinyl siding and faux finishes for the family room. "You mean the card and checkers room?" I said. "Wouldn't the fishing poles propped in the corner look out of place?"

For completely opposite reasons, we both thought that was the point.

He also disapproved of our plan to put in more windows with screens. "What about an air conditioner?" he wondered. We told him that's why General Electric makes fans.

He told us it would be cheaper to tear it down than to work around the old fireplace, the old knotty pine, the old rough-hewn staircase, the low-slung eaves. We told him we were afraid it would lose that fishy aroma.

Things change. I understand that, really I do. And I can hardly resent new people who come to my lake looking for what I've always found there - peace and downtime. But I'm going to hang on to my version of it as long as I can.

I wish I still fit in my old bathing suit. I am glad I still fit in my old cottage.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

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