Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cottage Envy

Cottage envy is a most unpleasant syndrome. It can be set off by a beautiful summer day when half the city seems to have retreated to the lake, or when I’m visiting a friend’s cottage on a perfect (bug-free) mid-summer weekend; the lake is pristine, the people are relaxed, the wine is chilling, and the loon is calling from across the bay.

The fantasy of owning a cottage rattles my mind and I imagine our own little cabin on a peninsula, surrounded by firs and balsams, lake breezes, and sparkling water. In my mind’s eye, I see my family sitting on a wrap-around porch sharing stories while eating grilled lake trout with new potatoes. I imagine playing cards or old-fashioned games, picking wild raspberries and blueberries, reading novels, and swimming in the clear, refreshing lake. With no television, no video games, no computer, and not even a telephone to distract us, my family would bond and nature would rule. We’d go fishing at dawn, canoeing at dusk, and gaze in wonder at the brilliant stars at night.

Then I recall cottage life from my mother’s perspective, when I was a child.

Every Friday, Mom packed up the station wagon with groceries, clothing, linens, pets, and children, and drove through rush-hour traffic to pick up my father at his office in downtown Montreal. Dad shed his tie and jacket, rolled up his sleeves, took the wheel, and headed north to our parcel of paradise in the Laurentians. Strapped in her car seat for the long drive, my little sister screamed for freedom, and my brother and I fought upon the slightest provocation. Once we hit the windy roads, my stomach hurled and a bag was thrust in my face. Sometimes our car broke down and the two-hour drive became a five-hour trek; other times a highway accident caused an inordinate delay.

Upon arrival, the black flies and mosquitoes assaulted us as we unloaded the wagon. My mother unpacked the groceries and prepared dinner while we scurried off to play. For the rest of the weekend Mom cooked, cleaned, bickered with my father, and tried to keep us safe and out of trouble. In his element, Dad happily razed trees with his chainsaw, built new decks and docks, or worked on repairs. When he ran out of projects, he bought the property next door and built a second cottage. For my mother, a true urbanite, cottage life represented isolation and domestic drudgery without the city’s amenities.

Owning a cottage comes with increasing property taxes, bumper-to-bumper traffic, break-ins, winter damage, pumps breaking down, regular power outages, and constant repairs…not to mention arguments over chores, teenagers losing interest, and eventual sibling feuds about who has the greatest claim to the place.

What about those inclement days when it’s too cold and wet to be out on the lake and nobody feels like reading or playing games? The children are antsy, the adults are crabby, and everyone is driving you crazy—such are the times when I’m more than happy to be at home in the city making headway with my backlog of tasks.

So, on a mid-summer Saturday morning when the neighbours have made their weekend exodus, my husband and I lounge on our deck with coffee and newspapers, listening to the birds sing, while enjoying our peaceful garden (notwithstanding the construction racket behind us and the airplanes flying overhead). We don’t have to risk our lives on a congested highway, or fret about missing a sacred cottage weekend because of an important function in the city.

Isn’t rationalization a wonderful thing!

Here’s the plain and simple truth: The minute I arrive at a cottage, whether it be in the rugged Ontario north, along the stunning shores of Lake Huron, or on the shining waters of the Kawarthas, I’m smitten. The second my toes dangle in the lake, or I hear the call of a loon, or smell the forest, I’m lured in.

I want a cottage. I don’t care how big it is, where it’s located, or how simple a structure. Forget about the cost, the headaches, the bottomless pit of maintenance and the long drives with quarreling children in the back seat. As much as I can rationalize the advantages of not owning a cottage, ‘reason’ does not apply here.

Fortunately, when autumn rolls around, my cottage envy begins to wane. But then, when the cold winter months arrive, I must contend with a new syndrome—snowbird envy.


  1. I too suffer from cottage envy but as you so aptly point out, be careful what you wish for. I am still dealing with my house in Toronto which needs constant attention, and enjoy the freedom of traveling wherever without the guilt of not going to a place I own. The unshackled virtue of the cottageless life is a wonderful thing. Perhaps there are cottagers out there who suffer unshackeled envy.

  2. Hey Carla! So glad to see you have started blogging. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do - I too have suffered over the years from cottage envy...maybe one day! In the meantime - I find renting placates me for now and at the end of the week - you just walk away from all the responsibility!