The Lake on a Misty Morning
Journal Entry July 30, 2012
I have dressed early–6 a.m., in sweatpants and hoodie–to stave off the morning chill. Yesterday was rainy, all day drizzle interspersed with sudden heavy downpours. When I wake this morning and see skies clearing, I know I have to get down to the lake to watch the white tendrils of mist rise from the glossy, rippled surface of the water. I bring a blue chair and a mug of coffee, a camera, and my journal.
The tiny community beach–one of over a dozen–is a short walk from my doorstep. For the first eight years we lived here, the beach was nothing more than a weedy opening in the scrub brush lining the lake. A pine needle- and leaf-covered path slopes down to the water’s edge from the gravel road.
We leave our canoe here, red and tipped upside down, most of the summer and fall. A neighbor borrows it, using his own paddles. He and his family–brothers? sisters? parents? There’s a whole tribe of them–moved into the house behind us two years ago, and they began to clear the opening on their own. Last summer, the community grounds-crew finished the job, cutting more brush, hauling in sand, positioning large boulders across the path to discourage illegal boat launches.
The water here is shallow, only just past my ankles many canoe-lengths out and suddenly deep toward the middle where the current runs. The lake was once a stream, dammed-up for electrical generation about a hundred years ago. It is all coves and curves and fingers reaching in to the land–swampy in places, steep sand cliffs in places. When cross-country skiing in the winter, you have to be careful for weak spotswhere the warm run-off thins the ice from below. I’ve seen guys on snowmobiles rev up and skim over circles of open water.
It is quiet on this Monday morning, the weekend whine of jet skis and power boats as distant as the line of Massachusetts plates heading south out of Kittery on I-95. As I trudge down the path, a heron splashes down, stands. I stop. We watch each other warily. I try not to breath, but he is distrustful and flaps away.
I take a few photographs of the pearlescent mist still hovering over the predawn lake. The water is all shadows here, lake rimmed with tall, close-set pines. Just now the sunlight slices a thin crescent along the eastern-facing shore.
These moments I feel fortunate to have found this place despite my misgivings about its viability in a low-carbon world.
Before the out-of-state developers and the homeowner’s association and the lots plotted on a grid of winding roads ending in numerous culs-de-sac; before the griping and bickering between towns and association; before the housing boom in the 1990’s and milfoil and aging water pipes and the eventual housing bust in the 2000’s, there were only a few scattered camps along this lake. Before those, there were farmhouses and hay fields and pasture for dairy cattle–fieldstone walls running through pine forest a testament to the area’s agricultural past.
In the early 1970’s, in spite of controversy in the two towns out of which our community was carved, the developers developed. The out of state weekenders came first to the lakefront lots. They built summer camps and weekend homes. Later, in the 90’s when real estate prices soared, building contractors scooped up lots of lots. They built and sold spec houses for cheap to the young, middle-class families priced out of the Portland suburbs.
The towns gaped as the school population bloomed. Education costs skyrocketed. This wasn’t the “taxes without the costs” deal they’d been promised. Weekenders’ kids get educated out of state, but these new families bought “off-lake” and stayed year-round and their children entered kindergarten right along with the kids in the villages.
“It was supposed to be a gated community,” one angry school-teacher said to me six or seven years ago. “And there’s never once been a gate!”
Wince. One has to wonder if they wanted the gate to keep us “in” rather than to keep themselves “out.”
So here we are, living in the exurbs, an hour and many gas-powered miles from the jobs in Portland and Biddeford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Association rules drafted in the 1970’s prevent many of us from cutting trees to create garden space, prevent us from raising a few chickens for fresh eggs. Mortgage defaults are up. Some roofs of abandoned homes have already caved in. There are no corners stores in our not-zoned-for-business community. We drive to get anywhere (or sometimes we bike, hard.)
This is not sustainable. It will not work in a low-carbon world where energy costs suck up ever-larger percentages of our disposable income. Am I crazy to worry?
There are mornings like this one when I walk, coffee in hand, down a pine-needle path to spend an hour or two writing beside the lake, and I think maybe I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I should simply I enjoy the scenery, the mist, the heron and let the future take care of itself.
And, if the world moves on, perhaps we can change fast enough to keep pace. Trees can be cut, livestock can be brought in, and we can muddle through, creating a kind of exurban agricultural village on our acre and half-acre lots.
Or else, like that heron, we’ll stop a moment, assess the danger, and flap away, leaving the lake as it was before…quiet, serene, barely inhabited but for those scattered camps, and the only thing that will remain of us will be the caved-in husks of our spec houses mouldering beneath these towering pines.