Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Looking for Love: Must Have a Lake, Loons, Moose, and Pine Trees

We welcome guest blogger Gwen Sayian - a writer who is deep in her hunt for the perfect woodsy getaway.

by Gwen Sayian 

Picking the right cottage/ camp is a challenge. It’s like finding the right person to share your life. You need someone who has all the right things, and few if any “bad” things. And of those “bad things”, you need to know you can live with them with eyes wide open.  

For the last few years, we’ve been toying with the idea of purchasing a cottage (“camp” I understand is the preferred term providing there are pine trees and moose).
We’ve been sailors for 40 years and we know salt water in all its renditions of cold fog, formidable seas as well as the whispered hiss of a boat as it moves through the quiet sea with barely a hint of a breeze to propel it. A glass of wine in the cockpit while enjoying a glorious sunset after a perfect sail on a perfect day is something that I will always treasure as one of the blessings of my life. But life is only so long and if you have dreamed of trying something else, you have to make it happen.

So begins our tale of finding a camp. My first experience with a lake house was when I was in high school the summer after my father died. I was the only child still at home and I suggested to my mother that we rent a cottage up north for a week. She was game for the idea and I was allowed to bring a rented canoe and a girlfriend. It was wonderful and an experience I still well remember. The hushed sunrises, the clean feeling of the lake water on your skin as you dry in the sun, the dull distinctive thud of a wooden paddle when it bumps the side of an aluminum canoe as you paddle, the slam of a wooden screen door as it bounces back to closed.

My husband had never experienced “camp” other than the Air Force kind and he was not eager for the idea until last summer. My daughter had surgery and we decided it was not a good idea to do an extended sailing trip, so I found a little cabin on a small lake just for the weekend, and he loved it! He loved the simplicity of life which is like sailing except without the work of trimming sails, pulling anchors, and navigation as our little cabin never moved in all the time we were there. The idea of a cabin as a new phase in our life was launched, pun intended.

We know we are not looking for a large open lake, the kind that is perfect for speed boats with tubing and water skiing as the focus for recreation. Kayaks are our preferred boat these days, so an interesting lake with multiple islands and coves to explore sounds about right. Our kids are older, no grandchildren yet, but realizing that at some point there might be little feet pattering around, a larger lake of at least 500 or more acres makes sense, just in case tubing does happen to evolve. How we’d ever pull a tube with a kayak, I don’t know but we’ll figure that out if the time comes.

We began, as most people would, with a Google search for lake houses in New Hampshire and Maine, and a dizzying variety of real estate websites popped up, all being the promised gateway to nirvana we sought in the woods. Thus began a new sport of geography trivia as we tried to pin point just where these properties were. A quick run to the car produced an old dog eared map followed by a thorough search of the house for the one and only magnifying glass, which was last used to find a lost contact lens back when Regan was in office.

We quickly realized the antiquity of our ways, and jumped to working multiple open web sites on the computer using Google Earth to identify lakes, state environmental sites for the size of the lakes, water quality, and the issue of invasive weed control.  Once we figured out the property we wanted to investigate, we played the challenging game of would you open the correct window on the first try for the information you want, or would you go from one web site to the next always seeming to miss the one you were actually looking for.

Word to the wise here: be wary of the unexplainable desire to search Google Earth for your house. It will only lead you into the time wasting but rather pleasantly entertaining game of “Where’s Waldo” as you search the surrounding areas for inconsequential landmarks like the convenience store or the neighbor’s house with the barking dog and illegal kennel in the backyard. Add to the collection of open web sites a few lake association and Facebook pages (check it out, as a number of lakes have them), and you’ve got a great game of jeopardy with lots of open web sites all collecting at the top and bottom of your computer screen, just waiting for you to guess which is which. Of course, if you have enough computers and the band width for it, you can spice up the experience and open each web site on different lap top to get a mission control experience. It will also impress anyone else who happens to walk by with your computing savvy and obvious importance.

Using those tools, we have been navigating the lakes, ponds and puddles of New Hampshire and Maine and building an enviable local knowledge without ever stepping out of the house. Of course you do need to take a few field trips, which we have, because nothing compares to the feel of a place, and Google Earth can show you all, but doesn’t tell you just how bad a pig farm can smell.

We also needed to face the boringly commonplace reality of how much can we really afford. It is said life is a series of trade offs and how it applies to your search for heaven among the pine needles is poetic. For us, we wanted to stay within three hours of our home, which is in a metropolitan area. I’ve read it makes for better resale value, and is also good for minimizing road rage. We quickly found we couldn’t afford the picture perfect camp settled on a sandy beach with a dock, a green border of pine trees and a charmingly sparse lawn with a few clumps of green grass generously interrupted with scatterings of pine needles. Too rich for our budget.

So we faced the question; do we go for the weathered, sway- backed shack on the sandy strip of lake shore land with exposed interior wall studs and linoleum older than your grandparents, or should we jump for the cute as a button little house with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, with a right of way to a so-so beach and “filtered” water view?  “Filtered water view’ means you can see the lake if the wind is blowing hurricane force and the trees are being bent in a perfect parting, like Moses and the Red Sea. These questions are clearly determined by your energy level, expertise and if your brother in law is a decent carpenter who happens to be laid off.

Knowing that trade offs were in our future, we made a list: seasonal or year round; view or not so much; loons or are just ducks ok; dock access or beautiful sandy beach. By the way, if loons are a factor in your search you can find that on the web too, usually at an Audubon site. Linger for while when you're there as it will provide with you with renewed energy in your quest.

So this is where we stand at this moment, teetering at the brink of falling into conditional love, with our list of acceptable trade-offs, and the undeniable knowledge that our lists will mean nothing when we find our true love.

Web sites to help in your search:

* Use it to find your way around and identify lakes you might want to seek property on.
* for Maine real estate. You can enter the name of a body of water you want to look for property on
* for New Hampshire real estate. You’ll need a local town name to search. There are other web sites but I found this one to be the most comprehensive.
* Go to “Lake Quality Water Reports” and then “Summary Data.” You’ll find a listing of all the lakes with depths, fish populations, water quality etc. There is a companion page which explains the definitions.
* An easy to use site for all information about a specific lake
* Web pages for lake associations. It will give you a good feel for the general tone of the community, and any specifics like no digging holes in the beach large enough for small children to disappear into.
* Face Book. Many lakes have Face Book pages. Inspiring pictures of sunsets, good information and a fine way to find out just who in the group knows everyone else’s business.
* Snow shoes if you visit in the winter, and mud boots if you visit in the spring.

Stay tuned.

Thank you to Cabin World for letting me set-a-spell and weave my tale.