Through the looking glass: Creature comforts

While I don’t revel in the rise in temperature each year as summer approaches, bringing with it pollen, bugs and yard work, I do revel in every minute I get to spend at the lake. Every summer we anxiously await the release of school and break from work so we can join the convoy of weary travelers and make our familiar journey to the lake. We spend several days planning and packing, raiding our shelves and purchasing more food than we seem to buy in any given month. Stocking various types of bug spray and sunblock, then in the inevitable event that they fail, anti-itch lotions and burn creams. We spend half a day packing up the vehicle, stopping quickly for more groceries and slushies, then jumping in the line of campers, quads, motorcycles, ATVs, Sea-doos and boats. The mass exodus usually begins around Thursday evening and continues through until Tuesday morning. The departure is decidedly more energetic than the return, yet every year we will faithfully do it again. RVs that cost more than my home are frequently spotted traveling the Alberta highways. Our need for escape from the daily grind is so urgent that even the highest of maintenance can be accommodated. But one must ask, if your choice of escape is different only by the subtle movements of the travel on the highway, is there really an escape?

[related_content slugs=”through-the-looking-glass-nest-building,through-the-looking-glass-colour-me-happy,through-the-looking-glass-pass-the-fun-dip,through-the-looking-glass-sign-me-up” description=”More from Jennifer Barry” position=”right”]

Our lake property is indeed an escape. The nearest cell phone signal cannot be attained anywhere closer than a mile away. There is only a rain barrel for water as, typical of Alberta lakes, they are quite green and hardly make for hospitable sustenance. Electricity is obtained only by a generator, which is traditionally turned on for a few hours each night so we can enjoy our time honored tradition of watching Grumpy, Grumpier, and Grumpiest Old Men.

Upon arrival at the lake we spend a brief amount of time unpacking, sorting and trying to find a nook or cranny for the ridiculous amount of food we brought, then we spend every available second careening around on jet skis and tubes, breaking only long enough to refuel the engines and scarf down some processed meat, topped with processed cheese wrapped in processed bread, collapse in a heap in bed each night after being devoured by bugs, contributing our good night’s sleep to the clean country living. Right. SO not a summer person.

I have learned some valuable lessons at the lake. For example, I learned that trying to speed through reeds to get the boat off the trailer and out into the lake really isn’t helpful. Thinking I would be ripping around the lake at several thousand times faster than bugs can fly, I didn’t wear bug spray. Not realizing that a boat doesn’t like to go anywhere when it’s sucked in half a lake of reeds, the bugs had a good time. Do you think one can overdose on calamine? I also learned that when you throw all your weight into pulling yourself up out of the water and back onto a Sea-doo, if you happen to make contact with the metal bar across the back of the seat, you can indeed break your nose.  Another valuable lesson was that life jackets really do work.

The lack of electricity, running water and cell phone towers lends to an interesting phenomenon at the lake: we sit around a campfire and converse. Without interruption. We play games without concern about what’s on TV or what else we might be missing.  Picking raspberries, playing Clue or slapshotting a croquet ball across the grass, we catch up on life with friends that we have spent a good part of the year with, yet somehow still have much to learn about. Musically inclined folks will take the rare opportunity to play, unsolicited, for their friends. Their friends, as tone deaf as they might be, get to sing along, unsolicited. The more athletically inclined get to show their prowess on any number of water sporting equipment. The less athletically inclined get to show their lack thereof. Or, like me, sit in the boat and take pictures.

By the end of the weekend, we are left to pack up the remainder of the months groceries we couldn’t stuff into another inch of our bodies, gather up a week’s worth of laundry, and pour our battered, bruised, sunburned and bug ravaged bodies into our vehicles for the peace and quiet of a ride home with a vehicle full of sleeping passengers. Upon our return to work the next week we will share the events of the weekend as compared to the best of holidays and lament the necessity of working.

So, if we revel in the lack of amenities so much, to the point of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, why don’t we live like that? What is behind the drive to go ‘back to basics’ but apparently not live there? We revel in the idea of not being able to be contacted by phone, but won’t live without one. We seem to be able to survive without a computer, but run to it the minute we’re settled at home. Maybe it’s a matter of proving to ourselves that we can live without it, briefly. Maybe we just need the variation in our lives to keep our regular daily life interesting. Maybe an occasional weekend without all the comforts of home makes home that much more comfortable. I know that as anxious as I am to get to the lake, I am just as relieved to pull back into my driveway and get back to ‘normal’ life.

Whatever the case, evident by the amount of luxury RVs, campers, tent trailers and mini vans littering the highways north of Edmonton this past weekend, people will spend a crazy amount of money, invest an obscene amount of time, and endure some fairly archaic surroundings, to escape it all…or bring it all with them.


Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune.

Follow us on Twitter at @SpectatorTrib