The ad for a big-screen television shows a picture of a still, blue lake. A canoe is pulled up on its shore. In the background, a stand of pine trees of indeterminate species frames one side, a fall-colored mountain range the other. You can almost hear the loons calling each other across the water, as they have done for thousands of years, maybe longer.
Some of our highest priced land is water front. Oceanfront, lakefront, riverfront – the setting differs in attraction – my spouse likes the beach, I prefer mountains – but as long as there is water, there is a premium price attached.
Water is of premium importance to us humans. We can live about three weeks without food, about three days without water. Sixty-five percent of our body comprises molecules of those three atoms: two of hydrogen, one of oxygen.
I grew up on, and often in, a 500-acre pond. At the end of a hot summer afternoon of work sweaty work in the field or on a house I was helping my uncle build, I shucked my jeans and went swimming. I watched a submerged loon race – sometimes fly – under water after sunfish, yellow perch and other small fish that comprise its diet.
My parents owned 50 acres on its shore, but they may as well have owned several thousand, plus two brooks that fed into the lake. I spent many hours tramping through the forest in youthful inventiveness, poking at snake holes, turning over rotting logs to see what critters might be hiding there. I walked around a corner in our half-mile driveway one morning and found myself staring across a 20-foot divide into the eyes of a mama moose and her yearling youngster.
“I’ll go back the way I came,” I said to Ms. Bullwinkle, “but I would really like to keep on my current course. If you would just let me by, I promise to not mess with Junior.”
She thought about it, nuzzled the youngster, and the two headed back up the driveway the way they came.
Just before I turned 18, I enlisted in the Navy, intending to put in the four years required of every red-blooded, reasonably physically fit lad of my generation. After 20 years, I traded the Navy for a word processor, or at least pencil and pad, to become a writer.
I returned “home” in 1985 to find some changes. There were cables stretched across old logging trails, and signs every few feet declaring the owner, usually living out of state, would see to it any trespassers would be duly prosecuted. The thousands of acres were still there, though one of the brooks had been rerouted by one landowner who thought it in the way.
Where once there had been a few cottages scattered around the perimeter, year-round houses had taken root, three rows deep in some places. Swimming sans Levis had a name and a couple of country music hits. It also had a following of lakesiders who thought a lot less of skinny dipping than they did of songs about skinny dipping.
Mother is gone, her land sold and divvied. Much of the surrounding land has suffered similar fate. The price of waterside property continues to command a high price from those who can afford it.
But what bothers me most is the kids who don’t really understand the meaning of “fresh water” because they have never shucked down to their swim suit and swam with the fish in the clear liquid running cold in the wild.
I wish for them a bicycle ride to a creek or pond, and a swim with the fish and ducks, before the only water left comes in landfill-bound plastic bottles.