By Jim Poling Sr.
The annual lull after the storm of summer visitors to cottage country doesn’t seem to have materialized as fully as in past years.
Lake access parking lots still hold plenty of vehicles. Town and village streets remain relatively busy. Post Labour Day traffic hasn’t lightened as much as might be expected.
More people seem to be lingering this year. Perhaps it’s the weather, or maybe it’s a result of COVID-19.
If the latter, I’m wondering whether we will see some dramatic changes in the future of cottage country.
The COVID pandemic brought some changes with its late winter appearance. Concerned people bailed out of cities to head north and take refuge in cottages. Many were retirees, especially concerned because the virus was affecting older people more than others.
Then businesses began closing to lessen spreading the infection, leaving some folks out of work, others forced to work from home. Many of them found themselves free to move to cottages while waiting for the virus threat to pass.
The virus prevented people from travelling very far. In some cases, money saved from cancelled travel went into making cottages more comfortable, or had people out looking for cottages to rent or buy.
COVID aside, more people in general are yearning for an escape from modern realities and a return to nature, a simpler past and slower and safer lifestyle. The Wall Street Journal reported in July that 39 per cent of urban dwellers in the United States are thinking about moving to rural areas because of the pandemic and the increasing chaos of urban life.
You can find more evidence of this on the internet where the hashtag #cottagecore is driving millions of searches for old-fashioned cozy cottage lifestyles.
Perhaps all this is temporary, just a panic-twinged reaction to the chaotic events of 2020. When COVID is controlled and memories of other chaos begin to fade, most people perhaps will settle into the life they had before 2020.
However, if the interest in rural and cottage country living continues, and more and more people opt for it, the changes will be dramatic. There will be benefits, as well as disadvantages.
More population means strain on services, including hospitals, policing and various utilities. More strain will require more staffing, which could bring more extensive medical care and other servicing.
Population growth also will spur more business activity, which will require more employment. More people mean more homes, more building, more renovations and therefore more construction-related jobs.
Larger populations also bring the problems that many urban dwellers now would like to leave behind – crowding, crime, horrendous traffic and pollution.
Some people will favour any change. Others will be unhappy with disruption of life as they have known it.
Whatever happens, whether it be small or huge, there will be change. It is inevitable, as we have seen in the past.
My introduction to cottaging a long time ago was to one-room cabins built of logs hewn by hand and with spaces stuffed with moss to keep out critters and cold. Water came from pails hauled from the lake, and light came from coal oil lamps.
That was in northwestern Ontario where cottages were (and still are) called camps.
Those very basic cottages, or camps, have evolved into mega-cottages with modern electrical or gas appliances and electronic gadgets that connect us to the outside world.
The world evolves, and evolution naturally brings changes. We can’t avoid changes to many of the physical aspects of cottage country. But what we can protect from change is the most important and most valued part of cottage life – the cottage country state of mind.
The cottage always has been a place to take a mental break from urban life. It’s the place where simple things like the call of a loon or the breeze rustling tree branches remind us that nature is our most precious asset.
Nature is our greatest teacher. It reminds us who we really are and what our place really is in the greater scheme of things. It is constantly showing us what is right and what is wrong.
Every teacher needs a well-equipped classroom, and nature’s classroom is cottage country.