Letter from the Lake: Back in northeastern Pennsylvania, on the shores and in the water of Wrighter Lake, we have a new score in the ongoing battle of man vs. nature.
It's now Man (or McMansion) 2, Nature 2.
A year ago we reported on the advent of the 3,000 or 4,000-square-foot suburban development home on the very edge of our spring fed, mountain-high little lake (about a half mile in length at its longest spot) in the otherwise nondescript Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, north of Scranton and south of Binghamton, and many miles of bad road from the nearest natural suburb.
The most recent McMansion, completed just this summer, put the man up, 2-1.
Paddling around the lake during the heat wave of late July (when you hardly needed the blanket to sleep), it was hard to hear a kind word on behalf of the big behemoth that now blocks the view at the tip of the lake.
Sensing that the score was going to get worse as aging cottage owners sold out to yuppies hell bent on making a statement with a year-round home in the middle of nowhere, I tried to stay positive: The new houses are built like fortresses, with state of the art sewage disposal systems. Over the years trees will grow back and soften some of the sharp edges of these hulking structures.
Given that these houses are likely to ring the lake at some point in the future, I suggested that the dues structure of the lake association be changed to reflect the size of the dwelling unit. Maybe the McMansions could help fund a wake-up call for all sorts of issues (state-imposed environmental regulations, for one) that the lake community will be forced to confront no matter how big or small the cottages around it.
In the case of the latest McMansion, where the present owners surely envision a long life and a passing of the property to their progeny for centuries to come, the more realistic view is that the house will change hands within 10 or 15 years. Someone else might hire an architect to turn the structure into the glimmering jewel that it could be at the end of the lake: More windows might do the trick.
My Pollyanna musings got only a groan from more disgruntled cottage owners: "What about the garage, what do you think of that?" Other than citing the wisdom of my friend Pierre, the architect, who notes that nothing exceeds like excess, little more could be said of the garage, crammed alongside the McMansion and dwarfing the 1950s style cottage owned by the next door neighbors. Two SUVs could happily mate inside the structure and breed a half dozen ATVs (all-terrain vehicles).
But all that development notwithstanding, this year nature made a score of its own. It began as a little ripple on the water that came toward us in the dusk one evening, and then turned into a bigger set of eyes moving along the water. They suddenly disappeared with the loud thwack of a flat tail pounding the water - the beavers were back.
A century ago the beaver was extinct in most states. In Pennsylvania the game commission restored a handful in 1917. Back in the early 1960s, when my folks first scarred the ground to put up our little two-bedroom, one-floor cottage, a beaver lodge was active in the unspoiled shoreline between our place and the neighbors. Twenty years ago we paid the ultimate price for having beavers as neighbors - a 20-foot high birch tree was felled. Shortly after that the beavers disappeared from the lake; and since then the birch has grown back to its former size.
The experts say that by building dams and blocking small streams, beavers re-invigorate riparian areas and foster biodiversity. Some of us still like that. During that last week in July our quarter-acre lot played host to a half dozen rabbits, chipmunks, two kinds of snakes, two species of ducks and woodpeckers, a pair of goldfinches, some orioles, a kingfisher, dueling bullfrogs, a hawk, bats, and hummingbirds, as well as the more common birds you would expect to find in relatively clear air at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level.
In our book, the return of the beaver made the score, 2-2. But come 2008 the lead may go back to the McMansions. The buddy of the guy who put up the big one at the end of the lake has plans to build one of his own next door: The rest of us are braced for something at least as big as this year's new house. That would make it, 3-2, in favor of the McMansions. On the other hand, bears are now being reported in the vicinity of the lake. If we happen to see one, we will consider the score once again tied.