Blog : Fall

The Hunt

The Hunt

I kill animals every year. Or at least one animal every year. It’s a right of passage, a tradition, something I do, annually.  I’m a killer, I suppose.  But I’m not a cold blooded animal killer. This is a title reserved for those who enjoy the event. The killing.  But even that isn’t my fault. It’s my dog’s fault. I have two dogs. One small dog who doesn’t like children, and one large dog who likes everyone. The big dog likes people, sure, but he’s a vicious killer of every other creature. He kills for sport. He tortures for fun. He’s an awful, terrible dog, renowned in the animal kingdom as being the worst of the worst. Rabbits have come to know the sound of his footsteps in the grass.  Entire families have been destroyed by his jaws.

And this is why I end up having to kill. Each year,  perhaps just once but possibly more, this aloof dog will play with a small rabbit until the small rabbit is near death. Crawling on the grass, begging for a reprieve. Bloodied and broken. This is when I get the call from my wife, or my daughter, and I have no choice but to drive home and load a gun. From the moment this painful process starts, I’m sick over it. I don’t want to kill his rabbit. Even if it is already nearly dead, it isn’t totally dead. No, that’s something that I have to do. My daughter looks out the window, tears filling her eyes. Forced into action by something outside of my control, it’s up to me to end the suffering, and with one pull of the trigger, that’s what I’ve done.

I’ve thought about joining the bird hunters. This doesn’t seem that difficult, not does it seem that bloody. Just walk in a field and shoot at a bird. The feathers hide the damage, after all. There wouldn’t be any eye contact with my prey, just a blast from a gun and a dog retrieval. This seems like something I could do. I could buy the best field chaps, if that’s what they wear, and then walk through the tall, tan grass on a still November morning. What a great thing this could be. But then last week I saw a bird in my driveway that appeared to be sick, or injured.  My wife and daughter checked on it, and put it into a small shoe box filled with pine shavings. We kept it in the box outside in our shrubs to protect it from the skunks and weasels and coyotes that would have eaten it overnight. The next morning I checked on this bird, a female Cardinal, and it was dead. I felt awful, and quickly realized that bird hunting isn’t for me.

I’d like to start something, someday. A business. A service. A product. Something, anything. And with this I’ve thought about the world of catch and release deer hunting. Why couldn’t this work? The gun would look like a gun, but with a different tip on it so people would know it isn’t lethal. Instead of shooting a bullet it would shoot a tranquilizer dart. The dart would hit the deer, the deer would fall asleep quickly, like in the movies. And then I could pose with the deer, just like a real hunter, only that my magnificent buck would then wake up and return to the rut. I’d experience everything, just like a real hunter. The gear. The face paint. The thrill of the hunt. The squeezing of the trigger. The photo. The admiration of Facebook and Instagram. And then, the peace I’d feel knowing that my deer walked away from the incident with nothing but a small scar where my tranquilizer dart stuck. If catch and release fishing is a thing, why not catch and release hunting, too?

Alas, it isn’t meant to be. I’m too soft. I value life too much. But I don’t begrudge the hunter his season. I wish him well, I wish him safety.  For the families that find connection in hunting, I wish them peace.  But there is something of which non-hunters like me need to be aware. It’s that this is the time of year for the hunter.  Wisconsin’s rifle deer season begins this weekend, running through the Thanksgiving holiday and the following weekend. Today, a simple word of advice.  Just stay out of the woods. Don’t walk nature preserves where hunting is allowed. If you’re not sure whether or not hunting is allowed, assume it is.  Don’t wander through woods, no matter how lovely a late fall walk might be. Leave the woods to the hunters and the deer these next two weekends, and wish them both well.

Off Season

Off Season

It was January. Maybe February. The snow had piled up and the lake had frozen. It was winter, but not like last winter, it was real winter. The sort we had a couple of years ago. The sort we might have this year. The property came to market on a Tuesday. It might have been a Wednesday. I saw the listing and sent it to a customer. I didn’t send it via an automated feed that all of my “competitors” use. Those feeds are insulting to your intelligence. Or at least insulting to mine.  I sent him the property, with a note, “Buy this”.  Within a few days, he had done just that. The beautiful vacant piece of Fontana lakefront was his. Ours.  Today, a new home is being built. It will be a stunning home, designed with summer weekends in mind, perfect in the little ways. Perfect in the big ways. It’ll be done by next summer, hopefully.

The lot was listed in January. My buyer was in Naples. Or Ireland. Or California. It might have been South America, hunting grouse. The sort that live in the rocky crags. They might not even be grouse, but grouse lookalikes. It didn’t matter where he was. He knew what he wanted to buy here, and when it hit the market, it didn’t matter if it was a Saturday in July or a Tuesday in January. It didn’t matter if he “had the time” to make it up for a look. He had me, and my eyes and my advice, and he knew I knew what he’d want. In this, there is no humble brag. There is just the reality of a resort market during the months that the casual lookers perceive to be the off-season. The reality of Lake Geneva? There is no off-season.

Had this buyer not been paying attention, he would have easily let this opportunity pass him by. That’s the easy thing to do, after all, to assume that there’s always something else. There’s another best thing, coming soon. Not today, tomorrow, maybe. If not tomorrow, perhaps seven Wednesdays from now. That’ll be the day.  That lot was purchased perhaps three years ago.  From that winter day to this autumn day, there has been nothing else come to market that reflects the same sort of attribute. The ideal location. The ideal configuration. The ideal price. If that buyer had decided that, no, he didn’t want to pursue something because his attention was momentarily elsewhere, none of this would be happening. The carpenters wouldn’t be rushing to finish the roof before the snow. The buyer wouldn’t be thinking about summer at his new lake house. He’d just be temporarily distracted by the distraction of the day.

A cold November morning feels about as as distant from summer as possible. Nothing could be farther away at this point. We haven’t even started winter. We haven’t grown tired of winter. We haven’t longed for spring. We haven’t tasted spring. We haven’t put a pier in, because the piers still aren’t out. Next summer is forever away, and it’s easy to live our lives as though we have plenty of time. Summer will come, but it won’t come soon. This is the easy way to live. This is the way most live. But this isn’t the way to get things done. This isn’t the way to accomplish the goal. How do you accomplish the goal? You pay attention in December just like you would in July.  When a property lists in January and I tell you it’s something to buy, you drive up in January.  The grouse can wait. Summer’s coming.

The Fall Of It All

The Fall Of It All

I already know the sort of fall you like. I know the sort of fall everyone likes. It’s the fall we had last Saturday. Sunshine, 70 degrees, bright leaves and a deep blue lake.  A cloudless sky, excepting a few puffers pushed from the South and out to the East by a weekend wind. Boots and leaves, orchards and pumpkins. Walks along the shore path with dogs. Happy dogs. Happy people. Happy skies and happy days. This is nice that you’re so positive all the time, so nice that fall can behave like this, much to the delight of the fall enthusiast. Fall, it generously gives the soft people the fall they so badly desire.

But fall isn’t just like this. Fall gives to people like me, too. It’s not that I don’t love the above fall, I do. When I spent a few hours boating last Saturday with clients and friends, I wasn’t mad about this. The kids flopped around on the tube as we whipped from shore to shore, basking in the waning warm rays of 2017. I enjoyed it as much as anyone, but not more than anyone. I just enjoyed it, enough. But the time for that has past. The time for the soft fall is nearly over.  The opportunities for the casual fall enthusiast to stroll over bright, crisped leaves have just about expired. It’s still fall, mind you, still delicious, wonderful fall, but it’s about to be fall for the serious. Fall for the brooding. Fall for the hardened.

This fall comes with little warning.  Fall might blow bright on a Saturday and dull on a Sunday. When the crisp leaves no longer crunch and instead cling, gummed to the bottom of a nearly soaked boot, this is the fall that the masses dislike. It’s so wet, they’ll say. It’s so dark, my wife will say. It’s so muddy, someone else says.  It’s raw. The temperature might not break 50. If it does, it’ll settle at 51. The wind will blow. The leaves will strip. The gutters will clog. When we drive by the pumpkin patch we won’t hear laughter. No children searching for the perfect, orange gourd. We’ll just drive past without slowing and see the withering, muddied field, wondering why the farmer planted 10,000 pumpkins when he knew he’d only sell 600.  Real fall is full of second guessing.

This is the fall I love. The fall that’s dark. The fall that’s cold. The fall that might be wet and windy on Tuesday and dry and cloudy on a Wednesday. I don’t need the sun like you do. I need the comfort of a low sky. I crave the familiar of a late afternoon that already feels like evening, when the only lights visible are the window lamps, warming a room and reaffirming the distinct difference between inside and outside. In summer and in soft fall, the distinction is blurred. Windows are opened, doors left cracked open, wedged there by a fall boot that has no summer use. In the fall, the boundaries are once again established. Inside it’s warm and it’s soft and it’s comforting, the fire slowly consuming. Outside, the woodsmoke hangs just under that low sky and the deer walk quietly through the tall faded grass.

This is the fall I love. It might still be bright, some days. Peak leaves will be peaking this weekend, assuming they all haven’t been forced to the ground by the wind and the rain. It’s going to be cold this weekend. It’s cold now.  Some will run for the warmth of southern Florida. Others will wish they could escape the drear. The happy fall lovers will find this unsettling, while I’ll try to hide my enthusiasm. Because fall isn’t just for you. It’s for me, too.

 

 

Fall Rules

Fall Rules

I have several different sets of rules pertaining to several different disciplines. My real estate rules are well known. Don’t buy a house on any lake that doesn’t start with a G and end with an EVENA. This is the main rule. Other rules involve other things. I’ve been lifting weights for a year or so now. You can’t tell. I’m getting mostly fatter but marginally stronger, so if I ever need to lift a car off of a small child there is now a good chance that the car will at least wiggle when I apply force. My workout rule is simple. Show up late on leg day. Show up early on chest day. Simple, rules.

We have six chickens at our house now. My wife collects an egg or two each day, small oddly shaped eggs of different colors. They’re nice, enough. But the chickens wander all over my yard and scratch through my mulch beds, and use my bluestone patio and sidewalk as their commode. This is unacceptable to me. My wife visits the chickens and returns to the house with chicken crap on her shoes. This is unacceptable to me. At my house, my rules of no chicken crap in the house are viewed as being unnecessarily onerous, for reasons I cannot understand. Still, rules.

I have other rules for other things, but now it’s fall and there are fall rules that are very, very important. I have three fireplaces in my house. They’re nice. I love burning wood, and view an affinity for gas fireplaces as a character flaw. When a real estate description says “gas fireplace”, I generally feel sad and empty inside. Fires are meant to consume, and if I can’t feed the fire wood, what good is the fire? In the fall, the temptation to burn wood comes early. The first crisp night. The first rainy Saturday afternoon. The problem with all of this is the rules are the rules.

No fires until the nighttime temperature is consistently in the 40s. No fire if the daytime high exceeds 62 degrees. In tandem, these two rules work beautifully. A cold night does not allow for a fire if the preceding day was warm. And vice versa. These rules keep the burning of wood as an important and restricted ritual. If I had a fire whenever I felt like it, just because, then the importance of the fall and winter fire would be diminished. Do you eat cake every night? Of course not. That’s why it’s nice to have on birthdays. Fires should be revered in a similar manner. This is the first fall rule.

Apple orchards are wonderful. They really are. Apples are delicious. Anyone who disputes this is an apple bigot and should be silenced. Freedom of speech does not include the right to diss the Wisconsin apple. If you live in Texas, I’ll grant permission. But Wisconsin apples are the best apples, and northern Illinois apples are nearly equal. The Lake Geneva area has several orchards, but there’s really only one that matters. Just south of Walworth a ways you’ll find Royal Oak Farm Orchard.  The name is clunky, but the apples are not. It’s fall, and it’s orchard time.

Or is it? I cannot visit the orchard on nice, warm days. Warm days at the orchard are terrible. Bees, apples, and sweat do not mix well. That’s why I abstain from orcharding until such a day that the temperature is not more than 60. An ideal orchard day is in the mid 50s, with some light breeze. And U-Pick must be open on most of the apples. If you go to the orchard on a 70 degree fall day and the only U-Pick is Jonagold, what are you doing? And are your parents aware of how much shame they should feel?

Fall at the lake is perhaps the best time to be here, at least second only to summer.  But if you’re going to be here, please follow these rules. They’ll make your experience that much better, and your life that much fuller.

Lake aerial, courtesy Matt Mason Photography.
The Why

The Why

It was windy. It hadn’t rained yet, but the clouds had overtaken the moon and everyone knew the rain was near. It wasn’t warm anymore, not warm like the day and not warm like the summer. It was cool. Cool like fall, cool like late-fall.  The day had given us a taste of summer, whether or not this was the last taste no one could be sure. But the wind blew the trees and a few leaves fell and the rain was coming and the moon had gone dark. It wasn’t late. A month ago it would have been light, or at least glowing, the last bits of the day still visible.  It was dark.

But the porch lamps were on and the screens are still free from their winter canvas.  A distant whiff of woodsmoke in the air, blown here by that wind that stripped a few leaves with it. The night was damp even before the rain came. Damp like a mountain night, cold like one, too. Cars clogged the driveways. The paved and cobbled drives that lead to the lakefront homes were littered with cars, just as the gravel drives with grass creeping in from the margins that lead to the small wooden cottages were filled as well.  A porch table with the mostly eaten dessert still left out, a crisp probably. Peach I’d bet, because the apples are not yet in season even if the cold wind proves their time is very, very near.

A flashlight in the yard. Kids running and playing and hiding behind the trees. The wind masks their steps even as the fallen leaves of late summer give them away. The adults lounge on that summer porch, with their bare feet tucked under blankets. The old wool ones look so nice in that porch stack, but they’re scratchy and uncomfortable and everyone knows it. Laughter leaks from one porch to another. A cruise boat pushes through the darkness, the revelers laughter making it to shore as nothing more than a happy murmur.

Me? I wasn’t on a porch. I was just driving a truck back to my parents’ house. Down the roads I know so well, around this corner and turning at that one. The streets full of those weekend cars. The porches light. The kids playing. The stories being told.  The weather, that damp cold night, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t even okay. It was pretty terrible, really. But the weekend went on, and the people gathered at those houses. The porches are all different, some large and fanciful, others small and bare. But the night was all the same, each house happy to be in use. Each group happy to have gathered here, at this lake, during this time. Even on the darkest, dampest of summer nights that feel more October than not, this scene is the same. We come here because we love the lake and the sunshine and the way it makes for a summertime afternoon. We stay here because at night on a cold porch with damp cushions and scratchy wool blankets nothing feels more like home.

Summer’s End

Summer’s End

The streets are quiet now. The excited conversations of summer are now just a murmur, fading like the green in all of these leaves. There was life back then, so much of it that it needed to be discussed. The green of the trees was bright, full, deep and overwhelming. It’s still very much green, but it’s duller than it was. Our conversations are quieter, the trees are duller, the waves are softer. The streets are quiet. This thing is nearly over.

Oh sure, we’re trying to act like that isn’t true. The gas station is full of boats this morning, their empty tanks being filled again. There’s still time, the boaters say. This day will be the best day. There won’t be many more like it, but this day. This will be the best.  The beer will be cold and the fish might bight.  When the fish ignore then we’ll tube and we’ll toast our skin and we’ll snack and we’ll drink. Today will be the best day of the summer. These are the lies of late August.  We know they’re lies, but we tell them anyway. We have no choice.

We know, deep down inside our summer selves, that the only way to enjoy summer is to engage in it without a clock. The only time that summer is truly bliss is during early summer. The sort of summer that has so much left in the tank that we wouldn’t even think of anything else. An 80 degree in late June will always thoroughly beat an 80 degree day in late August. That’s because in June there are more coming, so many more that who could count? There isn’t anything ahead but more summer, better summer, tons and tons of summer.

It’s not like that now.  There is football on my television, no matter if I click past the programming quickly or not, it’s still there. I looked at the stack of wood on my porch and thought that the stack should be taller. The wood is dry now, lighter than it was. It’ll be easier to stack higher and deeper, and I should start doing this soon. It won’t be long before I burn that maple. I cut and split the limbs in late winter, which is to say it was early spring, which feels now like it was forever ago, but not really. It was just a few months ago, before the spring really took hold, before the heat of June and the deluge of July and the niceness of August. It’ll be that way again soon. I should start chopping wood.

Yes, there are a few weeks of this thing left, but are there? If you’re lying in bed dying of something, is it great to be thinking that there might be a couple of weeks left? Is that life? Is that really, truly living? Or can you only really live when you aren’t thinking of dying? I always tell my parents that life doesn’t change when you’re on your deathbed. Life changes when you’re sitting in the doctors office swinging your feet back and forth off the end of that elevated bed when the doctor knocks at the door and enters the room. Life changes when the doctor tells you you’re sick. It doesn’t change when you feel sick, when you grow weak, when you’re nearly done. It changes right then, when she tells you what you have and why that’s bad. In the same way, is summer over when it’s October and the Sunday temperature barely touches 60 and we feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to wear our boots and visit the orchard?

I say no, that’s not at all when summer is over. Summer’s over when we start to think about fall, and I’m starting to think about it already. I don’t want to, I really don’t. I wish I didn’t have to rush through this season to discover the next.  I already know what fall is like. But that’s exactly what I have to do, because I have no choice. I’m from Wisconsin, proudly, and we can’t linger in any season for too long. I know there are boat rides still to come, swimming and superjetting and sweetcorn. But there’s also wood to chop and jeans to patch and cider donuts to eat.  I don’t want to do those things on purpose, it’s just that I can’t help it. The streets are too quiet for me to pretend any longer.

 

Photograph “Sweet Wheat” by Kristen Westlake.
Gloom

Gloom

Both of my grandmothers are now dead. They’ve both been dead for a while. My Grandma May didn’t complain about much, or if she did she didn’t see fit to complain to her grandson. My Grandma Curry on the other hand, she’d complain about anything to anyone. No friend or stranger was safe.  She’d complain about her diverticulitis, often. If something served for dinner looked good but she couldn’t eat it, the diverticulitis was to blame. She was feeling fine, except the diverticulitis. She had a swollen arm as a result of a long ago mastectomy, for which she wore a compression sleeve, like Allen Iverson.  She would complain about her arm as she swiped at the hanging excess. Her fat arm, she’d say. Everything is fine except for this fat arm and the diverticulitis. And the clouds.

She was also pleasant, happy often, happy for several things but mostly, and most audibly, happy for the sunshine. She loved the sunshine. Her diverticulitis could be acting afoul and her fat arm could be swollen and her compression sleeve pinching, but if the sun were shining then things were just fine. Winter days as cold as they can be were never a concern if the sun was shining. Summer days, no matter how hot, no matter how humid, if sunny they were enthusiastically embraced. On the other hand, if the diverticulitis was in momentary remission and her fat arm wasn’t swollen and her compression sleeve was resting comfortably on the dresser top, and these conditions were accompanied by cloudy skies, then a “how are you, grandma?” was met with a routine and orchestrated, “well, I’m okay, I just wish the sun would come out”. You cannot fault an old woman for liking the sun.

Which means I will give my dead grandmother a pass for hanging her mood on the condition of the sky, but I will not give anyone else a pass. Sunday was a mostly gloomy day at the lake. It was gloomy in the morning and it was misting a bit in the afternoon, and later, after it cracked a tease of sun for a few moments , it was gloomy again. The sun set mostly gloomy, without show or reflection. Night fell and late into the night while we hoped the Cubs would find some conviction, it was gloomy even as our moods lifted. Yes, Sunday was like that, as were days earlier in the week, and days the week before, and this week, though it looks as though it might be sunny more than not, it’ll be gloomy at times and I, for one, love it.

I don’t love the gloom much in July, as July is for sun and for blues and for pastel clothing and deep green trees. But now, at this late date, the fields have gone from green to gold and now to brown and tan, gray and silver.  Life is fading from these fields and from these trees, and while the show will go on for several more weeks, I don’t feel the need to cling to the brightness of mid summer or the intrigue of mid fall. Now I only wish for the quiet gloom of November. I recognize I’m relatively alone in this opinion.

But why should I be? Why should we be as my grandmother and live only for the sunny days? What’s so wrong about a gloomy Sunday where the fire is flickering and the curtains are drawn? What’s so difficult about the gray skies and the brown fields and the way an 8 point buck cruises through the tall, dull grass? Why must we complain so much about the transition? After all, it’s the transition that keeps us sharp. It’s the in between days filled with clouds and drizzle that harden us to the coming cold. It’s the gloom of November that makes the light of summer matter.  So this week and next month,  when the gloom returns, just embrace it and be thankful that your fat arm hasn’t swelled and your diverticulitis isn’t acting up.

 

Steady

Steady

Anxiety is a common affliction in the real estate world. Those not living in this world cannot fathom what might be so difficult about making buckets full of money while doing very little actual work. Those in the industry, and those who were driven from the industry from the anxiety, know this business to be different. My brother works in a factory of sorts. He sits somewhere and punches in some orders onto a computer screen, and then a robot does those things that he’s told it to do. It’s a nice thing to have the robot do that work, and when he drives home at night be doesn’t wonder about what might happen if the robot doesn’t work tomorrow. He doesn’t worry that the CFO just found out the new orders from that large new company have been canceled. He just gets up early and goes to work the next morning and sits on his chair and punches in the commands that the robot will follow. The anxiety of real estate is different, and it’s more intense and more troubling than anyone who hasn’t sat in my particular chair could understand.

But this particular chair does not own me, and so I sit in it for a while in the morning and then again for a bit in the afternoon. I drive around the lake, I drive down this road and down your road. I look at houses and I look at land and I look at views and I look for what it is that you’re hoping I might find. That traveling seat is far more interesting than this creaky seat that I pull up to this long desk in the morning. That moving seat helps with the stress of a day, and that seat gives me a glimpse of the lake that I’ve seen nearly every day for the entirety of my life.

Admittedly, there are views of this lake that I prefer over others. A fall view from the tip of Cedar Point, where Circle Parkway makes its most pronounced curve, that view to the West through the fall trees as they drop a storm of yellow and orange leaves; now that’s a view. It’s different up there. The lake looks different from that height, like something you can see but can’t touch, like something on a horizon that you’ll never catch. You can chase it from up there, and watch the waves from above, where the rise and fall isn’t visible but for the foamy white of the break.

Downtown Lake Geneva on an October Tuesday must look different in the minds and imaginations of the summer visitors, those who fill up on summer over a few weekends and then look back to their desks and not to the water again until the next June. But I see downtown on a Tuesday in October I know it looks like it should, I know it looks like July with a brighter leaves. I know the breeze blows the same off the lake but it’s cooling now, not warming, and I know the outdoor diners are still dining and they’re still toasting to this place, to this scene, to that view.

In the summer when it storms, I can’t know the severity or the angle of the storm until I see it from the shore, over that lake. I know then where it’s coming from, where the wind is blowing, and how bad it might be. I know the clouds and the way they twist and push and form those summer shelves. I can see rain and clouds from these office windows, and from the windows of my house, but I can’t see the detail until I’m looking over the water. It’s impossible to tell just what’s going on without that view.

Today, I see the leaves on the trees across the street, and I see the leaves yellowing and falling, more and more each day.  Because of this I know it’s fall, and I know the colors are starting, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. I won’t be able to know just how widespread these colors are until I’m driving through Williams Bay, past that launch and I look to the south and the east and the west.  Fall can sneak up on you, but not when you’re watching the colors change across the lake. It’s obvious then, and when I saw the Snake Road foliage from Big Foot Beach yesterday I knew that fall was no longer waiting. It’s here, and it’s bright and the colors are orange and yellow and red. I know this now because I saw it across that lake. In a life filled with twists and turns and the anxiety that this morning chair brings, that lake and those views are always there and they’re always steady and they will always catch my eye.

October Drive

October Drive

The Saab 900 was gunmetal gray. The roads were straight, the path clear. North. That’s all I needed to do, bearing East when possible, but mostly just North. The Saab had a top speed that I never discovered. The rattle and wobble at 70 made sure that the higher numbers on the speedometer wouldn’t be touched. The roads were gray, the sky gray, the trees browned and grayed, the clouds gray. The lights dim, everywhere dim. The lake, that big lake to the East was gray, the water and the shore and the clouds and the space between, gray. It was late fall, I was 18 and I drove into the night.

On a typical trip to some other place, the route is dark and confusing and the turns many  but the destination, once it comes into view, is clear and bright, welcoming a weary traveler to the place where he intended to be. The traveler finds his destination and the troubles of the trip are forgotten, the wrong turns now merely a laughable memory because the journey is complete and the place he finds himself is perfect.  Instead, I drove the tired hatchback down slippery roads, soaked with rain and trampled leaves that had been ground into a paste on these county roads. I drove not knowing where I was going, not knowing what I was searching for.  The Pinkerton album my misfitted soundtrack.

A Vacancy sign was all I needed to see, and after some time I had been seeing nothing but. Vacancy, they’d all say, the NO distinctly quiet and dark, like the woods on these roads and the rain that fell and the paste that clung to my balding tires. The I didn’t want to commit to any particular lodging option until I had driven past many of them, each one darker and dimmer and more unwelcoming than the last. After some time of this I decided that one was as good as another, and I pulled in to a small cabin that looked like a house, with a car out front and a lamp lighting the window. The pull chain light flashed Vacancy.

The older woman was kind enough, and I exchanged some money for a key and a map to the cabin that would be home for as long as I decided it should be. If it was dark on the road, and dark in front of the cabin office, then it was positively pitch but the time I found my way down the leaf soaked path to the cabin. I don’t remember if the cabin had a name, like the  Chipmunk House, or if it just had a number, like Cabin 3, or a letter, like B. I found the cabin and went inside, the rain intensifying, the darkness finding its way darker still.

It wasn’t scary in the cabin, but it wasn’t not scary, either.  It smelled like wet dust, like any cabin would smell after the first rain of spring, after a long time of sitting empty over a long, cold winter. But this was fall, not winter, and so it smelled anyway and I left my bag on the bed and drove towards town to find something to eat. The town greeted me in the same manner as the county did, in the same way as the cabin office did, in the same way that the cabin did. It was dark in town,  a few cars offering the only movement, the only thing open a small gas station with two pumps, pay inside, cash only. I bought a cardboard wrapped pizza, first estimating its size to determine if it would fit inside the narrow oven at the cabin. A two liter of pop rounded out the order. The man at the register looked at me like any man at any register has ever looked at a single traveler who appears lost and confused, whose clothes and hair were soaked from the dark rain, who looked as though he didn’t belong there.

I couldn’t just drive back to the cabin at this point, because the TV was small and the pizza would only offer a few minutes of distraction, and so I drove down to the shore to look at the water. That’s why I was there, after all, to fish for the salmon that should have been running in such great numbers that even me, a kid from another place who drove there only on a whim, with some cash and a new CD and a wobbly gunmetal gray car. I pulled up to the harbor, to look out between the swipes of the wipers, to see the water whipped and the waves crashing. There were no fishermen there. Just me, in my car with my pizza and a fishing pole. I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but this wasn’t it. This looked intimidating, unappealing, difficult. I ate the pizza on my bed and tried to ignore the wind that felt like it might knock the cabin down and bury me in a pile of dusty rubble in a county where I shouldn’t have been.

The next day, the water was high, the sky gray, the town as empty as it was the night before. I kicked some leaves down the sidewalk in town, looking like a lost tourist who showed up the day after everyone else left. The restaurants had signs, THANKS FOR ANOTHER GREAT YEAR, even though I knew they didn’t mean it.  If the year was so great there would have been some money left over to fix the awning that was tearing at both ends, mildewing so heavily that I wasn’t sure what color, exactly, the fabric was supposed to be. The river that I wanted to fish was wide and muddy. Even if there had been fish in it I wouldn’t have been able to catch them, and since I didn’t see them it didn’t make any sense to me to fish for something I wasn’t sure existed. I had missed the run and I had missed their fall, I figured, and that’s why no one was here. I shuffled through town for the remainder of that day and drove home before the night fell.  It was October and I had missed what I had driven so far to find.

Today, it’s bright and the leaves are green, except the few that are yellowing and the others that are turning to red. Mostly, it’s still summer here, even though the temperature disagrees. It’s early enough that you still have time. You won’t miss fall here if you visit this month, but if you show up later in the month I assure you the lights will still be on. We’ll still be here, because it’s Lake Geneva and we don’t look at October as the end of anything. It’s just the start of another season, and like all of the other seasons, it’s one that should find you here.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I think we know each other well enough that we can cut through all the nuance. It’s time we had an honest discussion about me, about you, and about what it is that we’re doing here. I’m here because I get to be, because I have to be, but because I want to be. I’m here for those reasons, and many more. I’m here because it’s what I know, it’s what I love, and it’s what I prefer. I like this place more than the other places. I’m here because I’ve always been here. But this isn’t about me, so in that, I’ve lied to you. This isn’t the first time I’ve lied to you, I’ve lied before. Like once when I said I was going on vacation for a week but I was really only gone for 48 hours because I’m a slave to this keyboard, to this desk, indeed to this place.  I apologize for the lies.

But why should I? Because this isn’t, as I’ve already mentioned, about me, it’s about you. It’s about August 26th and how late this is. It’s about the end of summer, because we all know what I’ve said a trillion times: September is still summer. Ah, but that’s another lie, because it isn’t. September is fall because when kids go back to school and the first fallen leaves get ground into the city sidewalks, that’s fall. It might feel like summer if you let it, but that’s the sensory part of September, not the emotional part. In fact, summer isn’t going to last through September, it isn’t going to appear sometime in October, for some of it or most of it or maybe none of it, because summer is already over. It’s August 26th and it’s not summer anymore. Anything I’ve ever said to the contrary is a lie.

I can tell it isn’t summer because my kids went swimming yesterday and so did my wife, with her ridiculous goggles, and then I played golf and I was sweating because it was still hot.  The sun was high, the haze summer-like, and when it was all said and done I thought that it was a nice summer day. But it isn’t summer anymore. The town was busy and the cars were everywhere, but they weren’t everywhere like they were two weeks ago, they were just some of the places that they were before. The lake was busy, but no it wasn’t, not at all. There were some boats, but hardly any. Lots, sure, but few when compared with before. The lake was quiet the town was empty and the sun was high and the water was warm but it was fall and not summer.

The leaves are green, which looks like summer, just like summer. Except now the leaves are dull, they’re dying. They look fine but they’re dying. Like me and like you, we might look fine, but we’re dying. All of us, dying. Just like the leaves and just like the empty stalls in front of the ice cream shops and just like the clothes rack at your local back-to-school-shopping-place, withering and emptying because it’s not at all summer, it’s fall. The dull leaves are dropping, they’re dropping because they’re dying and they’re dying because it’s not the middle of summer, it’s fall.  My cone flowers in front of this office window are beautiful, but that’s only if you look quickly. Look more closely and some are already dead, drying and offering up their seeds to the wrens and the other yellow birds that pick and pluck and leave the seed casings on my sidewalk. The squirrels are running across that sidewalk now, cheeks stuffed full to overflowing, because they know it’s fall and winter comes next and if they don’t pack enough nuts into their nests they’ll be like us and our leaves, dying.

So here we are, on this day when I finally admit to you what I know to be true. It’s August and it’s already fall. It feels of summer on my skin, but I’m far past the point in my life where I judge things based solely on how they feel. I imagine a skunk has soft fur. Delightfully soft fur. But I know that I won’t ever pet one, because my brain is smarter than my fingers. It feels like summer and I’m going to sweat today like it’s summer, but my brain knows what my eyes have seen. It’s fall, and it’s too late. If you were planning on doing something meaningful this summer you’ve already blown it. But Labor Day Weekend! Labor Day Weekend is for rookies.

It feels good to admit my lies to you. I no longer feel bound by them, I know longer feel that I need to tell you it’s still summer because we’re already agreed that it isn’t. The kids are in school and the ones that aren’t will soon be. You can swim off a pier this weekend and it’ll feel like summer, but when you dry off and sit on the pier you’ll look around and no longer view summer as something that’s happening around you, you’ll view it as something you were happy to have participated in. Unless you spent the summer in the city or the suburbs, busily tending to a summer of pools and shopping malls, then we all know the biggest lie today is the one you keep telling yourself: You had a great summer. No you didn’t, you blew it, and now it’s too late to fix your mistake.

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

It’s getting late. The greens are no longer bright. The grass is beginning to fade. The corn is drying as it should, first at the bottom and then, slowly, eventually, all the way to the top. The beans will start turning soon, from green to gold. Vast fields of gold. The lake is warm now, as it has been all summer, but it’s really warm now. This is peak summer, and much like peak anything, it can’t last forever. Soon the kids will walk past this office on their way to school, solemnly marching up this hill on their way to learn something. Today they’ll ride their bikes down the hill, down to the beach and to the ice cream shops. Today it’s still summer, but everyone can hear then ticking of the clock and it sounds like nothing but inevitability.

Sellers hear this clock, too, and they’re anxious. The August lull is here. It starts right about now, and it lasts a month, maybe a bit more, sometimes a bit less. It’s the back to school pause. The first two weeks of August are prime vacation weeks, and so the lake is full and the kids are smiling and the boats are gassed. The last two weeks of August are prime school return and school prep weeks, which is to say that they’re terrible but necessary. The market here will pause while this reorientation occurs, but once the kids are settled at their various schools near and far, the parents will look around and realize that September might sound like fall, but it still looks like summer. By the middle of September the market will spark once again, but not until sellers feel the uncomfortable weight of winter on their shoulders and consider reducing their price just one more time.

And this is the issue today, sellers who have been sellers for longer than they’d like are faced with doing something, with doing anything. The price reductions of fall have already begun, but they’ll accelerate over the coming two weeks. That’s because it’s Beverly Hills that sells houses by rolling out red carpets and hiring mermaids to swim in pools, and it’s the Midwest that sells houses by offering those houses at better prices. We’re sensible here. But in the fall reduction cycle there is opportunity for both buyers and sellers. Buyers know the market will slow over the coming months, and they know what I’ve just written: some sellers really do want to sell. But this situation also creates opportunity for new sellers. At this point in the season the aged inventory is just that- aged. It’s picked over and dismissed for one reason or many others. New inventory is always sexy, and fall is prime time for new inventory to come to market and in doing so, quench the thirst of desperate buyers.

The market has been moving this month, with new sales aplenty. I have a deal on my vacant lakefront lot in Loramoor, as a buyer recognized just how nice 110′ of level frontage backed by 1.43 acres of rolling land just is. That deal will close this fall. There’s another fresh deal on the finest listing that I’ve ever been tapped to represent. My wondrous estate on Pebble Point that I listed in July for $9,950,000 is pending sale to an excited new buyer. This sale will be the highest sale since the Pritzker family purchased Casa Del Sueno several years ago. This sale will also show the market that there are buyers over $8MM if, and I mean to write IF, the house and property are befitting the asking price. This should bring new hope to the multitude of owners who are currently $8-12MM deep into the newer builds of the past decade. While Geneva is still primarily a $2-4MM market, the new norm may very well become fewer but higher sales, as the $5-10MM range proves it has buyers.

For now, sellers of aged inventory should be looking at their position in the market and considering reductions. I just reduced my lakefront on Marianne Terrace from $2.475MM to $2.195MM, as a seller recognized the market context of his home. More sellers will follow suit in the coming weeks. New sellers would be keen to list soon, to take advantage of the limited inventory and considerable buyer traffic. And buyers would do well to consider all of the above. Pick off the aged inventory for value, and quickly focus on the exciting new inventory as there will be a handful of properties whose owners wanted to have just one more summer at the lake.

Lake House Shopping List

Lake House Shopping List

I’ve seen things no one should ever have to see. I live like you, just wishing to make it through my day without conflict and strife, to make it from this day to the next in perfect peace. Yet I, unlike you, drive around all day to make my living, and in this driving I see things that I wish I didn’t. Just two days ago I saw a semi-truck with a fully loaded trailer. On that trailer there were no fewer than five brand new pontoon boats, each wrapped in pontoon plastic, each heading to a new owner. It was as terrifying and troubling as you’d guess, and the image is one that even now, some two days later, I cannot shake.
This time of year, when I drive around this lake, I see interesting things. I see puzzling things and frightening things. As the leaves fall, homeowners do their best to rid their lawns of the leaves. Some wait for all of the leaves to drop, then they have companies come and sweep them into giant piles where they will be sucked up by giant truck based vacuum cleaners. Others rake and rake, but the rake is a futile tool on a large enough lawn where so many Maples loom overhead. But the rake is preferred compared to the other thing I see: The Electric Blower.

Thankfully, most of the things I see can be fixed through some good advice and some preparedness. Pontoons can be sold to people who live far from here, where they will be delivered to lakes where they are not relegated to the shadows. Electric blowers can be destroyed and thrown in the garbage. Perhaps the electric blower phenomenon is not something spawned of preference; perhaps it’s just that people don’t know any different. That’s why I feel it my duty to provide you with this short list. It’s a list of things any lake house needs. With the Holiday season rapidly approaching, and without further ado, that list of must-haves:

GAS POWERED BLOWER. This has to do with the electric blower problem. Electric blowers are horrible. As a child in the mid 1980s, all of my “remote-control” toys were corded. We still called them remote control cars or trucks, but they were just toys with a wire attached to a controller. If you wandered down some street today and saw a child playing with a cord-controlled toy, you’d immediately stop and pause. You’d take up donations from neighbors and rush to the store to buy this neglected child a proper remote controlled car. Electric blowers are like this. We don’t walk around house talking on our corded phone anymore, so why should we walk around the yard with a corded blower? We shouldn’t. It’s a ridiculous concept and those who use a blower like this should be ashamed. A proper Echo gas blower is only $149, so go buy one. The backpack version is superior, but that’s more involved and if you’re currently using an electric blower at your lake house you should choose the $149 model first, so you can ease into this modern world of internal combustion engines.

AN AXE. We can spell this either way, ax or axe, so I’ll alternate now to show flexibility. A proper ax is different from any old axe. We need one of these at a lake house for many reasons. What if Nanna gets locked in a room and there’s no time to wait for the locksmith? Axe. What if there’s a small rodent running around the house and there’s no time to wait for the exterminator? Ax. What if you want to chop some wood because you’re incredible? Axe. Very little beats chopping wood during the late fall and winter, as there’s something remarkably therapeutic about chopping wood, carrying that chopped wood into the house, then burning that wood to keep warm. Best Made Co has great axes, but any wood handled axe with some heft will do. Just make sure it’s a full sized ax and not some silly hatchet.

CELL PHONE DRYING BAG. Last week, my wife lost her cell phone. She lost it after walking to the end of our driveway to retrieve the mail. She looked everywhere. Everywhere! The phone was not found. Days passed, the phone was not found. I joined the hunt, and the phone was not found. It had to be somewhere, but it was nowhere. On Sunday I mowed my lawn, and narrowly avoided hitting something shiny. It was her phone, and it spent four days on that lawn. It rained all day one of those days, and the phone was likely destroyed. Thinking quickly, I removed the case and the battery and stashed it in a container of rice. The phone, a day later, worked just fine. Don’t use rice, use a proper kit because it’s cool and shows you’re prepared for the likelihood of a cell phone ending up in the lake. EVAP bags are cool, and you should have a handful of them at your lake house at all times. Your guests will thank you.

Of course this isn’t the most thorough list, but it is a list that will help your lake house be a better place. It’ll help you be a better person. It’ll help your lawn look better in the fall, your stack of firewood look taller in the winter, and your phone dry faster in the summer.

November Again

November Again

We all engage in it. A very common mistake. It’s not a mistake like it would be to pay someone to tattoo barbed wire around our biceps, but it’s a mistake nonetheless. I write to you from this desk every other day, and I write to you as if I know the entire lake. As if I know every nook and cranny and every point and bay and every gravel road and paved street. I write like I know, as it comes to Geneva, it all. You listen, you read, and you, too, explore. You think about the lake and you think about what it is and how it looks and you think that you know it all too, and if not all of it, well then certainly most of it. The truth today is that none of us know the lake as well as we think. It’s a big lake. Our minds are small.

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And this is why November is so important. In December, we can get to know the lake. The lake is still then, the activity gone excepting a few brave fishermen that drag lures slowly through the depths, the piers out and the lake a glassy reflection of everything we think it should be. We can explore then. We can hike the shore path and legally trespass through front lawns and peek behind houses and see things that we didn’t know were there. We could do these things in December, but December has but one fatal flaw. It can be very cold in December. Like freezing cold. Like Manitoba cold. If you’ve never been there, trust me on this one, it’s a cold you don’t ever want. December is to exploring what bicycles are to fishing, carbon fiber frame or not.

November on the other hand, November is a month where even a soft guy like me can do some exploring. November isn’t like October and it’s nothing like December, but it’s so much better than August if you’re looking to actually accomplish something. August is a show. It’s busy here then, the lake is busy and pretty and between pretty boats and pretty girls and pretty big fish it’s nearly impossible to focus on the lake. November is free from distraction. There’s nothing going on, and no fisherman in a Lund could ever distract someone from their goal if their goal is to discover what they cannot see during summer.

A goal of mine here, on this site, and in my every day work is to educate. Any agent can be reactionary and make fancy fonted proclamations, but is that some sort of valuable advice? I don’t think it is. I think it’s lame. So while I educate here and educate if you’ll take a ride in my car with me around the lake, there is an education that I cannot give you. That education is one of personal preference. If you’re going to buy a car, it’s nice to know what Dan Neil thinks of that particular car. The gas mileage is sort of important. The size of the engine matters some. But what really matters is how the color looks under the sun and how it takes a corner. Personal preference is what matters far beyond the nuts and bolts, and even though I’d love to shape your preferences for you this is something I cannot do. In order to understand this market and this lake, you must explore.

Vacationing here during August for a week is not the time to explore. That’s a time to be captivated. There isn’t must subjectivity to a summer day at the lake. It’s impossible to resist it. And with this, people give in and they buy a house on a Saturday that they first learned about on a Tuesday. To be a buyer in August is to act quickly and sometimes irrationally, but to be a November leaf kicker and a December buyer? Well that’s pure genius.

So for now it’s November. It’s time to explore. It’s time to learn about little bays and small points that you never knew existed because in August they were masked with piers and shiny objects. On a gray day in November, with some boots and gloves on, you can learn more about the lake in a three hour walk than you every could during a 7 day summer vacation. If you’re here doing this work it’s obvious you already like the lake. The goal here, on this blog and on that shore path, is to find what you love. Whether that’s an association home or a stretch of the lake that fits your eye, now is precisely the time to find that spot.Nove

This October

This October

How I love the summer. The distinct scenery that is uniquely this place, the bright blues and deep greens, the white topped waves falling into our white, wooden piers. The sailors hike their sails, the fishermen fish the warm waters for those summer fish, and when the day has had its say and the sun has set, there is little to do but sit in the porch and listen to the midsummer night. What a soundtrack that is, at once alive and loud yet somehow quiet and still, both easily and effortlessly lulling us to that tired summer sleep.

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That summer that everyone so loves always fades, whether if, for a few weeks in August, it seems as though it might never leave. In this place, it always does leave. It leaves with sadness, with children wishing for one more swim and men wishing for one more sunset cruise after one more Saturday dinner. It leaves with everyone wishing for it to stay, and anyone who doesn’t feel a tinge of sorrow for a summer recently passed isn’t someone I’ve ever met. The summer slips away and fall replaces it, with merely a September tug that shows some days to be summer and others to be fall. But every time, each year, without fail, fall wins.

The deep green shoreline is now ablaze with reds and oranges and yellows. The dull brown of the changing Oaks lending some baseline to this new, varied scheme. The water is still blue, still constant, and it’s both bright and deep just like it is in mid-July, just like it is in early January. The piers are still there, sturdy and white, but chipped now, faded, slowly succumbing to the pier company’s hoist, each day more of them on lawns and fewer in the water. The boats are leaving, too, and by now, most are gone. Only the steadfast remain, those who know that fall means fewer boats, fewer rentals. The pontoons of summer have all been stashed in those darkened, shameful places where pontoons are stored, and the lake is left now to the owners and their Cobalts, their Lymans, their Chris Crafts and their Streblows. The lake is now as we always wish it would be. Calm and pure.

The nights now are calmer, but they are not yet quiet. The frogs and the crickets and remnant hoppers still make those night sounds, but the rustling of the fallen and falling leaves renders the chorus more faint now, subdued by the coming winter, when the night sounds come only from the rumble or a passing plow or the whine of a snowmobile as it whips through a dark neighboring field.

This is our fall, and this is the season that I now wish to live in, forever. Summer used to suit me better, with the boats and the splashing and so much sun, but now these warm days of fall are more to my liking. The cool evenings and cold nights, the brisk mornings and warm days. The sun and the clouds, the quiet lake and that splattered deciduous shoreline. These are the things I wish for now, the things that are happening around me, the days like this and the nights, too. The colors, yes, but the fade as well. The dull browns and the harvested fields. The quiet of the afternoons the the still of the evenings. The summer rush replaced by the peace of fall.

Some would say that I could find this place, the place where it’s always fall, because it’s in the mountains here or the mountains there. It’s coastal near a great ocean that keeps the temperatures steady. But that supposes that it’s the temperature and the sky that I’m after, that it’s just the feeling of any fall that I want, but that’s not it at all. I don’t want just any fall, I want a Lake Geneva fall. I want the fall that I’m familiar with, the fall that will last only until it doesn’t. This is the place I want to be because this fall isn’t like your fall. It’s better.

The American Club

The American Club

I do not believe in putting off until tomorrow what you can do today. Unless tomorrow is pretty open, and today is pretty busy. Then I whole heartedly endorse putting off until tomorrow something that you could, technically, do today. It’s all about pacing yourself, and in the world of real estate where a Realtor could in fact work from 5 am until midnight every single day of their sad lives, this determining of a proper pace is remarkably important. That’s why I went to The American Club.

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I, like most successful Realtors, struggle with the concept of rest. What is this rest? Is it sitting at home on a couch scrolling constantly through emails and texts? Is rest found when you sit on a boat and scroll endlessly through emails and texts? Is rest found when you go fishing, and spend equal time fishing and sitting on the bank scrolling through emails and texts? Is this rest? I have struggled with this notion of rest for a long time, and I believe at this point in my life I’ve accepted that there is no such thing. Rest might come easily for those who punch a clock, but for the self employed there is only the visible display of rest- of sitting on a couch or the bow of a boat, of wading through a quiet stream or flying off to a warm winter vacation- but inwardly, there is never any rest.

This is why I took my clogged up brain and my pretty wife to the American Club on Monday. Not because I needed a break, because I had indeed spent Sunday late afternoon superjetting in 60 degree water, and that constituted a nice break for the sole reason that we have not yet figured out how to tether water-proof phones to our ears. As an important aside, I was superjetting without a wetsuit, while my fancy Illinois friends were superjetting and surfing in full wet-suited shame. They said it was because I had extra padding, and that because of this I was able to withstand the icy waters. We all know it was actually because I’m from Wisconsin and they live in Illinois, but the padding joke made them feel better about their silly suits. Still, the getaway.

The American Club is not far from here. It’s just up the road a ways, through Milwaukee but not as far as Green Bay. It’s in the town of Kohler, which is a town unlike any other town that I’ve ever visited. The town is famous for its plumbing fixtures and its generators, for its Whistling Straits golf course- that epic lakeside links course- and for its billionaire family that made it all happen. The town of Kohler would be like the town of David Curry, if I had many billions of dollars and a plan to create a town around my business and my preferred leisure. This isn’t so much a town as it is a personal village, and in that lies both its charm and its oddness.

Because it is odd. If you’ve visited this place and you’ve left without thinking that something was amiss, then I’m not sure what to say except for you may have watched the Truman Show without understanding the plot. This is a fabricated town, and when you enter it already feeling that way, everything seems even more staged. We walked through the aisles of the grocery store on Monday afternoon and I watched several shoppers shop. They all came to the checkout with barely a handful of things. Who shops at a grocery store on a Monday night with the intent of just picking up a few things? Where are the carts overloaded with edibles? Where are the snotty, screaming children stuffed in the cart seat? Why is everyone staring at me?

We walked by the river to see the salmon jumping and spawning and dying. The river was full of them, which was nice, but the fishermen were all positioned up by the dam, and not downstream where most of the fish were. They just stared at the water, dabbing their lines out into the current for a moment, then lifting and dabbing again. They stared at the water except for the times when they stared at us, wondering if were were buying their roles as “fishermen”. We walked away from them and when we returned they were still fishing, still staring, still waiting for us to leave so they could sit down and have a smoke break.

Later, at dinner, we sat in an old fashioned dining room where the waitress first asked us what brought us to town, then asked us what we’d like to drink. A few minutes later someone else sat down at a neighboring table and the same waitress went to them and asked the same exact questions, in the same order. Coincidence? Obviously not. The dining room was old, not shabby but dated. If it were in Elkhorn no one would go there, even if they had a divine relish tray. But here, in Kohler at this American Club, people go and they dine and they are asked the same questions every night.

The boy that brought the water carafe over was named Brian. I asked him if he lives in town. I said, Brian, do you live in town? He said that he didn’t, that he lived in some town named “Sheboygan”. I asked him if he worked here, which was a ridiculous question that was already answered, but what if he said he didn’t? Then I would have caught him in his act, and known that he didn’t actually work there but he was just assigned to that role on that night. Presumably, after we ate our dinner and shared the creme brûlée, he was hastily driven home to this “Sheboygan” and chastised for almost letting slip that this entire thing was a ruse.

When the valet fetched my car yesterday morning, I could see the relief in his eyes. He knew that my stay was over, and that I hadn’t necessarily figured out what was going on. Never mind that the waiter at the Horse and Plow on Monday was the same person who fixed my espresso on Tuesday morning in the Greenhouse. Never mind that the women were shopping without buying anything. Never mind that the fishermen fished where there were no salmon. Never mind that Brian the water boy was or wasn’t from some town that might be ficticuously named Sheboygan. I tipped the valet and said I knew what this was all about. He said, excuse me? And I just nodded and smiled.

Jackets and Coats

I own many coats. I don’t tell you this by way of bragging. I’m not especially proud that I own so many coats, it’s just that I own many of them. Lot of people own more, sure, but that’s because they’re super concerned about their coat collection and I, a humble Williams Bay kid, only own them so that I might stay warm when inclement weather arrives. I own black jackets and brown jackets. One blue jacket and some tan jackets. I own so many jackets that I can’t even remember what they all look like. That’s a lot of jackets.

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In September, the world is abuzz with jackets. Fashionable women wear their jackets in the mornings, when they drop their kids off at school or when they make sure the nanny knows what to do that day. In September, ads appear on television showing children in impoverished countries, showing them without jackets, telling us that it will be winter soon. They need just one jacket, and the woman with the kids and the nanny has so many. I, too, as previously mentioned, have more than enough to spare. September is a month then jacket sales and jacket donation and jacket wearing spikes.

At September soccer games, I have worn jackets. I wear one of my black ones, and it’s thin and it isn’t particularly warm, but it’s still a jacket. If the kids in the commercial had that jacket and their country got as cold as the narrator said it might, then they’d still need another jacket. This jacket isn’t warm, but it’s a jacket, and on those days sitting on those sidelines I wished for a better jacket. One of my heavier ones, maybe the blue one.

But most September days there’s the thought of a jacket in the morning, and a complete disregard for a jacket by mid morning. My children wear jackets to school in September, at least some of the time. They wear jackets out of the house, into the car, into the school. They come home without their jackets. The jackets are in their locker, they say. They know exactly where the jackets are. They didn’t need the jackets this morning, really, but September has us thinking we need to wear them. My wife thinks we need to wear them. Don’t forget your jacket, she says, as the kids run from the house and the temperatures climb into the seventies. No one, not even the kids in that ad, needs a jacket when it’s seventy something.

This is the problem with September. Retailers tell us it’s fall, so we’ll buy their fall wares. We need tweed and leather, wool and plaid. We need the things we didn’t need in August. But September isn’t really fall, just as March isn’t really spring, just as June isn’t really summer. October, these last two weeks of sunny days and crisp nights, this is fall. This is perfection. October requires a jacket, which is good, because I have so many.

When you put on your jacket this morning, do me a favor. Skip work. Just drive to the lake and get this fall weekend started. Colors will peak here not this weekend but next, (October 20-27th will be our peak color in Lake Geneva, write that down), but there are enough reds and yellows in that previously green shoreline to make it all worth while. Saturday morning, wake up, put on your jacket, the one you can’t wear in September because September isn’t fall, and go for a walk. Kick some leaves. October only lasts for another two weeks, and while the world and the retailers love September, everyone knows October is the better month.

October Boating

Yesterday while you were working, the lake did what it does in October. It went quiet. Sure, the lake goes quiet during the days that came from the last ice out until the coming one, but it generally only goes quiet in the morning, for those first up to fish or ski. Or it goes quiet in the evening, when the last cruise boats push through the night, and the water falls flat. In January, the lake is flat rather often. Those freezing nights and those bright sky days, but those days are of no use to the boating faithful. Yesterday, that was a day we could use, but you were at work.

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I have had a complicated boating relationship over the past several years. When I first bought my fishing boat in the winter of 2010, I found time to use it often. On stormy evenings when my kids didn’t want to, we fished anyway. And on sunny afternoons when there were emails to send and calls to field, I would do both from the bow of that new toy. But as with most toys, the pleasure faded. It faded because of a smokey two-stroke that would be complimented if called temperamental. The instruments only worked once in a while, and if I trolled with large lures the carburetors would bog down and the boat would cause a smokey scene when I coerced it back to life. Even that wasn’t a guarantee.

But it wasn’t just the boats fault. It was mine. I switch hobbies like some change tires, and every few years or 30,000 miles I feel the need to indulge in another pursuit. This was the boating pursuit, and that the boat was and is actually a Pursuit is, I assure you, pure coincidence. The boating fueled my fishing, and my fishing fueled the transition to fly fishing. While I fly fish in Geneva as often as it seems reasonable, I prefer the small trickle of a valley stream, and so much of my free time has been spent in that pursuit. While I fished the buoyed Pursuit just collected dust, and spiders. And their webs. And yesterday, in the seaweedy fungus that filled the back of the boat where water is allowed to flow in and out through two small drain portholes, a small maple tree.

Yesterday the inland trout season was closed, and the sun was bright and the water still, and so I fired up the old boat and took it for a ride. It didn’t really want to do that, but after some time of trying, the engine teased to life and choked out the smoke from a summer of neglect. I took the boat out and around, cruised some shorelines and sat in the middle of the lake with nothing to do but consider what a shame it was that I left that boat to the spiders and the maple trees.

There was little time to sulk and reminisce, because the water was just too flat and the sun too warm. The forecast called for cool, but the day was anything but. Late into the afternoon I sat there, wondering what could be better, answering the pensive question with an obvious answer: the boat. There were some other boaters out with me, the select few that found their way to their piers and onto their boats on that October afternoon. Fishermen quietly cast their lures and slung their baits. Some remnant Mastercrafts slowly pushed through the calm, throwing their massive breaking waves so the surfer could surf. Sailboats clung to their buoys, wishing for a breeze but finding none. A couple paddled by on their paddle boards, cutting right through the middle of the lake in a way that would signal sure death on a busy August Saturday. The lake was back to the way I prefer it.

While afloat, a text from a friend. He, too, was on his boat. He, too, should have been working. He, too, had some flexibility and he, too, found his way to this lake on that day. But after finding my way to his boat he had more sorrow than joy. His boat would need to be pulled from the lake this week, no later than the tenth of October, so sayeth his association. Then this morning, a call from my dad. He needed help. Had he fallen? No. He needed help pulling his boat from the water, on the most beautiful day of the year, on the stillest moment of the day, at the beginning of the best boat month on the calendar. Now at this computer, I’m distracted by trucks. Trucks towing trailers. Trailers with boats. Boats not heading to the lake but from it. From the lake and to dusty storage barns where they will be tucked in for the winter, on the most beautiful day of the year.

This is the fall rush. It happens because the old people are in charge of the boating world. They run the associations that tell us we must remove our boats. They live in fear of the first frost, of strong northerly winds, of changing seasons. I, on the other hand, live in fear of missing the opportunity to sit on a boat on a day like this one. Which is why I play chicken with winter each and every year, choosing only to remove my neglected boat from the water once I need to break some ice to clear a path to the launch.

Today, two words of advice. Call in sick. Get to the lake. Sure, Sunday is going to be warm, but Sunday is many days from now. Today is warm, you have a boat, your association or your pier guy is old and wishes you to remove your boat immediately so that he doesn’t have to break ice to remove the pier. The second word of advice is even more simple. If you own an association home and you wish to no longer be forced into this sin of early boat removal, you have one very easy way to fix this. Buy a private lakefront house with a private pier. Then you can be like me, and we can remove our boats only when the snow flies. This way, we won’t miss the days in October and surely some in November that will more than justify our irrational decision.

Oh September

Oh September

Without the weather, what would we talk about? When I meet someone new, what would I open the conversation with? If I couldn’t say, what a day! or, cold enough for you? or, it’s freezing out! then what would I say? I’d have to recreate my entire game, based about something new. That’s one heck of an outfit today. Who knew a green shirt and a green sweater could work? But then they’d know I was being insincere, and they’d wonder if I was really the right agent for them. They’d ask me, who was the president when you last combed your hair? Things would fall apart rapidly, and society would ultimately tear apart. The weather, and the way it makes our initial conversations so easy, this is what holds us together.

This summer featured two distinct seasons. First there was faux summer, that being June. The month of June is a month when every self respecting vacation home owner should be at their Lake Geneva home, but it is a month where the weekends are a gamble of epic proportions. Consider the weekends of June. This may be a title of my someday book, if I can ever figure out how to write more than 800 words at a time. The four Fridays of June were four difficult days. Fridays are of paramount importance to the vacation home set, as even though they are the shortest of the weekend days, by virtue of most arriving to the lake when the day is nearly over, it is important because the weather of that day usually sets the tone for the weekend. A sunny, warm Friday makes the transition from city to lake a celebrated event. A cold, dreary Friday makes the drive still important, but the celebration muted.

The four Fridays in June featured high temperatures that averaged 10 degrees below the historical norm. This included one particularly dastardly Friday where the temperature climbed to 62 degrees fahrenheit. The average for that day was 76 degrees. This is an epic fail, and June was both somewhat cold and oft rainy, and that’s why June was terrible and should be forgotten. Also, only 11 of the 30 days that month reached temperates at or above the historical average.

Summer started, rather abruptly, over the Fourth Of July Weekend. Capitalized because. Once summer began, July was pretty nice, and so was August. There were a few cold bits here and there, but nothing lasted and mostly we had generous sunshine and average temperatures. It was a good summer, but it wasn’t a hot summer. Lake Geneva recorded only 1 ninety degree day, though there were several high 80s days, and those are indistinguishable from 90 degree days, especially if I’m wearing a shirt of some sort. Really, looking back, July and August were about right, and days were warm and nights were cool, and all was right with the world so long as your world had you in Lake Geneva with frequency.

September ends today. It ends with a 64 degree sunny day, where the only clouds are puffy and white, littered here and there but certainly not everywhere. September began with this bright sky, and the month continued mostly uninterupted with this perfect weather. There was a wedding weekend in September that required fine September weather. Events were to be held outside, under the open air, without a tent in sight. Lake Geneva was up to the task and delivered a perfect early fall weekend, with sunshine and pleasant temps and a noticeable absence of humidity. The month continued and it continued warm and dry, sunny and full. Last Saturday I sat on a lakeside lawn for some time and thought that if a day could be any more perfect I’d rather not know.

So here’s to September. Here’s to the summer bookend that performed perfectly. Here’s to the month that makes me hate June even more. Now I must think of October, and while I push back against pumpkins and dried corn in September, I welcome them in October. September isn’t the gateway to anything, it’s just the most quiet and predictable month of summer. October is the true gateway, and I’m ready.