There’s a process to this whole thing. This is something the buyers who wish to be here on these shores, but lack either the financial ability or the mental focus to actually be here, need to embrace. I sold a particular lakefront house a couple of years ago. A modest house on a beautiful lot, purchased by a young couple with their young children. There’s a sign on the street welcoming guests to their home. It says, “Someday”. The interpretation of the sign is simple: They dreamt of the day they’d be on this lake, and now they are. It’s Someday, everyday. Passersby see the manifestation of that dream, but not the messy, painful process of making it a reality.
It is no secret that I harbor a fierce addiction to fly fishing. I would argue that the addiction has waned some in recent years, as my work and my love of this lake has a tendency to keep me here, rather than where the fly fishing occurs, there. Several years ago, when this addiction was new and escalating, I decided that it would be good if I had a small cabin in this hilly part of this great state. So I did what any Realtor would do, I started looking.
I looked high and low, ideally for something modest, bare, hardly there. Something simple that could hold my hat for a night once in a while, so that I wouldn’t always have to drive home at midnight after a long day hiking these streams. An Amish cabin, perhaps, with optional plumbing but some built in cots, maybe in a loft. I looked at some of these cabins and quickly decided that composting toilets are of the devil, and wood structures built by the Amish tend to bow out at the heel height, causing some awkward leans that I could not, and would not abide. Maybe not a small cabin, but maybe something a bit better? The budget would need to expand.
An acre, down in the valley, by a trout stream. That’s what I want. To see risers from the deck. A slow stroll with fly rod in hand, a BWO tied to the slight leader. An evening fish or two, before returning to the peaceful still of my little acre and my little deck. But one acre or two, that won’t cut it. There’s no privacy in a place like that if one acre is all you have, so ten or twenty, that would be better. And the house, that should be better, too. The budget would need to expand.
But these houses, for an area settled by Germans and Norwegians, two groups I thought had a proclivity towards quality design and construction, these houses are so terrible. Raised ranches on hillsides with vinyl cladding. Old farmhouses with terrible bones, brittle shacks with a propensity to lean. That valley dream? It’s a floodplain. The term Hydraulic Shadow means nothing to Lake Geneva, but it means certain someday death to the homes that lie in its path. Valley is out, hillside is in. And these houses? They’re no good. I’ve built several homes throughout my life, certainly one more wouldn’t hurt. The budget should increase.
But these hillsides, they’re all the same. County after county, hillside after hillside. They’re like lakes in the Midwest, all the same. But lakes aren’t all the same, and I know that here, so I should have known that there. The counties, well, they’re all the same to those who don’t understand or subscribe to nuance. But I am the self proclaimed nuance king, and so I should know which county is best. And I did, so the search had focus, but still not enough. The one valley, one stretch of river and the draws with their own rivers, that one area would be my aim. That area commands a premium to the other areas in this vague, general region of this state? The budget needs attention.
And then one day, after years of on and off searching, one day the right lot appeared. Was it perfect? No. Was it everything I ever wanted? No. Did I let a desire for great get in the way of a hope for good? No, I didn’t. And so I bought that lot, as imperfect or perfect as it may be, and in June of 2016 I started building a little cabin for my family. The process was as imperfect and blatantly annoying as any process has ever been. I had issues with weather, issues with tradesmen, issues with finding tradesmen whom I had already hired, and issues with finding tradesmen to hire. The build was a total disaster, the process a painful experience, the result an imperfect realization of a dream I first hatched a decade ago.
That’s the thing about a place like this, whether it’s here or there. Every once in a while, someone, somewhere, finds the perfect house for the perfect price in the perfect location. Lake Geneva cannot generally accommodate you on those wishes. We might give you the perfect house, but at a price that you don’t believe to be anywhere near perfect. Or we’ll give you the perfect location, with a mightily, aggressively imperfect house. We can’t give you everything you want. But you should be like me. Strive for the best, knowing that all you’re really after is a piece of this place. A place that gives you things other places can’t. Narrow your focus, true your aim, and do your best. It’ll all be worth it in the end, at least that’s what I kept telling myself for the past two years.