News & Politics

Are You a Lake Person or a Beach Person?

And what happens when you marry someone from the opposite tribe?

Left: Keltie, as a kid, at the lake. Right: Mike (second from left) at the beach. Photographs courtesy of Michael Schaffer.

I’m an ocean person, born and bred. When I was a kid, my family spent vacations renting a little house near the beach. We’d make sandcastles, avoid jellyfish, roll our eyes as Mom applied excess coats of sunblock, and beg our parents to shell out for ice cream being sold tantalizingly close by. For someone growing up on the East Coast, this seemed like the natural state of water-adjacent recreation.

My wife, Keltie, is a lake person. Her family had a small cottage in the Canadian backcountry, on a body of blue water that went on for miles. There was a dock and a rope swing and a boat. They’d hold swimming races to a place they called “Rock Island” and go tubing out where the lake got big and wide. Especially in her vast country, with its impressive lake-to-people ratio, this also felt like the natural state of summer vacationing.

Our contrasting aquatic orientations were on display early. The first time Keltie took me to the cottage, I was creeped out by the mucky stuff on the lake bottom and distinctly unhappy when I found out about the water snake under the dock. Also, what kind of vacation is it if there’s no boardwalk where you can buy funnel cakes?

Likewise, when we went to the beach, she seemed unduly aware of shark-attack actuarial odds but dangerously blasé about the precautions you need to take when you don’t have trees providing shade by the water. And what was with the jostling for position with other umbrella-toting visitors?

Still, in those early years, we split the difference. We’d go to the cottage most summers when we visited the north. But there were also beach stays in Block Island, Costa Rica, Mozambique, and, less romantically, New Jersey.

In retrospect, it was clear our family couldn’t stay brackish forever. Something had to give. Inevitably, it was kids who forced the issue. Waves, sand, strangers, and spending opportunities become less exciting with children in tow. Tree cover, freshwater, and no one to stare at you when your kid has a meltdown, meanwhile, become awfully enticing.

Maybe it began as a concession to practicality. But a funny thing has happened: I’ve been converted. That lake has become my happy place. I like trying to meditate beside it in the morning. I like watching the moon reflect off it in the evening. I know the muck at the bottom is just grass. And, now that you mention it, I’m starting to think sharks really are pretty scary.

Alas, things are in flux again. My older child is on the cusp of teenagerhood—a time when, if memory serves, boardwalk arcades and cool-looking people on the next blanket become much more appealing. Likewise, the future of my wife’s family’s cottage has been up in the air, too. What sort of body of water would we choose if we had to figure out a destination for ourselves? I know what my preference is.

This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Michael Schaffer
Former Editor