Beach House Diaries: Looking Back ... and Planning Ahead

Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb
So this is it. My summer sojourn on Pictou Island is ending and the whole back-to-work, back-to-school shtick is about to begin -- but not before Mother Nature stages a grand finale. What my family refers to as "the show" would more accurately be called the running of the herring. Now, this is not to be confused with the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona: you won't see drunken daredevils racing down labyrinthine alleys with angry fish in hot pursuit. Rather it's akin to a run of ready-to-spawn salmon, and the huge schools of herring that swim into our strait attract voracious seals, the occasional whale, plus flocks of hungry gannets that barrel out of the clouds at breakneck speed like rockets in reverse.

Those remarkably accurate seabirds hit most of their marks -- and, this season, the same could be said of me. After all, I ticked the hoped-for boxes on my holiday checklist by enjoying the company of friends and family, completing a few projects, reading stacks of books, eating fabulous food (including s'mores, blueberry grunt and the requisite lobster), collecting sea glass and beating all comers at Scrabble. As if that wasn't enough, I joined my neighbors at the annual kitchen party, which is actually held in the dancehall: fueled by music and moonlight (or maybe moonshine) we made the little structure literally rock.

Now all that remains is closing up. Prepping for the process, I am again reminded of the amount of work it takes to summer in a spot that is, theoretically, work-free. So if you're longing to go this route next year (it's never too early to start planning!), first ask yourself how much you're genuinely prepared to do during your vacation. While beach houses have obvious advantages over hotels, there are drawbacks, too -- such as housekeeping, which you'll be responsible for unless you pop for an upscale option with staff.

If that's something you are willing to tackle, you should next think carefully about where you want to stay and what type of beach house experience you hope to have. In a world where privacy is at a premium, certain people would rather escape the crowd than join it. Being one of them, I seek what Ann Morrow Lindbergh called "sheltered simplicity" -- and there's arguably no better place to find it than Pictou Island. If you dream of starring in your own version of "Jersey Shore" or fantasize about Caribbean-style conga lines and rum-drinking contests, however, staying at my off-the-grid haven would be like a holiday in hell.

Whether you intend to rent or buy (and I strongly recommend testing the waters by renting first), the specific breed of beach you gravitate toward should also be taken into account. For instance, do you envision one with bathtub-calm conditions or crashing waves? This in turn may be predicated on who will be taking advantage of said beach. Kids adore splashing around in former; the latter, meanwhile, appeals to surfers by day and romantic souls -- who love falling asleep to the rhythmic sound -- by night.

Simply put, you have to define your ideal before you can make it real. Mulling over all of the assorted elements that comprise your "perfect beach house" takes time. But believe me: the rewards are immeasurable and the memories you create will linger on long after summer has ended.

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Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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