It seems that many communities are experiencing the upsurge of vacation and temporary rentals. I understand what may be a need to capitalize on owning a home and maximizing opportunities to pay for upkeep, taxes, repairs etc. Americans in particular have strong feelings when it comes to their private property and their rights to do with it as they will. We are beginning to feel the limits of such thinking even though it shows no sign of decline.
Close to the water this temporary rental trend is booming. When I first came here there was one identifiable house that was a temporary rental. Since then the house next door seems to be sometimes occupied by the owners and sometimes by temporary others. Another house across the street has been vacated by the owner and now other cars come and go suggesting this has also become a rental. Now it begins to feel that every house out here may be under threat of come-and-go occupants as opposed to those of us who own or rent year round as permanent residents.
What the owners of rentals cannot see is that the sense of community is diminished as come-and-go occupants move in and out of rental houses. When we are in neighborhoods where houses are physically close to one another, such as close-to-the-water houses often are, we full-time occupants become accustomed to the rhythms of those next door; we know when and which lights will be on, along with other signs of their lifestyles. We know which of our windows need curtains and which can do without. Without undue intrusions or nosiness we have a sense of normalcy, of timing and sounds from the houses around us. Temporary or vacation occupants change all of that, indeed the behaviors of the occupants of temporary rentals may be quite different from what they may be when they are at home: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” Not so much in Maine or elsewhere (and perhaps not even in Vegas.)
This past week a fortress wall, 8 feet tall and solidly wooden, went up between a resident’s house and the next door temporary rental. The fence’s size, solidness, and presumable price must have been serious considerations but it leaves no doubt to anyone passing that there was an issue present. The messaging seems clear.
This is not the first time I have lived in a destination vacation community, places where the yearly rhythms of swell and absence can be challenging and interesting all at once. Tourists are usually happy humans and their presence can be uplifting. In the winter we human residents dart quickly from our houses to our cars and the movement on the rocks is only by Eiders ducks or Gulls but in the summer excited children, families, visitors from far flung places climb up and down those rocks with gleeful shouts, posing for photos, delighting in unfamiliar sights and sounds of the waves and shore.
The problem with being a tourist is that we humans seem to carry our at-home behavior to places where what we know does not necessarily apply. Example: small children often zoom perilously close to water’s edge while their parents, thinking they are being attentive and responsible, watch from a distance. Those who are new to ocean fail to understand the dangers of incoming tides or the possibility of a rogue wave; fail to understand the impossibility of extricating oneself from falling into powerful jaggedly rock-edged water themselves, much less the impossibility of extracting a small child from such water. Many times I have watched delighted, squealing children close enough to breaking waves to be getting soaked, while I utter prayers for it not be necessary for me to dial 911. Example: tourist traffic disregard of really important speed limits and the danger of driving behaviors inappropriate to the vacation location. I once witnessed Midwest drivers doing 75 mph on twisting remote roads of Yellowstone National Park and in that same park I drove behind a rental RV scraping rock formations along every curve of a narrow roadway. What works on the NJ Turnpike will not do on a winding, tight hill road where children ride their bikes and visiting drivers think the cautionary speed limit does not apply to them.
The question is how do we, all of us, open our vision, expand our awareness, alter our experiential behaviors to be in synch with our temporary, new location? As visitors, how can we be appropriately adaptive in unfamiliar places?