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A lakeside retreat to celebrate America's working class

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We are part of an extraordinary community. Our summer retreat, on the shores of Flathead Lake, is a beautiful parcel of ponderosa and fir forest, sprinkled with 13 very small and humble campers. We dig vintage, and shabby chic is definitely the décor. We each rent a spot to park our campers and share a dock, a grand firepit, a bathhouse, some garages and a small outbuilding that houses a game room. There are also two real homes that the owner “Dick” has built himself. The asymmetrical outline of Wild Horse Island captures our distant view, and lures us on many calm afternoons to her shores in a variety of watercraft. 

Timberlane was built by Dick’s parents and was originally comprised of modest cabins and was always intended as an affordable retreat for working class folks. It is a valuable tract of land that would fetch a pretty penny, but Dick loves this place. We feel secure on this piece of paradise that is on lease to us.

The families who reside at Timberlane come from a diverse group and our economic status could collectively be labeled as middle-class; without exception the group is hard working and family-oriented. Professionally, we are comprised of a real estate agent, small business owners, contractors, a boat salesman, retirees, a land planner, a trucker, more than a few educators (from preschool to professorial), dedicated moms, a few artists, and employees of prominent nonprofits and county government.

We worship (or don’t) in different venues, listen to disparate music, follow divergent media sources and are by and large very well read. By my last calculation, we are split pretty evenly blue and red. We even spout a true independent – from New Hampshire no less – and have had many lively discussions about where we stand on issues that affect us all. But that’s not what’s important. Not even close.

What matters is that we espouse the true virtues of what community is about, and not even once can I recall a situation in which the group didn’t find a way to solve somebody’s immediate need. On any given day in camp one of us may be wandering about looking for some obscure plumbing piece, an extra bike for one of the kids to ride, a battery charger for a dead boat, or most often – a cold beer.

We sustain and nurture each other, in a manner that evokes Americana at its finest. We share intimate and deep facets of our lives around late night bonfires on the lake, and in the calm of the morning we pull each other’s kids and guests on tubes and wakeboards or find an extra chair at the end of the dock when there’s not any room left. We never ask for paybacks on gas or refreshments or food. It’s all karma – what comes around goes around.

This is a multigenerational retreat – where grandparents and toddlers, and everyone in between, equally contributes and is valued. Our children and grandchildren have grown up here and we celebrate, together, each of their latest achievement. Adult kids graduate college and score their first real world gig. One builds low income housing and one skyscrapers and another works to re-elect Sen. Jon Tester. We raise our glasses. One of the young adults sings “The Star Spangled Banner” a cappela and we wildly cheer. It is truly an example of a village raising the child and the young ones know this – they move around camp securely – they are safe and fed and happy and everyone has an eye out for the errant one that doesn’t have on a life jacket or is riding his bike too fast.

We gather each Labor Day weekend to celebrate the working class of America, of which we are firmly entrenched. There are flags for table decorations, a steak fry and lawn games, silly speeches and a lot of beer. We laugh and wish each other a healthful and happy winter. Sometimes tears are shed the morning after, as summer gear is packed and stowed. We become facebook friends and start emailing lake longings in earnest in January. We are yearning to be at the lake, to once again be immersed in a place where what sustains us is each other, and truly where time stands still.

Lisa Swallow teaches at the University of Montana and is a board member of the Sustainable Business Council.

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