The passing of the shack; long live the shoebox!

It wasn't much bigger than a shoebox. – Courtesy Melinda Lobereg

By today’s standards it wasn’t much of a house. It couldn’t have been more than 600 square feet, the water was brackish, there was no electricity, and on windy nights the candle would flicker on the kitchen table even if all the doors and windows were shut. It sat out out on the beach near the opening of Lake Tashmoo at Herring Creek, and it belonged to friends of my family — Norm and Jane Fuller.

Both of our families lived in Walpole, and Lisa and Linda, the Fullers’ two daughters, were like sisters to me. So as a result, I spent some of the best times of my youth just hanging out at “the Crick House.”

Twenty-five or 30 years ago, there were a lot of “Crick Houses” around the Island — on Menemsha Pond, on Tisbury and Edgartown Great Ponds, out on Chappy — people called them camps or cottages, but they were really just glorified shacks. We used to stay in a wonderful place up on the Squibnocket cliffs that was a converted chicken coop. But regrettably these shacks are getting harder and harder to find. It’s a tough sell to convince someone who’s just spent a couple of million dollars on a piece of land to keep a house that has a replacement value of a couple thousand. But as these simple and rustic dwellings are replaced by more and more elaborate and expensive ones, I’d argue that we’re losing a little bit of our soul.

Take aesthetics: Would you rather look at a quaint cottage that seems at one with the landscape or a roided-up palace that IS the landscape? But not all these little shacks are being replaced by trophy houses. In many cases, zoning prohibits increasing the footprint of a dwelling, but it doesn’t prohibit the new owner from pumping in hundreds of thousands of dollars to create what can only be described as a trophy shack. And see, I have a problem with that too.

I’m not going to begrudge anyone electricity or water — it’s a lot more fun reminiscing about how we had to go into town every day to fill up jugs with fresh water for the Crick House than it was actually doing it. But a little shack on the pond or on the beach is something special, and a big part of what makes it special is simplicity.

A realtor recently told me that a good rental property these days has to have a flat-screen TV, cable, high-speed Internet access, and preferably air conditioning. OK, I’ll buy that for a lot of places here on the Island (except the AC part), but not for a little camp, say, out at Sepiessa. Would Thoreau have been better off if he got the Nature Channel?

The beauty of the shack is that very little comes between you and nature. Or between you and anyone else, for that matter. At the Crick House there was no TV, no computers, and no privacy. As a result, the unthinkable happened: Kids and parents actually interacted. We talked, we laughed, we joked, we occasionally stole their beer, and we discovered we actually liked each other. We were unplugged from the grid, but we were plugged into nature, and we were plugged into each other. I’ll take that tradeoff any day.

I’m reminded of the old Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” bit:

“There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.”

“Cardboard box?”


“You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank.”

Believe me, I’m not advocating we go back to the days of living in a septic tank. But in some ways, the Crick House was a lot like living in a shoebox.

Long live the shoebox!