“The Lake” as we call it, is perfect for reflection, realization, planning, and most of all life. This house has been musing its splintered boards and rusty pipes for decades. Built in 1912, it’s a classic turn of the century Lake House with Victorian woodwork to boot. Every facet has a feeling of a living library: the light fixtures, the paper thin walls, the stone fireplace, the VHS tapes, the books, the framed photos, the attic filled with forgotten toys, and a gallery of my grandparents’ wardrobe organized by decade from the 50’s on. Over the years, major house innovations have been necessary. There was a new dishwasher installed about 5 years ago, although it never quite agreed with the plumbing. It leaks a pool onto the kitchen floor at midnight, long after dinner.
Camping rules are pretty universal. Be careful with your cigarettes and matches. Watch your water use. My grandfather Bert made a family-famous adaptation of the old adage: “If it’s yellow please let it mellow; if it’s brown reluctantly flush it down.” The long-form poem is framed in the bathroom. With those safety and sanitation rules comes the host of familiar creatures: birds, squirrels, the occasional deer on a silent walk through the woods, ants, ticks, and the inimitable daddy long leg spider. Like a gentle cloud creature, these spiders walk across your luggage and limbs. The “most poisonous spider in the world” is a myth. If the little guy were meant to bite me, he’d be able to. It’s most fun to pick them up by a leg and toss ’em across the room, or over the side of the porch.
There was a dock spider, however, and it was big, and it was on our floating dock. One afternoon after some wood hauling, I jumped into the chilly lake and swam to the dock to find a spider the size of a baseball protecting the blue ladder. Holy shit. I never considered arachnophobia until now. Spiders can swim? Is it out for blood? I splashed it. It didn’t move. I splashed it twice, and only after three times did it move to protect its egg sacs. Holy shit. Back away from the mother spider. An hour later, after a bit more wood hauling with my brother Drew and sister-in-law Paige, we went in for a group swim. This time hundreds of spiders the size of a pinhead were crawling over the spun webs. We all splashed the new arachnids to no avail. Perhaps some of the baby spiders swam into my hair and came home in my suitcase. My Mom thought they were cute. Call me crazy, but the fuzzy baby Loons were much more adorable.
On the 12th, we convened for my nephew’s first birthday. We celebrated with the ceremonial lobster dinner, complete with my Mom’s homemade Anadama bread, black raspberry ice cream from Sawyer’s, and banana cake for the guest of honor. After opening an assortment of new toys, dear Flynn flung the delicious bits of lobster and cake to the floor with glee. After dinner, we climbed into the boat to find waters away from the harsh house lights to see the Perseids Meteor Shower. With the Milky Way etching itself out from the black of the sky, the meteors passed to a small chorus of “oohs.” We bide the time in between sightings by singing 50’s and 60’s pop songs. Whenever I stare at the sky too long, I think of Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man. I feel so happy and dumb to be doing something humans have always done. We bow to the mystery of the sky.
Lake life is easy and essential. I sleep, eat, drink, swim, read, watch movies, hike, and sleep and eat some more. 3 pots of coffee among 6 people come and go in the morning as we read and do crosswords. After a few days the sounds of the waves on the rocks are the bookends to a good night’s sleep. Time has slowed.
Some Birch trees fell on the property this last year, so we had a few trees to chop into firewood. While the in-laws were still around, and as many hands were available, two trees were dismantled with a chainsaw. In the remaining two days, just for kicks, my brother Drew wanted to chop some of the remaining wood with an axe. Suddenly he was a lumberjack. I kept thinking of Ron Swanson. I immediately pictured my brother mustachioed, wearing flannel and drinking two fingers of Lagavulin after a job well done. He did no such thing, but a surge of pioneer pride came over me. Paige and I shared the load. After a few swings of the axe, I knew I had to use the entire weight of my body to chop through the tree. I found a good bounce and rhythm to it. Out of breath, I stopped to appreciate. Each time I finally chopped through the hacked end of the log, I let out a good primal scream of a yell. I needed to let the wood know that it was now, in fact, wood. After chicken plucking, I was able to check something else off a list of marketable survival skills, at the same time releasing a few years of my pent-up cocktail of emotions into the woods.
I’ve been going to this house on Bear Island since I can remember. It’s my second home. The years are marked with children’s heights notched on a wooden post in the living room. My mother, brothers, our cousins, boyfriends and girlfriends that have come and gone make the house breathe even when we are away in California during the frozen months of winter.
One afternoon, after some late morning rainfall, I took a stroll through the woods to the church. I looked at the stained-glass window with my grandparents’ names etched in the blue and green. On the way down back to the house, in the mist, I spot a frog the size of my thumbnail. I follow for a while as it hops into the camouflage of leaves. I am filled with as much wonder and amusement as when I was 5.