Friday, April 27, 2012

The Lake

After our wedding (over 21 years ago) Rebecca and I got into a canoe and paddled-off. A symbolic gesture, our excursion gave the guests the opportunity to gather on the shore and make some noise before they went home. It should have been a clean getaway for us, but we hadn’t really planned it. We paddled-off and disappeared around another point where we couldn’t be seen. It felt just like any other day on the lake, except I wore a white linen suit and a brand-new band of gold, which felt like it might fall off my finger at any moment. Rebecca wore a home-made wedding dress, and that din of distant music and voices belonged to our family and friends. We sat back, shaded by the tall pines, and rested our paddles on the gunwales. Rebecca turned around and said “what now?”

Indeed. We’ve asked that question many times since: what now? Sometimes we need to just paddle away with no chart to guide us and no destination in mind. We've lived a few places since then, but we always find our way back to the lake. A century ago when Rebecca's great-grandfather built a house here, there seemed to be a tacit agreement among property owners; houses were set back in the woods with dark, bark-colored shingles and green roofs that blended with the treetops. There were no lawns or paved driveways. You used to be able to paddle along the shore, hardly aware of the houses you passed. When you looked down into the water, it was so clear you could see fish swimming among the granite boulders twenty feet down.

Much has changed. There’s always been access for hand-launched boats, but at some point a paved public boat ramp was built with a big parking lot for all the people who want to buzz around the lake in the motorized vessel of their choice. And those powerboats brought hitch-hikers- milfoil and zebra mussels, not to mention the more predictable by-products of motorized humans. There are new houses, some that make a nod to those shingle-style predecessors, but there’s nothing simple, utilitarian or modest about these weekend retreats. The water is no longer so clear. We seldom see fish, but they must still be there, judging from the fishermen who endlessly chug around. 

I was lucky to have seen the lake before these changes. Rebecca has known it her whole life, and her connection to it runs deep. She and her cousins have returned there most years, no matter where they’ve lived, and during some “in-between” winters we’ve even called it home. We were all married there- parents, sister, cousins, friends... us- always out on the Point, usually on a wooden platform covering the campfire pit. Ashes are scattered there.

So, going to the lake is as much a pilgrimage as recreation. It is big enough that it takes a few trips to see most of it. We tend to head-out to discover what draws us-on: the islands, a series of ledgy points or the “river” through town to another lake. Mountains rise-up in the background, and we know the view of the lake from each summit.

At this point though, I only get to the lake in cooler, less-crowded months. Summer renters help cover the maintenance and exorbitant property taxes, and our livelihood keeps me in Stonington for the summer. Rebecca spends much more time at the lake, while I hesitate to leave Stonington, and miss it while I’m away. Actually, it’s not Stonington so much as the ocean around it- the archipelago and the islands from Penobscot to Frenchman Bays. When I return, I welcome the feel of a swell passing beneath the hull, the salt spray on my face, and the limitless geography of the ocean.

But it’s always good to get to the lake. I’m torn between paddling along shore and hiking in the mountains, but when the morning sun shines on the Point, you get the feeling that there’s really no better place to be, so some days we just enjoy being there. It’s the same way when we get out there in our kayaks. We were there last week, and several times we stopped paddling just to take it in. Eventually, one of us would ask “what now?” As with our wedding day, it didn’t really matter: pick up the paddle, move forward, enjoy being here.

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