The View from Mary's Farm for June 2006
January 1, 1970To the Lake
For some years, I owned a little cottage on a lake just one mile from this house, an easy distance for an evening’s row or a contemplative breakfast on the porch before heading off to work. That’s pretty much why I bought the place when I did. Not too much money and a place to be near the water, which provides summer solace, heat relief and a steady show of living watercolors. Many people who own similar cottages on these lakes live close by, a fact that attests to the tentative nature of these buildings. Only recently has the phenomenon arrived wherein these rustic camps are being bought, torn down and replaced with lavish vacation homes. I wonder how, from inside these fortresses, the movement of the water can be heard or the loons seen popping up from beneath the surface.
My cottage was built perhaps a hundred years ago by a man who worked for the railroad. It was his fish camp, just one room with an old sink and a big porch looking out across the water. Where now there is a road that runs alongside the lake, once were train tracks and trains coming through a couple of times a day. Apparently this man, among the first to build a camp on this lake, would ride in on his train, get off near his camp and spend a day or two fishing before hopping back onboard and returning, refreshed, to work.
Most of these camps were simple structures, even perhaps simply shelter from the rare bad summer weather. Being there was not about the house but about being on the lake, swimming or fishing. Or just sitting, watching the fish pock the surface or the colors of the water change with the passage of the day.
One of the things I liked most about my camp was the smell of the old boards and the reminders left on the beaded pine walls – visitors apparently were invited to carve their initials and the date of their visit into the wall. On the west wall was a black scorch, most likely from the overzealous flame of a kerosene lamp, set too close. I liked to imagine an evening long ago, when a small moment of panic broke out, perhaps among E.G. and A.S. from 1924.
If I looked at that same wall in the right light, I could discern the remains of a phrase that had been written on the wall in twigs, shaped into rustic lettering. The letters were gone but sunlight had printed their message into the wooden wall: The Groves Were God’s First Temples, the stick letters had once proclaimed. I found the message soothing, bringing to mind a shady grove of trees, the perfect balm for what troubles us. But the more time I spent there, observing the graceful take-offs and landings of the great blues or listening to the loons signal back and forth or falling asleep to the rhythmic lap of water against the dock, the more I felt that it was to the lake that we direct our devotion, these small waterside cottages chapels to a deity never named but often worshipped.
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