Sunday, February 13, 2011

Growing Up As A Lake Kid

I began writing a post about the place I call "camp" when I realized that i failed to allow you, my dearest reader, a chance to fully comprehend this location which helped create the huntress I am today.  I would abhor myself for doing such a disservice to my readership so in the name of self-respect did I post this little essay about my tumultuous love affair with the mountains of the Adirondacks.  Henceforth, it shall serve as a prologue for all future references to Fourth Lake.

Sitting on the hard wooden dock, she is overcome by the intense silence of the moment.  The calm water is slowly becoming rough as skiers are awakened from their slumber by their yearning to get on the water.  However, for the time being, the boats stay at bay, while their operators begin preparation for a day on the lake.  These chariots of the water are nestled into the shore enveloped by a thick covering of statuesque pine trees. They seem uniform to her eye, but differences lie in their chosen profession.  A group of the stately plants enjoy the feeling of the cold water around their toes, lending themselves to the task of providing a resting place for tired ducks.  Another collection can be seen off in the distance, working as coverage on the otherwise bald tops of mountains, enjoying the high altitude. Back on the dock, the gargling of boat engines combines with the opening and closing of cabin doors.  As children are roused for breakfast and begin to play, the silence is broken- For this, a place where childhood memories and lasting friendships are created, is not a place were silent moments are frequent.  The crisp air cleansed by the numerous trees remains so, withstanding the aromas of cooking meals.  Knowing the lake will soon be too choppy to ski on, she stands.  Pausing for a moment, intuitively aware her family will be waiting for her arrival on the boat, she sighs deeply, wishing the silence would return.
   I have always been a lake kid.  Spending summers in Fourth Lake, Old Forge was heaven.  There was nothing else like it.  Even now as I sit in classes filled with people who focus on the wrong things and will never understand that one fantastic feeling, and I wish I was there.  Henry Thoreau had Walden Pond, I have Fourth Lake.  The life of solitude, the unattainable; convention follows everywhere.  When all is lost and there is nothing else to hold onto, Walden still remains.  Time rotates differently in Walden. Time slows to a crawl and no one’s time is gauged in dollars and cents.   Walden is that one place of understanding.  Each infinitesimal part adheres to the soul; makes an imprint ever fossilized on life.   It is that place that I am unable to escape and yet I miss it.  

            I began my life as a Lake kid early. Tasting fluffernutter on young taste buds. The treat disallowed at home is given freely here.  Hands filled with sand from prolonged hours spend on the endless beach.  Parents getting along fueled with mind alternating silver colored cans.   Hair in pigtails- pink flowered bathing suit partially dried by the incessant August glaze.  Perched atop an orange canoe, smile broadcasting nothing ever could be wrong as long as the background lake never changes.  My then still attached family ventured to the Adirondack Mountains in an attempt to bond with my only set of cousins.  Days spent drinking and lounging did well for the growing beer bellies of the men who looked on as the bonds of the children strengthened.  Being only two, I had no idea that this place of mountains and sun would be the only place that I could find solitude.  

            As the years progressed and the small ones grew older, interests changed.  The photos returning from the Wegmans 5 day Photo Processing painted different pictures of the times each year after the annual two weeks came to a close.   Times at the beach were my favorite.  In my blue flowered bathing suit, I point to something intriguing in the water as my other chubby hand clings to a bucket.  The redheaded girl that my mom insists was just the most adorable thing she’s ever seen in her entire life looks on, seemingly interested in whatever I had to say.  My cousin and I running into the water, displacing the hydrogen and oxygen combination with each step.  

            After years of staying with the cousins, their interests changed, however ours never waned.  We took up permanent residence down the road and never looked back.  We started out spending one week in August then two.  The owners began to think of us as family, allowing us to do pretty much anything we wanted.  It was a beautiful existence. 

            The four-hour trip up to the heaven that was our Lake was pure hell.  My brother and I were never the ones to act the sibling loving bond that our parents tried with no results to solidify.  My mother, the narcoleptic who made me think it commonplace for mothers to sleep away entire weekends and half of weekdays, would be off in dreamland in mere moments.  My father, the entertaining super-dad would insist on playing games the entire way up.  Games started to include monetary gain as we grew older.  A quarter for the first person to see the Emu Farm, quarter to the one who saw the crashed air plane, the big cow at the steakhouse, each still holds a special place in my materialistic heart. The drive down the road to get to our lake was always excruciating. Speed limit 20. To my young eyes, it took ten years to finally catch the first glimpse of the crystal waters.  

            Upon finally descent, the family of four would tumble out of whichever truck deemed fit enough to caravan our loving possessions.  With the efficiency of a double flying acrobatic act, the family unit dismembers the truck as the matriarch looks on.  Knowing full well no fun is to be had until everything is where it should; my brother and I would attack the luggage like hungry wolves.  We pile everything onto the small porch which inaudibly grunts under the weight of the newly acquired burden.  Going to work on rearranging the furniture we’ve been scolded years and years over to not rearrange, my mother works to make the cabin home again for another two weeks.  Once all is unpacked and she has room to do what her DNA has been programmed to do, she hands over bathing suits and swim trunks.  Again, being well trained as Seeing Eye dogs, my brother and I tip toe to the bathroom, change, and tip toe back; nothing out of place or soiled.   

            Heaven forbid one of us in our retreat to the lake allow the swinging door to slam its frame in an over zealous nature.  My mother, whose ears could pick up the sound three hundred feet away, would turn to the offender and give the look.  With the knowledge that history constantly repeats itself and the door can never stay shut in such a state, the culprit will gingerly take the door handle and guide it to its resting place; absent of the thunderous close.  

            Years went by and this process repeated itself time and time again.  The way I looked forward to these trips never rivaled Christmas Eve; it always surpassed it.  The zenith of happiness and freedom lay in the swirling waters of our Lake.  As I grew older, the trips changed.  Outgrowing the two bedroom cabin we so lovingly inhabited gave way to a larger cabin, further up the hill.  No longer able to be gently coaxed out of rest by the therapeutic rhythms of water on rocks, my connection to our new two week abode never held the same sentimental value for me.  The larger cabin contained four bedrooms and a loft.  The loft always mystified my young mind.  Carving out an enclave fifteen feet above the living room floor, the hidden room allowed three to sleep comfortably.  A ladder made of historic wood and blond unidentifiable tethers acted as the staircase to the adolescent heaven.  My brother and his friends were constantly allowed to sleep up there, lest I or a girlfriend were too absentminded in our attempts to abdicate the loft and fall to our demise.  The family unit, then still strong as iron, moved into a permanent location in what is dubbed “The Trailer Loop” located on Teddy Bear Lane. The name of the road began as a joke, those knowing that Ted, a gargantuan man with the disposition of a grizzly bear who had been spending summers at the Lake for as long as I can remember, would be at least appreciative of his road’s name.    Our dwelling was encircled by individuals whose names and faces were considered family during my growth at the Lake.  

            With the changing of time becomes that awesome and yet terrifying phase in life- adolescence.  Given that I was never comfortable in my own skin nor exceedingly attractive in any way; the Lake gave me the freedom to be anyone I wanted to be.  No one knew me; no one knew anything about me.  Being one who irrevocably looks for escape, I spent two entire summers living at the Lake, working a myriad of jobs.  Among my laundry list of professions, the lake provided me with some of the more interesting jobs I’ve erased from my resume; selling chocolate at the Candy Cottage to hungry tourists, providing over priced nourishment at the only grocery store within twenty miles of anywhere, and expunging the remnants of a family’s stay in a cabin  to name a few. Each week brought a batch of new individuals, taking the place of the previous week’s inhabitants. Among the onslaught of fresh meat each week contained viable weekly friends and potential male companionship. It was the year I turned fifteen that I got my first kiss next to Balsam, a cabin my family called home for a winter trip when I was eight.   

            To say that my first kiss included fireworks would be massively cliché but very true.  It was Fourth of July, not my fault that fate can be cliché. Being fifteen and never been kissed was a hard to pill to swallow.  My brother, the one who incessantly mocked me for my lack of physical attractiveness, was the one who all the girls loved.  He would set his skies out on our dock early in the morning, waiting impatiently for boat driver dad to descend from his throne.  During his wait, my brother would slowly but surely gather a crowd of adoring fans.  Spanning from the new additions to old flames, my brother could never do wrong.  Being short for a boy, he more than compensated with his blond hair, blue eyed self.  That said, it was tough to live in his shadow.  I was the one, freckled and short, who would be called “cute”, never “beautiful”. 

            When the week of July 4th finally came around that year, we had moved into our permanent residence in the trailer loop.  There were new boys staying there that week, much to my delight.  Being the daughter of the man with the big pretty boat, I was immediately popular with everyone that summer.   As I prepared for the morning ski run, I noticed one in particular was in constant attendance.  I slowly figured out that he was there for me, not anyone else.  This was shocking to me, someone watching me? Why me? Even boys would come watch my stellar brother.  But he came to see me.  

            The week rambled on, bringing with it new adventures, countless camp fires and ski runs.  July 4th finally came, along with it fireworks.  Independence Day was always a big thing on the lake.  Various camps on the water’s edge would put on small displays before the big show.  Every year for as long as I can remember included rain.  That year was no exception. The rain subsided just in time for the show to start.  I usually would pile into the family boat in order to view the explosions from the water but that year I opted to go with another family.   Half of the reasoning there was to get away from my family, really feel the independence of being fifteen.  The other half was that he, my skiing spectator, was going to be in the boat as well.  

            As fate would have it, and why wouldn’t it in a story like this, he ended up sitting next to me.  I recall not one firework that night, just the feeling of his arm around me.  I remember finally feeling how all my girlfriends must have felt before talking about boys they’ve been out with.  Once the show ended and we retreated home,  butterflies numbered in the thousands fluttered in my stomach; so much so that  I could barely concentrate.   Full of the festiveness of the holiday, the group of boys and I decided to walk the shore.  Our neighbors were all extremely generous, sharing campfires, food and beverages foreign to our underage palates.   We eventually returned home and he was beckoned to bed.   I walked him to his cabin in order to say goodnight.  

            Darkness fails to describe that night.  Unable to even put one foot in front of the other, I stumbled trying to get to his deck.  An impromptu gaggle of fireworks began going off in the distance.  Procrastinating, I looked to watch them, hoping that his ears were bad and couldn’t hear my heart pounding.  Focusing back on the task at hand, I looked to him and mumbled goodnight. Smirking that cute laugh boys do when they know exactly what you’re thinking, he bent down and kissed me.  

            That kiss opened the floodgates and even now I fail to remember exactly how that particular one felt.  The only impression I have is the lake; the place that holds memories of thousands of firsts. The first family vacation. My first campfire. The first ski run I ever had.    My first experience with all that is lake culture.   My first kiss. My first bought of puppy love.  My first glass of wine. The first massively drunk night.  My first horrible hangover. Also a thousand lasts.  The last time my family was together.  The last time I saw my parents truly happy.  The last time I remember everything being whole. 

            Ever since my first visit, I have never been able to forget my soul’s harbor.   Fourth lake constantly flows through my veins.  It is ever present.

She Returns to the wooden dock, the clomping of her sandals echoing upon the still water below.  Settling once more on the hard surface, the familiar scene has undergone dramatic change.  Being early in the evening, younger children have already retreated to bed, taking with them the joyful sounds of play.  Their older siblings have begun loitering, filling the space with nervous laughter and experimental curiosity.  As she peers over her shoulder, a bright, intense light surrounded by an array of mismatched chairs emits the perfect source to master smore production.  As the chairs begin to fill, the sound of paternal chatter, clanking of beer cans and loud laughter are heard.  Focusing her attention back on the opaque, mysteriously calm lake, her eyes only pick up the light of neighboring camps burning through the endless dark.  The monstrous mountains clearly seen during the day take a backseat to the blanket of stars speckling the sky.   Each individual star struggles to out stage one another- even the members of the same constellation.  Turning slightly to the left, she notices the sliver of moon illuminated by the sun. It seems that the sun is trying to conceal the moon in an attempt to make the lake disappear in darkness.  As a slight chill runs over her bare, sun kissed legs, she stands and once more breathes deeply to take in her surroundings.


Gorges Smythe said...

I didn't have a lake in my youth. The best I could come up with was a big creek in the valley below my hilltop home. Still, I had a lot of good times there. My first kiss, though, was atop Indian Rock, with our horses tied nearby and the creek flowing in the valley below.

Main Line Sportsman said...

Beautiful you will recall...I am a huge fan of ADK's and spend as much time on Upper saranac and Colby as a college kid and now as a Dad. My 3 kids grew up there in Summers and your story truly resonates...Thank you.

Anonymous said...

We did have a lake just up the road from where I grew up but I spent most of my time in the stream and brooks. We all have are special places in our hearts and I truly appreciate you telling us about your. This was a very nice read.

Whitetail Woods Blog / Deer Hunting and Blackpowder Shooting at it’s best.

Hunt Like You're Hungry said...

Gorges- Wow... well your first kiss was by far and large better than mine. Now I'm jealous. I'm going to make DU buy me a horse. :-)

Main Line- You surely are welcome- ADKs are forever in your heart and I hope your children get to feel the same!

Rick Kratzke- Thank you as well, Sir! I do hope that everyone has such a spot in their pasts that resonate the same feelings!


Trey said...

You really do have a wonderful way with words! Keep up the good work and thanks for reminding everyone of their special place!

noelle_markuson said...

I really enjoyed reading this. For a while, all the things you said about your memories as a child were the same for me. Like you, I grew up every summer in a cabin with a lake. Mine was located in Brainerd, MN. Every summer, we spent several weeks there, watching sunsets on the lake and fireworks on the fourth of July. My cousins and I would always float out in the water on inner tubes and we would take the boat out to Moonlite Bay for dinner. It's such a treat to have a story like that. I don't think many people can really understand the true bond between a person and a lake or better yet nature. Wonderful summer memories. I haven't missed a summer yet.