Last weekend at a family fish fry, I was cozied up next to my granddaughter, hearing about her summer camp exploits. Her fun times in water– swimming and kayaking kept popping up in the conversation. She reminded me so much of her mother about the same age and all the fun she once had in a farm pond at a summer bible camp she attended. Whether it’s a pond, a creek, a swimming pool, or a river, it seems everyone in our family is drawn to water.
Both my husband and I formed deep emotional attachments to lakes when we were children. Tom grew up in Chicago, where his family lived in a bungalow, on a street full of bungalows, in a town filled with pavement, buildings, and very little green space. Friends of his family owned a cabin on a lake – Wonder Lake, a few hours north of the city. For several years his family vacationed there. His days at Wonder Lake left lasting impressions that influenced many of his life choices. At Wonder Lake, there were no skyscrapers in the distance, just beautiful and abundant trees offering shady canopies. He got to witness sunrises and sunsets for the first time and spend hours splashing and playing in the water, swimming like a fish with the fishes and feeling the slippery moss on rocks as it squished between his toes. There was no constant hum of traffic, but instead the songs of birds, frogs, insects, wind, rain, and the rustling of leaves. Nighttime was for chasing fireflies and listening to cicadas’ songs. Wonder Lake was a place to feel free and explore mysteries of the natural world.
It’s no coincidence, I think, that when Tom grew up, he fled the city, seeking a career in environmental preservation. Soon after that, he bought a canoe, and to this day, my wandering boy loves to sneak off in early morning hours or late afternoons to lose himself in the Illinois River backwaters.
In my own family, there was also a beloved lake – Lake Warren. My cousins had a home on this lake, and every summer invited the extended family to come for swimming, fishing, and cookouts. Many times these fun-filled days concluded with a sunset boat ride around the lake. As my cousin Max steered the boat, my brothers and I dragged our fingers across the water, making tiny ripples on its surface. Friendly families sitting out on their lawns and decks waved as we cruised by. I remember the smell and shimmer of the lake, and its peace fills me still.
Several years ago, Tom and I learned that a friend’s river cabin was up for sale. We had visited it only once, but the place had such a pull that we knew we had to make it ours. We successfully acquired it, and it has been our “Wonder Lake” place ever since. The cabin was built in 1950 by a World War II veteran who used it as a base for duck hunting and fishing. For three generations, he and his family escaped there to relax and make memories. The house is a 3-season cabin, meaning there is no central heating – only a fireplace to warm up. So we only use it from April through October when temperatures are warm enough that the plumbing doesn’t freeze.
Unlike the previous owners, we don’t have huge gatherings of family and friends there. It is more of a creative space that we use to escape the world’s noise and indulge ourselves in writing, painting, and reading. It is one of the few places we can easily and quickly access where life’s chaos cannot interfere. We can sit and watch migratory warblers and waterfowl, deer, fox, opossums, raccoons, coyotes, and otters in quiet seclusion. In late fall, we’ve set up chairs and counted hundreds of monarch butterflies heading south for the winter. And in flood season, we monitor water height and watch what the waves deposit on the beach. Often we find old medicine bottles and pottery sherds from the 1800s. Neighbors tell of finding prehistoric artifacts, which we have yet to discover.
If we aren’t at our lake cabin, it seems we are vacationing to other bodies of water. There have been countless sacred times walking Lake Michigan shores collecting sea glass, agates, and searching for Petosky stones. And along the Atlantic and Gulf shores, we’ve delighted in shell hunting and finding horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs, and beautifully weathered driftwood that we drag home and don’t know what to do with, but keep because it is our connection to a special place. In the past, at separate times, before we ever even knew one another, Tom and I both found wedding rings on beaches. We can well imagine the trauma their owners experienced at losing their rings to the waves, as Tom lost his wedding ring to Lake Michigan just months after we were married. It felt like losing a piece of our hearts. To comfort ourselves, we tell each other that a part of us will always live there, and so we must return every few years to revisit the beach where the ring was last seen.
You would think I have enough beautiful memories of lake magic to last me the rest of my life, but no. I’m an Aquarian. The water still calls. And I’m sure there will always be more to discover.
For this week’s book review, I have chosen Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond, which you can check out under Recommended Reads. Also, see my Wildlife at the Pond, a children’s worksheet, under Activities.