I don’t know when it happened. I don’t think anybody over the age of 30 really does. One minute you’re excited because you’re of legal drinking age, yay!! Then you turn around and you are simply an adult.
This final post in the Cabin Life series will talk about my time spent at the lake as an adult. Interestingly, while this encompasses the largest part of my entire lifespan, this post will not be significantly longer than the previous ones. Time passes more quickly as you age, and memories need to be more powerful to stand out.
I also think the memories are more complicated when you are older, because the self-centeredness of youth is gone. You are no longer remembering things only from your viewpoint, but instead you are also remembering how other people reacted or interpreted those events. For example, when you are a child, you might remember your younger sibling taking their first steps. When you are a parent, you not only remember that your child took their first steps or said their first words, you also remember how your partner reacted and you might even remember the look of surprise and delight on your child’s face. Because of this, the memories are more layered and filled with depth.
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about the concept of memories, but rather the memories themselves. And so, let’s continue.
A different perspective.
When I was 19, I took a girlfriend to the cabin. It was the first time that I had to make that long drive myself, and it was also the first time that I really saw the entire experience from another point of view. Things that I had found commonplace, suddenly took on new meanings and forced me to see everything in a different light.
Squirrels. I love them, and every summer you can find me sitting in a chair on our deck with a handful of peanuts, gently scratching a golden mantled squirrel between its ears while it stuffs its cheeks. The first time a squirrel jumped onto my girlfriend’s lap with no notice, she squealed, a little freaked out. It just wanted to know if she had some goodies. She grew to love them as I did, but I clearly remember that first reaction.
The first time I took a group of friends, it was similar. Four different couples, all in our early 20s. The general attitude of all of them was “party time in the woods!” and it was probably like that for a day or two. But then the energy of the lake took hold. I could sense a subtle change in each of them, as they began taking more time to look and listen. The forest has a lot to say, if you have the mind to hear it.
I watched these changes in my friends. It’s funny in thinking about it now, the ones who loved and understood what the lake provides most are the same ones I am still friends with to this day. I guess in a way, it was my own sort of litmus test, to check my compatibility level with people.
Since then, I have watched several new people experience the lake in their own ways. I get so much joy watching another person’s face light up at the sight of a bald eagle flying above, or the way the full moon reflects back on the mirrored surface of the water. Or hearing one of the amazing thunderstorms that come through, shaking the forest with rumbling booms that seem to echo more loudly and for longer around the valley. Sharing the cabin is one of my favorite gifts that I can give.
Loss pt. 2: Losing my religion.
After a 13 year battle with cancer, I lost my father when I was 26. It was in December, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. While the partygoers were gathered around their televisions watching the ball drop, my family was gathered around a hospital bed in our house watching my father take his last breaths. I could hear the tv on in the other room, behind the soft sobs of my family. I could hear the countdown begin. I watched my father’s chest stop rising and falling the moment that glittering ball touched down. There was no singing and kissing in our house. For us, New Year’s Eve will never be the same again.
Six months later, I was at the cabin. Everything looked the same, but everything was different. The past several months had been the hardest of my life. That type of grief is deep. People say it gets easier, and honestly it does. But not one year later. Not five years or even ten years later. But eventually. Though I guarantee you’ll be sitting in your car 20 years after the fact and a song will come on the radio and suddenly you’ll be sobbing, trying to blink away the tears as you drive.
That following summer, I went to all the places I knew around the lake. All the locations my father had introduced to me. All of the places I considered MY places now. The old swimming pool. The natural springs. The lookout towers high in the mountains. I was searching. Searching for a reason, a meaning. Any sign that God existed and that there was purpose behind my father’s death.
When I was 21, I died. That is not metaphorically speaking, that is literal. I fell sixteen stories and hit the ground. But I came back to life. Why? Why did I, someone who was not the best person in the world at the time, deserve to be alive and not my father, who in my opinion was a great man? Well, I stomped all through those woods and over those mountain ranges looking for an answer that was not coming. Religion died for me that summer. I still felt the peace of the forest, and I still felt spiritual, just not in the way the churches tell you to be. Please don’t preach at me, I’ve heard it all by now. My soul will be fine.
I also vowed that summer to be the best person I could be. Someone that my dad would be proud to call his son. I would treat people with respect. I would follow the golden rule. I would try to be just and fair. I’m not perfect. I’m no saint. I have failed more than once. But I try. I love you, Dad.
Through a child’s eyes.
In February of ’97, my daughter was born. I was terrified, not knowing or believing I was ready for this. Four months later, she visited the cabin for the first time. I can’t say she was thrilled by that initial visit, but I do remember her inquisitive eyes. And watching her grow through the following years was wonderful.
I gave her the same freedoms I had as a child, my wife and I raising her as a free-range child. We made sure she knew how to swim, and I took her to all the locations my father and grandfather had taken me. I taught her about frogs and fairies, garter snakes and goblins. She learned to appreciate the deer and the squirrels. She learned to pilot a boat, though she never learned to ride a motorcycle. Not yet anyway.
I watched the wonder in her eyes at seeing all of these magical places. Everything I had loved as a child, she found the same love for. She had her own set of walkie-talkies and she would explore to her heart’s content. I remember sitting on our deck and picking up the walkie-talkie from the patio table to check in. Click: “You ok?” Click: “Yeah, I’m fine.” Click: “Ok, let us know if you need anything.” Click: “Ok, bye.”
She would always bring home something interesting she had found on her hike. Rocks, pinecones, a stick, something that spurred her imagination. And she was always completely filthy. I really don’t know how kids can get so dirty and simply not care. But she was, all the time. I’m sure guests thought we never bathed her.
A memory that stands out clearly for me is a road trip we took with some friends to a nearby town. A small place called Yellow Pine, about 45 minutes away, down a dirt road. They hold a harmonica festival there every year. I had gone on my motorcycle, while everyone else drove in the car. Heading home to the cabin, I asked if my daughter wanted to go back with me on the bike, or in the car. She chose the bike, and so we headed out. The ride home was cold, and she was snuggled up tight against my back, arms wrapped around me, hands buried in my jacket pockets to stay warm. Every so often I would reach down and pat her arm, asking how she was doing. “I’m good” was the response. I remember thinking back to riding this way with my father, and I felt a few tears come, traveling sideways across my face rather than down, being blown by the wind. I wonder if she remembers that ride. I’ll have to ask her.
A treasure to cherish.
The cabin is a place of incredible importance in the life of my family, my brother and sisters, and my mom. It is the same for some very close friends. Your perspective changes on things like that as you get older. When I was young, it was just a second home. A place we stayed during the summers. But as an adult, it is a treasure. A place to take pride in. To respect and honor and appreciate in different ways.
When I look at the cabin now, I look at what needs to be fixed and maintained. I look at how clean the property is, inside and out. I said before that when I was young, I always remember my grandfather being busy. My parents too. There was a time for work and a time for rest. I understand the work now. Making sure the cabin lasts for several more generations is a priority. I want my family’s descendants to be able to have the same magical experiences I had. It is more than just a home now. It is a place of comfort, of worship, and of rejuvenation.
These days, I don’t get to spend the time there that I want to. My mother has the luxury of retirement and so enjoys the full summer there. But for my wife and I, work and responsibility only allow us a few weeks each year. But I cherish every moment of that time, even if it’s only a quick three-day weekend to recharge my soul’s batteries.
In 2018, I spent a week at the cabin completely alone for the first time in my life. It was in that solitude that I began writing The Passage at Moose Beach. My wife had planted the seed of the story in my head almost ten years earlier. I had never been a writer. But there at the cabin, surrounded by the quiet, the memories of my life’s experiences, and the ghosts of people past, I sat down at the keyboard and Alicia was born.
Looking back over these posts, I see a common thread of family. This came out as well when I was writing the book, in ways I didn’t expect. I don’t think I realized until now just how much of an impact family had on shaping my memories of the experiences that inspired my writing.
Alicia is a mix of me, my daughter, my mother, my wife, and all of the people who find joy and well-being in nature. My artist, Gloria Miller Allen, is actually the mother of someone who owns a cabin on the lake. This was a very important factor to me when reaching out to her. I wanted someone who understood that place, who could really bring out the beauty and magic there, to be my illustrator. I believe she did an excellent job!
I received a review on Amazon, which I am very proud of. A section of it reads, “The author’s deep description of the environment was simply reflecting the type of place I enjoy the most; Naturally, I was able to picture myself in this cabin with my family and my new daughter!…As soon I finished the book, this was my conclusion: this will be the very first book I will read to my daughter!” For me, this is the strongest indicator that I accomplished what I set out to write. A story full of love and compassion, and that captures the magic of youth and the strength of a young girl.
Thank you for going on this journey with me. I truly hope you enjoyed it. It was emotional and brought back some incredible moments for me. My cabin life was very much abbreviated here, and there are so many other memories that I could talk about. How I burned the skin off my foot by stepping into a boiling hot spring, or how I chased a cougar across a field to get a picture, unaware that there was a second cougar following close behind me. Or watching one of my very best friends plummet through a tree’s branches and tumble down the mountain below. Or my horrifying experience with a giant water bug! But it would have taken a lot more than five posts to get through all that.
If you have questions, please feel free to ask below. If you liked this series, or if you didn’t, you can let me know that too. All my love to my friends and family, immediate and distant, that helped shape my time at the lake, and in turn shaped both me and my book. A huge word of gratitude to my partners at Calling Card Books who helped me craft my story and share it with all of you. And to all of my readers who have given your time to me. I am grateful for each and every one of you.
Now I should go call my daughter.