Lovely Lake Vermillion In Snapshots

dandlouWe went up north for Labor Day weekend. Hastily assembled, last minute planning yielded three days, more relaxing and action packed than I would have thought possible. Sometimes, last minute is the best way. We pulled the kids out of school on Friday and set off due north with a minivan chocked to the gills with food, fishing poles, water colors, and anything else I could think of to keep our short attention spans from unravelling into pervasive, crotchety boredom.

I needn’t have worried.

The lake. It was beautiful. Deep. Almost primordial. Its dark, velvety waters were cold enough to make swimming something for which you had to summon up courage. It was cold enough to feel curative. And it was vast, with undulating shorelines, eddies and bays, silent islands, promontories and fingers of land, beckoning or accusatory, depending on how you looked at them. There seemed to be a secret code of earth and water we had to approach with caution and respect. Dash and I had to navigate, eyes skimming the horizon and darting back to the map, to reconcile the two dimensional with the three, to keep our bearings, to find our way home. It was challenging, but it got easier. We learned something new. We grinned madly, feeling slightly less the rubes on a pontoon. We squinted into the sun, proud, almost seaworthy. 

SANTIFISHFish. There are fish in Lake Vermillion. All hungry for worms and willing to be caught by Saint James and Supergirl (Dash too, but with less success – I think the jerky line of a child-held rod must make those worms dance extra seductively). They fished off the docks, they fished off the boat. It was the go-to activity for three whole days. It was what filled up the hours in the sun. And Devil Baby watched and cheered, played with the worms, touched the slippery bodies of the fish, and essentially hung around doing nothing in a way I’ve never seen her do before. It was gratifying to watch them do something contemplative, something that requires patience, quiet, sustained attention with eyes trained on the water.LOUFISHWORM

Kitchen. More time and less stuff, I found myself enjoying the simpler, pared down ritual of preparing meals. I found it meditative: the opening and shutting of drawers, looking for a potato peeler, a whisk, a bottle opener; stopping to take a sip of wine and gaze out the enormous kitchen windows at the lake; washing dishes by hand, keeping my workspace neat. Without the rush, meal preparation is a completely different animal and in the silence of the cabin, broken only by the occasional triumphant whoop from the nearby dock, I remembered everything I love about cooking.

Reading. I was forced to unplug. No wireless, no phone. No twitter, no blog. Just my books. I have been feeling scattered lately. Unmoored. I have been finding it hard to focus, to lose myself in a book. Perhaps it’s because there has been so much end of the summer action to attend to. Perhaps, I too am losing the power of sustained attention, giving way to the rat-like compulsion to check my email, tweet and surf every few minutes. In the quiet of the north woods, I became that mother – the reading mother. On the chaise, with her nose in a book, occasionally peering over the pages with narrowed eyes and an amused smile, luxuriating in the act of reading deeply while her family plays almost, almost, out of earshot. They fished, I read. My heart slowed down. Everyone was engaged, so I could disengage and dive into my books: Snow by Orhan Pamuk, challenging reading, testing my patience, but a book whose layers slowly unfold drawing you further and deeper. It’ll be worth it, I think. Time will tell. And Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser, a tightly wrought collection of short stories, the few I have read so far are intriguing, smart, mildly menacing – he is a beautiful writer.

THREEONDOCKFish. Each catch was followed by a few seconds of tense hook extraction. Saint James and Supergirl would bow their heads in concentration, working against the ticking seconds and the struggling fish to get the hook out as gently and quickly as possible. They’d toss it back in the water, peer into the depths and inevitably yell “Yep, he made it!” with joy and relief. For them a fair fishing bargain involves no more than a few seconds of discomfort on the part of the fish. They are tender and respectful toward nature. I am not sure whether this is something you can teach, or whether this is something that just naturally occurs in a child. fishback 

Kitchen. I brought everything, even my sharp knife and cilantro. But even when you bring everything, there are things you wish you had brought. As I made salads and salsas, mixing and matching my ingredients like edible Garanimals, I thought of Jumpa Lahiri’s piece in the NY Times earlier this summer. I thought of all the things I would remember next time (honey, white pepper, soy sauce, hot sauce, gin, the pickled eggplant I just made) and all the things I was so glad to have brought (my knife, sea salt, avocado, cilantro, olives, strawberries, fancy cheeses, sauvignon blanc, baby spinach, garlic, tomatoes, baguettes, Hope Creamery butter, two kinds of vinegar and olive oil).

Fire. Doctor Dash made two fires a night. One with charcoal for grilling steaks and salmon. One with wood for roasting s’mores. The fire drew the children out of the brush, away from the beach. Like young natives, they watched the flames, flicking and dancing against the darkening sky. Or maybe they were just hungry.

DASHFISHFish. One morning I glanced up from my book and saw a stout fireplug of a man talking to Doctor Dash on the dock where he and the kids were fishing. Our cabin neighbor had ostensibly come out to introduce himself to Dash, but in fact needed to flip Dash’s rod right side up before showing him a picture of the 53 inch Muskie he had caught the day before. We chuckled about this the rest of the day, picturing the poor guy grimacing over his coffee mug as he looked out the window watching Dash cast with an upside down rod. He probably muttered through his pain and agitation for a good fifteen minutes before getting so exasperated he burst through his back door to save Dash from himself. Hilarious.  

mpaintWatercolors. I’m so glad I brought them. Devil Baby painted and painted. Busy, quiet, happy. Just how I like her.

Feathers. The bald eagles. They were incredible. We had no idea they all hung out in the north woods. We saw more eagles than seagulls, yet they never lost the power to startle us, to elicit a gasp, a pause in the action to watch their muscular flight, their graceful hunting, their branch shaking landing in the tops of trees. There was an island where a bunch of them seemed to perch and to hover right below them in a quiet kayak was pure magic. And then there were the loons. My kids said the cries of the loons reminded them of our neighbor, Evan’s, cry. Somewhere between a giggle and a sob, suspended between joy and loss, the loons stopped us in our tracks over and over again.

Haunting and beautiful. Just like that lake.

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