Make sure swimming is somewhere in your memoir. Why? I don’t know. It seems a memoir needs a splash of water.
The thwack of the wooden screen door. The ping of June bugs hitting the rusty screen trying to get at the porch light. The sounds at my Maine camp are spectacular and symphonic. Nature provides quite a concert, especially in the evenings. Crickets trill and bullfrogs provide the bass to their chorus. In the woods behind the camp, coyotes howl, answering each other’s cries over the swamps and hills that make up the game preserve that surrounds me. The loons provide the vocals, of course, yodeling across the water. Once before dawn I awoke to these sounds and I heard a rooster crow somewhere across the lake. A rooster, mind you, and I have no idea of the location of a nearby farm, but there must be one.
You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of something else. From my childhood at my family summer camp in central Maine, I guess I remember clearest of all the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless. I remember how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and the lake scent that entered through the screen. I remember lying in the bottom of the red wooden rowboat my family owned—floating in the middle of the lake, looking up at the clouds.The best part of being at camp—then and now—has always been engaging with the lake.
A few years ago, I bought a pair of bright orange 1-person kayaks as a birthday present to myself. The opening in my kayak is large enough to carry a medium sized dog as a passenger, and on hot days, my old dog Oliver and I like to go kayaking on our end of the lake. Oliver and I can glide through the water swiftly, but not fast enough to wreck my hair do. Once I tipped us over in deep water and wasn’t able to turn the kayak right again. Oliver and I had to swim back to shore. We both wear life jackets.
A good kayaking excursion is an early morning close circuit of the shoreline, including exploring the coves that are not visible from the middle of the lake. In the early morning the water is still and calm. It is not unusual to spot ducks, loons, cormorants, and ospreys. We see many turtles, and twice, a pair of muskrats. One time, I heard a piercing screech and saw a shadow sweep across the water ahead of me. I looked up to see a bald eagle circling overhead between the sun and water, and suddenly the water boiled with frightened fish.
By afternoon, the water is changeable. Wesley McNair described his pond as bearing “the print of the wind changing its mind, swiftly dimpling the water in one direction, then the opposite.” I’m lucky enough to live on the water, at least during the summer, and I like to engage with the lake as well as the woods. The kayak is the perfect watercraft for me—no engine, no registration needed, and I can practically lift the boat in and out of the water with one hand. I shouldn’t even get started on motor boats (we have two) because it will turn into a rant. Every year it’s the same thing. After we open up and prepare camp for the summer, my husband puts the motor on the fishing boat. Then he goes to the hardware store (again) to get parts to fix the motor that never starts on the first try. But he can fix it himself eventually. Our other boat is delivered straight out of storage to our driveway sometime around the fourth of July. It is named Sunken Treasure, having spent much of its first summer with us under water. Our family fleet of boats has a jinxed nautical history.
There are many rocks that lie just beneath the surface of our lake and they are anathema for boaters. Hitting a rock with a motor often results in a lost pricey lower unit that takes the rest of the summer to replace (just one chapter in the jinxed nautical history). But for those who like to fish or snorkel, these rocks harbor perch and eels. Boat owners often throw anchor off the rocks so that swimmers can explore these underwater islands. To those in boats or ashore, it sometimes appears that the swimmers are walking on water.
I like to swim on hot days because I can be both warmed by the sun and cooled by the water. During my childhood summers at camp, my sister and I used to stay in the water until the ends of our fingers wrinkled up like pale prunes. I remember that I used to suck the lake water out of the ends of my braids. A good summer day at camp for us meant spending more time in the water than out of it. Nowadays, I sometimes lie on an air mattress and float on top of the water, but when I was a child, I always needed to be fully immersed. I remember running down the length of our wooden wharf and cannon balling into the lake time after time until I was worn out. Where has that girl gone? Did she leave—or is she still in here, just pushed further down? I liked that girl. I should get in touch with her again.