I water-taxi to Dead Lake’s North Bay. As I set off from my dock, I feel as though I am taking my dog to the vet to be put down. I hope the wind dries my tears before I reach the access so no one will know this silly woman cries when she says a seasonal good-bye to her pontoon.
Around every cluster of reeds I navigate and every downed leaf I pass along my liquid road, I grow closer to the boat access and our Quonset hut where the pontoon will hibernate until it’s “ice out.” Last year, the ice didn’t allow the boat to come out to play until May.
I’ve lived in Minnesota a half-century yet I still cannot develop a fondness for the cold or the snow. Winter is such a long season in which not to breathe. Winter here delays the life-sustaining sounds of lappy waves and gurgily slaps against the boat.
The apostle, Paul, tells us, though, in Philippians 4:7-8 that we are to think of “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — to think about such things.”
As I putter, the liquid carats lure me to the many ways this lake and boat have given me memories.
I pass the first island, once named Maytag Island for the appliance family who used to own it, and my mood lightens and I remember …
Katie’s laugh at catching fish off the dock with her husband Brent, Mike’s dimples as he and his lab Duke play fetch off the dock,
and Dan and Erika relaxing on kayaks.
As I pass the second island, I recall . . .
Hallie’s morning runs and Jenny’s wit and giggle.
I become frustrated all over again thinking about Kenzie sending my croquet ball to the outer banks of Alaska and my complaining about the rules of the game. My head shakes a knowing nod that my brother’s competitive nature comes out in water games and bag toss.
I think about . . .
Joe’s quick-handed snag that landed him a bass that, from its sheer size, has over-wintered many a year in this lake. And the delicious walleye suppers, thanks to Rick and others, who are only too happy to accommodate our requests for more fish.
I pass the rope swing, and see those who are brave and strong enough plunge with wild abandon into the water below. Sam, in full swing, Jake pretending he’s Aladdin without his carpet…
…while those of us boat-bound sun ourselves and watch the dogs — Mick, Boone, Brooke, Maben, Duke and Maddie — chase sticks and turtles off logs, and wade for fish. The dogs love the water and the boat as much as we do.
And all of us appreciate that Neil Diamond, Tom Petty, Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, and Bob Dylan help us forget time and concrete jungles.
Seeing the eagle’s nest,
reminds me of the cups of dark and hazelnut-flavored brew with which we began our lingering days and glasses of “bottled poetry,” as Robert Louis Stevenson called it, that toasted the sun to its journey around the earth.
I lean back in the captain’s chair and drift in thought to the hammock underneath the maple tree, the deck chairs, Adirondack chairs on the dock, and sun-faded barcalounger. All summer long they whispered, “Here, let me hold that for you,” and people listened and obeyed. Hour by hour, stresses were shrugged off, grievings eased, life struggles processed and made content – or at least stowed for another time.
I smile at the memory of hats. Mark in his leather slouch hat, Joe in his trilby, Peggy in her yellow one, and Sue in Sam’s borrowed cowboy hat, and Emma, and Elizabeth in their floppy hats in striped, speckled lollipops of color. And Mick stealing Rick’s hat off of his head.
When I turn north at Doug and Mary’s island, my mouth waters thinking back on Jenny’s roast beef sandwiches, Mary’s chicken and appetizers, Erika’s bars, Sam’s duck bratwursts, and the wild game dinner at the Sullivans. I think of the foods made, of Diane’s breakfast casserole, brownies and cupcakes and banana bread. And how after we started to come out of our food comas, we’d gather around the table again for popcorn and card games, cribbage, dominoes, playing Sequence and Scrabble.
I pass a mother loon teaching her little one to catch fish and remember Elizabeth’s joy at going to Dan’s Honey Hut and Lynn taking more than one hundred pictures of a mother loon with a young one on her back.
As I approach the the place where the pelicans’ congregate on their rock pile, the Dutch barn and soothing colors of Pocahontas Resort’s pastel cabins, I break into a giggle as I remember the Fourth of July flotilla. All of us packed into our red-white-and-blue decorated ‘toon while we lobbed sandwich bags filled with candy and zinged water balloons toward outstretched arms and hands of the young and old who waited on docks for treats and a soaking.
And how later we watched from our floating living room forty feet from shore as the adult boys on our dock set up set off an extravaganza of Fourth of July sky sprays while we slapped thumb-tack-sized biting pests that bothered our cheeks and bloodied our ankles.
I savor the memory of, once the mosquitoes went to sleep, how we listened with the crickets to the crackle of a bonfire and watched the smoke rise to a sky that poked more and more white holes as midnight came calling.
I see the shoreline now. My husband Rick has the trailer backed into the water, ready and waiting.
My tears come again. They are gratitude-filled ones.
So many blessings in the ordinary. The smell of gasoline to power our water toys and to give us the grassy smell of the John Deere making wheel trails in the lawn. The sand in the rug, wet dogs and rain, musty beach towels patterned in stripes and flowers in the colors of water and sky, the smell of sun-kissed tanning lotion and people happy to need aloe.
And how rich our lives are that friends and family would choose their precious weekends to break away and come to our summer place.
Rick and I drive the pontoon to its wintering place. Rick locks the Quonset hut doors and I pat its doors. Au revoir, mon ami, I whisper.
I hop in the truck’s cab and we drive back to our cabin, leaving the boat behind. But I’ll let my mind keep me content all winter long as I replay my summertime whatevers until May’s Flower Moon comes and the lake brings out her liquid jewelry once again.
About Julie Saffrin
Julie Saffrin is the author of numerous published articles and essays. Her latest book, BlessBack: Thank Those Who Shaped Your Life, explores the power of gratitude and offers 120 creative ways to journey toward positive, lasting change.