For old times’ sake I took out the old aluminum canoe this morning. It must be close to 50 years old. Not only can I remember paddling it all my life – for fun, for deep water tests that allowed us to go in boats without life jackets, for the big annual water sports day competition… I can also remember playing yellow submarine underneath it with my cousins when I was a very small. Just hearing the clang of my paddle against its sides brings me back in time.
Perhaps it’s because I am leaving soon, but this morning had me full of reminiscence. This front deck recalls my grandparents. A chipmunk scurried across it this morning before I came back outside with the dogs. I wonder if he could be a descendant of the one my grandfather tamed after hours of patient waiting with peanuts in one of these deck chairs. Chippie would climb right into my grandfather’s breast pocket and take a peanut. Of course, they did not own dogs!
Then there are sites of more ignominy. That same cousin and I once found these little windows (or their predecessors, actually) irresistible as target practice. We broke a bunch of the old originals with rocks, swearing our younger cousin to secrecy. He betrayed us to our grandmother, who told her sister, the building’s owner. We were soundly shamed and had to pay for the windows, but probably got off easier than we should have.
My grandmother and that sister were two of a three sister triumvirate that were the first family on this lake. Their dad, my great-grandfather, was a lumberman who purchased and logged a great deal of the Adirondacks. When the three girls first started coming up here to this lake in the early 1900’s, a large tract that their father bought cheaply since it had been recently ravaged by fire, there was only one rough building on the point. They slept on a tent platform.
Later, more complete houses were built, other lots were sold to friends and family, and the lake developed more. At one end, the old club house building used to be a hotel for visitors. In some of the earliest days those three sisters would take a boat and camping gear over to Lost Pond where they had a riotous time in a rough built cabin. They called themselves the Rioters, and the bay where they docked is still known by many as Riotous Bay.
When my mother was young, her family’s lake home was at a more remote end of the lake which has no road access to this day. Roads come closer now, but at that time they took the train up from New York, then a car to a boat dock almost three miles away at the end of the lake. Part of their daily routine was priming the pump down by the lake and pumping up fresh water from the well, since their tap water was from the lake and not great for drinking or cooking.
A lot of Adirondack history is highlighted at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, including pictures of my great-grandfather at his old saw mill. I used to love our occasional day trips down there during my childhood summers.
Today there is another museum closer to home. My father and mother played an enormous role in founding a new natural history museum of the Adirondacks which is up and running and thriving in Tupper Lake, New York: The Wild Center. I’ll be publishing a column about it on my online column later today.
I had a lovely visit with an aunt yesterday – in fact, a first cousin once removed, but I have always called her aunt. (Having grown up with parents who are second cousins to each other in a summer community filled with relatives of every degree imaginable, I have had to figure out the complexities of genealogy.) Her mom was one of those original three sisters that joined their logging father at the lake.
She gave me a wonderful gift of advice. My history here is undeniable and inescapable. It is and always will be a heavenly, glorious spot on the Earth. But I have gradually felt the pull of separation over the years. There are, today, somewhere around 50 people who share the three houses passed down from my grandmother. It cannot be what it once was – but it can still be something wonderful. Don’t feel guilty about pulling away, urged my kind aunt. Come, visit, see your family, but it’s okay to begin to grow beyond a place.
Time will tell how the property and the family all will evolve around this treasure that we share. It is hard to conceive of having it leave the family, but the fact that it is being frolicked in with the same abandon of the first Rioters by their great-grandchildren is powerful. Five generations is a better record than many vacation homes can boast.