On a cool summer night, I step away from the sparkling coals of the bonfire and make my way carefully down to the dock. There are double the stars: half in the sky, half in the smooth surface of the water. I dream of stepping out onto the surface with my bare, sap-spotted feet and dancing across the Milky Way. I’m jealous of the Loons who float across the water, weaving in and out of the big dipper and circling the moon, with no noise but their haunting calls out into the cloudless sky.
To me, those birds are the sound of summer nights. Echoing off the boundaries of Long Lake, the trilled cries harmonize with the pops and cracks of the fire, the summer wind drifting through the leaves, and the gentle bump of the canoe on the side of the dock. This is where I spend my summers. Sitting on the rocky coast of a lake in Maine, my grandparents’ house behind me, I need nothing else. It’s a perfect New England get away. Maine is known for being “the way life should be.” Sometimes, I believe it.
My grandparents’ house is located in Harrison, Maine to be exact, and situated on the back of Cape Monday Cove on LongLake. Few know where it is until I tell them it’s connected to SebagoLake, which, for some reason, is a popular camping spot for people in my hometown of Haverhill, Mass. It’s exactly a two hour drive – over the river and through the woods. Dirt roads and farmland rule the countryside, but it isn’t all that rural. In the summer, the population of the town triples in size. It’s a vacation spot – the water comes alive with boats, swimmers, jet skis, floats, trampolines, water-skiers, wake boarders, and the ever so popular tubers. I like to listen to them, the low drone of their engines, and the high pitched screams and laughter of those being bounced around on the waves. They usually circle down into the cove, sometimes to sightsee, sometimes to reach calmer water for wake-boarding tricks. It’s relaxing. I usually can be found on the dock, back towards the sun, eyes closed and listening to the sounds of the water. Rarely are we in the house in the summer. If we are it is simply to change, or eat.
The house is situated on the side of the rocky banks. But my grandmother, through years and years of work, has made the landscape into gardens worthy of magazines. Everywhere, there are flowers, bright yellows, oranges, pinks and purples: Black Eyed Susans, Impatients, Roses, Peonies, Morning Glories, and Zinnia’s. They line the drive as you come into the yard. They’re on either side of the wooden walkways my grandfather has constructed, surrounding the house on all four sides, hugging the cement walls of the cellar and flowing outward ten to fifteen feet.
One year, my brother and I made stepping stones, with our handprints as the centerpiece. They still sit in the garden next to the driveway, alongside the birdbath and a wooden bench. Pine needles are usually sprawled over the surface. Now, when I try to place my hand in the print, my fingers are twice as long, and my hand too wide. Those little hands are the same ones that gripped the tattered rope of the wooden swing that sits in between two pine trees overlooking the water. There are pictures of my grandmother and I on that swing when I was too young to even walk. One year, the rope broke and I flew off into the rock wall in front of me, scraping my legs on the way down. But with a length of new rope and a couple of nails, everything was back in order.
That swing is only one of many constructions my grandparents have made for me. Across the street, there is a playground hidden in the woods. It has everything: a tree house – suspended between five or six birch tree saplings, a seesaw, picnic table, zip line, and a tire swing. It was amazing in the fall and in the winter. But once the mosquitoes took over, it’s almost unbearable. I’d still venture into my playground in the summer to look for toads – tiny little toads that I used to collect like bottle caps. My grandmother would take old soda bottles and make them into little homes for the amphibians. I’d carry them around until I felt bad, and then let them back out into the woods, telling them that I’m sorry but I just wanted to look at them for awhile.
My grandparents love projects. The arrangement of our docks changes drastically every year, as they are trying to make the perfect set up for our boats. My grandparents own their own fleet consisting of two kayaks, a sunfish, a paddleboat, a canoe, a small fishing boat, and a powerboat. I like the kayaks, and the canoe. Awhile ago we had a dingy, which usually only fit one person, but I was small at the time so I could fit with my Dad. And he rowed us around the island at dusk. We watched a Crane take off into the sunset on the far side of the lake, only to come back with a fish in it’s mouth later on.
The cove behind the island is even quieter than our own. Another time we glided through, I was in the canoe with my mother and grandmother. The sun was setting, and the water bugs were dancing on the darkening surface of the water. I sat in the middle, on the floor of the canoe, dragging one hand in the water, catching the whirlpools my mother’s oar was making in the surface. Loons called out to us, announcing our entrance into their homes. And then a soft music was heard. There, in the back of the cove, a violin was singing a high, slow melody. The lights of the houses behind illuminated the water just enough to silhouette the canoe with the violinist. He was alone, playing for all the cove to hear. And the Loons harmonized, making nature and music come together in an eerily beautiful song that I shall never forget.
The island is only accessible by boat in the summer. In the winter, the ice freezes so thick that they plow a frozen road to this otherwise inaccessible land. Ice fisherman and snowmobiles also take advantage of the temporary tundra the Maine winter brings. My grandparents’ house, what was in the summer an unwanted necessity, is now a comfort. Walking in, the fireplace is burning brightly, and through the sliders, I can see the lights of snowmobiles flying across the flattened surface of the lake. The television is turned on longer, and the beds upstairs have more blankets added to their layers.
The winter has a different feel. It’s more of comfort, less of fun. The snow is piled high against the windows. And sometimes I retreat to the cellar to the computer room to sit and talk. My grandfather is usually down there, working on his US Sub Vets website. Sometimes he tells me stories of how living underwater for months at a time was. I couldn’t imagine it. I can barely stay inside the house for a day straight. Walking out onto the ice, the wind whips by, and my face freezes. One year, there was no snow, but the ice was three feet thick. It was a skating rink ten miles long. I wished I had learned how to do more than simply skate forward. At night, just as in the summer, the winter has a magic. Gone are the loons, but the ice sings it’s own song. Expanding and contracting, as almost as if it’s breathing, the ice murmurs under the snow. Low, thundering booms are heard even inside the house. I love to watch the reactions of those who don’t understand the noise. Many feel my house is haunted. In all seasons, an eerie sound is present. To me, it is simply a part of my cove. To them, ghosts are the culprit. But there are no ghosts, though faces watch from every room in the house.
Pictures, one of my grandmother’s pastimes, are sprawled in every corner available, telling stories of summer, sledding, families, and friends. They tell stories, show the past, and describe how the present has come about. Just this past Christmas, we bought them a digital picture frame, so the newest of our memories can be displayed, rather than stored on a computer.
Downstairs, on my grandparent’s bed, my Trixie is usually curled up. A tabby cat that is wise beyond her years, is deaf and blind now, but knows every footstep of my young life. We are both nineteen. Though in cat years, she is almost at the end of her time here. Many don’t like her. When she had sight, she wasn’t the friendliest of cats. My father especially, was afraid of her, and the time she decided to sit on his lap, I was called in to quickly take her off. She liked me enough. I’d give her treats and tuna juice every chance I had. There were few she liked. She despised dogs. My yellow lab learned that the hard way a couple years ago, when Trixie staged a full out attack that ended with scratch marks on a quivering puppy. Now, like an old lady, she bumps into walls as she goes down the hall to her bowl.
My dog, Sadie is only five. Though there have been moments of cat and dog disagreement, she still loves when we go to Maine. She learned how to swim here, and now can be seen leaping off the edge of the dock. Sometimes, I even get her to take kayak rides with me, and the fuzzy, yellow head will sit patiently looking out into the water, as I paddle down into the cove.
Most of all, the time spent with my grandparents is key. They make this place what I describe it to be: magical, relaxing. From the time I was old enough to stand; I have helped my grandmother in her gardens, painted, drawn and swam with her. When I pull into the driveway, I can’t wait to see her and Brian’s faces – to see what kind of project she has in store. She drives all over the neighborhood to find flat rocks to build her walls that surround her gardens. She makes sure that she has enough room for me to bring up an entire squadron of friends if I want to. She makes things fun, exciting. Never, have I seen this woman sit down. We go for walks down the dirt roads, and swim around the cove. The past two years, on weekends in early spring, I have sat out on the back deck, with my face towards the sun, with my grandmother practicing my prom make-up. Hopefully someday, I’ll be sitting there as she’s putting my blush on for my wedding.
Some nights, when I walk down to the dock and wish I could dance among the stars, my grandmother will come down and stand next to me
“It’s beautiful out tonight,” she’ll say, gracefully sipping out of her wine glass.
And sometimes I don’t think she understands how much her home, this place, truly means to me. The loons call out, and she tells me to come back up to the fire. I can hear my mother laughing in the background. I smile and follow her back up. In the warmth of the embers, my family is smiling. I smile too. For the moment, I don’t need to dance among the stars. Dancing in the firelight is just fine.