The play, later turned into a movie, On Golden Pond, was written about Great Pond, in Belgrade Lakes, Maine.
My family has a had a house on Great Pond for 31 years. “House” probably conjures an inaccurate image. It’s merely one room with two partitioned bedrooms. The cabin is on Hoyt’s Island, which sits in the Northwestern corner of the lake, and was largely uninhabited until people started to buy up some of the parcels of land and build when electricity became available for the island within the last decade.
We didn’t opt in for electricity until last year and didn’t miss it, and there is no plumbing. The outhouse is lovely – I say this without a hint of the usual snarkiness or sarcasm – and we bathe in the lake and do dishes in the sink using an old fashioned water pump.
Belgrade Lakes is a bit of a tourist destination, at least insofar as the one country store and one small marina and one real estate office renting houses can handle. It’s a small town. It’s not a place to come if you’re looking for hair braiding and skee ball and salt water taffy and miniature golf.
My memories of our vacations are a sensory grab bag. The smell and hiss of Coleman lanterns. The hot vinyl boat cushions. So many stars in the night sky, here away from the city and so entirely devoid of light pollution, that they are hard to distinguish one from the other. The slap of wake against the dock.
When we were younger, my brother and I spent most of our time in the water. The lake in early July is cold, but kids don’t care about cold when there are rocks to leap off and floats to race on and canoes to paddle. Along the shore of Great Pond, the lake deepens gradually, from beach inwards. But from our island, made of glacial boulders and pine needles composted into soil over centuries, one leap off the dock and you are instantly in 20+ feet of water. We were strong swimmers.
I spend more time by the water than in it these days. Usually watching the float races and judging cannonball splash contests, and sometimes just sitting, reading, or listening and watching.
The lake really hasn’t changed much over thirty years. It is clean water. I have never once had the experience of jumping in and thinking it was too warm. The fishing off our dock is easy going, but I’ve rarely seen a fish swim by. When the ripples or waves blow from the north, the weather will be cooler and dry; when they blow from the south, it will be muggier and hotter, requiring a surreptitious skinny dip before bed. In an otherwise cloudless sky, the anvil-shaped thunderheads will suddenly appear, signaling an oncoming storm and our cue to take the towels and swimsuits from the clothesline and put the cover on the boat. We wait until the last minute to come in out of the water though, because swimming in the rain is a singular pleasure and chances like that don’t just come up every day. Many summers we swim across the lake, as a challenge or as penance if we’ve overdone the requisite lobster dinner the night before - about a half a mile; it’s not as hard as it looks, or else it’s harder. Floating on a raft tethered to the dock, one foot trailing in the green water, a damp paperback held aloft, I read my way through every John D. McDonald Travis McGee novel, and read my way through every August from 1980 until I’d graduated from college.
My feet know where to land on the stony path between dock and cottage and outhouse and now, newer “annex” cottage, built by my husband (then just great friend) and brother twelve years ago. I am startled if I misstep, stubbing a toe or losing my footing. My kids are becoming more sure of themselves on these same paths, and they, too can read the wind on the water and tell you when it’s time to pull the towels off the line.