Michael and I moved back into our family's lakeside cottage last week after missing last year's summer season. The weather was pretty punk last year and besides, we were in the middle of launching his first book, The Fracking War.
This year the weather is still a little punk. A ton of rain, cool temperatures, a ton of floating junk in the lake to keep us from boating.
But I don't care. It feels great to be "home".
Getting that extra year away from a summer at the lake has given me more perspective on this old – literally, old – place that was built at the turn of the century as a hunting and fishing camp. Sometime around 1900, someone dug out the rocky soil to put in a full-size basement. Over 100 years later, we have the same musty dirt floor. The wood beams that hold up the house are whole trees with the bark still on them, scarily drying out over too many years of service.
Historic signs mark this stretch of land overlooking Seneca Lake as a site of the original long houses and corn fields of the Iroquois before General Sullivan came through in 1779 and burned out the village for siding with the British in the Revolutionary War.
My mother bought the place around 1960, the third owner in 60 years. There has been a fair amount of patchwork changes over the years –– closing in part of the porch to put in a second bathroom, moving the kitchen from one side of the house to add an extra bedroom. Trying to ground some of the outlets. A picture window facing the lake.
But other than that, it's pretty much the same.
My unexpected treasure this season is becoming aware of the wonderful sounds this house still makes.
The same creaks on the staircase as I try to creep downstairs early in the morning without waking Michael. The sound of the pump as it fills the cistern under the kitchen floor with sparkling fresh well water. The sound of the rain as it hits the roof while we're sleeping upstairs.
Right after my mother died – already 10 years ago – 30 relatives and multiple generations gathered at the picnic tables in the side yard one sunny afternoon. Someone came out the back kitchen door and the screen door slammed shut – a big slam that turned everyone's head.
A nephew kindly offered to fix it, put in a new spring or a mechanism to have it slowly, softly close.
"Nooooooo!" cried the older cousins, just about in unison. That screen door has been slamming that way for decades, providing a memory through sound to remind us of all the times over the past decades we were heading in for dinner or bed, or heading out for swimming, berry picking, or escaping the chore list.
I don't know how many more years this old place will hold up. But as long as she stands, she holds the memories of my lifetime in every creak, squeak and thump as when I was a child, a long, long, long time ago.
Here's the sound of the rain outside our cottage. A sweet, familiar Upstate New York sound.