The setting for most of my childhood summer memories is a lake in Rindge, New Hampshire where my grandparents had a house. My brother and I would travel there from California to spend our days in saggy bathing suits and bare feet, waterlogged and sunburned, mosquito bitten, bellies full of blueberries and fluffernutter sandwiches. All day we’d be in and out of the water with our cousin, Christina, swimming or paddling in canoes or walking on these weird, giant styrofoam floatie water walkers that gave me a rash; sometimes we’d stand up in them behind a canoe and pretend we were waterskiing.
It was a blissful existence made all the more special because these summers at the lake connected my brother and me with our mother’s people. The summer I was eighteen months old and my brother was four, our mom had a heart attack and died while we were in Rindge, and we spent the subsequent summers with her parents, her brother and sisters, and nieces and nephews, hearing stories that we’d lap up like vital nutrients. I always felt like her spirit was especially with me splashing around in that lake. As soon as I started thinking about this year of swimming, I knew that going to Rindge and swimming in Crowcroft Pond had to be on the list.
Hazel and I woke up in Keene, New Hampshire this morning, had some breakfast, and set out for Rindge. We started off with a hike at the Betsy Fosket Wildlife Sanctuary. My grandpa was actively involved with the Audubon Society during his life and after my mom’s death, he donated this land along a wild shore of Crowcroft Pond and created a wildlife sanctuary in her name.
The minute we entered the canopy of hemlock trees, Hazel and I fell into an awed silence; the quiet mossy green pathway was flush with ferns and mushrooms, sprinkled with wildflowers and scented with pines. It was utterly magical and we felt as if we were bound to stumble upon fairies at any moment.
The smell struck me hard, mulchy pine needles and minerally lake; it’s a smell like no other and immediately sent me back to my childhood.
Also, these stone walls, which I’d forgotten about, but seeing them today reminded me of a thousand games of make-believe in the woods behind my grandparents’ house. I’d told Hazel stories of waking up early to pick blueberries for blueberry pancakes and we were both thrilled when she found blueberry bushes along the path.
It was a wonderful walk and it struck me as especially lucky for us that this sanctuary exists because we no longer have any family on Crowcroft Pond and it’s a private lake, so this bit of beautiful public space represents a way we can always come here and experience this special place.
To make the day even better, my cousin Christina, companion to my best memories here at Rindge, drove up from Glouchester with her daughter, Lilly, to swim with us.
We met them at the old dam, which has an easy point of entry into the lake (which is otherwise pretty choked with pickerel weed and white-water lillies along most of the shoreline). Technically I think we were on someone’s private property, but no one gave us a hard time.
As soon as I slid into the water and saw the way my limbs turned sepia-toned under the water, I was struck with another thunderbolt of memory: I’d forgotten about the distinct amber color of the lake water and seeing it sent me catapulting back in time.
The body remembers things in an entirely different way than the mind: seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching these pieces of my past brought so many previously-dormant memories to life today.
We swam for nearly an hour, out to the middle of the lake where we could get a good look at the house that used to belong to our grandparents. The water was very warm (77 degrees!) and, though amber-colored, it was also clear and clean. It’s a non-motorized lake and so we didn’t need to worry about boats, but anyway, it was entirely quiet. We didn’t see another soul all day.
After our swim, we went for lunch at a cute diner with a jukebox which ate Christina’s quarter and where Christina and Lilly entertained us with their silliness.
We finished our time together at the little country cemetery on a hill in Rindge where the ashes of my mom, Christina’s parents, and our grandparents are all buried.
Then Hazel and I drove the six hours back to Quebec.
It was a perfect day.