Last June, for my birthday, Kathy and I spent a week in an old cottage on a Maine lake. As Maine lakes go, this one was neither particularly large nor remote. It was about the size of the Cape’s largest ponds and only 20 minutes from Portland.
The cottage, too, seemed at first nothing special. We were told the older part of it was built “around 1911,” but much of its original charm had been “renovated” out and the place looked generally run down. The day we arrived there were lots of motorboats on the lake, and one very-loud nearby jet skier who made me wish I had brought my BB gun. We wondered, perhaps, if we had made a mistake.
After we unpacked, though, we took our first dip in the lake and it seemed to wash the disappointment out of our eyes. We recognized that, for all its flaws, the place still had the essentials of any Maine lake cottage, namely, an old-fashioned screened porch overlooking the lake, a small outside deck that was shaded in the afternoon, and a small dock with canoes on the lake itself. Very quickly we established a pattern of having breakfast on the dock, lunch on the deck, and dinner on the porch.
After the weekend we were pleased to see that the jet ski and most of the motorboats disappeared. We had a week of lovely early summer days and afternoons, blue skies interspersed with high clouds, light winds shifting over the lake surface, sometimes giving the illusion of fast-running rivers, and a large snapping sunning itself on a nearby rock.
Evenings were best. The porch had comfortable wicker furniture, enough light to read by, and large glass windows that swung in and up and attached to hooks screwed into the porch’s whitewashed ceiling. Looking out through the large screened windows was like looking at two large side-by-side TV screens with surround sound.
At night there were loon singing very close, the shoreline was peppered with the overlapping calls of green leopard frogs, and fireworks were set off every evening on the far side of the lake.
Perhaps the deepest, most satisfying pleasure of staying in a new place is gradually becoming aware of its characteristic rhythms. Sometimes they’re small and artificial. The water tank, for instance, had a slight air leak so that the pump, even when weren’t using it, came on regularly every twenty minutes or so for five or six seconds, then shut off with a satisfying click.
But the dominant rhythm of our days and nights there was that of the wind. I found I was much more aware of the diurnal rhythms of the wind than I am at home – primarily, I think, because the surface of q lake reflects the wind so sensitively, giving it a deeper resonance and clearer pattern. Usually we woke to a dawn stillness, the lake surface glassy, with a layer of low mist hovering over it like the breath of the lake itself. By 8:30 or nine, a light northerly wind began to ripple the surface. Then, around noon, it shifted to the south, and by three or four in the afternoon it increased to a brisk and sometimes stiff breeze, knocking the canoes against the dock and one another. Then gradually it quieted down again to an evening calm, but different from the morning’s stillness. The night air was clear and sharp, the lake waters silky and seamless, pricked only by the rise of a fish to the surface, the ripples spreading out concentrically and endlessly under the white moonlight. We had settled in.
Robert Finch’s latest book, just published, is "The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore.” Bob will be reading from his new book Thursday, June 29, at 7:30 p.m. at Preservation Hall in Wellfleet, and Sunday, July 1, at 10 a.m. at the Chapel in the Pines in Eastham.