Photo property of Alterra Coffee Co.
There are quite a few things I should be doing other than writing here. I really should not be doing this. I can stay up late tonight, though, if necessary. Right?
Or maybe I should be doing this. The last hurrah of summer, before reality strikes at 7:45 a.m. tomorrow. Yes, I have decided I shall think of it that way.
I left town with my family, early Friday morning for a weekend away, at the cottage “up north.” Is this a Wisconsin thing? I don’t know if it exists anywhere else. I spent most of my summer as a youngster at a cottage with my grandparents. I was the only child in the family interested. I absolutely adored spending the time with those two, wonderful people. And I was completely comfortable spending the day alone in the woods. To my dismay, I have not been able to give my children a similar out of the city experience (other than a few camping trips every summer).
So, I went on the internet early in the summer, looking for something like this:
The place had to have a lake for swimming, enough room for six people and a dog, and it had to be within two hours of Milwaukee. No easy task, as it turns out. I finally found what I thought would fit all criteria. It took an hour and forty five minutes to get there. There was a huge state park nearby for hiking, the dog was welcome, and there was swimming off the pier. The cottage wasn’t quite what we expected, however.
It was quite nice.
The swimming was good.
The hiking was great.
The golden eagles were incredible!
I took lots of work along. I didn’t do any of it.
I gathered a bunch of blankets and pillows on the deck, made a nest in the lounge chair, and I sat and looked at the water. I didn’t cook – my daughter cooked dinner our first night. The second night we went out for dinner. We hiked, the kids swam, I read Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill and began The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason.
I didn’t even make coffee in the morning. We drove to nearby towns Saturday and Sunday, early, and found lovely little coffee shops. We even found Alterra coffee was served there!
We rearranged who was riding with who, and the kids left for home on Sunday afternoon. I took a trip back in time, and went to visit the cottage on the lake where I spent my childhood. The cottage has long been out of our family; my grandparents sold it fifteen years ago to move closer to my mom.
Everything was different, everything was the same. But it still felt the way it felt for me as a child – magical. That time spent in the woods was important for creating who I turned out to be. I enjoyed being alone in the woods. I walked quietly, watching the animals, the birds, the insects. I had special places I stopped to unpack my lunch, and sat looking at the flowers and trees around me. I had a map that I added information to on every walk.
The perfect conclusion to my exploring would come when I followed the trail back to the cottage. I opened the screen door, stepped into the kitchen as the door slapped shut behind me, and the aroma of fresh baked gingerbread filled the room. Somehow, my grandma always timed it perfectly. The cake would be cooling on the counter, and she would be whipping the cream in the big, green, Fire-King bowl. She would add a pinch of sugar towards the end of the beating to sweeten it, and once the cream was stiff, I was allowed to lick the beaters. Then she would cut a nice, big square of the gingerbread, plop a thick dollop of cream on the top, and pour me a glass of 7-Up. Soda was a rare and special treat reserved for the weekend. This combination is the finest, most divine, culinary memory I have from my childhood.
Whoa. Back to today. I knocked on the door. I could picture the kitchen on the other side. The bird models I built and painted for my grandma were on the cookbook shelf in the kitchen. No one was home, though. We took the liberty of walking about the property for what I think will be the last time. My rowboat was still there, with the anchor my grandpa made. My grandpa made everything he possibly could!
He had a huge digging project that took a couple years to complete. He dug into the side of the hill, next to the cottage, to make a parking area for his car, and the truck that came to empty the septic tank, and steps up to the back door.
Every wheelbarrow full of dirt that he dug up, I put through a screen he had built to my specifications. It was big enough so I could sift a bucketful of dirt at a time, without being too heavy for me to lift. Since the dirt was very sandy, the sifting went pretty quickly. I found lots of boring rocks and pebbles that were placed in another bucket for my grandma’s garden. I also found squirrel and bird bones, some of which I saved for my fairy house building. There were many little twigs, and acorns buried by forgetful squirrels. It was the second summer’s excavation, next to the steps, that I made my find. A stone arrowhead slowly emerged from the sand that sifted away through the screen.
That moment was probably the most amazing and magical I had experienced in my life. The arrowhead was pinkish-brown, and about three inches long. It was notched on the end; a space for lashing it with sinew cord onto the wooden arrow shaft. I could see it in a quiver with three other, precious arrows fletched with hawk tail-feathers
Even my grandpa, who didn’t show excitement about much, was obviously thrilled. He told me he even felt like an archaeologist, since he was the one who had shoveled it out of the side of the hill. I shared the glory with him. After showing the prize to my grandma, who put it in a small cardboard box for safekeeping, I went back out to continue my sifting.
It was to be a momentous day. In different screenings from the same area, I found three shards of pottery. One was thin, reddish brown, and had an indented rope design gracing its surface. The other two pieces were thicker, and looked like the lip of a pot or bowl. They were both striped black and white, obviously from the same piece of pottery. I continued to sift patiently, that summer and the next one, until my grandpa’s excavating was complete. I never found anything else. It was enough though. The arrowhead and the three pieces of pottery are still safely ensconced in the small, cardboard, box my grandma placed them in.
Back to Sunday. We walked around half of the lake, the dog was tired, we got in the car and drove home. It was a great end to the weekend. While Timothy drove, I took pictures out of the car window. To see this field of windmills, that stretched as far as I could see over the horizon, gave me hope for our future.
We arrived home and I unpacked. I sat down with my book to relax and savor the end of the weekend. The phone rang.
A dearly loved, young family member had made an attempt to end his life. A friend had dropped by, fortunately, found him, and took him to the hospital. They weren’t sure he would survive the night. I called my son, he picked me up, and we were in the car, heading north again.
My dear young man started breathing on his own in the early hours of the morning. By afternoon, his body was coming around to normal again. I sat and talked with him. He didn’t have much memory of what happened. I wished desperately I could share a part of my pleasure, my peace, my happiness, my wholeness with him. I did not know how, though.
So, today is my last day of total freedom, no work calling, time alone. I will call my young man this afternoon, and see if he is willing to talk with me about a plan for his future. I will arrange rides for my daughter to go to work tomorrow, since I will not be there to taxi her. I will explain to the dog we can’t take our walk at noon.
My life goes on.