“Anybody want to go for a boat ride?”
I am in Northern Minnesota at the lake, spending a week with Ben at the island resort where I spent two weeks almost every summer, vacationing with my family. All around the island, and on either shore of Wakemup Narrows are small to midsize housekeeping cabins, complete with porches and grills for cooking, screened in the porches for relaxing in the cool summer evenings and fireplaces and cozy couches for making s’mores and reading. At the beach on the south side of the island are beach-chairs for reading the in sun, as well as water slides and such in the swim area. Fishing opportunities abound, although while I was growing up, we rarely caught anything larger than a minnow or two: it was more about letting have the worms take a bath than catching dinner.
Ludlow’s Island was (and is) my “happy place.” Years of waterskiing and boat rides, playing “HORSE” on the basketball court with my dad, and foosball with whomever I could find color my memories. We had another family with whom we vacationed at the same time every year; as we all got older, the Christianson’s oldest daughter got married, and soon, with the wonderful husband, produced the next generation of fans of the island.
But best were the boat rides. Lake Vermillion has almost the most coastline of any US Lake; it is large, but even more importantly, it has thousands of bays and islands, narrow passages and great open space: think of fractals and shoreline together. Exploring the lake, during the day with the waves making the boat bounce and me laugh as I sat in the open bow, and in sundown, when the lake would turn smooth as glass, reflecting the sky above: these memories of the past kept falling over the present as Ben and I returned to Ludlow’s for a week.
This is only the second time that Ben and I have been back to Northern Minnesota; we went once about 18 years ago with my daughter, Shira, and my mom in tow. Shira loved it, as I had, making friends, life-jacket swimming, riding behind the boat on a big floatation device. Early one morning, one of Shira’s new companions knocked on the cabin door, asking if Shira was ready to come out to play; this was unusual only because Shira was 8 and her friend, 12. I showed her how I used to walk along the rocks on the shore all around the island. And the island was such a safe place that we allowed her to ramble and explore on her own, just as I had years before.
But this time, it was just Ben and me. In some ways, we had completely different goals for the same week off. I wanted to ride In that ski boat, bouncing and exploring as my dad had taken us years ago; I wanted to try all the water gear, from kayaking to paddleboards (I did surprisingly well standing and rowing on boogie board; I fell in, of course, but got back on, over and over until I could stand and paddle pretty well). I even thought of trying to waterski once again, but that did not happen this summer. And I brought novels to read and read. I even had hopes of working on my book, which has been stalled for quite some time now.
Ben, on the other hand, spent much of our week playing music in the screened-in porch. He brought a violin, a mandolin, and two flutes. At any given moment, one could hear Bach or contra-dance music coming across the water. Several people stopped me to tell me how beautiful it was; they thought at first that it was a CD, not live music.
We ate together each night, and sat talking or just being with one another. Slow time, it seemed; we had all the time in the world for a week. Magic.
But Ben did not always want to go for a boat ride. Often, I went alone, taking care to track where I was going, so that I could find the island once again! And then I was a little girl again, a teen-ager again, bouncing on the waves and laughing. There was a fluidity between then and now, my family of the past and that of the present.
How I miss my dad. And yet, I know I carry him within me. Not just memories, but the way his parenting, his being in the world shaped me – even when I made different choices than he would have made. Ludlow’s is full of memories of family.
My mother loved the island. Suddenly that which was a chore at home (like making dinner every night) became an act of love, performed with laughter and help. I took her once on my stony scrabbling around the rocks of the island, and she was so game to join me.
Lynn, my sister, enjoyed the vacation, but differently than I did, When we arrived at the cabin, with all our luggage magically brought on shore, Lynn and I rushed with our baggage to our rooms. She would lie down on the bed, perhaps to read or sleep. I, on the other hand, unpacked as quickly as possible, rushing into my swimsuit. My dad and I would be out the door before my mom had unpacked the groceries. (And then we would go back to help before getting to the first boat ride of the year.)
One year, Lynn could not come for the first week of the trip. But, taking advantage of my sister’s low profile on the island, I spent the days telling people she was there, just out of sight. “Oh Lynn? She just went back to the cabin.” “She’s not on the beach? Perhaps she too a kayak out.” “You just missed her.”
Missed her , indeed. We vacationed differently, but her presence was important to me. Somehow our petty squabbles did not come up north with us. We found ways of enjoying one another, whether while water-skiing, or the summer we entered a canoe race together. We lost, of course. And there was a huge thunderstorm while we paddled that metal canoe; sitting in the stern. Lynn saw my hair stand on end. A memory we share.
I hear the echoes of all this as I take the boat to explore the lake on my own. Perhaps that is what it means to grow up: to assimilate all those memories and let me have joy in the present. In the boat are my longings for my family of origin. I wish Shira was there, as well. But it is just me and Ben: him sending out the music of Bach on a mandolin, and me on the water.