Be careful what you wish for, Chapter 1

May 27, 2009

I was wearing a hideous neon wetsuit. I stood twitching in the frigid lakewater, my feet sinking ever deeper into pungent muck. After a while the grey sky gave way to rain, which did absolutely nothing to deter the cloud of blackflies that were swarming around my face. All the elements were adding up to a miserable scenario, but I was supposed to be thrilled. I’d been wanting to do this for years.

boat house

boat house

A few years ago, I’d started feeling like my role of occasional tourist on the family island wasn’t enough. I wanted to really participate in the place, to inhabit it on the level my aunt and uncle do—to know how to fix the pipes when they freeze over the winter, how to get the docks in and out of the lake for the season, how to connect the electricity and take down the shutters and store the boats and on and on.

tools

tools

There were two reasons I wanted this. The first was based in fear—what if something happens to my aunt and uncle and they can no longer maintain the place? What about when they get too old to take care of it? My family is small. I only have one cousin with potential interest in it. She’s four years younger than me and understandably doesn’t know yet if she’s going to want to pick up where her parents left off. Thus, it seemed, it fell to me to learn the skills I’d need to keep the place going. To be able to keep the place at all.

the canoe my aunt and uncle built, sepia-toned as it is in my dreams

the canoe my aunt and uncle built, sepia-toned as it is in my dreams

Still, I had my own self-interest in mind. The more responsibilities I took on, I figured, the more I’d earn the right to spend time there unsupervised. It’s not that I have anything particularly wild up my sleeve, but it wouldn’t it be nice to be there with just a few friends? To be able to lay around naked and drink at noon and not have to negotiate with an entire family about which boats you can or can’t take and when it will be dinnertime and which bedrooms will be off-limits? To just ride up for the weekend and spend a few days floating on the lake, lounging in a hammock or watching the sunset from the porch, not having to answer to anyone?

Last summer, my fear of losing the place and dreams of island independence became powerful enough to propel me to move to New England, where I intended to set about the business of Taking Care of the Island. So far, this has amounted to one trip last October to close up for the winter—docks taken out, boats stored, shutters up, electricity off, gorgeous foliage—five months of waiting in the snow for spring to come again, and this past weekend.

Uncle C setting up mainland dock across from the island

Uncle C setting up mainland dock across from the island.

The reality of being one Who Takes Care of the Island will come into sharper focus the more time I spend doing it. But this past weekend and winter have left me feeling a little disillusioned. Is this how I’m really going to spend the rest of my life? Suffering through six months of snow and ice and two-pairs-of-pants-and-legwarmers for the privilege of having to take time off work to spend the weekend three hours away from my friends so I can chop wood and patch pipes alone on an island? I may have to wait til I’m middle aged before I my family becomes so small that I have the opportunity to do any of that unsupervised naked lounging and noontime drinking. Right now that feels like a long ways away.

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