Image at This is Not New
Every summer for 11 years, our family migrated north to the Cartwright Lakehouse on Lake Pend Oreille. My husband’s family owned a beautiful piece of property on the lake and had been vacationing there for years. When I joined the family, they had upgraded from tent camping to a cabin they had built themselves complete with electricity and an outhouse. Over the next ten years, Joe’s parents retired and built two different houses on the lake, and our visits got longer and longer.
When Riley was about 6 weeks old, we took a spontaneous trip to the lake for the 4th of July. I was really struggling with two kids, one of which was a very colicky newborn, and Joe was diligently working and studying for the bar exam. We decided to escape to the lake for a long weekend…only that long weekend turned into a 6 week visit for the girls and I. My wonderful mother-in-law could tell that I was really struggling so she suggested the girls and I stay while Joe finished his studies. Joe and I had never been apart that long and I couldn’t imagine managing both girls on my own, but I was desperately looking for some kind of respite and in my heart I knew that immersing myself in the natural world would be just the thing…and it was.
The girls and I spent the next several weeks outside as much as possible, and in the lake every minute we could. One of our nightly rituals was wading up the shore with Riley in the front pack and Courtnee and I singing “hakuna matata.” Courtnee spent most of those weeks wearing a life jacket, skipping rocks, and carrying a fishing pole and I learned how to better manage a hungry baby. Joe’s parents fed us and loved us and took us out on the boat and told me over and over again what a great mother I was…exactly what I needed at that time. And even with an unplanned flight to Utah for a funeral and a raging breast infection where I was sure I was going to die, it was a perfect summer. Joe joined us as soon as he could and we all headed back to real life stronger and happier.
After that, we planned several weeks at the lake every summer. We would drive to the lake together and after a long weekend Joe would drive home and work for a few weeks. Then he would join us again for as long as possible and we would all drive home. We even spent a summer there when Joe’s parents were in transition, building a new house on the lake. We would drive to the work site every day and either help with the building or play in the lake.
Three of my four girls were there as newborns, and I would spend that time healing my body and soul. Our lake house baby, Halle was born unexpectedly early while we were there one summer. In fact, the name Halle in Greek means “looking at water”…I’ve always considered her a bonus souvenir of our years at the lake.
While we were at the lake we would spend our days enjoying perfect summer days of fishing, swimming, boating, tubing, water skiing, hiking, laying in the hammock, sitting on the deck, and just watching the days float by. Nights were for star gazing, roasting marshmallows, and watching movies. Once a week I would sneak away for a couple of hours to the closest town, charming Sandpoint, where they had a farmer’s market, a great secondhand bookstore, and touristy shops and restaurants. I also logged many, many miles walking and running the roads at the lake. But most of the time our days were slow and easy with the natural rhythm that babies schedules establish…sleep, eat, nap, eat, nap, eat, sleep. If it sounds idyllic, it’s because it was and we were very, very lucky girls.
After 10 years at the lake, Joe’s parents decided to move south where the winters were mild and they could see their family more often. It was a good decision for them, but I couldn’t even talk about the lake the first few summers without crying and I still have teary moments when I wish I was there. There was something about our time there every summer that got me through the rest of the year and I still fantasize about floating in that clear, cold water. When I was there, it felt as though the water entered my soul and cleansed it from all of the negativity that comes with life. I always left renewed and full of hope and plans for the future.
It has been 11 years since we have spent our summer at the lake…I still miss it. A few years ago, Joe’s parents gave us a swing that his dad had built at the lake. When we were there, it was our nightly ritual to sit in that swing and watch it get dark while listening to the boats drive by. It has a home in our backyard now, and it remains one of my favorite retreats in the evening. There is no lake to look at and the summer breeze is usually warm, but if I close my eyes I can see the lake and feel that cool water healing my soul.