Sleep sometimes eludes my daughter Maddi, so my wife bought her a sound machine.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard it. It was late at night, in winter. I went to kiss Maddi good night. As I walked into her room, the gentle sounds of water lapping against a shore stopped me in my tracks. I was instantly transported to another time, another place. Specifically, I found myself at a special lake house that my family escapes to every summer, tucked away amid the stately pines and rugged hardwoods of western Maine. Juxtaposed with the sight of my sleeping daughter, the moment almost brought tears to my eyes. That’s what lakes can do.
We all need an escape from today’s overly demanding world. From world politics to unstable fiscal realities, these are unpredictable, uncertain times. For a diversion, I point the family Subaru toward one of a handful of special lakes that dot New England.
Lakes have a magnetic pull on me. They are places where time, if only for a moment, or perhaps a little longer, can stand still. Youngsters might not recognize that elusive quality, but grown-ups can, perhaps because we understand just how fleeting those moments are. These are places where memories are nurtured, and eventually etched into granite.
I’ve always been drawn to the water, a trait passed down from my parents. I’m fond of the ocean, with the mysterious promise of its endless horizon, the sand, and the surf. We live north of Boston, near the Atlantic. But I still prefer lakes.
I love the pristine feel of freshwater, smooth and cool across my skin, no post-swim shower required. And, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I’m comfortable with the finite parameters that lakes have. I love finding an old, crusty New England lake house, built upon a stone foundation, unvarnished except for the accumulated nick-knacks adorning the walls and the mantel above a large stone fireplace, with wide plank floors, threadbare furniture, and a sprawling porch with spider webs tucked away in the eaves.
These houses are living museums, hand-built structures made of myriad tales. I imagine the generations that filled these rooms, young visitors and old, the raucous celebrations and quiet moments these walls have witnessed across the decades. These musings bring a sense of serenity. And the best lake houses, or the best owners, preserve these artifacts, from dog-eared guest books to faded black and white photographs.
Then there is the unmistakable draw of heightened senses — the smell of the pine trees, the rich, loamy earth, the early morning bacon sizzling in a cast-iron skillet atop a gas-fed stove. My week at the Maine lake house allows me to recharge my battery in anticipation of the mayhem that awaits after Labor Day, and the new school year.
Recently, when dinnertime conversation turned to summer plans, both girls said they wanted to return to our Maine retreat. I asked them, “Why?”
“There were no sounds of civilization anywhere. No cars, nothing,” Maddi replied after considerable thought. “That was the reason I loved it there so much. I would lay in my bed at night, feeling like I was listening to silence.
“But if I closed my eyes, and breathed as softly and noiselessly as I could, everything would come alive,” said my child. “The frogs croaking, the loons calling to each other, and the very light ripples of the lake coming up onto the shore. These sounds would put me to sleep, and then I’d wake up to the beautiful chirping of the birds, and I’d say to myself, ‘I’m home.’”
No sound machines required.