Miles Down A Different Road
A variation on the theme “The Road Less Traveled,”
But in your own neighborhood.
There was a moment that caught me by surprise this Labor Day Week at the in-laws cottage by the lake, and it had to become a rant.
Many folks already know that twice a year my wife and kids spend an afternoon at the “Summer Camp” my wife’s uncle started back in the early 1970’s as a place where the family can go and reconnect. In the beginning it was just a red cabin on the side of the lake, with none of the modern amenities. Maybe electricity… but I think that’s about it.
There was an outhouse which was also the source of many jokes and added to the rustic charm. At the beach by the lake many of us would gather up our courage and steel ourselves for the cold water on mild days. We couldn’t be kept out of the water on the hotter ones. We used The canoes and small boats to explore the small cove.
Personally, it was the idyllic place to better get to know my wife’s family, understand her and where she came from through a location that is part of her background.
During the final stretch to the camp, there is a bridge we cross – and just beyond that bridge is a dirt road that goes to the right before a big bend. The foot of that dirt road was just part of the scenery we passed on the way to our destination.
I never gave that road a thought until this weekend.
During the past week I’ve been living with the specter of time, specifically the end of one era and perhaps the beginning of another. My wife’s parents are in the twilight of their lives. They have been faced with increasing health problems, a few major surgeries and diminishing abilities to do the activities they have taken for granted. I have caught myself wondering if this is their last trip from New Jersey to New Hampshire, if this might be the last time we see them together with the whole family, or if this is going to be the last time we see them, ever.
I’m not alone in thinking these thoughts. My wife’s father has said as much. He can’t make the eight hour trip without several naps. It is exhausting for him to make the water and electrical connections for the camper they recently bought to replace the one they owned for ages. He told me it will be up to Carol and I to take it places in the future that he could only dream of. I was free to take it now or whenever my wife and I wanted it – so long as we took care of it, took plenty of pictures, and bring something back for them.
There are roads that he wanted to travel, but can’t now. He wants to keep himself and my wife’s mother closer to home and only take shorter trips. Thanks to The Sword of Damocles, their extended trips have come to an end.
While we were sitting on the porch, the early autumn winds were howling under the darkening overcast skies causing mid-afternoon to become an early dawn. He asked me if I could assist him with a walk. I had my fedora and coat on before he changed his mind.
During the walk toward that bridge we were talking again at length about the things he wished he could do, the things he won’t be able to do again, and his brother who began these trips to Highland Lake. After a few close calls with passing cars, we came to the dirt road.
The conversation that we had was brief, but full of intense meaning. Here was a road that he passed perhaps at least three dozen times in his life, but never ventured down this road. We determined that if he and his wife came here at least once a year since 1971, that’s 39 times… not counting the times they came more than once a year.
“It’s not too late to go down this dirt road,” he said. As we walked, we saw an aspect of Highland Lake and a small tributary or river that feeds it that we never knew existed. There were marsh lands, coves and small peninsulas that could be fine to fish from. There were also homes of other seasonal vacationers and locals who lived in the area all year long, neighbors essentially from a different part of this town.
We turned back, and walked down the bridge and looked down below via the cat-walk that I never really saw before. Below there was a dock ripped from someone else’s shore that had been flushed down this water way before being stranded on rocks. He was telling me that beneath the bridge in the deep water there must be some really great fishing.
We walked back. One of us was too tired to stay out much longer.
The rest of the night was full of other events, ordinary in appearance to any outsider and maybe even others who were there. For my wife and I there was a sense of finality to it, like this weekend was going to be the last time that all of us were going to be there together. We had dinner as a large extended family then looked at photos from our Florida trip and an album that was a conglomeration of all the photos everyone took this past July 4th.
Just as the sun began to set I saw my wife standing at the end of the dock in almost the same pose that her father was standing, in a photo that hangs on the wall back at their house. I took a quick picture then took some pictures of the sun that was slightly obscured by the clouds and Pitcher Mountain. We talked about our mutual feelings, how this seemed like the slowest of good-byes not just to people but to the era they represented. To her it’s her parents and her youth at this camp, for me it’s my in-laws and the era and its spirit that I’ve made a career trying to recapture. To us it’s the brief afternoons twice a year for 13 years.
The rest of the night was like the final chapters of a really good book, or the final reel of a classic movie. Lose ends being tied up…
Will I ever see days so perfect again, there at that cabin?
The next day the phone rang with the news that my wife’s parents made it home safe. As we drove around getting the things we needed for the week, she confirmed what I said earlier that day, that it didn’t feel like a Sunday or Monday. I said it felt like we were on the other side of something, like the first day of the next stage of our lives. All the while I was thinking about the dirt road I walked down with her father, looking for some of my own and not finding any.
To my knowledge as of this writing, there are no “Old Antrim Road”s here in Rindge, New Hampshire. All of the roads in my own neighborhood in my home town have been explored within the past 9 years. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t stopped looking.
Can one’s whole life be summed up in one quote, in one sentence? To me, what he said just before we started that turn- I thought about what he meant. I’m sure that there wasn’t any deep significance, none deeper that he meant to imply. Here’s a man that I’ve grown to care about in the past few years, someone who was always self-sufficient and looking for new places to go. The first time I met my wife’s parents they had just came back from a cruise around Alaska, and that’s how I want to remember them.
I would like to believe that there will never come a time in my life when I’m not looking forward to the next trip to the lake, or to a place where I’ve never been before. No matter how old I get I will still want to put on my fedora and grab my camera. There are still pages yet to make and rants still to write. I can’t imagine that there will be a period in my life when there’s no more time to just go to return again and chronicle my ventures.
“There’s still time to walk down this dirt road,” he said this weekend, and like me, I hope he’ll say it again for many more years to come.
There are some roads we pass every day without traveling down them. Sometimes curiosity gets the best of you and after years or decades, you have to see where they take you... Tell us about the roads you've discovered.