“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.” — Maya Angelou
Late in the afternoon, I sat on the front porch of the cabin with coffee in hand and the lake behind me, as my youngest son, the student filmmaker, interviewed me about what makes this place special.
The answer certainly isn’t the structure itself.
“Rustic” is a generous description of this cabin, built in the 1920s as a fisherman’s camp. Behind its exterior of green shingles and white window frames is a wall of uninsulated wooden planks, necessitating the use of wool blankets on mid-summer nights. The bedrooms, more like cubicles, are separated by walls that stop well short of the ceiling, with curtains instead of doors. The floors slope in places.Many of the window frames and kitchen cabinets date to the original construction.
I’ve slapped my share of green paint on that cabin, and white paint on its smaller cousin and a woodshed that now holds paddles and life jackets. While my brother, the rabbi (and current owner of Camp Schechter) fights a never-ending battle to seal the cabins from the elements, particularly the ravages of winter in Maine and the occasional critter seeking shelter, my annual contribution is chopping the brush that grows a few feet taller every year.
The cabins, surrounded by fir and white birch trees, sit feet from the water’s edge. The “pond,” as the locals call this body of water, extends from our cove into one of an inland chain of lakes. I like to kayak in the early morning, before fishermen or pleasure boaters roil the water with their motors, and again before sunset, when the water calms. Paddling close to a loon, whose call is the lake’s soundtrack, is an added treat.
In recent years, my brother, who has mechanical skills I lack, has installed a larger water heater and swapped out a rusting metal shower with a fiberglass shell. (It beats taking a bar of soap into the lake, as our father did.) The cast-iron, wood-fired, pot-belly stove has been replaced with an electric range. Modern windows have been added on the back side of the cabin where, at sunset, we watch as shades of blue, green, orange, red, pink, and yellow fade to darkness.
What truly make this place special are the memories created over four generations, beginning more than 80 years ago with my paternal grandmother and great-aunt.
It was they who were invited by friends to escape New York’s summer swelter and found this place in the 1930s, first renting and then buying the property. “There, by the shore, they sat each day, reading The New York Times, knitting, and rowing a heavy wooden boat across the lake for Sabbath services and to purchase kosher meat at the first Jewish American educational summer camp,” my brother messaged me when I checked with him about the history.
Our father treasured his vacations in the woods and the summer weeks he spent there after retiring. Then – and now – the essence of a good day is getting out on the lake. “Put the wood in the water” was his way of telling me to work harder when I sat in the bow of the canoe as he steered from the stern.
I first came as a boy with my parents, and then three (and later four) siblings, a three-day drive from Chicago in a station wagon. I cannot fathom how they kept us entertained or how much time my mother spent in the laundromat in the nearby town.
As a teenager, I begrudged spending parts of my summer in the woods, but once I began my working life, I came to value the opportunity more.
Various combinations of myself, my wife and our three children have visited in all but a few of the past 30-plus years. (There was an incident with a bat that soured our daughter’s attitude for a while.) We have our routines, involving kayaking and swimming, consuming mollusks and ice cream, visiting local stores, diners and the nearby college campus, and day trips to the coast.
“By luck and labor, our family has a physical sabbath to which we can return, summer after summer, to restore our souls, connect to our past and share what counts with our kids,” my brother said.
Indeed, what makes this place special is the time spent with children, siblings, parents and grandparents, memories that grow in value as the years pass.