Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Tag: Lake Waramaug

If Not For You

The dashboard gasped 98 degrees
while Bob Dylan whined that he couldn’t
even find the floor without me, when
I kissed the bumper of a tall
stranger from West Orange, New Jersey
who looked nothing like the brooder from
Duluth, Minnestoa, but a grumpy
pavement dweller, whose eyebrows
separated when I chuckled a
cordial greeting, offered my insurance
card, made small talk about the poorly
designed parking lot at Kings market,
which somehow brought us, via the amount
of miles on my relatively new
car, to the Boulders Inn, still
operational in 1986,
where perhaps I prepared his smoked trout
mousse, a warmed beet salad for his wife,
enriching her blood to prepare for their
son, conceived that evening. A police
report ushered the end to our second
bump, closing another circle, when
I wished his family well, rolled down
the windows, silenced Bob while the two
distinctly arched eyebrows, framed in pavement,
directed me from the corner in
which I had found myself. It was then
that he thanked me for the warmed beet salad.

Historic Preservation

For more than a century she stood
On a rocky outcrop of
Land, a pile of indigenous stone
On the shore of a glacial Lake,
Carved, an ancient water-filled
Sculpture fashioned from
Ice-aged hands.

Her Victorian façade,
Dressed in cedar shingles,
Were weathered to a rich
Grey in steadfast streams
Of earthy elements; she
Leans to the West, toward her
Inhabitants’ viewpoints,
Contemporary, ancient:
Where summer days would
Conclude, awash in golden
Reflections.

Her skirt, foundation plantings:
Leggy Rhododendron, stalky hydrangea
Whose blooms prefer old wood,
Are stripped away, and lie waiting
In burlap-wrapped bunches.
Tattered hemlines of her stone slip,
Her rudimentary systems,
Pipes, conduits, wires, and
Shards of wood hang like entrails,
Grotesquely, finally resting
With an audible sigh
On six hydraulic lifts,
Steel I beams fashioned
After an Industrial era that
Postdated her and her
Oak and chestnut frame.

Behind her wide-open
Glass eyes, upholstered furniture,
Some with pillows still fluffed,
Await in arrangements suitable
For best conversation. Photographs,
Framed in silver, plates, chipped
And stained are wrapped
In newsprint, screaming headlines
Unthinkable to her original builders.
She awaits patiently on her craftsmen,
Her stylists, her mechanics,
For new, perfectly fashioned shoes,
To break in as she settles down
For something else
To pass her by.

Hand Pulled Chicken Casserole

There is an old English proverb that reads, “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” but I always have thought that hands are the introduction to the personality, the intricate weave of experiences and genetically bequeathed traits we receive from our parents. As a child, I was mesmerized by my father’s strong, hairy grease-streaked fingers that would tremble as he’d screw the cap off the oil tank in his Triumph, but would also very gingerly use his pinkies to transform our organized tangle of string from a witch’s broom back to a cat’s cradle. They always rested on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock as he drove, just as my mother’s would, never seemed to fumble. His mind’s eye was careful to make a sound judgement and he’d never slip when pushing a button: a strong, sure, able finger would push the right knob without hesitation after careful contemplation.

I heard speak of his own father’s mechanical capabilities, his trucking company, his service as the town of New Milford’s respected democratic first selectman, the genetic precursor to his own career in engineering.

My mother’s hands were strong and able, but gentle and pretty. On her left hand she wore her mother-in-law’s diamond wedding band, a ring now bestowed to my own daughter and tucked safely away. A symbol of elegance and welcome, that ring was a material example for the many ways my Grandmother enveloped my mother. I longed to know her as I looked at that ring, alas, she passed five years before my birth. She also wore a dainty Timex watch with an elasticized band that rested just below her prominent wrist bone. As the mother of five children, she had to keep careful track of what that watch read as she maneuvered her Pontiac station wagon around the town of Bristol Connecticut, steering it’s hulk from piano lessons, track practice, perhaps her afternoon of volunteering at the Bargain Box downtown, a second hand shop formed to benefit the Episcopal Church we attended every Sunday without fail.

I would stare at her sparsely decorated hands as they performed various tasks, her knuckles prominent, that of her pinky slightly extended while bent: bringing up the hem of one of my sister’s skirts that had grown too small for her but too long for me; pulling chicken off the bone to add to a casserole, removing one of the dozens of splinters that embedded itself in my feet, a painful byproduct of our summers spent on a wooden removable dock on Lake Waramaug.

If asked, I could pick her hands from hundreds of others, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that my own hands look like hers. The bones that connect my fingers to my wrist dance about under the thinning layers of skin just like hers did, and although my fingernails are nothing like hers, strong and long and feminine, my pinky knuckle also juts out when performing certain tasks. They are not entirely rough but smoothed out thanks to regular application of cream, and my children often remark “mom, your hands are warm and soft…”

I remember that warmth. My mom seemed to exude it from her body, inviting to a toddler who longed for the reconnection to that maternal love after performing a new stunt, dangerously inviting independence into our new lives.

Recently I noticed my mother’s ring finger being pinched by arthritis, a malady she pointed out to me as she sat opposite me in my own family car, she in the passenger seat and me with my hands on the wheel at precisely ten and two o’clock. It induced a pang low in my stomach, a twinge I have felt many times in my life: a psychosomatic pain that is introduced to my person when affected by another’s suffering. I have felt it as I saw an elderly woman struggling to get onto the bus unaided, my young nephew with his tongue stitched after cleft palate surgery, my own daughter having blood drawn from her tiny newborn vein, just south of her ring finger, a tiny capillary vessel of her life’s liquid tapped to measure her bilirubin. The sight of that sharp needle in her tiny, inexperienced hand and the sudden recognition that the world now had its own grip on my daughter, that she was no longer carefully and perfectly enveloped in my womb, had induced my first loss of consciousness. I fell to my knees as I attempted to comfort her, my own hands surgically taped into its own IV tube after a Caesarian, grasping for the gurney for support before my faded peripheral vision took over the whole of my eye.

Regardless of very personal associations, hands are universally symbolic in nature, but also practical. Horses are measured by them, but in Asian art, hands folded together are often a symbol of our dual natures, yin on one hand and yang on other other, joining together in harmony. The hands tenderly holding the heart on an Irish Claddagh ring symbolize friendship as well, as it does in a simple wave. Often attributed to the native American gesture in the woods – to show a hand without weapon and therefore a peaceful gesture. To offer one’s own hand could be construed as an offer to help, or more colossally, in marriage. A simple aid or an entire life is offered by the hand.

So it is in harmony that I offer my hand to my family and friends, but most symbolically to my own children. My son who will be 13 this fall no longer takes mine in public, but in the private confines of our own suburban home will compare the size of our hands with amusement: my hand is the same size as yours now, Mom! His hands tremble with sensory motor overload, much like my father’s, much like mine. He can construct a Lego creation with no effort at all if it weren’t for that pesky tremble that has seemed to travel the Adams rail line of congenital nuisances.

My nine year-old will still take my hand in all classes of company. Hers are topped by nail beds that have been chewed to the quick, evidence of a stressful school year during which she dug through social messes much too mature for her nine years of life experience. I am grateful she often slips her hand into mine, but the gesture is seldom enough for me to immediately recognize the difference in size and significance. I also observe with great amazement that that tiny dimpled grasp that once sent me swooning during a routine blood test can now knit and purl better than I ever could, cartoons like a developing expert, and crafts gorgeous pieces of art out of anything from driftwood to tin cans.

My two year-old often demands to be entirely ensconced in my hands, not yet sure of her own while she tests the temperature of the waters of a new world. Her developing awareness of those waters have in turn encouraged her to try out these tools at the end of her arms with greater refinement: as she clutches a crayon in a fist to scribble, as she struggles with a cereal spoon with a seeming palsy, spilling the milk en route to her pouting lips, but with surprising heartbreaking tenderness as she strokes my cheeks.

The hands of my children are revealing what’s to come, their strengths and weaknesses, their steps closer to the goal of independence, turning to the world with their own contributions rather than asking their mothers’ hands for help. My own aging hands, rough from more than 40 years of mud pies, spiking volleyballs, diaper changes, or more accurately the soap and water that now responsibly follow such tasks, starkly contrast my two year-old’s hands that still feature chubby dimples instead of knuckles, but with motherly love stroke the satin trim of Mine, her aptly named security blanket. I cradle her tonight as I watch my 9 year-old daughter slowly peel the carrots for hand pulled chicken casserole she is making with my mother at her lakeside cottage. She probably doesn’t realize that the knuckle of her pinky finger juts out just like the two previous digital generations have before her.

I look through the window, where my son takes a large mouth bass off the hook with perfection, regardless of the tremble that arrives with the gingerly task, capitalized by a gentle stroke of water he washes over its gills upon release. The tremble of his grasp is evident from a distance, but diminishes nothing of his ability.

These hands belong to my children who have found the tasks they like best, and whose heritage lay embedded in them. I feel a familiar catch in my throat of both pride and longing as I massage my own hands with the jar of Ponds cream that is perched on my mothers kitchen sink after having washed the dirt of the potato peels off of them and return to my toddler for a reassuring caress, hers and mine.

Towing the Line

To beat the suburban Hartford heat in the summertime, my parents would bring my siblings and me to Lake Waramaug in Connecticut. There, in a gingerbread style cottage that sits on a manmade peninsula on the main cove of the largest natural glacial lake in Connecticut, we would pass the long, hot days with all the expected lakeside diversions: swimming, boating, water skiing. The house itself was an inherited treasure from my paternal grandmother, Mabel Taylor Adams, who spent her own girlhood summers on the lake, albeit a tad further South on West Shore Road. There her father, Henry Taylor, had his own cottage where he brought Grandmother Mabel and her siblings Kenneth and Pearl for airings as early as 1890, a relief from the more convenient hubub that was New Milford, Connecticut.

Mabel Taylor Adams,
Who Loved the Lake
March, 1908

We travel a bit further in 2012 to beat the heat of Montclair New Jersey, about 100 miles or 2 and a quarter hours door-to-door if we don’t stop at Stew Leonard’s or the Northville Market for sustenance on the way. The car is as packed as uncomfortably as I remember it to be in 1975: with a gaggle of children, bags, necessities, family pets. But all the discomfort of a longish ride was forgotten once the familiar landmarks passed our car windows: Grandpa Snazzy’s Antikew Shop ( I didn’t know how to pronounce it then), Mt Tom State Park, the turn off onto Route 45 and the features of a then rather honky-tonk New Preston village: Dowler’s Garage, Kressault’s Store, The Washington Supply, the Boy’s Club in the Pavilion Hall, where my father boasted he used to play a pretty mean game of basketball with his pal Harry Ericson.

Our dog Spot, gone 30 years now, used to practically convulse when his keen canine senses took in the familiarity. He would whine with excitement once we hit the foot of the lake where Ritchie’s Pizza and the Washington Towne Beach were. We children did, too, claiming bragging rights in advance: “I’m going to be the first one into the lake! Dad, Will you take me skiing / aquaplaning first?”

Today New Preston Village is all swank: J Seitz, The Firehouse “Clothing and Furthermore”, New Preston Kitchen Works. There is a lovely Mediterranean eatery, Oliva’s, but no more pizza place on the foot of the lake. The feel of the place is decidedly sleepier, more sophisticated and frankly safer. Somehow the foot of the lake and the much more fashionable surroundings still elicit the same excitement in my children.

“When can we go to the bait shop, mom?”

“I hope Grandma still has that copy of Island of the Blue Doplphins in the sleeping loft.”

Even the two year-old: “There’s the lake, Mama!”

The Pooch whines when she sees the Route 45 turn-off.

We commemorated Memorial Day this weekend with a cocktail party at a neighbor’s house, a long-time friend whose son and I were playmates decades ago. We toasted the start of summer on the same swath of green lawn at the lakeside where we played wiffleball with other neighborhood kids, some of whom were also in attendance this weekend, I was scolded in days of old by the hostess for being careless. I had an annoying, dangerous, but uncontrollable habit of flinging the bat in a yards-long, arc behind me after I made a hit and transitioned myself to make it to first base before anyone could tag me out. I must have flung the bat at mach speed three times, nearly decapitating poor Susie Catcher twice before the look of exasperation in many faces made it clear that I had seen my last turn at bat.

Thankfully they didn’t hold a grudge and included me at Bingo night, movie night, even a photo shoot for a children’s book featuring many of us summer neighbors. Sunburned, freckled, barefooted and constantly in a wet swimsuit is how I spent my childhood summers. It was sublime even without the sweet peaches, tomatoes and corn on the cob that needed neither butter nor salt from a roadside stand on Route 202. How much things have changed for a mother who still feels like playing wiffleball, until I realize the Pitcher, visiting from New York for the long holiday weekend has a darling baby Natalie under his own arm, unable to throw a decent curveball. I am hovering over my own two year-old who wants to swim with her cotton sundress on and I let her. I let all of my children swim with their clothes on as the Pitcher with Natalie, observing my happy, wet children simply says: “Their Adams is showing….”

Yes, I suppose we Adamses might have seemed impulsive from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps we were loud and too boisterous to a transitioning crowd of summer inhabitants on a lake that always had subtle style, but big beauty, long-term appeal, and the ability to get under your skin and fester there like a delightful disease: an addiction of good quality. The responsibility of its upkeep and care is slowly passing from one generation to the next. We agree that its preservation is vital to the next generation who will swim here, and to bring their children here to cool in the breezes and waters, occasionally warm on its rocks and learn to recognize one of God’s natural gifts. The appreciation of that gift just illuminates another: family, both blood and extended, connected by a common body of water.

Important links: The Lake Waramaug Task Force is a group of “volunteers and scientists that provides leadership in restoring and maintaining the ecology and water quality of Lake Waramaug and its watershed.”

The Lake Waramaug Association was formed in 1917 “to preserve Lake Waramaug and its environs as a public recreational area and to promote the safety, health and enjoyment of those who use the Lake.”