(This story was published in The Green Mountain Trading Post on August 23, 2017.)
It’s misleading for people who only come up here one week a year–Fourth of July week. Everything’s pretty and blooming and green, temperate and comfortable. Gentle breeze. Nothing to do. Living is easy. And you daydream. . .wouldn’t it be nice to live here? And you think about it the way you know it–in summer. Knowing all the while, there are three other seasons and, coming to your senses, you know winter lasts six months or more up here in the Northeast Kingdom. Maybe it’s because of those tough winters that it’s so beautiful up here.
Like watching an older married couple dancing at a wedding. You admire the way they move together, instinctively anticipating the others’ moves. Together for forty years? Fifty? And you think How nice! Wouldn’t it be nice to sit across the same breakfast table from each other all those years. Same coffee cup. No need to speak. She knows how he likes his coffee. No need to ask. Her hand on his shoulder, his turn of the head and slight smile were passionate kisses twenty years prior. Oh, they still have those, too. But not every day. And it wasn’t forty or fifty years of peaceful coffee mornings and easy, seamless dancing. There were upheavals. When you saw them dancing at the wedding? That was the cottage-at-the-lake-in-July glimpse everyone else saw, too. The real work comes the other three seasons. Summer love, like summer living at the lake, is easy.
The pastoral winter photos in the tourist-trap gift shop seem idyllic. But you know it’s also cold and unfriendly even while you’re lost in the reverie with its crystal clear brook babbling by, the log cabin tucked between snow-covered hills, a curl of smoke rising out of the chimney from what must be a cozy fireplace inside. What you don’t see are the blizzards, the bone-chilling cold that doesn’t leave you, the kind that can’t be melted with wool socks. You just can’t shake it until that first spring thaw when you dare go outside and shed the cloak and soak in the once again warm sun and leave behind the twenty-six below zero nights, the busted pipes, the silence except for the lonely loon on the lake after Labor Day when the merry-makers have gone, the fireworks have faded, the burger grease on the grill is all that’s left.
So, what about that old couple floating gracefully around the dance floor? There were times, especially just starting out, when they felt the chill. Maybe not quite twenty-six subzero, but days when they weren’t quite in sync. He stepped on her toes. Maybe she protested. Maybe just grinned and bore it. But they figured it out. And sometimes he’d lead, and sometimes she’d lead, but eventually they fell into step. At times, they were so close, they couldn’t see themselves. Then they’d remember to pull apart a bit to see the other more clearly. Careful not to drift too far apart and lose sight of the other.
Summer’s all but gone now. Folks will be packing their souvenirs and memories, taking a final glance around at the mountains loaded with balsams, taking a deep lungful of that northern air, and heading down the interstate. As I look out at the lake, I wonder about that old couple. They move so well together, but what did it take to get to that point? There’s time for that. See, my guy and I, we’re still new to this. We’ve only been together thirty years. The water on the lake’s getting a little choppy. The wind’s starting to pick up. We snuggle closer. The colder it gets, the closer we get. It keeps us warm. Let the water get rough. Let the cold wind blow and the temperature plummet. We’re not the type to fly south for the winter.