When I was three years old, a family friend helped us drive our aging camper down the pitted driveway while I sat in the front seat with my mother, watching the tree branches reach out toward the glass of the windows in the eerie yellow light of headlights. We settled it down beneath an old, dying tree, leaving it to sink into the sandy earth and rotting leaves.
Years have gone by since that night and little depressions that look like wagon ruts have formed from over two decades of running our car up and down the driveway. Rainwater cascades down in waterfalls and washes away what little earth is left. Branches that create a tunnel over the driveway fall from the trees, which then grow new ones that are fresh and green and alive as each spring passes.
In the shadow of the once-white camper now stained with moss and rust, we once built a fort out of sticks beneath that old, dying tree. But the sticks are old and rotted now, with nothing left but rope and a carpet of dead, tawny-colored pine needles that stretches all the way to the rocky shoreline of the lake. It’s a lake that’s always moving. Even when it’s as smooth and as pale as a stone, the water rising and falling in waves almost seems to move with each breath I inhale, no matter how glass-like the surface seems.
The lake house has stood guard over the lake for nearly one hundred years, its logs as wrinkled and scarred as my grandmother’s weather-beaten skin. They stand upright like sentries guarding us at night, the bark as rough as knives in some places and smooth as silk in others. The screen porch is uneven, the floor rising on both sides to a slight pyramid shape in the center that sets the chair at the head of the table off balance. It’s an old table, a picnic table that’s been covered with a tablecloth in order to seem more sophisticated and proper. The tablecloth is plastic, though, and cigarette burns from the time when my grandfather was alive dot the edges like polka dots. There are holes in the screen-covered windows from hummingbirds who have lost their way (or their eyesight), and antique canoe paddles hang proudly from the walls. Turkey, duck, crow, and hawk feathers sit placidly in a crack in one of the logs, some older than my mother.
The kitchen floor is perpetually sandy and muddy from the carelessness of teenage boys and lazy men who don’t bother to take off their shoes or even wipe them on the mat. My grandmother follows my brothers and my father around with a broom, trying to keep the sand and dust at bay so a midnight hospital trip isn’t required just so that my youngest brother can breathe. The linoleum flooring in the living room has been there for as long as I can remember, made to look like shiny stones at the bottom of a riverbed. But I’ve never seen a stone in nature that is golden and covered in glitter, or smudged black from decades upon decades of men and women and children walking over it.
The walls were once white but have since faded to ivory, stained with the blood of mosquitoes that we’ve smashed against it and smoke from the woodstove that sits in the fireplace. We only light the woodstove when the temperature dips below 40°; when it’s burning, the air in the house turns a smoky grey, and we have to open the door that leads back out onto the porch where a lonesome, dead birch tree stands guard over rocks and lazy sunfish. And there the pine trees that line the shoreline whisper to each other in breezes, telling each other the stories of the lake house.