Walking out on the dock last night, it was pitch black. There was not so much as a ripple in the water; it was still as glass. I’ve never seen a darker sky anywhere, for here in the middle of the wilderness, we’re 25 miles from the nearest small town and hundreds of miles from light-polluted big cities. The sky was littered with stars. Not just a few, but thousands were visible, and I could see a depth to the night sky I’ve never before noticed. In the distance, just above the silhouette of the mountain, is a small bright blood-orange ball they call Mars.
Sitting here in my Adirondack chair with my head back, looking to the heavens, I heard the eerie call of the loons … not once, but three times, because each call reflects across the lake, then back, then back again.
Nowhere I’d Rather Be
Yesterday my wife was telling me about our neighbor, a lovely lady who has the means to live anywhere in the world and who has homes around the globe, yet finds this place her favorite place on earth. I feel the same, not just because it’s the closest thing we have to an old family homestead, but because it’s extraordinarily beautiful and in an area filled with traditions. In fact, Frederick Vanderbilt said this was the most beautiful lake in America and the second most beautiful in the world. Families on this lake have been here since the 1890s, and they are all deeply rooted together; everyone has known everyone’s kids, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They gather for sailing, for barbecues, and for memorials when a lake member graduates to that great big lake in the sky.
Living In the Past
Tradition is rich in this little lake, nestled in the 6 million-acre protected Adirondack Park. Most people here resist modern things and are living in cabins built well over 100 years ago and heated by wood stoves and fireplaces when needed, and most have no road access. A trip to get groceries involves an old wooden boat, heading to a landing that is like a portal to modern times for the necessary trip back to 2018. Being here is like living in the past. It’s an escape from reality.
I’ve looked, and have found no lake in the world like this one. Though there are lots of beautiful lakes in the world, most have been modernized and are filled with the noise of Jet Skis and speedboats. Here it’s mostly wooden boats, canoes, ancient guide boats, and hundred-year-old sailboats that race weekly in August.
A Morbid Thought
My ideal last breath would be in this very place, in this very chair, looking at this very view of the mountain, someday watching my children’s kids playing on the dock, filled with laughter and squirting one another with squirt guns. Hopefully that will be a long, long time from now.
Though I can dream, as in a Greek play, the good of this place has also come with tragedy. Families who have owned these properties for generations are being forced to sell by unusually high taxation, so high it’s sustainable only for the ultra-wealthy. My only hope is that when the last of us are taxed out of this lake, the new caretakers of the lake carry on the traditions.
Saying Goodbye to Home
Years ago my father announced to the family his intent to sell this lake home. It’s an old story. Families downsize and sell the old family homestead, and family members are saddened because of their memories and the comfort of the old family pictures, and the vase they bought Mom for Mother’s Day as a child. I was deeply saddened when my grandparents sold their homes, and I’ll be saddened when this home is gone.
A Flood of Memories
Recently my grandparents’ old home on West Wildwood Avenue came up for sale, probably 30 years after their passing. As I looked at the photos, my mind was flooded with great memories of my grandmother reading the Bible to us, we kids playing on the old oak stairway, my grandfather reading the paper in his favorite chair, learning to woodwork in the old garage, “Mema” baking pies in her little kitchen, and “Papa” giving us haircuts in the dining room. Though I had a chance to buy the house, and it was affordable, I realized that their absence would make the home feel empty. That house had its time for our family, and now it is time for another family to make their own memories. The same is true here.
The Seasons of Life
As I think about the possibility that we’ll leave here one day, I have in mind this somewhat comforting reminder: For every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, a time to build up; a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend, a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Like most, I’m set in my ways. I like it here. I’m happy. Yet I was happy in another place and was sad to see that sold, and didn’t want to come up here. Once I was here, I fell in love.
The Value of Change
Change is good, and though it’s uncomfortable, there is also the unknown, which can be pretty exciting. My wife and I have moved every decade since we’ve been married, and we look forward to our next mystery move once the kids hit college. Though we love the comfort and stability of knowing people and places, we also love the thrill of learning a new place and meeting new people.
Is being cozy and comfortable being stuck?
I often hear, “We should have done this years ago.”
Stuck in the Mud
I’ve been stuck much of my life. Stuck in jobs. Stuck in businesses where it was easier to sit still than to move forward. Stuck in relationships. Most of the time I got unstuck it was because someone made a change against my will. Getting dumped by a girlfriend, dumped by an employer, and dumped by investors. And in every case, I ended up in a place I like better.
Change is probably the hardest thing any of us experience. But just because we’re comfortable doesn’t mean it’s good for us. I have friends who are comfortable in dead marriages because they fear being alone the rest of their lives, fear they might end up in a worse relationship, or fear they might lose their money.
Have you ever lost a job, thinking it was the end of the world, only to find out it was the best thing to happen to you? I have.
Are you stuck?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I talk about being stuck? There is a good possibility that first thing you think of is where you’re the most stuck. Admitting it is the first step to getting unstuck.
What would you change if there were no consequences?
What would you change if you knew it would be easy?
What do you know you need to change but just don’t want to?
What have others been saying to you that you refuse to hear?
My Happy Place
There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, feeling settled and secure, and being in your happy place. Frankly, I could be here on this dock the rest of my life and be thrilled. I don’t feel stuck at all, but I’m not in control, and my future here is not in my own hands. So the most logical thing for me to do is to realize it and work to get into a position to be where I am in control.
In spite of my anxiety about having to leave this special place one day, I’m also excited to know that one day in the future I’ll be on to a new adventure. A change in perspective or attitude makes it easier to take.
Though I hope you’re not stuck, it might be worth asking yourself if you are and what you could do to get you into a better place.
Today is as good as any to think about it.