The home I sold earlier this year began it’s life as a summer cottage in a very small subdivision of summer cottages on the north shore of a 350-acre glacial pothole lake in northeastern Illinois. It was a magical place to raise children, the kind of place that is disappearing as heartbreakingly fast as the song birds.
I was able to open the door and let my children run free; I did and they did. We lived on a tiny street that dead ended in a small oak woods. The trees were old and climbable and they were loved and climbed. Across the street directly behind the fringe of cottages was a narrow wetland punctuated by a few hacked together boardwalks made of old and very skinny no-longer-functioning boat piers which lead out to the channel. The treacherous boardwalks were tunnels in the summer with walls and a roof of towering wetland grasses and cattails covered with perching scolding magnificent red-winged blackbirds. The boardwalks poured out of the towering vegetation onto the slim channel. Over the years we spent hours and hours laying on our bellies gazing into the water watching turtles, minnows, dragonflies, damselflies, all kind of insects, larger fish, freshwater clams, muskrats, and beavers do their thing on, in and under the water.
Great blue herons and graceful white egrets stood still along the shoreline in their silly attempt to be invisible — they were not invisible — how can a majestic bird that stands four and a half foot tall with a six-inch long pointed beak and a wingspan of almost six feet thinks it’s going to be invisible? Great blue herons also have crazy long plumes of feathers that fall from their impossibly long recurved necks like an boa-turned-ascot, they also have super skinny long feathers that rocket off the back of their heads. They are not invisible at all. Great white egrets also pretended to be invisible along the shoreline, built much like the great blue herons only dressed in all white; also vainly attempting to be invisible; it was useless. Once your eyes and heart are dialed into seeing these elegant creatures you can’t not see them.
We drank these magnificent creatures into our souls through our eyes.
I had a small canoe and kayak that I kept at the ready on the lakeshore during the summer months. We often paddled around the point into the channel leaving behind the big wide open loud world of the lake. Silently, we’d paddle to the very end of the channel which was filled with water lilies and duck weed, also recognized as the world’s smallest flowering plant-entire microscopic universes exist within the dangling rootlets of duck weed. The place named itself “Turtle Soup.” There seemed to be no water, only a beautiful lime green soup from edge to tip to edge of the channel. Tall wetland plants fringed the lime green soup framed by oaks and hickories.
Gliding in silently on the momentum used to paddle into this secret world, our small boats gently parted the duck-weed-frosting on the water. Once there we would float silently and motionless waiting for the reward. Very small popping sounds would slowly begin as dozens and dozens and dozens of painted turtles would poke their small triangular snouts and heads out of the duck weed. Each time one of them poked them their pointed snout out of the water, you could heard a teeny tiny “pop” sound. It was thrilling to watch the sheer numbers of them emerge. With enough patience green frogs and leopard frogs would resume singing the chorus that we so rudely interrupted by silently paddling into their world. Red-winged blackbirds would rejoin the song from their perches on the towering wetland grasses and plants.
Our eyes would meet and glow in quiet joy at being together, floating in an absolutely impossible beautiful magical lime green soup surrounded by quietly popping turtles, singing frogs and a chorus of red-winged blackbirds.
Families returned each summer to their summer cottages to gather and relax. As year-round residents, it meant that nine glorious months of the year we had very few neighbors. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day extended families and owners of various cottages would return to relax, eat, drink, swim, boat, and let their children and grandchildren run free. I loved hearing the low murmur of conversation, laughing, music-lots of it live, the tinkle of ice in glasses as old friends and neighbors wandered back and forth across the neighborhood reconnecting with each other in their annual ritual.
I loved the summer vibe of the place. I loved that these folks came to where I lived full-time to spend their precious summer vacations. I was working most days as they wandered around working on their tans. The summer vibe was infused into the canopy of the oaks, the air, the warmth, and the sunlight. I was equally happy when they all left at summer’s end and we were alone amid the towering 150+ year shagbark hickories, white, swamp and red oaks and the hoards of wildlife.
It was a magical childhood for my two children and I. I’ve been self-employed for 30+ years, it became increasingly clear that I would not be able to afford to grow old in the home where I raised my children and where we all ran free and wild. I made the choice to sell my home of 21 years and move to another state. I asked my children permission to sell their childhood home before putting it on the market. They completely understood the tough choice I faced.
We will all carry the magic and wonder of those years inside. Peace is still inside AND outside.