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Farr: Once more to the lake

06/16/09 5:55PM By Bruce Farr
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(HOST) With summer recreation upon us once again, commentator Bruce Farr has been musing about the seasonal life on a lake near his home, and comparing it with a lake made famous by another writer, in another time.

(FARR)  As I do most every year, I recently pulled out and reread an old essay written in 1941 by the famous author E. B. White.  Entitled "Once More to the Lake," it's a sort-of deja vú tale about a lake in the Maine woods where White used to spend summers with his family when he was a boy, and how the act of returning to that lake with his own son many years later seemed to blur the distinction between past and present, time and space.  There's a point in the essay when White reaches a crescendo of memory and yearning for that time and place, a passage where his language simply soars with a mixture of loss and regret and longing for a simpler time and set of circumstances. Whenever I revisit White's story, I'm always reminded of the first time I read it, as an assignment in a college English class, and how it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  It was that good, I thought.  

I'm especially reminded of White's experience when I walk to the lake that stretches out in a long finger below the meadow, just over the hill from my house. I can't help but compare it with White's lake.  His hallowed body of water might have been in Maine in the early part of the last century and mine right here in Vermont in 2009, but I'm always astonished at how similar his description of summer life is to what I witness here in my own backyard. It creates an illusion that no time has passed between his long-ago writing and my current experience.

White paints a vivid picture of summer opening up on the lake:  of visitors arriving with all their gear, of the clamor of kids and adults giddy with the prospect of their vacations beginning. He relates how his father falls from a rowboat with all his clothes on, and he talks about the coves and streams behind the lake, the summer camps on shore and the network of paths connecting them. It's like a primer on American summer.

Here on my lake, so much seems the same:  the placid surface of the water at dawn; the freshly shellacked boats at dock; kids horsing around on a makeshift raft at the old boy scout camp; the picnic tables and the cookouts with potato salad and coolers and campfires.

What does change, though, is my appreciation for the lake and the life around it, and how it seems to double on itself and grow year-by-year, and become so much more precious.

I especially feel that way this year, when change and upheaval and confusion seem everywhere to be threatening life as we've known it. At time like these, I'm reminded that there's comfort in knowing some things remain fairly constant and immutable; like the life around this lake, this summer, in Vermont.
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