To spend a good part of one's childhood on an island guarantees a range of experiences denied to other people. There is an intimacy with one's surroundings that happens nowhere else with such intensity. We knew the lichens on every rock, watched the growth of each of our few trees with anxious care, and lavished attention on the high-bush blueberries that circled the island.
Of course, when I reached my teens, both the island and the lake were impossibly small and confining. Before I, at least, got to reconnect with the place as an adult, it burnt to the ground.
For 35 years, that loss has remained with me.
There was a larger loss. The prevailing wisdom was that New Hampshire's then-new sewage regulations made the island unbuildable. Even in the early 1970s there were good alternative toilet technologies, so that was never the problem. Gray water--what we produced in daily washing--was. Despite a brother in the septic system design business, I refused to accept the revealed truth. My mother sold the island some years later to people content to build a tent platform and camp, for a price that seems laughable today.
That embedded reluctance probably fuelled a succession of vivid lucid dreams I have had over the years, of a cottage restored. Lately, my trips with the outlaws to the Thousand Islands stoked the powerful character of these dreams.
A couple of weeks back I suggest to my spouse that we return to the lake (I hadn't been there in many years) for some kayaking and a look round. We did an exploratory day trip last weekend.
I knew some of what to expect. When I was a kid, the chief downside to this lake was its spectacular algae blooms. In the midst of a fresh water lake ten miles long, we had to bring our drinking water from the mainland, and draw our washing water from a source 15 feet deep. Now it is the state's showpiece for water remediation. It was less busy than I expected. We had no difficulty crossing to the small archipelago where our island was, and paddling quietly between the two larger islands. Little had changed: there were even small children on the shore of one, having the same adventures I had 50 years ago.
Then we turned the corner and I saw our island.
And the house.
I knew very much what it looked like before we got close, because it looked like the one in the dreams. In the era of McMansions glorifying conspicuous consumption, it followed A.J. Downing's dictum that a house should look as if it has grown from its surroundings. Very small--no bigger than the old place--it was in perfect scale to the island.
It was a full ten minutes before I was quite sure I was awake.
We did not go ashore. There was no one at home, but my upbringing there had made me reluctant to trespass even in a good cause. Also, with all its virtues, the island and its wharf were not very kayak-friendly. It was admire from a distance, or swim.
Still, I must know more, above all how the current owners have finessed this reconstruction in the teeth of vigilant regulations and conventional wisdom.
Then I want to rent the place.