The physical geography of the place can be hard to describe. One has to see it from the air…from the height of a soaring hawk or eagle, or, better yet, from the seat of a kayak or canoe. But one can get lost in the words…just as easily as one can get lost in the miles of wilderness, mountains, bogs and small ponds.
There is a large lake in the northern portion of the Adirondack Park. It’s linear, like a fat river. Along its long axis is an esker, a glacial leftover of sand and gravel and topped with second-growth pines. A notch in the esker leads to a long and ever-narrowing arm of the larger lake. Another esker appears. There is another lake…another esker and then the main lake.
Like I said, it’s hard to paint the scene in nouns and adjectives.
If you walked the crest of one of these eskers, you would come to a gap. To cross the water and continue, you would need to wade, knee-deep in crystal-clear water to continue on your walk. But this gap has a stone structure on either side. It’s been reinforced…tampered with by humans.
And, this is where the story begins. Decades ago, there was a house built on the “bridge” over the water. It was a camp…but not one of tents and sleeping bags. In the Adirondacks, “camps” were cottages or cabins. Some of the “Great Camps” still exist, places like Sagamore and White Pine and Topridge. Many more fell victim to fires and unthinkable and purposeful destruction. They are wonders of the Rustic Style of architecture .
This particular camp that I’m thinking about was of an average size. It sat over the short connecting flow of two lakes for decades.
Many families would come to the camp and stay in the guest rooms and out buildings. Adults would hunt or fish or smoke and read. The children would swim and then when they were dried and fed…would swim again. A great campfire would blaze in the evening and stories would be told. Songs. Quiet. Laughter. Then all would retire to their beds…the children still moving their flannel covered legs and arms as they swam away to sleep.
A young girl came with her family one summer. A boy, a few years older, came with his family that same summer. The children became shy friends…then inseparable companions. They hiked the narrow esker. They climbed the sticky pines. They swam the chilly waters.
They watched the roaring flames of the evening fire at night.
There was a small island about fifty yards from the main camp. The boy and the girl would swim there everyday when the weather allowed. They usually swam together. She was a much better swimmer than he; one time he struggled to make the distance, short as it was. He gasped for breath. She turned around and pulled him along to the island. After he caught his breath, he turned to her and said: “I don’t know how I could have made it without you.”
It was on this island with several rocks and enough soil to support shrubs of blueberries, they would sit and talk for hours…or they would lay back and watch the sky and the clouds.
Two small saplings grew on either end of the island. Only a few yards apart.
The children returned to the camp by the lake for many years. They grew up. They watched each other grow up in their own special way.
The saplings grew rapidly in the sun and abundant water.
The island was a special place for the two young adults. They named it Two-Tree Island. The saplings outgrew the couple.
The boy and girl…now a young man and woman…found the pleasure and excitement of a first kiss on the island. The couple found that as they grew older, they could sneak off and swim out in the night and hold each other.
She would often say: “I don’t know what I would do without you.”
The parents of the man and woman died. The owner of the camp grew very old and soon moved to a nursing home. The house was abandoned.
The young couple married. They enjoyed a modest wealth. They bought the camp and refurbished it with modern plumbing and electricity. They spent many summers at the old place…and every day they would swim out to the island, circle it several times and then swim back. This went on for many years.
“What would we do without this tiny island of ours?” They said this often. The trees grew very tall and stately.
The couple grew old and missed more than a few summers at the camp. They often spent summers with their children and grandchildren in Myrtle Beach.
Then one day at their home in Saratoga Springs, the man felt a lump in his testicle. He had it checked.
They knew they had one more summer left together, so they decided to send their son and son-in-law to open and clean out the camp. They arrived late one afternoon in July. He was feeble but still able to wade in the chilly waters of the lake.
The two made plans to paddle over to the island, but when they had the canoe brought down to the water they saw the island through the morning mist. They looked in sadness at the two trees. One had died…but still stood tall and proud.
“What are we going to do without those two trees?” They asked each other, without speaking, using their eyes to convey the question.
A year later, the old woman, returned to the camp. She knew it was going to be her last visit. Not that she was in ill-health…she just didn’t have any desire to stay more than a few days alone. Her once slender and beautiful legs were now white and streaked with purple veins. She slipped on her water shoes and waded toward Two-Tree Island until the water was over her knees. Oh, how he loved my knees, she said to herself.
She looked at the island. One tree stood alive and firm and unbending. The other stood mute as a column of stone.
She thought of her first kiss, his hand on her back, his hand on her breast, his hand in her hair. A thousand memories flew over and through her head like the clouds she and her husband used to watch…from Two-Tree Island.
“Oh, how can I live without you?”
She waded toward the island, the water came to her thighs and then covered her hips. She kept walking, toward the island with two trees. Only one of was living. Then she saw the saplings growing from the base of both trees!
Her thoughts raced forward a hundred years. She thought of her Great-great-great grandchildren. She knew then that two trees will always grow on Two-Tree Island. The tiny island where she held a young boy’s hand and kissed his young lips.
Since I know the territory a bit, I feel this piece of writing truly captures both the natural beauty and the spirit of the place. I find the story tender and poignant, with the boy and the girl growing up in such an idyllic spot. It is a plus that the narrative continues, the cycle of life in context.