Several days ago, I read a blog post by a writer show said that when she was stressed, she went for a drive on small country roads and found solace in familiar places. Easy enough for her to do—she lives in a small town in Maine. But for those of us who are city dwellers, such oases maybe hard to find. So, I close my eyes and go in my mind.
longtime safe place is an outcrop about halfway up a tall dune in the Indiana
States Dunes Park. When I was a child my family had a cabin at the top of that
dune, up two very long flights of stairs from the beach. The cabin was
primitive—no electricity, no running water. To the front of the living area,
great windows looked out over Lake Michigan. The cabin was at the very foot of
the lake, and I loved to watch storms roll down the lake and stir up the waters
on our beach. My mom taught us to enjoy a storm, never to fear it, a habit I
carry to this day (if there are no tornadoes). To the back of the house,
windows looked out on a lovely, dense woods. The hitch was that the outhouse was
down a small hill in those woods—a perilous journey in the night.
refrigeration, we had a cold box on a pulley. Once a week, the iceman cometh—bringing
a great block of ice which went down the hole first and then the box was
lowered on top of it. Mom knew to put milk on the bottom shelf, closest to the
ice. I can’t even remember what Mom cooked on before we got bottled gas. I do
remember that she washed dishes in cistern water and then rinsed them in
scalding water she’d boiled on some sort of stove. There was a pot-bellied
stove in the living area for warmth. At night, we read by kerosene lamps, with Dad
always warning us to turn the light down lest we burn the mantel. The dim light
was hard to read by, and we went to bed early. I should also mention that the
closest we could drive to the cabin was about a mile. We had to pack food and
groceries in on our backs, often in old army duffle bags. You could go down the
beach—and for the first trip when we arrived each summer, we sometimes had so
much to carry we hired the park Jeep to drive that mile. But we preferred the
woods—we parked at a shelter house, under a tree, and hiked in over a long
bridge across the swamp and then up and down sandy paths. The woods were always
cool. That hike was also perilous at
night, and at least once Dad stopped us while a skunk made its leisurely way
across the path.
usually took a friend with me when we went there. We thought it was heaven—days
spent on the beach, hiking through the woods, playing Monopoly. Food tasted
better there than anywhere else. We came back to Chicago tanned and healthy and
place, where I go now, was a crop-out on the path to friends’ cabin, below the
second set of stairs. I can remember sitting there, staring out over the lake,
my dog—a wild collie mix named Timmy—by my side. I could pull up a blade of
dune grass and pull it through my teeth. There was usually at least a small
breeze, though I always enjoyed the strong wind of a storm. I could angle my vision
to the right and look across the lake at sunset to see Chicago with the setting
sun behind it. The sun would be a bright orange globe, and the tall buildings
of Chicago, not even toothpick size. Behind me, sometimes, my dad would be
taking sunset pictures. When he died, he had a closet full of those
old-fashioned slides, mostly sunsets or flowers from his gardens.
a new safe place, and it’s a fine one, though it doesn’t come with the same
memories. My son Colin and his family live on either the smallest lake or
biggest tank in Tomball, Texas. There is a patio, with benches and chairs looking out
over the water and an arboretum overhead (that could easily drop bugs in your
wine). We go there sometimes in the evening, with an after-dinner wine and sit
in quiet peace.
maybe it’s water that makes a safe place for me. I am not a swimmer, though I
swam when young. Still I was never completely comfortable in the water. I’ve
always said I do not want to be in it or on it, but I love to look at it.
about your safe place?