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Squam Lake, New Hampshire

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Over the course of the one hour, forty minute drive from our home in northern Massachusetts to beautiful Holderness, New Hampshire on Squam Lake (shooting location of the 1981 Fonda film On Golden Pond), I can feel the tight grip of stress slipping away—a weight I hadn’t even known I was carrying until it was gone. Once past Concord, route 3 narrows, the trees closing in, its curves gliding like a lullaby. By the time I lean onto exit 24, I’ve passed through some sort of mental car wash, sparkling and refreshed already. Or maybe I’ve time-traveled.

My sister and brother-in-law bought an A-frame cottage up on Squam three years ago, and so now she spends most of her summers here, with her two boys, reminding me of the summers I’d spent so long ago on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, just a few miles south of Squam, at Lanes End campground. I think fondly of those summers, even though I’d been quite young and my memories fleeting and thin. Still, they take residence in the nostalgic corners of my mind and demand a revisit more often than you’d think.

My sister’s six-year-old, the older of the two, reminds me of myself with his ghost-blonde hair and lanky body. The four-year-old has my name, so it’s impossible to spend any kind of time with them, especially up here, in the lakes region of New Hampshire, and not time travel back to those summers in the very early seventies.

In fact, her bathroom, for some mysterious reason, has a vintage, wood smell to it that transports me straight back to our trailer at Lanes End. We had a small, almost outhouse-sized bathroom built onto the trailer’s hind end, made of stained pine, and I think it had this same exact smell. Every time I step into her bathroom, I get a waft of that old pine, and snippets of Lanes End drift through me, a haunting of the best kind.

In the mornings I take my coffee out onto the wrap-around deck, the northern air cool, leaves rustling noisily, but only when no one else is around, only when I’m not in the middle of a loud slurp of coffee. I appreciate the quiet, and, even though there are two other houses across the way, they are so shrouded in trees that it’s easy to imagine that they are not there, that we are completely isolated here, remote and removed. Which is actually pretty close to true. While there are of course other summer homes nearby, the acres behind my sister’s camp are untouched, dense forest as far as you’d dare imagine. A drive into town, for sandwiches or ice cream, requires about a fifteen minute pot-holed drive off the often steep grade of the hill we are on. The place is made for second cups of coffee and a good book.

The wraparound deck is great, yes, but my favorite space at the cottage has to be the back screened-in porch. There is a picnic table in one corner, and so often we eat meals back there, or sometimes I’ll tuck away for that second cup of coffee by myself. A stream runs behind the property, and it’s all you can hear, this constant and gentle trickling, the kind of background noise you might hear on tape while getting a massage.

Often one of the boys will sit on my lap in the car for the one minute drive down to the lake, and then it’s time to shift my attention from the leaves and the scenery to the boys at play, building sand castles, swimming, splashing in the easy lake surf. My eye keeps training on the hazy hills across the lake, the faraway speed boats cutting across the horizon, their motors just dull hums at this distance.

We stay until sunset, the afternoon cooling off, shadows stretching long, and wait until the sun has melted into the hills—sort of like waiting up for the ball to drop on New Year’s—and then we pack our things and walk, or drive, back up to the cottage, feeling tired and tanned, maybe even a little buzzed if we’d brought a cooler back with us on one of our late afternoon bathroom breaks. At the house we get dinner ready and play with the boys, Legos or Lite Brite. Sometimes Christine will bring something creative for them to do—decorating cookies, drawing pictures with their brand new markers. The boys might want to have a dance party to burn off some of that final summer energy before it’s time to wind down with a movie. They’re into popcorn with M&Ms in it right now. Some of us might watch the movie too, or else might step out through the slider onto the deck and sit by the fire, swallowed by dark and laughter.

At bedtime, the boys like stories, so I tuck them in and we go around, each spinning a tale. William, the six-year-old, likes to go last, and his stories are by far the longest. Sometimes I get suspicious, wondering if he’ just filibustering this whole bedtime thing. He’s smart, that one.

Late at night, the cottage quiet, the stream trickling in the distance, I go to use the bathroom and brush my teeth, and of course I get hit with that old, pine smell; a smell that has passed through the decades, as though through some sci-fi wormhole, and I get a little overwhelmed at the fuzzy, non-passage of time. Lanes End so very long ago, but not really.

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