The author of "Peter Pan," J.M. Barrie, said that memory was "what God gave us so that we might have roses in December." Each place I've spent a summer vacation carries special memories that my mind files like pictures in a photo album. Recollections of lazy summers can be awakened by the cry of a loon at dusk or the sweet scent of birch bark when it's peeled from the trunk of a tree.
At my grandparents' rustic cabin on the shores of Ruth Lake, I learned how to swim and fish, and I fell in love with the beauty of a Minnesota summer. In winter, when dark days seem eternal, I open the photo album in my mind and escape to one of those carefree days from the past:
I walk into the room, letting the screen door slam behind me. The tweed sofa beckons, scruffy pillows and a stack of comic books on one arm. Strewed about the floor are swim fins and snorkels, discarded by unseen divers.
Inside the main cabin, the scent of cedar paneling tickles my nostrils. The dented copper furnace stands like a silent sentry in one corner, unneeded on this torpid morning.
I pass the ceramic sink and enter the bedroom, throwing myself onto the brass bed. Grandma's patchwork quilt scratches my bare legs.
As I stare, knots on the cedar ceiling transform into serpents and unicorns.
A fly buzzes outside the window, and a single loon on the lake laughs good morning. I hear the faint slap of oars as a rowboat draws closer. Grandpa is bringing home breakfast.
An hour later, the cabin is filled with the sounds and aromas of summer: Mom stands over the stove dishing up crisp sunfish fried in butter with a shake of salt and pepper. Aunts, uncles, and cousins come and go, the screen door banging behind them. Their campers and tents dot the hill below Grandpa's house like a military camp. But my family is fortunate; for this weekend at least, we have claimed the cabin.
Finally, stomach filled, I race to the lake. Five cousins pile into the canoe and rowboat, and set off. Blazing-orange life jackets adorn our necks. On this windy morning, the twin pines at the east end of the lake bow like two craggy old men. Our boats crest the waves, and chilly water splashes our bare feet.
Two older cousins, Vincent and Peter, share the rowboat, their adolescent biceps bulging with the effort of racing the girls in the canoe.
When we reach the eastern beach, I hop out of the canoe. The pebbly sand stings the soles of my still-soft, city feet. By summer's end they will be tough as leather.
As I pull the canoe up onto the shore, the boat bottom scrapes it like sandpaper rubbing wood.
We make straight for the swampy corner of the beach in search of our prey – snapping turtles. Vincent insists that he wants to capture one for his basement menagerie.
I plod through the soupy muck to prove I am as brave as everyone else. But as the thick water pulls at my feet like it's a slimy vacuum, I flinch, sure the next footstep will find a snapper awaiting my tender toes.
Much to my relief, the turtles remain hidden. We content ourselves with making a net out of Peter's shirt tied to a stick. We catch 10 silvery minnows. Deeming them too worthless for his menagerie, Vincent sets them free.
Hunting turtles is hungry work. We drink Kool-Aid and gorge on jelly-and-cheese sandwiches. The combination of sugary grape jelly and the bite of sharp cheddar make my salivary glands ache with delight.
We are sprawled on the beach, enjoying the warm embrace of the late-afternoon sun when the faint peal of the dinner bell ringing back at the cabin reaches our ears. This time I hop on the rower's seat with Vincent, and we steer the course through the swirling whitecaps back to Grandpa's cabin, content in the knowledge that tomorrow we face nothing more complicated than experiencing the beauty of this day all over again.
I close the photo album in my mind and open my eyes to see snow falling gently outside my window. But the snow does not bother me. My winter gloom has lifted, the summer sun of memory warms my chilly toes. Refreshed by my brief holiday, I can patiently wait for the seasons to change.