I grew up in the oppressive heat of Kansas with scorched grassland and the incessant sound of cicadas that I will forever associate with unrelenting sun. It is a myth that kids don’t notice the heat because I did and feel as if I spent the first 10 years of my life trying to escape it. I would run through the sprinkler or careen down the Slip N Slide until the cold water from the hose pulsed beneath my skin and when I couldn’t do that, I’d take refuge in the air conditioning, watching old sitcoms and eating freeze pops.
My summers changed when I was 11 and my mother bought a cabin in southern Missouri, just three hours from our house. We began spending weekends and vacations there and I forgot about the heat completely.
I learned to sit with the stillness of the lake in the morning and appreciate the quiet on the dock and the beauty of trees and sky reflected in calm water. I learned to run the outboard motor of the small fishing boat my mother got for me, giving me my first taste of independence. I learned to drive bigger boats, which taught me to be vigilant and careful. I learned to ski, to take chances and to believe in my own strength.
Though I was born to those hot Kansas summers, I was raised in the quiet coves and deep channels of the Lake of the Ozarks.
After college, I moved to Minnesota because the heat in Kansas wasn’t the only thing that felt oppressive and Minnesota offered new opportunities, both personal and professional. But leaving severed my ties to the cabin and the lake and that felt, in some ways, like losing not only my past but part of myself as well.
I didn’t know then that several years later, two of my close friends from college would move to Minneapolis and take me to their family’s cabin and introduce me to a new lake and I’d reclaim some of what I’d lost.
As with most things, our experience deepens over time and we see old things in new ways, which is especially true once you have kids. I have been able to enjoy the lake just as I did growing up but it’s different now. I enjoy a good cup of coffee and silence on the dock more than the cannonballs, splashing and loud laughter. I like the crackling of a campfire and the earthy smell of burning wood more than the s’mores. But I also get to experience it all anew through the eyes of my children and continue to learn alongside them.
I’ve watched my son, who is never still for long, stand in the water and try to catch a fish with his bare hands. He stood there, feet planted in the sand and hands hovering, for an hour and I told him it was unlikely he’d catch one that way but he did and we both learned the lesson of patience. I’ve watched my daughter climb back onto the tube after a terrible spill with her lip trembling and eyes watering but a fierce determination to do it again, teaching me once again to face my fears as she faces her own. My kids have learned to respect nature when it is gentle and when it is wild and can appreciate water like glass even more because they’ve seen dark clouds roll across the water and turn it to white caps. They have had years at the cabin and on the lake and now, as teens and tweens, they sit on the dock or on rafts in the water and share thoughts and jokes and secrets with their friends, making their own memories to which I am not always privy. I don’t know if they’ll have the same reverence for the lake that I do but, without a doubt, they have grown up knowing the unbridled joy of jumping into cool water on a hot summer day.
Though there are nearly 700 miles between the lake of my childhood and the lake my children will remember from their own, the experiences are personal yet universal. Perhaps the greatest gift of life on the lake, however, is that no matter the passage of time and the number of miles traveled, you can stand on the shoreline and know you have found your way home.