One Starry Night
When a 16-year-old city girl gets stuck at the cabin
December 1, 2006
As we were building our dream vacation home in Western Maine, many of our family members and friends were quick to offer dire predictions cloaked in advice:
Photo by Anna Patiuk
“Make sure you purchase three full sets of linens for unexpected guests.”
“Install an alarm system to notify you when the power fails.”
“Take out a home equity loan now to cover future catastrophes (and snowplowing costs).”
But the one that really worried me had nothing to do with finances:
“And by the way, your teenage daughter is going to hate going there for the next five to 10 years.”
It’s true, Bridget is an urban girl at heart. She would choose shopping on Fifth Avenue and tea at the Plaza any day over a morning hike up Sabbatus Mountain and a picnic overlooking the Presidential Range. In fact, she would probably rather be in school than in the woods. But I had spent many blissful, childhood summer days on Kezar Lake in the 1970s, as did my mother growing up in the 1940s. Our passion for sweet fern and moose sightings and crystal clear brooks had to be genetic.
Our vacation home was finished at the end of March and it rained every weekend until mid-June. So I wasn’t expecting a miracle. After all, we didn’t have a television or Internet connection and cell phones were out of range. Even the radio failed our daughter, picking up only two stations clearly, both country-western. So in the beginning Bridget moaned, read magazines and waited for the ride back to reality.
Then one Saturday the sun miraculously appeared and it was warm enough to put on our bathing suits. But following such a moist spring, the gnats and mosquitoes were eager to feast. We escaped down to the lake to find our boat full of rainwater due to leaks in the cover. Once we bailed out the boat and were waterborne, we found the waves were choppy and the wind a bit too sharp. Instead of enjoying the sunny weather, our teenage daughter was now bitten, cold and seasick.
And that’s when the dreaded words finally surfaced:
“Why would you ever build a house up in the middle of nowhere? I hate it here!”
Later in the evening, after the dinner dishes had been washed, I found Bridget out on the front porch staring straight ahead. Her expression could have burned a hole through the screen.
“Would you like to sketch a little?”
“Do a puzzle?”
I should have known better than to suggest a puzzle to a 16-year-old girl on a Saturday night with 22 mosquito bites on her legs.
“I want to go home this instant and I never want to come back.”
I sighed and pulled up the rocking chair. Together we brooded in silence. How could I help her to connect to the place I loved more than any other place I had ever known? Our house was deep in the woods, so I stared up at the tops of the trees – blowing gently in the mountain breeze – searching for an idea.
And that’s when it happened. A falling star briefly streaked above the tallest white pine.
“Come on,” I said. “I want to show you something.”
“It’s better than the lights of Broadway on opening night!”
That got her interest.
We pulled on sweatshirts and jeans, doused ourselves in repellent and grabbed flashlights. As we made our way down to the shore of the lake Bridget grumbled at hidden tree roots and unfamiliar night noises.
“Don’t look up,” I instructed as we carefully stepped to the end of the dock.
I made her close her eyes as we lay down head-to-head on the old wooden planks. In the distance a loon called out to her mate.
Even I was astounded by the number of stars on that clear, moonless night. I had forgotten how big and beautiful the universe was. It had been more than 30 years since my mother first led us down to our dock in the dark on the other side of the lake.
“Wow,” whispered Bridget. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Not even the Hayden Planetarium on West 81st Street looks like this.”
It was a start.
Then after a few awestruck moments had passed….
“Can we do this every time we come to Maine?”
I had finally made contact.
Elizabeth Atkinson, a writer and mom of two teens, thanks her lucky stars for her weekends in Maine on Kezar Lake.