Summer is ending. On the beach at dawn. It was dark when I got there and I thought I’d be alone. I was wrong.
Not only was I accompanied by hundreds of plovers and gulls, but there are a surprising number of people on the pre-dawn beach. Walkers and runners, strollers, bird watchers … and one photographer.
Before the sun comes up a heavy mist rolls in from the sea, but as the sun rises above the horizon, the mist disperses.
In mid-September, sunrise comes after five in the morning, but from full dark to full light takes almost an hour, at least as far north as Maine.
By the time the sun comes fully up, the birds have flown, the walkers gone home to breakfast. Another day has broken. Glorious and golden.
Now the house had real central heating, so the woodstove had been relegated to a corner in the basement for a dozen years or more. It was unclear exactly when it was originally consigned to that odd dusty corner where unused but valued things end up. The goodfers. Too good to throw away but maybe someday they’d have a new purpose.
For a while the family figured they’d put the stove in the parlor. Or maybe they’d get around to finishing the basement. It turned out the woodstove was too efficient to use like a fireplace. The amount of heat it pushed out its fat little belly was impressive. Log by log, it turned anything but a very large, open area into a sauna. It was much more efficient than oil heat and cheaper too, but oil heat was easy. No one had to split endless piles of logs, stack them in the woodshed, haul them into the house to feed the stove. It cost more money to heat with oil, but no one’s back got broken to keep the house warm.
The woodshed still contained some wood. Enough to enjoy bright fires on cold evenings and keep the wood chopping skills of the men in the family up to snuff. But they didn’t need dozens of cords. It had taken a lot of wood to keep a family cozy through the long, bitter winter of northern Maine.
The year that Hank built the cabin, the woodstove found a new home and a purpose.
Hank built the cabin entirely by hand. It was to be a retreat, a place to get away from everything modern, from televisions and alarm clocks. Hank didn’t own the land, but the lumber company that owned it was willing to lease plots to families who wanted to build cabins by the lake. After the trees grew to maturity, the lumber companies would come and cut the trees, but it would be years before the trees were ready for harvesting.
The cabin was intended to be a warm weather retreat, just for the summer. It turned out to be so pleasant, despite it having no electricity or running water, family members and their friends liked going to it from early spring into the late autumn, sometimes even after the first snows had fallen.
The woodstove was ready and willing to keep the cabin toasty. It gave more than heat. The smell of the woodstove was friendly, familiar. The tang of smoke in the air reminded everyone how their houses used to smell of wood smoke. They recalled choosing wood for its scent. Apple, maple, sassafras, oak, even pine … each had special qualities.
It turned out you could cook on the stove too, though the technique of cooking on a woodstove was sufficiently different that each person who used it had to reinvent the process.
Over many years, many springs, summers and autumns spent by the lake, listening to the loons calling across the water, the woodstove came to symbolize a simple and peaceful life. It was the heart of a cabin deep in the woods, far from a paved road. Drinking water came directly from the lake, along with a goodly number of fresh water bass and trout, caught from the canoe and consumed with corn harvested from local farms, blueberries picked on nearby burns.
Even in cool weather, you could bathe in the lake, then warm your chilled body by the stove. It was where you hung your clothes to dry them after washing. The same place around which everyone gathered in the evening to tell stories. Once upon a special time, a quiet time, telling stories and laughing around a fire or an old woodstove was enough entertainment for any man or woman. Rowing on a crystal lake was fine. No one needed a speed boat. Friends were enough.
As the years rolled on, many people with cabins on the lake bought generators so they could have electricity. They installed washing machines. The lake water was no longer safe to drink. They brought televisions and at night, you couldn’t hear the calling loons. There were telephones, water pumps and plumbing.
It wasn’t the same and after a while, no one came to the little cabin. Hank passed away, the kids moved away. The cabin began to collapse. Finally, it was gone, its contents including the woodstove, junk, rotting and rusting in the woods. It was as if it had never been.
It didn’t matter anyway, because enough years had passed. The trees were mature. The lumber companies came and clear-cut the woods. The rubble from the cutting washed into the lake and the fish died. With the fish gone, the loons didn’t have enough to eat and they flew off to nest on other lakes.
That world went away. Memories linger. I have pictures.
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