To the Lake We Went

Today, August 26th, my little baby, who’s not so baby-like anymore, is 11 months old. The last month of his first year of life. What a full life it’s already been. What a full almost-year it has been.

But, wait. This is not about Charlie’s  first year of life, or my first year as a mother. I am not completely ready (OK, slight rant: this whole talk about readiness either when you’re pregnant, just about to give birth, or even trying to raise a baby who will now require three people to pin him down to change a dirty diaper is complete and utter bullshit. There is no ready! It does not exist!) to meditate on Charlie turning one years old. What I am ready to write about is our lovely summer together, one in which Charlie Barley got to visit Marquette Island and meet his Neal/Pittman family relatives and experience the magical lure of Lake Huron.

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Lucky me: I got to return home to the island for two weeks in July. Two whole weeks on Marquette Island. Two whole weeks of riding in the Boston Whaler, jumping off the dock into the brisk waters of the flowing Middle Entrance Channel, cocktail time on the deck with my cousins, our laughter echoing between that space between land and water, family meals gathered around the enormous dining table that was, in its previous life, a conference table from my grandfather Donald Neal’s tenure at General Motors, and afternoons spent wandering the cedar strewn paths to Peck’s Bay with Charlie on my back in his little carrier. In the decade plus since I moved to Montana, I’ve longed for home, but always knew my heart resided in northwest Montana. Yet this trip, imbued with so much meaning, and loveliness, sharing the island with my firstborn, I did not long for Montana. In fact, I found it difficult to leave, especially when Cole arrived for the last four days of our vacation. I thought: we’re all together now, surrounded by water, and couldn’t we just stay a few more days? The whole summer?

That’s what the island will do to you. Especially when there’s shoddy cell phone service and no Internet.

Especially when your baby boy learns to crawl, devours his meals on the deck, eating with such great gusto thanks to all that fresh air and, of course, the entourage of loving relatives who gathered around his high chair at each meal, marveling in how well he ate his broccoli and what seemed to be a pound of raspberries. Especially when you take your nine month old son into Lake Huron for the first time, and he pedals his legs in the water. It’s as if he wants to run further and further into the lake. He shrieks and is just so happy! And you think: is this happiness hereditary? Is it in his genes to absolutely adore this place like his mom, his grandmother and great-grandmother do? Does he know that last July, before he was known to his parents and the whole wild world that he was here at this island, that while still in the womb his mother swam, err–floated, bobbed, in the lake, wondering just who “Figgy” would become?

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Perhaps it was how darn excited Charlie was to ride in my grandmother’s trusty and steadfast Boston Whaler that did it. Is what made me say: I’m not ready to go home, just yet. Charlie — a little man who has little patience for car seats or any other restraining device did not fuss or balk at wearing his life jacket. He loved sitting in the bow with me, turning backwards to look at my mom driving the boat, screaming with delight. He even loved the boat rides so much, that in the rough choppy ride to see where my Aunt Darcy used to live, he fell asleep in Cole’s arms. To say my heart melted into a puddle is an understatement. It was windy and cool, and not a smooth boat ride whatsoever, but cradled in his father’s arms, Lake Huron lulled him to sleep.

Charlie’s now the 4th generation of my family to enjoy Middle Entrance. Four generations of kids growing up learning about waves and boats, cedar trees and cool waters imprinting on our bodies, minds and hearts. Journeying to the island with my baby boy renewed my love for the island, and my “vacation” home felt much more than a reprieve from the realities of life, but rather, a gift. A continuance of family legacy, of discovery, and wonder, and really: of love.

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