2010 Photo Contest inspires memories to save for winter

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

November 8th, 2010



As soon as summer arrives, I start foraging for winter. Crazy? Maybe. The thing is, unlike the red squirrels or the bears that break into our cottage in the fall, I’m not looking for food. I’m looking for sustenance of a different kind.

I hear you. Why think about winter in the middle of a perfect summer day? It’s kind of like worrying about going back to work on Monday—when it’s still only Friday. But that’s what I do in summer. On a hot, summer day, when we’re picnicking on the pink shelves of Georgian Bay, and the kids and the dog are joyfully swimming off the rocks, I’ll stop what I’m doing and think about winter, and I’ll wonder, Is this what I’m looking for? Or when I’m hot and sweaty and irritable after cleaning the cottage or hauling wood to the shed, I’ll plunge off the dock and feel the coolness of the water wash the sting out of my overheated body, and I’ll think, This is the moment I have to remember. Because it’s moments like these that keep me going on bitter days in winter.

You never know where you’ll find sustenance. Years ago in this magazine, author Charles Long wrote about a secret drawer he kept. “When the office grew too irritating,” he wrote, “or when the sun outside the window made the inside seem too dull, I would unlock the drawer and steal a moment’s refuge in a sheaf of doodled building plans, novel outlines, planting guides, improbable inventions, and sketches for live-aboard boats.”

I keep meaning to ask Charles if it was a real drawer or an imagined refuge to which he retreated. But I know that my storehouse of summer memories serves the same purpose, and every once in a while, say when I’m writing the note for this page, I’m tempted to share the contents of my own drawer. I’ll pull out a memory or two, thinking it might resonate with readers. And occasionally, one or another of my talented colleagues will jot a one-word question in the margin: Cliché?

Cliché! The sparkling water, the night sky bursting with stars, the morning mist rising off the water—how are these things clichés? After all, they’re real, and they’re particularly important to me.

But that’s what happens sometimes. We care about something, and so we reproduce it, and soon the special thing becomes less special. Thus the plaintive trill of the loon, for example, becomes trite from overuse—in television ads, radio commercials, and movie soundtracks. Yet, who among us doesn’t still pause to listen to that familiar call when it carries across the lake, and ask our companions, “Did you hear that?”
Like beauty, clichés are in the eye of the beholder (oops, there’s another cliché). If I weren’t a cottager, for example, my radar for clichés might be set off during the Cottage Life Photo Contest, which celebrates thousands of perfect cottage moments caught in beautiful photos. But to a cottager, there is no greater tribute to summer at the lake than the evocative images our readers submit each year. Love and nostalgia for family, for the natural world, for cottage as a state of mind—it’s all recorded in your photos.

We judge dozens of suns rising and setting over the lake, dogs hanging out, kids (and some adults) doing weird and hilarious things. Almost all the shots strike a chord so familiar, they immediately transport me to my own cottage. We don’t view them as clichés, because they reflect the truth of our shared experience. How can we choose 13 winners? It’s not easy. We look for something special—something that takes that familiar moment and makes it extraordinary.

That’s what I’m searching for when I create my cottage memories: something extraordinary that I can pull out on a cold day in January, when my cottage is closed up tight. Something that will make summer last all winter long.

What’s in your secret drawer?

(Check back later today for the last batch of waterfalls photos.)


Sort order:

Oldest Newest
Penny Caldwell

Summer Cottager

Nov. 8, 2010

9:24 pm

For years, a small baby food jar filled with sand sat on a shelf in a bathroom in my parents' house. It wasn't from the cottage though, but from a beach in Antigua where my mother grew up. We collected it on a family trip back to the island in the early ’60s. I know what you mean about bug spray, Laura. The smell of sun screen (what we used to call sun tan lotion!) brings back memories for me, especially the coconut scent.


Nov. 8, 2010

8:56 pm

I keep pictures of the cottage from recent years and from 30 or 40 years ago on my iPod and in my phone. I keep pictures of trips to friends cottages on there, too. This way I can retreat into my memories quite quickly and easily. Sometimes other people ask what I'm looking at which gives me the opportunity to prolong the experience. With the pictures being from a great span in years, I sit and try to remember when any changes occurred. I also have a clear glass jar at home with sand in it from our beach. I can feel look at it, I can touch it and even though I've had it quite some time, I can even smell it. The smell of bug spray always helps to bring about some memories, too!

You need to be logged in or a registered user to leave a comment

Log in  |  Register

Tonight on Cottage Life

  • No listings available
View Full Schedule


Penny Caldwell