2010 Photo Contest inspires memories to save for winter
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.)