Most summers, we take a family vacation to a sleepy little coastal area of southern Rhode Island, a place where woodsy hills dotted with glacial ponds rise up from the flat coastal corn fields and old stone walls. The ponds are hidden, accessible only to the houses along the rutted dirt roads that meander up into the woods, branching off and abruptly dead-ending.
We rent a funky house on one of these ponds from a friend who moves his clan, for our stay, to an old beach cottage he shares with cousins. This is an informal arrangement among friends; we are the only renters. We move in on top of our friends’ stuff. The beds have been changed, drawers cleared out here and there, but shelves burst with their books, toys, and knick knacks. Their framed family photos grace the bureaus. Every year, the leather chair has the same torn cushion, the rattan dining room chair legs continue to unravel, and the carpeted area boasts the same unrelenting stains.
This arrangement probably wouldn’t work for everybody. Before putting on our shoes, we check them for mice. Like clockwork, in the second week of August, a swarm of fat black flies erupts in the master bedroom windows, buzzing around our heads and lasting for three days. There is no air-conditioning. Coastal breezes blow cool most of the time, though the upstairs lacks cross ventilation and gets oppressive, especially during a New England heat wave.
The pond is the major draw. I am a swimmer. First thing in the morning, I wander down the path through the woods to the dock, swatting at the gnats and mosquitoes, hover for a moment, and then dive in, the layers of cool and warm water rinsing my mind. Often the pond is deserted, private, mine. After swimming across, I sit drippy and refreshed on the dock and watch the ripply patterns, mesmerized. I can’t ever get enough of water.
I swim in the rain or late in the evening, the surface reflecting the pink and orange clouds of sunsets. Early one morning I swam as fog swirled around me. I thought I was alone but my son-in-law called out a hushed greeting from the treehouse overlooking the pond. That’s my head in the water.
All year when I need to still my thoughts or seek inner balance, I imagine this pond, fish jumping, frogs plopping off lily pads, birds circling overhead. I hear lapping at the dock. Dappled with sparkly sun or silver moonlight, this water will help keep me afloat for another year.