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Faith in Vermont: The More Things Change

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Posted on September 6, 2016 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



At the end of August, as has been our custom for the past three summers, our family spent a weekend at the Highland Lodge, on the shores of Caspian Lake in Greensboro, Vermont. Travel with four young children is never easy, so when we find a location that works, our tendency is to return to it again and again. We began an annual pre-school stay at the Highland Lodge shortly after the birth of our fourth child, and it has become one of our happy places.

Returning to the same vacation spot year after year provides the comfort of knowing what to expect. It provides a coherent chain of memories: Remember what we did here last year? And it provides an encouraging sense of perspective and progress: Every year the children are older, easier, more self-sufficient. Remember those things we were so worried about the last time we were here? Everything turned out okay!

What we love most about the Highland Lodge is that it’s easy to visit with young children, providing as near-relaxing a vacation as we can expect these days.

The Lodge was founded in the 1920s as a guesthouse and restaurant, and has been owned and operated by the Smith family since the early 1950s. Ever since we started visiting Caspian Lake, however, the Highland Lodge has been for sale; the current owners, David and Wilhelmina Smith, ready to retire and with nobody to take over the business, put it on the market in 2011. The Lodge continues to offer rooms in the main building and 10 housekeeping cottages, along with a lakefront beach and boathouse, but the restaurant is closed; guests may use the industrial kitchen to prepare their own meals.

All of which works beautifully for our family. The Highland Lodge has a steady stream of loyal visitors, but it never feels crowded. Rarely are there more than two or three other families preparing their meals alongside us in the kitchen or lounging on the beach, which means that our boisterous daughters can frolic in the water, climb on the swing set and apple trees, and yell across the foosball table without disturbing anybody. Eating in restaurants with multiple young children is always a nerve-wracking (and expensive) experience, so we’d just as soon prepare what we like and eat in at the Lodge. 

Our family typically bunks in one of the Lodge’s cottages. The best word to describe these accommodations is “rustic;” the cottage we inhabited on our most recent visit dates from the 1920s, and included bare-bones beds, dressers, a sofa and wood stove, and a claw-foot bathtub equipped with a spray nozzle for squatting “showers.” But it was private (our daughters didn’t disturb anyone), contained nothing that our children could break, and had a dazzling view of the lake.

We’ve stayed in other cottages during past vacations at the Highland Lodge. We’ve had visits that were marked by rain. Last year, our daughters passed around a fever bug throughout the duration of our stay. Nevertheless, our annual visit always leaves us feeling calmed. Nothing much seems to change here. Caspian Lake is a modest, beautiful, and quiet spot, whose shores are lined by camps built unobtrusively into the landscape, and whose waters are enjoyed as much by loons and geese as by swimmers and boaters. Greensboro is a tiny town with an element of timelessness, whose attractions for our family are limited to one general store and one ice cream shop.

But during this past visit, some things had changed.

When we arrived, the Lodge appeared much as it always has: A rambling two-story white wooden building with dark green shutters and a large front porch, grown slightly shabbier after the passage of another year. But once we’d claimed our keys and driven to our cottage behind the main lodge, we noticed that the pine woods were gone.

The pine woods were a narrow acre or so of 100-foot-tall pine trees bordering the road behind the Lodge’s cottages. It was cool and peaceful to walk the wide avenues of brown needles between these towering trees. Boards painted with primitive artwork were nailed to various tree trunks, relics from when the fully operational Lodge ran children’s programs. 

But now, save for one narrow strip of trees bordering the driveway, the pine woods had disappeared.

I wasn’t totally surprised: I knew that the trees had been damaged in an ice storm during the winter of 2015. Last summer my daughters had built fairy houses among the pine roots, but a good portion of the woods was cordoned off by yellow “caution” tape, beyond which we could see the trees’ trunks leaning crazily on each other like gigantic teepee frames.

Willie Smith told me that the trees had started falling like dominoes; they hadn’t ever been thinned out the way they should’ve been. “The middle just gave way: BANG! BANG!” she said, slapping her hands together. So they had to be cut down.

“Will they grow back again?” I asked.

“Not after we bulldoze them,” she said, shrugging. “It’ll probably be a meadow, which is what it was to begin with.”

What surprised me more than the absence of pine trees was the noise made by those that remained. When the wind blew a certain way, the soon-to-be-sawed pines made a sound that was something between a moan and a wail. It was eerie; not to be overly dramatic, but it was almost as if they were mourning the demise of their sister trees.

“Are those going to fall on our cottage?” my daughters asked, eyeing them suspiciously.

“No….” I said, attempting to measure the trees’ height against their distance from our cottage.

It wasn’t only the pine woods that had changed in a year: Our family had changed, as well.

Some changes were for the better. Preparing for this trip was easier than ever before, as most of our daughters can now pack their own bags, and we are a fully potty-trained family. For the first time in her life, our youngest daughter did not lie screaming in the bottom of the boat during our annual family canoe ride, but instead sat upright singing, “Row, row, row your boat” on repeat. And – miracle of miracles! – I finally achieved my goal of being able to sit on the beach and read several chapters of a book, while my eldest daughter read next to me and her sisters amused themselves in the lake.

But something else had changed: Although they’d come to the Highland Lodge for four years, and although we’ve never stayed anywhere fancier than a Best Western hotel, my two oldest daughters had somehow become…picky.

“It smells in here,” complained my eldest girl, wrinkling her nose. (Yes, it smelled just like a 1920s lake cottage should smell!) “It’s so dark and unwelcoming,” she continued, commenting on the wood-paneled walls.

Her younger sister refused to leave the minivan for the first 30 minutes after we arrived, and refused to sleep under the covers of her bed for the duration of our stay.

And neither girl would even consider bathing in that old claw-foot tub.

They missed home.

I was baffled by this sudden shift in attitude, but also I understood. These daughters are heading into the middle elementary years: They are growing up, forming their own opinions, becoming more independent, on the brink of the major changes of pre-teen-dom. I recall that, when I was roughly their age, I, too, began to dislike leaving home. Perhaps when one can sense upheaval on the horizon, it’s normal to prefer the familiar comforts of one’s own house.

I pondered these things at night, surrounded by dark wood-paneled walls as the pine trees moaned in the wind. I considered how we like to believe that time moves in a straight line, trending upward towards progress (Look how far we’ve come since last year! All those things we were worried about turned out just fine!), when really that’s the story we tell ourselves so that we can get up in the morning.  The truth is always more complicated. More often than not, we exchange one form of progress for new challenges: diapers for attitude. Meadows become pine woods, which are bulldozed into meadows again.

Of course, five minutes after we began our drive back home, my oldest daughters were missing the lake. So perhaps with age comes a growing inability to be satisfied, a nostalgia for whatever came just before. I understand that, too.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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