I’ve been visiting a 100 year old house on the shore of Lake George, New York. It reminds me of the lodges you find in National Parks out west, mainly because of its stacked stone pillars and the design cut into the balusters of the porch railings. Built out of solid materials and with an appreciation for beauty, it’s gracious the way I imagine some future house of mine will be whenever I read something like Southern Living or This Old House.
I’d never heard of Lake George before I married into the family who owns this house. As a University of Virginia alumna and a Charlottesville resident, I was surprised to see the shopkeepers of Bolton Landing prominently displaying their favorite Thomas Jefferson quote: “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.”
How had I not heard of this place?
The beauty and unusual geography stunned me and the stories hooked me. The first year I devoured two books during our visit. One of the house’s previous owners wrote about summers on the lake when she was a child, when steamboats would make stops on Sunday mornings to pick people up for church on the other side of the lake. Longtime park ranger Frank Leonbruno wrote about his 42 years watching out for campers and short-term vacationers, as well as the storied wealthy families who quit New York City for the summer to live on the lake and its islands.
They are old stories, from another time, leftover from another world. Part of what I love about drinking in the stories of the lake along with its beauty is how different they are from any of my own family stories. I come from farming families in Virginia and West Virginia where “summering” meant more work and long days in the tobacco fields.
The house I visit is a relic from that other time and it takes care and looking after. A lot of upkeep goes into our casual evenings on the porch, sipping drinks and listening to the water lap the shore. It’s a relic because it’s a place where the porch takes precedence and spending the evening there is the thing to do.
This is what I love most about the place and why I’m filled with gratitude. I’m tempted to say I “step back in time” when I’m at the lake but it’s not true. We have indoor plumbing and wifi and television. What’s truer is I step off the treadmill, out of the fast lane. I go much, much slower. And I bask in that. The only “goal” once we are there is to enjoy our family and the wonder of the place. We spend more time on the porch than any place else – holding a steaming cup of coffee in the morning when the lake is still glassy and the boats aren’t out yet, enjoying the shade of the porch while reading and napping midday, watching and waving as the campers from YMCA Camp Chingachgook paddle past in their kayaks and canoes, dining and imbibing throughout the evening when the lights from the other shore reflect on the water.
I do love that porch.
One-hundred years is the blink of an eye to glacially-hollowed Lake George. But it’s enough time for a house to learn how to capture my imagination, improbably connecting me to a longer and different story than my own. And even though I never feel like leaving and I always look ahead to the next visit, one week a year is enough to re-set my tired 21st century ways, reminding me what a human pace is and how gracious living can be.
About the Author: Whether it’s a pilgrimage through Israel and Palestine, a weekend camping trip in the Appalachians, a simple car ride to visit family, a massive road trip through the National Parks, wandering the streets of Paris, drinking Guinness in Ireland’s pubs, extended visits to family friends in England, or the recent ritual of returning to the dear spots like Lake George, Deborah Lewis loves travel. Read more on her blog!