During the summers when I was a small child, we used to drive several hours to my grandmother’s camp nearly every weekend, to a small, no-longer-mobile home placed on a small, cleared piece of property up a hill from a not-so-small river. There were, on any given weekend, a range of five to ten adults and seven or more of us little cousins. I remember that time more as a vignette than a storyboard, an abstraction of knees and heels and elbows, sharp angles and unfiltered energy covered in mosquito-bite scabs and sunburns; sweaty, our hair plastered to our foreheads as we lay on the floor of the back bedroom, a jumble of blankets and pillows, too excited to sleep, each of us filled with whispers and summer songs and scary stories.
There are a handful of particular moments that rise above the din, but for my purposes here, it is the gestalt where I am finding my thoughts drawn. It is difficult to describe this phenomenon fully, what I picture is more of memory of a memory, a trace left behind of what has been forgotten. I believe these are the roots of nostalgia, a longing to capture those wispy threads and weave them into something more than a few frames of a short movie clip, a desire to process their meaning into something relevant to our lives as we live them now so we can preserve the ephemeral and transform it into what we believe is more concrete.
It is within this space where I am now processing the past week spent at Squam. I have been trying to write about the experience for the past three days, but haven’t found the right way of stringing together the words to properly convey and commit those moments to the meaning I intend. I find myself thinking about the pleasures and taste of salt, the difficulties of describing that intensity, the brightness, complexity mixed with desire, and somehow an understanding of how it all comes together without the ability to call it anything else than by what is already known. There are no simple words for it, and using metaphor is the only clumsy way in which I can imagine it might make sense.
On Friday morning I found myself a tiny bit lost in the woods of New Hampshire, not realizing I was on the incorrect path until I found myself at the far edge of the camp. I wasn’t truly lost with the lake on my right, and I didn’t have a particular schedule so I felt little need to continually compare the forks in the road with the map I carried along. I was trying to find a way to capture the beautiful paths that led through the woods through the lens of my camera, paths that were hard to find and impossible to photograph while looking ahead, yet magically appeared under your feet with each steady-paced step.
That walk was so very evocative of the woods in the backyard of my childhood and the entire placed smelled like my grandma’s camp. “Hay-Scented Fern,” my cabin mate Ivy pointed correctly toward the lacy green covered ground, but she didn’t know what she was missing in her description; she carries none of my memories of elbows and summer scabs. Her nostalgia was fed by the sounds of squeaky sliding summer doors. Olivia, by thoughts of screened-in lake-view porches for a summer’s worth of writing. Or Jenn, by the paths left on her body mapping her entry into motherhood. Only short, shared glimpses of a whole that is difficult to see, capture, or describe fully, but imbued with meaning none-the-less.
And so it is with Squam. A collection of amazing women, in an incredible setting, exploring our creativity, and restoring our spirits. Each of us finding and losing and finding once more our own paths, intersecting with others, connecting through experience and stories over smoky camp fires in rustic cabins, coffee served in thimbles, and meals announced by the ringing of a bell carrying clearly over the still waters of the lake. Words that describe only the vaguest sense of what the experience actually meant to those who participated. And therein lies the crux of my problem; I am grasping at all the threads gently drifting on currents of thought, trying to tie together that which is amorphous and unwilling to be shaped by restrictive constraints of words falling inextricably in line to explain the entirety of something too abstract to properly convey.
Squam is the path; impossible to see beyond the length of your step or to capture through the limitations of any lens, but unfolding steadily as it was always meant to be. And we are the salt; a richness, a point of saturation in sensation, an experience that defies description, but is instantly understood by all who know it.
This is an incomplete and unworthy metaphor, this talk of salt and paths, but it the best I can manage. Perhaps the words will come to me next year—and yes, I will absolutely return—when likely I will once again find myself following an unexpected trail with an unknown destination. I will think of the friends I made; fellow mamas who pack up all the belongings and move themselves and their four children on a boat to set sail to far away islands; women who feed the hungry of their community every Tuesday for eight years with soups and salads and twelve loaves of the bread they make each week; two women who maintain their cross-coast connection through Squam every year but are willing to open their arms to welcome new friends; vibrant women who have already written two books before they’ve reached mid-life, and who will share openly their passion and talents and offer honest advice; women who are our personal icons who teach and nurture us along this path and share themselves and open their hearts (and studios) as the most amazing resources…
And I will be sure to think of salt once more.