I'm not much of an outdoorsman, so I wasn't sure quite what to expect when I went camping with my girlfriend and her family this weekend. My camper friends take their camping pretty seriously: I know people who have been helicoptered into some remote area of Canada to find their way back to civilization for fun.
I am prone to exaggeration when I write, so I must emphasize: that example is literal.
Our trip was less about plunging into a grim struggle with nature, than about lounging around eating Cheetos. What it most reminded me of was going to The Lake when I was growing up. Going to The Lake was one of my favorite things.
The Lake is always capitalized, and has another name on the map. It's an escape from the daily crises, a haven from authority, a place to sequester with comrades and plan to attack the days. I was never there alone. My friends and I would spend the days romping in the water and the nights in intoxicated good cheer. Parents, police, teachers, coaches, and other troublesome folks weren't invited.
That's the way I remember it, anyway, and sometime this weekend I decided to write a short memoir about The Lake for this space. I wanted to capture for posterity the refuge that I was so lucky to have during my youth. So I started rummaging around my memory for the dates and places of the glorious summer I spent growing up at The Lake.
I don't have a glorious summer at The Lake. I do have many beautiful and tranquil memories. However, when I try to put dates on those memories I find that many of those visits were, in fact, surrounded by the trials of adolescence at the same Lake. After all, temptation grows easily in refuges from authority.
Some of my most spectacular excesses of my youth occurred at The Lake. I've been obnoxious enough that any reasonable host would have thrown me into the lake, if not the road. I've been so morose that spending time with me must have required emotional spelunking equipment. These are not the moments of which sublime peace is constructed. When I try reconstruct the time I spent at the lake accurately, I have two excesses for every idyll.
And yet, the idylls are what I remember first. Maybe old age is beginning to air-brush the flaws from my memory, which troubles me. Unconsciously setting up The Lake as a metaphor for an idealized youth I never had screams denial far too loudly for me.
But, in the end, denial isn't what forms the peace. I clearly remember the snakes in the Eden I've conjured at The Lake, but friends and beauty count for more. I'm happy for any chance to go back there.