Many summer days of my first 16 years were spent in a homely cabin on a slope of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The foundation was laid in the 1970s and built upon by my grandfather and father. In this small, steep-roofed cabin among the trees of Crescent Bay my large family once crammed and made a clamor the neighbors may or may not have loved. Come and experience it for yourself.
“Crescent Bay Road,” says the wooden sign, and you lean forward in your seat in the 15-passenger van. Anticipation piques as the van turns right onto the one-way gravel road and crunches slowly down toward the elaborate gate preceding an old, wooden bridge over a dry creek bed. The wrought-iron gate, decorated at the top with gold trees and deer, is open, and you continue over the simple bridge.
The narrow gravel road zigzags up the side of a hill. Keep your eyes strained for the first glimpse of the cool, blue water. As the van turns at the crest of the hill you will see the lake stretched before you, vast and bright.
You will tingle with excitement and be unable to look away. Even though you are descending again and the trees are obscuring your view, I implore you, do not look away. The van is much too slow for your eager nerves as it zigzags back down the hill. Pull into the driveway and gaze down on the cabin’s roof with its moss-eaten shingles and spy the bridge connecting its loft to the hillside. You’ve arrived.
When the van stops, yank open the sliding door and hurry down the hill with your arms full of bags and food. Place an ever-nervous foot on the rickety bridge, and step into the musty sauna of the loft. You are not finished. You have not walked down the stairs to make sure everything is still as old and simple as you left it. You have not yet stepped into the breeze on the deck and heard the forward rush and resigned retraction of the waves. You have not even walked down the countless steps winding from the cabin and pressed your flip flops onto the pebbles of the beach.
What will you do at the beach? Will you walk into the wind on the dock? Will you take your first swim? Will you wade or jump? Will you be refreshed when you get out or wish you were still in?
Even now you do not understand the beauty of this place, so cuddle up to one of the few lamps and try to read. When you are tired, climb the rough, wooden stairs to the loft, choose an open bed from the line of beds on either side of the large room, and fall asleep with a sibling on each side.
In the morning, wake up to see the water reflected on the steeple-like wooden ceiling. Hear the loony music of Mario Cart as your younger siblings play it on the boxy TV below, and smell the fresh morning breeze coming in through the loft’s screen door. Snuggle back up to the cool pillow and blanket, for there is no hurry to get up.
Spend your days here sleeping, laughing, and watching boats through binoculars. Play Scategories under the yellow light of the two-bulb chandelier or Taboo in the evening breeze on the deck. From the sunless dock, smell hamburgers barbequing on the deck, and, when you return to the cabin, feel the heat trapped in this small building bursting with people.
Walk bare foot on the sand-filled, brown carpet squares. Try to open the screen door, only to find you must put it back on its track once you have. I invite you, as I have done, to “paint the weeds white” with your toothpaste because the bathroom and kitchen sinks are occupied.
You must taste the microwave popcorn, the buttermilk pancakes, and the Oreo cookies. Listen to the high-droning music of motorboats traveling across the water, the song growing louder, then fading, flowing across the lake and echoing off the hills. You must do it all to understand, but at a relaxing pace that spans joy-filled years.
When you have experienced its magic, walk that frail bridge, enter the steep-roofed cabin, and gaze on its beauty. The couches are just as old, the kitchen is just as pale, and the windows still form the front wall. You pack up dishes, blankets, and nick-knacks, tangible memories, some ancient and some new that you can carry away.
You walk the familiar cement and railroad tie steps to the beach, place your hand in the cool water, and try to burn the sound of the waves deep into your brain. One last waterside campfire. One last s’more. A Mimosa from a Styrofoam cup, a prayer of thanks, and the Doxology in fourteen different voices.
Trudge up the hill to the van, shut the door, and drive much too fast away. You will never forget this place, because it shaped you. You are blessed, because you lived it. Even now, hear the waves rush forward and roll back in peace.
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