Here are some pictures I’ve accumulated since I was a little girl. They’re from our cabin on Priest Lake up near the Idaho-Canadian border. It’s a place my family has been going to for well over a century. A special place, as special as I’ve known in my eighty-some years. Remote, lovely, unspoiled still, slow, quiet, wide to the west, sweet-smelling. I don’t know another place like it.
This is a picture of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother standing in front of the one-room cabin they just finished building there. See, the date at the bottom says: 1885. That was one of the first cabins on the lake. There was no road on the east side then, so they had the logs and themselves floated over from the outlet. I think they look austere, but my grandma said they were kind, even-tempered, and good with their hands. Apparently, my great-grandmother liked to hunt and fish, and he ran their big farm down near Oaksdale where they raised wheat and some lentils and hops.
This is my only picture of them together. It’s worn now from taking it out so often.
Here’s my grandma herself. She how full of life she looks, how pretty. I guess she’s about eighteen here, just before she met my grandpa. She’s reading on the dock. We read a lot together when I was little. And we raked a lot, which was something of a pastime for her that she taught me.
In the upper corner, you can just see the cabin’s addition that my great-grandparents built some years earlier. The Selkirk Mountains beyond my grandma look the same. So does the way the lake spreads out wide and flat. They’re the same.
This skips ahead quite a bit now. That’s my grandma in the corner raking pine needles. The girl next to her in the overalls is me. That’s about when I started raking. My great-grandfather is sitting on the bench in front of the sweat-peas with his cane; my great-grandmother has passed away. My grandpa and dad are up on the roof pounding nails, adding two small bedrooms. It’s nice to see my great-grandfather and grandpa together in a picture from the lake because they were usually too busy on the farm during summers to come up.
See that white light? It could be hot, but the air in the shadows where my grandma and I are standing is cool. That’s the way it is, summers: nice. The water, if you could see it, is so clear you can count rocks on the bottom, even where it’s twenty feet deep. Still that way.
In this picture, I guess I’m about thirteen. That’s me on the pile of rounds drinking a bottle of soda, probably root beer. We’re up Hunt Creek Road cutting firewood. By this time, my great-grandfather has passed. That’s my mom, tall and sturdy, loading the rounds up into the back of my dad’s pick-up with the name of his paint store in Spokane on the side. She was always good at organizing things. My dad and my younger brother, Ed, are standing next to the big tamarack they felled.
It looks like it’s going to rain, doesn’t it? Have you ever seen a summer storm over a lake in the mountains? Now, that’s something special.
Here I am a few years later all dressed up next to Helen Benson from down the path along the shore. We’re going across the lake to meet boys at the movie on the beach at Linger Longer. We used to take our little fishing boat over. Once, I drove it over the end of a float log because I was looking at the boy who used to pump gas at the Linger Longer dock, and Helen and I almost went over the side. We laughed about that then and many times later over the years. She got married and moved to Toledo, Ohio, where her husband was from. We sent Christmas cards back and forth for many years until I lost touch with her. She was a fun girl. Look at us. My.
More time has passed in this picture. See the tall dark man, the one standing in the water next to the canoe? That’s my husband, Roy. He was an earnest man. I met him when we were both in our early twenties and he was stationed at the army base near Cheney. We got married after he got out and started a nursery on the east side of Spokane because we both were good with plants. He left after our daughter, Lily, was born. He went away on a train to Salt Lake City to visit a friend he’d known in the service and just never came back. He sent a card from another state trying to explain things. Anyway, Lily never knew him; I kept the nursery going, and it did all right.
In this photo, Ed’s leaning over putting Roman candles in the sand on the beach. That means it’s Fourth of July. We’ll set those off when it’s dark, an annual tradition that necessitated locking up the dogs in the root cellar when our parents were still living.
I’m raking pine needles again for the bonfire. That’s me over to the side. Like my grandma, I’ve always taken comfort in that. Something about the even web of neat scratches in the sand and dirt. My grandparents are both gone, too, by this time, rest their souls.
See those low clouds over Kalispell Island all puffed up pink. Aren’t they something? Isn’t the sky pretty? So peaceful.
We’re on the front porch that Ed built in this photo. It was on our one day all together there, I remember, that year. My daughter, Lily, is standing with Ed and me. Lily is about middle school age. Ed’s boy is on his wife’s lap and has his head turned away because he’s blind. His wife, Grace, was all right, but she liked nice things. They lived near her family in Seattle. She named their son after her father, and later, her daughter after her mother.
Late that night after everyone is asleep, I’ll go skinny-dipping under the full moon. Like my grandma and I used to do.
In this picture, I’m alone with Lily in front of the fireplace in the cabin: a self-timer with the new camera I gave her as a birthday gift. We came up just the two of us over her spring break from college. I was very proud of her because she’d just been accepted to graduate school in art history over in Oregon. I remember it was still cold at the lake. We did jigsaw puzzles and went for hikes each day up to the falls, or to places like Chimney Rock and Hunt Peak if the weather had warmed enough. Made a lot of hot chocolate and baked. Played cribbage.
That was the spring a tree fell on the canoe, crushed it. Later that summer, Ed’s daughter became interested in bats, and they built a bat house up in a tree in the clearing where we parked the cars. No bats ever came that I know of, although squirrels did use it for storing nuts.
But in this picture, it’s still a cold spring. Lily was awfully busy, and we didn’t get much time together. Less, even, afterwards; that’s probably why it has special meaning for me.
I took this snapshot a number of years later. I’d sold the nursery shortly after I’d turned sixty and was spending about half the year at the lake. Lily was living in Portland working in a museum. Ed’s family was grown, too, and they didn’t make the trip over from Seattle as often anymore. So, most of the time, I was on my own there, which was fine. I fished some, took the little sailboat out, taught myself to water color. I got to know the flora and fauna of the area in more detail. I painted in a little notebook I took on hikes. This is a photograph of a painting I did of a faded lupine next to the actual wildflower itself.
I also tried to learn to play the clarinet from a program of lessons I purchased on audio-cassette. I pitched horseshoes quite a bit out back in the evening; I got pretty good. There really wasn’t one season I liked best. I liked them all.
Look at this picture. I’ve driven the four-wheeler up to the bridge over Hunt Creek for a picnic. It’s the height of fall. See those leaves, those splashes of color. A picture, though, can’t show the way they twirl in the cool breeze. A picture can’t allow you to taste the sweetness on that breeze.
This is just a photo of the lake in the early morning. I don’t know exactly when I took it. That’s the way it looks after dawn. Looking at it makes my breathing slow.
Here’s Ed, Lily, and my grandson, Ben, in the new motorboat that Ed brought over for the weekend from Seattle about twenty years ago. He and I have both gone completely gray. We’re about to head to Upper Lake to camp for the night.
See the beach properly raked? The pile of needles is ready in the fire pit. Ben and I did that; he’s just finished kindergarten. Ben’s dad had been a colleague of Lily’s at the museum who she’d lived with for a while. Then he left to work in Minneapolis or Chicago, somewhere in the Midwest.
See how the wind has straightened the flag over the last piling. That means it’s late afternoon. I came to know that as a small girl. Things change, but they don’t.
I must be past seventy in this photograph. Look at me already getting bent like that. Ben’s helping me rake here; he’s about eleven or twelve. We enjoyed doing things together when he was little: riding the four-wheeler, picking huckleberries, skipping stones, making tomato soup with crackers on cold days.
Look at Ben’s big eyes, like Lily’s. He’s always been industrious and humble. I love him, and I love his mom.
Now, this is the last picture where you’ll see me. Almost everyone has come up to the lake for my eightieth birthday. That was several summers ago. Look at me in that pointy birthday hat. Ed’s grown a beard; he and Grace are holding hands. That’s nice. Look at Ben next to me with the cake on his lap; he’s already a young man. Lily’s sitting by his side; she’s just gotten those glasses and has cut her salt-and-pepper hair short.
The painting behind us on the cabin’s living room wall is one my great-grandmother did during their second summer on the lake. My great-grandfather won the chandelier that hangs from the tall center beam in a poker game at the St. George Hotel in Spokane. I’m not sure that everyone in the picture knows those stories, but they might be interested in hearing them.
This is probably my favorite picture of the lake. That’s dusk, shortly after sunset, shot with a wide-angle lens. I think it’s late October or early November. You can see a shelf of clouds behind the mountains, all the islands, even the bent tree on Eight Mile to the north.
Look at that light, the reflection of the big-bellied clouds on the water. Even though it’s just a photograph, I like to run my fingers across it.
Here’s my last picture, which I didn’t take. Ben is pushing his son, Jake, on the rope swing they’ve hung in the white fir my father replanted after we used it for a Christmas tree when I was a girl. I’m pretty certain Ben will come up regularly from Portland and bring his family. He’s a fine father, and his wife and son are sweet. I miss them. I miss being there. It’s the first summer in my many years on this earth that I haven’t gone.
Lily brought me up with Ben’s family the spring before, but I guess I raked the pine needles into a pile close to the cabin and tried to light it. Apparently, there was almost a big fire and a corner of the cabin did get burned. A few weeks later, they arranged for me to have a room in this limited care facility north of town towards Chatteroy. It’s a pleasant enough place. The meals are okay. I’ve met some nice people. I’m learning to make a birdhouse in crafts class. I have African violets on my windowsill; I know how to keep them blooming all year long.
Maybe I’ll get to go back up to the lake, I don’t know. I fell and hurt my hip a few weeks ago and need a walker now, so I’m not sure. I’d like to go. I’d like that very much. Our lives have taken many turns, yet it’s still there, my old, true friend. It hasn’t really changed. It’s quite a place. I hope I get to see it again about as much as anything I can imagine.
William Cass has had over a hundred short stories appear in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Conium Review. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a Pushcart nomination, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.
© 2016, William Cass