Everyone should possess at least one special body of water in their lifetime. A watery place that you have grown up with, return to, know the feel and smell of blindfolded. When I was growing up, that was Lake Champlain, an almost-Great lake that forms a wide swath of the border between Vermont and New York, narrow in our own patch in Addison County, Vermont then broadening out in a wide bay all the way to Canada. It was at least three lakes to me in its vastness: one, of my earlier childhood, and two in my teenaged and young adult working lives. Someday I will write about the working lake, the lake of summer camp adventures as a “kitchen girl” and then a cook, but for now, the summer childhood lake is on my mind.
My uncle Jim had a “camp” (in this context, a small cottage) on the lake that we visited often, and my friend Sandy, one year my senior whose family owned the camp next door, was my constant companion those summers. Jumping off the dock into the chill and often weedy water, venturing out in the leaky rowboat, or just sitting for hours on a ledge of the shaley shore sharing secrets, partially hidden from the outside world (and her pesky siblings) by scrubby trees. The lake had an earthy and tangy mud smell. The swimming area started out painfully rocky, and then progressed to a soft, squishy muck that you wanted to get out from under your toes as soon as possible. Kids accustomed to pristine swimming pools would not have set a foot into this sometimes slimy watery playground, but to us it was heaven. We would stay out in the water long after our fingers wrinkled, haul ourselves onto the dock to sunbathe awhile, then jump right back in for more.
The lake water lapped the shore gently, in a reassuring way, on lazy summer days. But, it could also get riled up during wind and rain storms, being almost-Great, throwing wild white caps into the air and beating the shore in a primordial fury. I loved the lake in its many moods and I loved having a friend to share it with. I know The Lake (there was no other in our lexicon), and this friendship revolving around it, helped shape my future self in ways I cannot fathom, like the unfathomable depths of Samuel de Champlain’s “discovery,” which is in my mind truly is a great lake.
For the past week, I’ve been visiting my family who have all retired to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. None of them were Southerners by birth, but no matter. There seem to be many more relocated Northerns (like our family) or Midwesterners than actual natives in HHI these days, since the original Gullah inhabitants have been priced out of the upscale beach-access properties (called, rather colonially, “plantations”) that now dominate the island. It is a nice place for a week’s vacation.
There is the aforementioned beach, with water as warm at a bathtub and a gentle approach to swimming depth. Swimming pools, including my sister’s own backyard retreat. And good second hand-stores. What more could you ask for in a vacation? Well, if you want to venture from The Plantation, you could go visit the Coastal Discovery Center museum (its a Smithsonian Affiliate!) with indoor and outdoor displays about flora and fauna. Or go kayaking, parasailing, paddle boarding, etc. etc. We went on a very nice sunset/fireworks boat tour with my sister’s Rotary Club members. Dolphins obligingly made an appearance, as well as the full moon. It was a good respite from the Washington, DC area swelter – which comes for most of us without a beach and/or our own swimming pool – and work. From sunrise (which I always try to get up in time for, and usually don’t make it) to sunset (which is great from the water), HHI is a nice place to visit.
The last couple of days, I have had encounters with giant plants. First, in my own garden where the Giant Pumpkin Plant of 2016 (see image above) threatens to take over the whole side of our yard, and into our neighbor’s yard as well. (Maybe due to the bees doing a great job of pollinating?) I went out to check on why the heck the squash plants were not producing any squash yesterday morning, and I discovered the Giant Fuzzy Squash of 2016, pictured here in its 16″ glory. Not sure it is still edible, we will find out soon. If so, it is all we will be eating for awhile I guess. Send me some squash recipes just in case!
Then, last evening, some friends and I experienced the unfortunately named Corpse Plant of the U.S. Botanical Garden, which has just bloomed. By now just about everyone in Washington, DC has heard of, and perhaps visited, this phenomenon. At least it seemed like everyone in DC was there last night; it took us about 45 minutes to get inside. This giant plant supposedly smells like some combination of rotting flesh and rotten vegetables, but we couldn’t get close enough to catch a whiff. Maybe for the best. I didn’t get a photo because my phone battery died (ironically considering the subject matter), but you can get the idea from this link of photos from CBS news. Photo #9 is pretty much the way it was last night, huge crowd and all.
Plants are pretty amazing, in general. Giant plants are even more amazing. Giant squash…well, I would prefer smaller more tender specimens, but I guess I should see it as more to love, right?