“Once More to the Lake”

E B White (Wikipedia photo)

“Once More to the Lake” is a 1941 essay by E.B. White in which he returns to a Maine lake, revisiting childhood memories that are “precious and worth saving.” The essay is among the finest ever written; here  is my favorite paragraph in any writing anywhere:

“It seemed to me, as I kept remembering all this, that those times and those summers had been infinitely precious and worth saving. There had been jollity and peace and goodness. The arriving (at the beginning of August) had been so big a business in itself, at the railway station the farm wagon drawn up, the first smell of the pine-laden air, the first glimpse of the smiling farmer, and the great importance of the trunks and your father’s enormous authority in such matters, and the feel of the wagon under you for the long ten-mile haul, and at the top of the last long hill catching the first view of the lake after eleven months of not seeing this cherished body of water. The shouts and cries of the other campers when they saw you, and the trunks to be unpacked, to give up their rich burden…. Peace and goodness and jollity.”*

Always, White’s words return me to the lake that is my life, no matter when or where I am.

This time, it is 1985, on the last day of the last year I taught at the University of Wyoming. Alone, I sit in an empty classroom, with its beige, cracked-plaster walls—the rows of laminated desks stretched into an elongated square—I am 33, giddy in my belief that I am leaving teaching to write,  whatever it may mean. By 1989, it means part-time teaching in a college outreach program for a trio of towns in southwestern Wyoming—less than 3,000 total population—whose “jollity, peace, and goodness” still occupy me. With these students, I write in restaurants, in classes, in homes, returning again and again to White’s lake. It is the richest writing of my life with a Parker fountain pen—the cheapest but best my money can buy—scrawling in spiral notebooks of red covers and silver spines in the low light of a scrawny chandelier until 1991.

Some 21 years later, my writing unpacked, I return with White once more to the lake.

*“Once More to the Lake,” E.B. White in Eight Modern Essayists, 5th Edition, St. Martin’s Press, New York: 1990 (page 83).

ROW80 Wednesday Word Marker:

Since January 2, I aimed for writing 250 daily words that I could keep—as blog posts, fiction, or nonfiction–so far, I have approximately 7500 words.

10 thoughts on ““Once More to the Lake”

  1. You enrich my world by your words and your presence. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful time in the writer’s life and in yours. I love reading moments of love in all shapes and sizes and this is pure love for a time and place.

    Peace,
    Morgan
    P.S. I always have to go looking for your blog post on Row80 in Facebook because when I click on your link in your comments on my blog it doesn’t have a blog link for you. I would love to see you update your profile or select a different way to leave your comment that leaves your link attached to your name.

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    • I am one of those, Morgan, who truly believes love is all there is. So glad you enjoyed the post.

      Oh, thanks for the heads-up about my profile on your blog. Think I fixed it. Appreciate you taking the time to find my blog. That means a lot.

      Karen

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  2. My August lake was in Littleton, New Hampshire. Partridge Lake was bone-deep-cold and there were boys on the other side. One came over pretending to be asleep and adrift in his canoe, but we could see him surreptitiously paddling with a hand over the side. Another swept up to our dock in a power boat throwing a rooster tail of water up on the dock. In the early morning no one but the game warden, Sneaky Pete, would be on the water; we could hear the creak of his oar locks. The loons would cry and a mist hover over the water and we’d sit on the silver plank of the diving board, our legs hanging down.

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    • First, Stinky Miller the dog and now, Sneaky Pete the warden. Think there’s a story in there…. In all ways, Adrian, Partridge Lake resembles E.B. White’s–both crisp, pristine prose. Now, whenever I return to White’s lake, I’ll stop by Partridge Lake as well.

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  3. Oh… wow. I am swept away by both your words and EB White’s words. I need to get a copy of that book so I can revel in the rest of it.

    Your writing today touched me, deeply.

    So grateful I stopped here as I continue to Row along. Words like yours today are among the finest aspects of my ROW experience…

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  4. Such beauty in your writing! It took me to Casper Mountain, I’m sure you knew it well. Never for an extended stay, but those lovingly remembered picnics with family friends. We always could count on my Mom making the fried chicken and potato salad (of course she made it the best). Captain Miller getting some silly canned food and being treated like the king of all dogs, which I’m sure he deserved, after all his Dad was Stinky Miller. The women would gather in the shelter at Bear Trap Meadow, gabbing up a storm while the men would play horse shoes. Us kids would play all kinds of things, bouncing back and forth between the Dads and Moms. Oh how I wish I could return for just one more gathering of those great folks. But you Karen are teaching me about the lake, so much to learn, and while sometimes I feel so close to my lake, often times I seem to just be floundering (pun intended). Thank you my dear friend for helping me through this silly life of mine. Thank you for your writing which puts smiles on my face!

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    • Stinky Miller?!?! Oh, Dona, that’s a name that needs to be written. Thanks for sharing “your” lake as you once again, gather with your folks, if only in memory. I’ll remember every time I read the essay.

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