“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.