Strolling for the Mail
- By: Kay Hardy Campbell
It’s a polite e-mail — direct, brief, and well written. Unfortunately, it’s another rejection from a literary agent. It traveled from midtown Manhattan to the computer in our log cabin’s loft silently, instantly. After staring at it for a few minutes, I decide to take a break and get the mail. Our mailbox is a mile away. It stands alongside a dozen other mailboxes where five gravel roads meet, near an old logging depot. In a reflective mood, I decide to walk there along the lakeshore road.
Though it’s only mid-September, fall has arrived in Lakeville. The cool nights leave the lake cloaked in fog each morning. A loon family glides through it, calling to each other like moving foghorns.
Our lake neighbors, Sally and Dave, who live in a nearby town, meet me on the road. They’ve just come from the camp of close friends who have left for the season. Sally explains they’re taking their friends’ potted geraniums home to her greenhouse to winter over. Next spring, she’ll return the flowers to welcome them back.
“How’s the writing coming?” Dave asks, smiling out of the hand-cranked window of their camp car, a vintage red Chevy Blazer, his off-white bucket hat slightly askew. I tell him everything is great.
“You should write about the mailboxes, you know, about walking up to get the mail.”
My shoes crunch on the gravel as I swing the walking stick in time with my steps, listening to red-breasted nuthatches debate. Warm sunlight filters through the hemlock, pine, and birch, releasing the sweet scent of pine needles.
Most summer people have closed up their camps and returned to work and school. Gone are the motorboats’ roar, the children’s shouts, the barking dogs, and the banging of paddles against canoe gunwales. Now the sounds of chainsaws and wood-splitters echo up the lake, as the few year-round residents make enormous yet orderly stacks of wood to satisfy their woodstoves’ winter appetites.
I pass several older camps, most of them built using only hand tools. Some owners floated their materials across the lake. There are cottages with cedar shingles and white trim, as well as log cabins built with short vertical logs. A few small camps might sleep just two, but most have modest additions and out-buildings to accommodate growing families. Small porches and decks capture afternoon shade, sunset, or moonrise.
Hand-carved signs announce the owners’ names, as well as their children and grandchildren, even their pets. Driftwood serves as lawn sculpture. Rock gardens overflow with delicate ferns, their leaves beginning to yellow. Boat prows peek out from winter resting spots in the woods. A weathered cedar porch swing hangs between two trees, cradling pine needles and pinecones on its seat. A whirligig of a woman throwing horseshoes spins in the breeze.
I pause in the sun next to a log cabin whose owners have left, and gaze across the brilliant blue lake. Forlorn winter gales will soon whip across its thick ice. These camps will stand in a lonely vigil, blanketed deep in snow and cold, silently guarding stories and memories until next season.
At the mailboxes, I greet two year-round residents on their ATVs. They meet there each day, sometimes with tail-wagging dogs in back. We chat and wait for the postal carrier’s Jeep. After she delivers the mail and drives off in a dust cloud, I hike back along the shore with my newspaper and new DVD tucked in my backpack.
I meet a neighbor closing his camp, preparing to return to New York City for the winter. He says it takes him two days to unpack in spring, and two weeks to close up in fall; he drags it out as long as possible. His familyalways makes the beds before they leave, to be ready for their spring return. I suppose it’s a bit like planting tulip bulbs. All winter you can think about them blooming.
In a sunny forest opening, I come upon a chorus of crickets chirping cheerfully, hidden in the grass among black-eyed Susans and goldenrod. They sing more quietly now than they did just weeks ago. Their summer is fading, too.
Before long we will close up and drive south, leaving our camp silent, cold, and empty. These last days are precious indeed. Back inside, I hang up my walking stick and climb the ladder to the loft. I turn on the computer and start to write.
- By: Kay Hardy Campbell