Bob and I are standing with our arms around each other’s waist, watching the morning sunlight flit across Mallet Pond. We walked a few miles to get here this morning. That’s the only way a person can get in to this section of the state land. It is one of the most beautiful places in Schoharie County, but you have to do a little work to find it.
Mallet Pond is as embedded in our marriage as our wedding vows. We would hike here when we first began dating, back in those days when money truly was no object.
…Which is not to say we had money. We didn’t. We had dreams instead, with no comprehension of what trades or sacrifices might be necessary to attain them. That time in my life was an epoch of blessed ignorance, where my dreams had no boundaries to push against. I remember sitting beside Mallet Pond and drifting off into my private reveries, where I imagined how some day, we would own the farm up the road from Mom and Dad’s, and at the same time, we’d have a house on a giant Adirondack lake, or maybe we’d have a house on the ocean in Maine…Someplace isolated and beautiful, but definitely someplace on the water. And somehow, I would manage to be all those places at once. And, of course, in addition to keeping the family farm operational, I was also going to write essays and novels. They would flow as easily as the water, pouring out of me, resulting in an endless stream of money that would fund our every whim.
Money had started to become an object when it was time to buy our first house. Affordability and proximity to Sap Bush ultimately governed our decisions more than proximity to water. When it was time to get married, we eloped to an inn on the coast of Maine. We were able to scratch together enough pennies to afford two nights’ stay so we could exchange our vows before a JP while standing above the ocean waves on the tail end of a blizzard. The turbulent sky and waters didn’t phase me. They were beautiful. In my dreams, after a few smash-hit books, we’d have our own stunning cottage overlooking these waters, where I could ruminate and write to my hearts’ content.
A little over a year later, we returned to that inn during summer, celebrating my completion of grad school. We were camping nearby, trespassing on the inn’s private walking paths, doing our best to blend in with the capri pants and pinpoint button-downs that populated the trails. We found the rocky ledge where we exchanged our vows, I looked out over the water, and, with Bob holding my hand, I let myself have a good cry.
I cried because, for the first time, I realized that we were choosing a life that had limits. We wouldn’t end up in a charming seaside cottage. We wouldn’t have a cabin on a lake in the Adirondacks. Furthermore, books wouldn’t pour out of me like water. We wouldn’t even have steady paychecks or retirement benefits. We’d help Mom and Dad eviscerate chickens, our summer Saturdays would be spent hauling coolers to farmers’ markets, I’d have to work in the pre-dawn hours if I was going to write anything, and our children might never see salt water during weather when it was warm enough to splash in it.
I wasn’t crying because I regretted these choices. I was just saying goodbye to the parts of my dreams that didn’t exactly fit in with the ones I co-created with the rest of my family. I realized that I could relentlessly pursue the dream of writing beside the water’s edge, but without the dreams I’d conjured with my loved ones, I’d have nothing to write about.
But I remember those early dreams while Bob and I are beside Mallet Pond this morning. And as the water ripples and restores my spirit during this harried week, I am happy for them. I am also happy that books don’t write themselves, that my days are not sterile enough to enable full-time devotion to that craft. Because if books wrote themselves, I wouldn’t feel the unbridled pleasure that unfolds after heavily considered words finally paint something vivid across the page. I wouldn’t appreciate the pre-dawn oasis where I cultivate my imagination away from the chaos of farm, cafe and family.
And I am happy that I don’t gaze out at the water without having to take a mindful hike to get to it. If the water were out my front door, I might stop seeing it. Or, worse, I would see it when I was reviewing payroll documents, or while talking to the insurance agent or accountant. And I would see it when Mom’s doctor called to discuss test results. Or I would see it as I was trying to fly through the emails piling up in my inbox, or as I paid the bills, or worked to coordinate my kids’ schedules.
There are all those things that are my family, that are my community, that are shared dreams — the people, the pastures, the livestock, the farmers’ market, the gardens, the cafe. But then, on the periphery of every day, there are those things that are mine, where the phone can’t ring, where voices can’t interrupt: quiet moments beside the water, a few silent hours chipping away at a novel or penning essays. Those things don’t come easily. I have to work hard to find them. And on this morning beside the water, I appreciate that constant labor. Because in taking measures to seek them out, I remain mindful of who I am, separate from all those things that make me part of everything else. I am the daughter, the cook, the wife, the mother, the, the teacher, business manager, the farmer, the housekeeper, the driver, the lawn mower, the plumber, the butcher….roles I’ve co-constructed with people I love.
But I’m also the woman beside the water with the pen. And she’s all mine.