When I was very young, before any memories had formed, my family drove to the Jersey shore for summer vacation. The middle years, the magical years, saw us drive northward rather than south. We took those summer weeks and burrowed into the cool pine forest of New Hampshire, where ancient lakes had gathered between the worn peaks of the Appalachian mountains, a range softened by eons of wind and rain and human footsteps.
I imagine my parents looking at the road atlas, enamored by the green ink which dominated the page of New Hampshire, and equally enthralled by the organic patterns of blue, more like cloud formations than waterways. As with Appalachia, a native name survived for one of the largest natural formations. Lake Winnipesaukee, or "smile of the Great Spirit", looked to me like a bounding dog, mouth open and panting, if one were to be that infamous bird of the bird’s-eye view, looking down, earth gazing rather than stargazing.
My parents studied the map, they searched out a place to bring their three small children, but became deterred by the islands which dotted Bounding Dog lake; Black Cat Island, Big Beaver Island, Bear Island, Rattlesnake Island. This was all too much for two squares from New Jersey, so they settled on a much smaller lake southwest of Winnipesaukee, a promising watery paradise void of any islands at all, Crystal Lake.
We slept in a cottage called The Shanty, set atop a steep hill which sank into the rough sand shore. There was a shuffleboard court and a robust stone fireplace just outside our rickety front-porch door, more than enough entertainment for the evenings. And the lake was indeed crystal clear, deep, and cold like granite. It was heaven to swim in, clean enough to take big thirsty gulps, and it was small enough so that we might bike around the whole circumference in one day’s time.
Our Crystal Lake era was a few years before I would learn to ride a bike. A tradition took root though that we as a family would ride around the entire lake once, and only once. And so we were four bikes and five people, my father and I together gracing his black and yellow Japanese roadster.
The dearest part of this bike trip was its very first moments. My father lifted me into a plastic seat behind the saddle. The bike tipped precariously until he found the sweet spot, maneuvering his body above the frame. Our weight merged and we were one mass. He looked back at me, a thick mustache of sandy brown bristles and aviator glasses, a style which persisted from his Navy days, a style which was the epitome of cool in my eyes. He smiled and left the pavement with his right foot first. I closed my eyes. The pushes of the pedal were clockwork, our bodies together a pendulum swinging in sedated motion. Left. Right. Left. Our clock assumed the speed of a childhood summer, expanded and endless. Our pendulum bike bodies heavy, almost tipping, but always obeying, always hovering for a moment of stillness at the edge of balance. The kinetic energy fed my father’s legs and time gradually gained momentum. I held my eyes tightly closed, exhilarated. My nose and tongue could taste the thick pine air, moist and sweet with decay.
I sunk into the speed. We swung around the lake, planets held in orbit. The sun followed us. It’s light pulsated through the old pines, thudding on the side of my skull, keeping faultless time with the push of my father’s strong calf muscles. We harvested this sunshine energy and were carried on an endless revolution around Crystal Lake, the pendulum never stopping, the forest vast and beautiful. A perpetual present, maintained with such ease.