I’ve come to love Columbus Day, not because I’m a big fan of Columbus, or anything like that. In fact, as I’ve become more aware of my Native American ancestry, (one sixteenth Cherokee), I’m inclined to feel the other way about him. No, the reason I like Columbus Day so much is because I like the season. Since we got our little camp on Maidstone Lake, back in 1994, I’ve spent nearly every Columbus Day at the lake, and I have so many wonderful memories of those times. I’ll tell you about one of the most special, which was in 1997.
My wife and I were still working at our teaching jobs in western Massachusetts. For us it was a 4 hour trip to Maidstone, but because Massachusetts celebrates Columbus Day by closing all the schools, we could get away for a long weekend. That weekend is also celebrated as Canadian Thanksgiving by some Vermonters, so we would usually meet up with other lake friends to have a big meal and close up our camps. Closing up involves pulling boats and ramps and docks out of the water, packing up most of the food, cleaning up the house and the fridge and shutting off the water. It can be a sad time, because we have to leave that beautiful place and some of our friends until the next Memorial Day.
We arrived at Maidstone late Friday night. The next morning we saw a rare display by a group of loons. Eight of them showed up about 100 yards in front of our cabin. They formed a 100 foot circle and began doing their crazy calls. That’s probably where the word loonie comes from. They spread out their wings and literally walked and danced on the water for about 15 minutes, yelling and shrieking the whole time. Then they stopped all at once, dropped back into the water and sped away in all directions. They sounded like speed boats as they formed huge wakes on their 500 yard take off runs. They had made their end of season departure decision. It made us feel in sync with nature. It was almost symbolic, and a foretelling of some important decision on our part.
The weekend went well. We managed to get the Sunfish and the canoe put away under the cabin. And using our new come-along, we pulled in the boat ramp and the heavy dock. We enjoyed a big Sunday dinner with half a dozen guests and got the house cleaned up. It was late and we were just about to get ready for bed when we went outside and discovered the aurora. It was the first time we’d ever seen it in Vermont, although it’s not extremely rare in the Northeast Kingdom. The display was awesome with long flashing colored curtains in the northern sky. We stayed up till 1:00 AM.
The next day was Monday October 13, my 60th birthday. It was also the day celebrated in Massachusetts as Columbus Day. There was a deep fog over the lake and it was relatively warm, near 70 degrees, although the water was probably in the high 50s. As the fog began to clear, and the sun began to show its face, and a slight wind was developing, I felt a sudden need to windsurf. I was still a beginner, but I felt so good, on my sixtieth, that I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try. I didn’t have a wet suit, but as the wind and the sun developed, I just wanted to get out.
I asked Val. She knew how I felt, and she said, “Go for it.” She would pull me out with one of the kayaks if I couldn’t get back. So I went and had a great time in the steady moderate wind.
When I got back, Val had almost finished cleaning out the fridge. We commiserated over the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We both had to be at work the next morning. Finishing up our work, I asked her how she would feel about retiring the next year, so we wouldn’t have to leave again on such a special day. She said yes, and that’s what we did.
Since then, Columbus Day has always been special.
This story was published earlier this year in Green Mountain Trading Post.