It is about 9 am and I am setting out on what has become a daily trip around the shore of what is known as Big Pond in the town of Otis, somewhere deep in the Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts. My mother knows only that I go out exploring on the surfboard that my father and I built — (Well, let’s be honest here. I picked out the design; he built it, with me standing along side fetching tools as needed. As an adult, I actually built another one of these surfboards in the same basement of our family home, but without my father’s supervision. He was much too capable a craftsman to be able to tolerate my amateur fumbling efforts. Let it be noted that my board floated as well as his and was never known to crack-up on a rocky shore.)
This was a rather large and cumbersome 1940’s style board; nothing like the sleek designs of the ‘80’s. But I could lie across it, and, with wetted goggles securely in place, view the rocky bottom of Big Pond in immense detail, square foot by square foot.
I began these artistic inquiries around the beachfront near the summer cottage that my father had also built, but each day I move further and further afield, slowly circumnavigating The Known World. I say these were “artistic explorations” because all I really cared about were color and shape and what the academically trained painter calls architecture. Truly, I know nothing of minerals or of the slippage of tectonic plates or of glaciers creeping back and forth.
I move out past the Spencer’s house on the point, a wonderful old musky, dark abode of the elderly, and, thence, into the uncharted territory beyond, paddling eventually to the largest spring source of this incredibly cold and deep summer home I love. And, then, I press on further still, working my way around the blocade of rocks rising up, suddenly, to just beneath the surface of the water — a death trap for motorboats. This is totally forbidden territory. And, then, in a surprising turn of bravery, I head straight out toward the center of the pond, where an island of perhaps a dozen houses beacons.
Roaring deathtraps drawing skiers or bearing fishermen cross my path; an occasional sunfish, too, sails swiftly past before disembarking its young passenger in a burst of unbidden energy. (I will not speak of this adventure in my home, now or in the future.)
I peer into the boathouses and the front yards of the island people, and note the manufacturers and horsepower of their docked motorcraft. I view the faded green and white stripes of their wooden lawn chairs, and wonder at how they mow their lawns so neatly. It seems odd to my inexperienced mind that in this idyllic playground, so far from city formalities, mown lawns yet exert their tyranny.
Some of the inhabitants are curious about my origins and I am drawn inevitably into fraternization with them. I continue on even to the dark back side the island, and, then, to a little isle just off its coast, where there is evidence of wood fire and beer drinking.
My mother, as usual, has not really noticed my absence. She and my younger sister, Lois, are busy with the things domestic women find endlessly fascinating — sewing and cleaning and discoursing on the minutia of their lives. They would smile condescendingly, but without comprehension, at the magnitude of my adventures. They would be alarmed.