I’ll be honest: July has not been the kindest to me. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m moving, which in and of itself is a stressful ordeal. I‘m a nester, someone whose wanderlust runs counter to my extreme discomfort about any big life or location change. Add to that the serpentine torture of the New York real estate market, an unexpectedly accelerated deadline, and a heat advisory, and you’ve got yourself a giant, Zelda-shaped ball of stress. The past few weeks have been a blur of spreadsheets and checklists, boxes on boxes on boxes, and almost daily calls to my mother, who makes everything better or at least lets me cry about the things that aren’t. Luckily, things seem to be falling somewhat into place this week — new pad, new hood, new roommate (in addition to my current one) — and fortuitous circumstances have conspired to bring my father, brother, and sister to New York, with a car, the day when I and my possessions will be making the trek from my beloved Bushwick to the as-yet-largely-unexplored Crown Heights [Scout’s note: Don’t leave me!]. But as I write this, there are still leases to sign, certified checks to hand over, and a whole slew of possessions that must be wrapped, boxed, and taped into submission. Which is why I could not be happier to be heading, as you’re reading this post, to my favorite place in the world.
I am a Southern gal at heart, it’s true — full of love for bourbon and mac and cheese and Derby and bluegrass. But my happy place, the spot where I feel most at home and at peace no matter what’s going on in my everyday life, is in distinctly Yankee territory. Since before I can remember (from the womb, even), my family and I have gone every summer and every four Christmases to Chocorua, New Hampshire, a village (too small to qualify as a town) in the White Mountains. My dad has been going there for his entire life, and my grandma for hers. Since my great-great grandfather first built the Big House for his daughter as a wedding present, generations of my family have been making an annual pilgrimage to this spot in the woods, by the lake, in the shadow of the mountain.
I find it hard to put into words just how I feel about this place. Perhaps because, with my frequent childhood moves, Chocorua has been home longer than any other town I’ve ever known. Or maybe it’s because something in my bones hums in harmony with the trees up there, a bond strong as granite that has stood for over 100 years. My father likes to say that Chocorua is where all his chapters begin and end, where he recharges and finds the strength to turn the next page. My life, too, has been conducted on mountain rhythms. Every move, every new phase, is charted in the guest book we all sign each time we leave the house. Sometimes on a rainy day I’ll curl up with one of the leather-bound volumes, tracing my life back from Brooklyn to Paris to college to braces to chubby fingers tracing crayon scribbles, which my more literate mother kindly translated (apparently giant loop, small squiggly line was code for “I love the lake and my cousins and the Chocorua fairies.”). Going even farther back, I find my mother’s first visit, pre-engagement, when she braved the climb up and down the mountain and thus earned her admission into the family. I find my father, scrawl as inscrutable as the present day, heading off on his navy tour or to boarding school. Even farther back is my grandmother, inscribed by her mother as “Virginia Balch, age 3.” The books go all the way back to that first nuptial summer, when the faces I hold most dear hadn’t even been dreamed up yet.
The release I feel upon reaching this place is almost instantaneous. We roll the windows down to smell the piney air, scan the trees eagerly for the first glimpse of Mount Chocorua’s rocky top, and when we finally reach the turn we pause, on the wooden bridge, to say hello to the mountain, and the lake, and the sky –members of the family who have been waiting all year to welcome us home.
Scout likes to make fun of me for how “ridiculously wholesome” my family is. And while we bring a healthy dose of sass to the table as well, her accusation is not totally unfounded. We voluntarily, eagerly even, spend a week or two together with no internet, no TV, and only recently a smidgen of cell reception. We swim in the lake and lie three to a hammock, play board games when it rains and read novels on the porch. We take turns at dinner duty, dish duty, swing-pushing duty. And at night, sprawled on couches or curled up on the rug, my uncle pulls out his guitar and we have family song time. The tradition started when we were little, as part of our bedtime routine. But it continues today because we love it, unabashedly, belting out Raffi and James Taylor with as much gusto as our 8 year-old selves. If I’m stressed or anxious, lost or confused, teetering on the brink of an unknown abyss, there is no place I’d rather be than that living room, singing “Sweet Baby James.” And as I prepare, yet again, to turn a page, I try to remember that this is what home really is, no matter where you find it. It’s being surrounded by those you love and who love you, who make you feel safe. Apartments will come and go, things will be packed and unpacked and packed again, addresses will change. But home is wherever you find it. And even if the walls crumble and the paths grow over with moss, mine will always be in a corner of the woods called Chocorua.