Published in LAKESTYLE magazine, Spring 200 5-06 Issue
It had been a subtle but extraordinary summer. Warmer and wetter conditions during the spring season had brought out the lush canopy of the wooded area. Fauna was abundant and present, while the surrounding foliage displayed its brilliant shades long into the autumn months. The weekends were long and warm and filled with measurable challenges and immeasurable laughter. This would prove to be one summer season to remember and one that would come to be known as
It was a common lake cabin, in its infancy, which has grown beyond its initial walls to encompass three generations of memories. Situated on the eastern shore of Round Lake, the Clarens families have gathered countless weekends and continuous summers in this little plot of land called “heaven on shore.” And centered throughout the midst of it all, has been the family’s matriarch, Leone.
A woman of small stature and grand dreams, Leone is always the first one to welcome our family to the family cabin on any given Friday evening. And 2005 was no different, except for the wheelchair or cabin chair to which she was now confined. Diagnosed in early 1997 with pulmonary fibrosis, she survived far beyond initial projections and odds and was once again present to witness another glorious summer at Round Lake.
As spring emerged and the family cabin was opened to usher in another summer season, I took a moment to reflect back on one of my first visits to Round Lake. It was over fifteen years ago on a warm June day that turned into a cool June night… and all were asleep… except for Leone and me. Over a bowl of shared popcorn and a moonlit lake setting, I asked Leone, “What makes this lake, this place, so special?” Without hesitation, Leone responded, “I think it’s three things: No dress code, pure relaxation and love. You can dress and be any way that you want here. You’re expected to relax here. And finally, just love.” It never occurred to me to probe for a further answer from my future mother-in-law; it just seemed like the perfect answer to my question. And it would be these three things that Leone and I would later refer to as “the lessons of the lake.” While all three are important lessons of which to make note, it would be this particular third lesson I would ponder and reflect upon for years.
It has been Leone’s philosophy that a well-spent weekend at the lake consists of a full stomach and a full heart. That simply means that meals, snacks and refreshments are always being prepared and that we are enjoying each other’s company to its fullest. There are delicious doughnuts and pastries from the local bakery to be eaten in the early morning hours and we do it together. There is popcorn and smores to be made in the late evening hours and we do it together. And there are always Sunday services at the nearby country church to celebrate and we do it together. All weekends at the Clarens lake cabin have their own certain uniqueness to them, but these elements are the canvas on which all other events are painted – not to mention Leone’s and my late night conversations that began this summer season once again. Regardless of the topic from which we began, Leone always had a wonderful way of bringing the discussion back and centering on family and its importance. It has always been the trademark of our lively conversations and these conversations propelled us beyond the Memorial Day Weekend and well into June.
June’s unseasonable atmospheric conditions, originating in the Dakotas, brought the family lake home’s first catastrophic change since its construction. Powerful wind sheers suddenly and unexpectedly stormed across the area of Ottertail County, leaving in its wake numerous felled mature trees, property damage and human injury. And although the family lake home suffered no structural damage, the lawn surrounding it was strewn with aged trees that would take the summer to remove and will take several seasons to split and dry into fire wood. We lamented the loss of trees and the amount of work it would take to remove them and repair the surrounding area. It was only in the midst of this natural disaster that we quickly realized how grand the trees had become and how much shade they had provided. And through it all, my mother Leone continued to gratefully state, “I’m thankful that no one – friend or family - was hurt. That’s all that matters.” These truly remain the words and wisdom of a person who models the philosophy of fullness of heart.
June turned into July and July marched into August; grand lake weekends being filled with wonderful reminiscences of festively grilled meals, chilling rain showers, lively pontoon rides, overpowering sunsets, starry nights and laughter. Lots of laughter. And all the while, Leone was vividly present in our midst, sharing with us the rich seasons of human life… the vibrancy of adulthood and now, the continued fortitude of the human spirit in the face of waning physical strength. She would do what she did best: be the best “grandma lap” that any grandchild would want to sit in. And although it took an extraordinary amount of energy on her part and the part of my father Dick to bring her to the lake each weekend, they wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. This is where they belonged.
September arrived with its sensuous hues; the extended graveled drive leading to the family cabin had now turned to dynamic shades of gold and red and auburn. Summer was quickly exiting. Leone’s specific illness robs the body of precious oxygen, so when she had the energy, Leone conserved hers by sitting on the lake cabin’s small deck and watching the lake fun and antics from a distance. It must have pained her to not be able to play with her grandchildren at the dock’s edge, but Leone wouldn’t have missed a moment of watching her family enjoy what was most precious to her: each other. She would sit there, in the absence of shade previously provided by the felled trees, and just smile. Shade or not, rain or shine, it was her personal heaven. And she continued to sit there and smile.
For practicality’s sake and due to busy family schedules, we chose to close our lake home for the season in early October. Leone was present as she had been each year for this annual ceremony. And upon our departure, it felt as if Autumn just did not want to let go of its secured hold for the moment; as if to provide one long and final goodbye. October gracefully strolled into November and November progressed onward. And with the first settled snowfall in mid-November, Autumn finally and gently relinquished its grasp. In wondrous symmetry, following the glorious passing of this season, Leone also took her restful leave on December 1. She left behind a husband, two daughters, a son, nine grandchildren, a fulfilled life of wonderful and selfless acts of kindness, and a rich legacy of wonderful family memories at the lake.
My friend, if we find ourselves on the fortunate side of Life’s journey, we are afforded approximately 70 years; that translates into 70 summers, 70 falls, 70 winters and 70 springs with which to relish and celebrate. And for many of us, a good portion of those seasons are behind us. But this reflection is not meant to lament the past or fear the future, nor dwell on the potential somberness of the human journey. It is simply to remind each of us of the subtle and dynamic relationships we have with Nature and each other… relationships we tend to take for granted.
In what will seem like the blink of an eye, we each will have aged and have stored – if we’re fortunate – countless memories of our lake seasons with family and friends. We’ll glance into the mirrored and weathered face we’ve come to know so well and ask ourselves, “Where did the seasons go?” And we’ll realize that this aging and storing didn’t happen overnight; we just took it for granted… each day… each week… each year.
Like so many others, we may have initially built or purchased this setting on the lake to escape Life. But over time and nurtured by the very grace of Nature, we will realize that we now return to this setting on the lake again and again to fully experience Life. From this time here in this lake setting, we take with us a lighter and healthier perspective into our week of busied schedules. It is in this place, this moment, mingled with loved ones, where we rediscover uniqueness, creativity, acceptance, relaxation, hope, faith, family and love. And it is this perspective and renewed spirit that sustains us through all our dark nights and frenzied days.
Promise yourself: Let the moments of lake solitude cascade over you like a tidal wave, washing away all of the week’s chaos and confusion. Please don’t allow the petty transactions of the week to invade this wonderful refuge. Make right all your weekly mistakes and forgive your and others’ transgressions in this sacred place. Recommit yourself to your grander life goals and commitments in the light of the weekend’s sunsets. Allow the laughter to bring out that childlike nature of you that has been slowly and methodically set aside. Get back into the water and splash around. Tell and re-tell your loved ones what you truly feel under the starry skies. Cherish and reflect on these moments as they occur – don’t wait until years down the road, for these years may not wait for you. Enjoy these present moments with all of your heart. Savor them. Share them. Invest in them. You owe it to yourself and those before and after you.
Allow Leone’s lessons of the lake to take root as well. First, there is no dress code. Come with no expectations or pretenses – just be yourself, for that’s all you are called to be. Be present for your family and friends. And then take that presence into your week. Second, you’re expected to relax. Life and Nature continue to demonstrate this subtle wisdom for you; live in today in your heart, head and actions. Sunrises and sunsets cannot exist in the same place at the same time, so enjoy the present moment as if it were your last. And third, love. It took me years to understand the subtle wisdom of Leone, but what I believe she was trying to tell me all along was to simply love the moment you’re in, love the person you’re in and love the greater Life you’re in.
And most importantly, whether you find yourself in a family-inherited lake cabin in northern Minnesota or a family-invested lake home on Lake Minnetonka, grasp the time you are given to truly make your moments a home to be remembered.
While the passing of Leone has been painful for our family, please make no mistake, when late spring arrives, we will begin to frequent and gradually celebrate the Clarens family lake home once again. And as much as it looked differently following the midsummer sheer winds, this home on the lake will also, most assuredly, feel different. For what transformed that simple lake cabin into a home has changed… but not gone. It was Leone who subtly taught us time and time again that it’s not just the physical lake property but the added and endearing human presence that breathes Life into our countless memories. And in the night’s glow of the family bonfire with family and friends, amidst the final casting light of sunset of Round Lake, Leone’s presence will be felt and we will again be reminded of how and why this small family cabin became and remains a home on the lake.
Post Note: In our society today, there still remains the distinct need – following one’s marriage – to clearly identify one’s biological parents from one’s in-laws. I assume it is to demonstrate greater respect and emotional connection with one’s biological parents rather than to establish a hierarchical order of preference and commitment. When I married my wife Di in 1995, I felt like I had been truly welcomed into my wife’s family; this was due primarily to the emotional connection I developed with and respect I felt from my mother-in-law Leone Clarens. Over these years, Leone treated me with the utmost respect and caring that tends to be reserved for those whom one calls son. To her is dedicated this article, with all of the respect and love of a son.
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