- Marking Time in Door County
I'm sitting on the pier, first morning of our ten-day vacation. Green Bay is in party mode. Whitecaps collide and dance from crisscrossing wakes. Pontoon boats putter along, their riders squawking like chicks in aluminum baskets. I breathe in the odor of juniper, mown grass, beer, and, yes, alewives, a dozen of them, curled and bloated inside the marina. A storm's on its way, but sky-wise, there's only a distant smudge of cloud over Horseshoe Island. Inside the house the girls are waking up—Kristin humming in the shower, Laura at the fridge, Bonnie rummaging for her hairbrush. A fly finds its way to the honey at the bottom of my teacup.
Ten thousand such mornings have passed since my grandparents purchased a house called Grey Logs, with lean-to kitchen and 150 feet of waterfront in Ephraim, Wisconsin. In 1947 the village held a few rustic hotels, an ice cream shop, and Anderson's dock with its graffiti-clogged barn. Native Americans, the French, and the Norwegians were among Ephraim's early visitors. We are the latest, one of 14 third- and fourth-generation families who now share this property with its Scandinavian log buildings, its hemlocks and swamp, its flocks of mallards and gulls. We come from all over the country—Washington, Kentucky, Idaho, California, and New York—to ground more constant and welcoming than the 14 places we call home.
The approach from Highway 42 winds through Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, and finally Grey Logs, at the bottom of a deeply shadowed driveway. Then the sky opens out and water fills in the spaces. We can see Horseshoe Island, Eagle Bluff, and, remarkably, Three Sisters Islands, several miles away over swells and sails. No streetlights or lane markers here. And the trees are not the kind I worry about from my own backyard, yellowing and sparse. They are grand, gracious ladies in dark green dresses; they are here to soothe, to whisper reassurances. Stendhal defined beauty as "the [End Page 1] promise of happiness." I walk out onto the rickety pier and let the wind with its odor of grass and Green Bay hit me from all sides. I know that when this aphorism occurred to him, Stendhal was standing in just such a place.
My grandparents are here too, invisible comfort, gentle ghosts. Gramps waving from the kitchen, Gagi still in bed with her tray of coffee and toast. They traveled the world but always returned, for there was no place they found lovelier than Grey Logs. My husband and I sleep in their room, shower in their once off-limits-to-kids bathroom. Though decades have passed since they died, it still feels like trespassing. The girls have staked out the upstairs. We make short shrift of unpacking, and with bathing suits under our shorts and water shoes in hand, the celebration begins.
But no swimming for me, not just yet. Not even with the "Oh come on, Mom!" I have a ritual I must attend to on my 39th visit to Gray Logs. I say hello to the house by kissing the smooth gray banister, by shedding my shoes and running my toes over the flagstones, by opening the linen closet and counting the blue-and-white-striped towels.
I'm expressing my thanks for safe arrival. Not just this one in 2002, but all my arrivals. Here on the braided living room rug, center of the house, where everything is stored, no whisper or footstep is excluded. I listen, breathe deeply, sniff for the raucous poker games on the folding card table, red and blue plastic chips careening about like rickety bicycles, Bicycle cards leaping when cousins John or Chuck or Nan slam an outrageously funny fist down. The sweep of Gramps' terrycloth robe, his tray of perfect over-easies and sausage. And my father vexing the floorboards with early morning stretches, leg lifts, sit-ups, creaking and moaning inside the body and out. I touch the maroon, slipcovered sofa. Down into the fibers I go like a medical detective uncovering wet towels, shed bathing suits, the crumpled wrappers...