Children turn into shadows as dusk descends upon the park. Laughter and music surround my family as we carefully lay out our blankets and unfold camp chairs. I pull thermoses and snacks from the tote bag I carried from our house. A girl cartwheels past us wearing a glow stick necklace. A mother chases behind a toddler focused on grabbing a bag of chips from a neighbor’s blanket. Folks wave and greet one another as they pass.
”How’s your mom’s health these days?”
“Are you doing some work at your place?”
Signs of familiarity.
A tight-knit community.
I position myself comfortably on my elbows, my legs stretched out before me. My daughter curls up and places her head on my stomach. I can feel us breathing, smooth and calm like the night air around us.
The orange glow from the remains of the day’s sun casts a mirror-like effect on the lake, and the crowd quiets. The band ends their last song and excited chatter turns into soft whispers. The sky lights up in blues, greens, reds, and sparkling white like a rainbow in 3D on a backdrop of night and stars.
This is our first 4th of July in Tupper Lake and it feels like a dream, not only because we have been in near isolation for a year and we are now finally sitting among dozens of others, but because we are able to call this beautiful place our home.
I visited the Adirondacks for the first time twenty years ago. I moved to central New York for my graduate studies and, despite being from Massachusetts, I’d never spent any time upstate.
My boyfriend, a fellow grad student, invited me to join him for a weekend at a cabin in Keene Valley. We had no money but we had a bit of luck. He was earning some extra cash offering IT support to an elderly gentleman who owned a cabin and offered it up for free when it wasn’t in use.
That weekend was frigid, with temps below zero. The gas door lever inside the car froze and we had to pour hot water on it. I wore snow pants when walking around Lake Placid. We drove to John Brown’s Farm and stopped on the side of route 73 to take photos of the icy river and the mountains reaching into the clouds. I’d never been somewhere as cold or as quiet. Something about the solitude and knowing we were standing on epochs-old soil and rock made me feel at home.
We returned to the Adirondacks several times a year, exploring towns and villages beyond Keene Valley. We introduced our first child to the carousel in Saranac Lake and held her toddler sister’s hand at the top of Whiteface Mountain. Each time we dreamed about buying a house. During a trip in 2012, we took the kids to the Wild Center and drove to the town park before driving home. As the girls squealed and skipped around the playground, we looked out at the water and said, “this would be a great place to buy a second home.”
Our dream came true in 2020 when COVID kept us tucked safely at home with little to do other than watch Netflix and browse real estate websites. On a whim, we took a chance, traveled to Tupper Lake for the weekend, and placed an offer on a beautiful old home in town, with a century of story and character, and a view of the lake we had looked out upon so many years before.
My husband and I hold our phones skyward in an effort to capture the firework display. My daughter raises her head from my lap and takes the phone from my hand. She takes over my job, and I can see her photos are much better than mine. Her teen eye is keen on creating beautiful art for social media. In my own moment of inspiration, I lift my hands above my chest and create a cup. My daughter sees what I am trying to do and with the touch of a button, she captures the magic of the evening. She turns the phone screen to show me. My pinky fingers align, my hands open wide, cast with soft light from the display of explosive blues, greens, and reds that I seem to be holding.
The fireworks end and the park is a bustle of movement in the dark. Flashlights help us find our thermoses and snacks. Headlights of cars headed home light the path as we make our way to a place I hope we fill with memories for the next twenty years–our Adirondack home.