I count myself among the lucky ones. The lucky few. When I was young, certainly this was not on our agenda. It was not going to be our heritage. This became ours rather later in my life. I’m speaking of our summer home on the lake.
We call it “camp.” This is somewhat of a misnomer. When I speak of camp, as in, “We’re going to camp,” most people think of a camp with bunk houses and mess hall and that sort of thing. Not so much. This is a turn of the last century Victorian summer cottage. There are five bedrooms and we’re right on the waters of Lake Champlain in Vermont. A few 100 feet from our front porch lie the remains of the old concrete dock where the Ticonderoga steam paddlewheeler used to dock. This boat brought people and goods from New York City to the people who summered here. It was quite fashionable back in the day for the wealthy and upper-middle class of the cities to have summer homes on lakes. The men would send their families to those homes for the summer. Often they also sent the wait staff as well. The men would join them for weekends and a week or two of vacation. Hence the necessity of the Ticonderoga and its sister ship the Chateaugay … they ferried men from the end of the railroad that had brought them up from the city to the summer homes on the lake for vacations and weekends, then back to the city at the end of each stay. Women and children stayed for the whole summer. The camps stayed in families for generations, or were given to new families. Each point has it’s own community and character or “feeling.”
It’s interesting being here. There’s a sense of community here that is permeable. Permanent. A sense of permanence that is from another time. We have traditions here that are silly and timeless, but tolerated. The roots here run deep. We come back summer after summer for truncated friendships that last for years.
It’s a funny place too. There is something in the air here. In the photo above, the dock is at the very tip of our point. If you round the point by foot you can’t get very far as the rocks rise high in the air out of the water. But right there, just before the cliffs begin, at the waters edge there is a clear spot. There is a large rock just off the shoreline and across the lake is Split Rock in New York. If you sit very still and quietly you can begin to sense the other world shimmering just over the horizon. You can hear it thrumming in your ears. It is a place where the glass clears briefly. I get the sense sometimes that it is an ancient passage. I wonder if it is because the Abenaki tribe used this spot for their rituals, or did the Abenaki get this sense as well and thus choose the spot?
These camps and our rituals here were established in era when men (humans) gazed into the future triumphantly. It was only a matter of time and trial before the key to utopia was found. The utopian vision of human perfection was fresh, the dream was real and realizable. I wonder sometimes if these little communities were established as a step towards achieving utopia … achieving perfection … at least for a little piece of time. Maybe only during the summer.
It has been a hallmark of the modern era to search for perfection. We have reached for the skies in our buildings, modes of transportation, and even discovery. We have dug down deep into the cellular and molecular level to find medical perfection. Perfect bodies can be sculpted with knives and silicon and other bits. Perfect minds can be created with medication. Perfectly comfortable environments can be created to achieve the desired mood … Do we want people to shop? Create this temperature, this music, that atmosphere. Do we want them to work? Then this temperature, that music, this atmosphere. Whatever we want from people, we have the ability to manufacture the perfect place … utopia. We have even achieved the ability to extend life beyond the time when perhaps it is wise … now we no longer know when death occurs in many cases. Or when it should. We argue over when life begins … and when it ends. May we live forever. Utopia.
I wonder if we’re coming to the beginning of the end of that era. If we are beginning to realize the limits of our human fallibility. The new so-called post-modern era may be the beginning the pendulum swinging back. It is a sea change of how the world works. If we begin to understand that all of life here on earth is not ultimately perfectible, how do we live? That basic assumption has guided western thought for the past 350 years. Search yourself. Think hard about how go about each day and how you think about the future … you will find that your assumptions are that your life is going to slowly but surely get better. We assume that it is a “rule” that each succeeding generation should “do better” than it’s parents. These are utopian ideas at their core. The idea that heaven can be achieved here, without God.
So, as I sit on the porch of this nearly 100 year old cottage, and reflect on the people who built it. I think about them and their dreams. Why they built this place, what they were escaping. Some of the things they were escaping were the same as I … the city heat and stink, cramped space and loud noise. Others are different and yet the same. They came here to get fresh air and so do I. Yet I come here to feel the fresh air, not canned, perfect air. They came here to achieve a little utopia and I come here to escape the modern version. I come here to understand, again, the limits of our human hands and feel, once again, the power of the elements on my skin. And I marvel at how a place from the past can be a bridge to the future. A future that will likely be stripped of utopian thinking, but will be all the more livable because of it.
This month’s SynchroBlog is a series of discussions on Utopian ideas. As is a perfect Utopian concept, we have not mandated the topic on Utopia to be specific to any one concept, or dogma. So please … follow the links to check out what ma peeps’s writ’n ’bout:
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
John Morehead at John Morehead’s Musings
Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Utopia Today: Living Above Consumerism at Be the Revolution
Nowhere Will Be Here at Igneous Quill
A This-Worldly Faith at Elizaphanian
The Ostrich and the Utopian Myth at Decompressing Faith
Being Content in the Present at One Hand Clapping
Eternity in their Hearts by Tim Abbott
Relationship – The catch-22 of the Internet Utopia at Jeremiah’s Blog
U-topia or My-topia? at On Earth as in Heaven
A SecondLife Utopia at Mike’s Musings
Mrs. Brown and the Kingdom of God at Eternal Echoes