On the long unpaved road down to my mother’s lake house in Maine hangs a hand-painted sign marking a driveway. It reads “The Spaces In Between” and the back says, “Ian Factor.” I have since discovered that Ian Factor is an artist and that his mother lives in the house at the end of that driveway.
The sign intrigued me for a long time, because it didn’t seem to be the “name” of the house, per se, nor is it representative of a location. Its ambiguity was vexing and I pondered it every time I drove by whether on a run from the house into town, or on approach after an absence of many months.
I go long stretches without being at the lake. At first my trips to Maine were strictly about visiting my mom and my step-father’s extended family. These were active trips: games, walks, bike rides, early morning swims, jaunts into town for this or that. It was comfortable, full, loud, fun. And then over. “See you next year,” kind of over.
I’m a teacher, so my summers are generally flexible, but one August my timing was off. The only time I could visit was when no one else was going to be there. In addition, that year my daughter was beginning the frantic planning to leave for college, and the idea that I could have five or six days to simply be alone was exhilarating. Summer is my time for rejuvenation. I swam, ate, read, wrote and even worked a little on curriculum for the coming year. It was quiet, nourishing, blissful. I found a measure of peace beside the lake, restorative energy pulled from the elemental simplicity of watching water flow one direction and later in the day, back the other way. At the end of the five days I returned to Northern Virginia and the frenzy of packing my daughter for her launch.
One small part of my daily walk is along an unpaved road. It reminds me of the road down to my mother’s house, and when I walk that stretch I imagine that I am walking that dirt road in Maine. When my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and I began the terrible journey that goes with living and caring for a person with a horrible diagnosis, I found that I began to go to the lake in my daydreams more and more often. I needed to process an unthinkable future.
My husband and I went to Maine together last winter. We skied and slept and ate and walked on the frozen lake; Stuart played his guitar, I read books. We did a lot of nothing, just sat together, inside. It snowed: the temp was -11 every night. I remember it as dark because the house, mid-renovation, was with electricity, but without many lights, so it was dim but cozy. Prior to renovation, the house was for summer use only; we celebrated its first New Year’s Eve with dinner for two and champagne. We lived outside of our own lives, the pressures of daily living, the fear of the future, living in the moment, in many ways in-between. Walled off, we could store up energy for hard times to come. It wasn’t so much a vacation as a hibernation.
Which brings me back to that sign. Perhaps for Ian Factor, the artist, a little piece of real estate on a lake in Maine is a place that nurtures him, much as it has come to do for me. While the lake house may geographically serve the function of a space in-between, I can’t get there on a whim. So I have to find other ways of making that space. Translating it from a “where” to a “when.” On a walk, in the pool, inside a book. I believe that the spaces in between are the ones where (or when) we step away from the daily grind and abandon our lives in all their craziness for an hour, a week, a minute and a half. The spaces in between nourish us. They foster calm, peace, restoration. They rebuild our strength. I believe that allowing these spaces room to be and going there (sometimes even just in our head) when we need time away, serves a necessary function in lives that all too often seem demanding, urgent. We have time to uncover or recover a piece of our essential selves. Irish poet William Butler Yeats writes that when he’s standing on “pavements grey,” he can hear “lake water lapping/in the deep heart’s core.” On that little patch of sacred ground beside the lake, and the spaces in between, I hear it too.