, , , ,

“I, too, was granted a ‘spot of time’. It occurred in the late afternoon of the second day of our visit to the Lake District. M. and I were sitting on a bench near Ambleside eating chocolate bars. . . .” Alain de Botton

A couple days ago, Chuck and I met our friend Denise at the tiger muskie in Nevis, Minnesota. It was a relief to park the car by noon instead of driving (as we had for the past three days, crossing Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota). We walked through Nevis (population 390), seeing the city park, the high school, churches (Catholic and Lutheran), city hall, and a liquor-selling establishment called “The Muni.”


Later, we parked our car at the edge of Lake Belle Taine and loaded our luggage into Denise’s boat which she unhooked from a short dock. We chugged across the lake to the island where Denise and her family live.

What makes a place that you visit only briefly one you remember? What causes the “spot of time” that de Botton described?

After lugging our luggage to the house we returned to the small fishing boat with a windshield and and fabric roof, lights, and a large motor. Lake Belle Taine is long and curved, with coves, islands, and peninsulas and has such irregularities in its borders that it seems like a shape torn from paper.

Chuck and I had temporarily replaced the constraints of car travel with the breezy motion and whimsical meanderings of a boat. On Denise’s tour, we saw lakeside cabins and houses where docks were pulled up on shore to protect against winter and the forces of ice. Other docks were still in the water and one dock was being pushed to a storage yard by a pontoon boat so the effect was that of a metallic giraffe water-skiing and spewing a plume of spray.

On Denise’s tour of Lake Belle Taine, we saw a causeway built of rocks so people could drive to an island, a causeway that changed the island into a bulbous peninsula and prevented the passage of boats. We talked to a neighbor who was sitting on his boathouse porch that hung over the water like something In a Faulkner story; and we stopped several times to watch loons paddle and dive and surface somewhere else. The lowered water level revealed a loon nest among reeds like a large upside down basket.

At the far end of the lake, we looked up at a footbridge that spanned a narrow neck of water. The bridge was the only human element reflected among reeds and grasses. It was a spot where, in midsummer, you might hear the wild call of grebes and loons but now there is bright sun and the fanned colors of autumn foliage reflected in still water beneath a blue sky, before the ice comes.

Lake Belle Taine, Minnesota

Alain de Botton ponders the mystery of how a scene becomes set in memory so that the recollection of a moment in nature returns later and unexpectedly even when you are stuck in traffic:

“…I was carried away from the traffic and the crowds and returned to trees whose names I didn’t know but which I could see as clearly as if they were standing before me….” Alain de Botton


Source: Alain de Botton. The Art Of Travel. Vintage Books (2002), pp. 152-153.