Come Early Summer

Roy Edelfelt (1921 – 2015), 2002
Summer tenant at Tolman Pond for over 35 years

We think that the northern part of heaven lies down a stretch of dirt road that leaves the paved Harrisville Road in southwestern New Hampshire. We get there, as we say, by going down the rabbit hole. That’s a bit of fantasy, I know. The “rabbit hole” is a 500-foot descent down a tree-covered road that opens onto a kind of Wonderland—Tolman Pond and vicinity.

Rainbow over Tolman Pond

At the Pond, come early summer, we return to a rustic cabin in a peaceful, wooded setting, close to fresh water and walking trails, distant from commercialism. Thrushes melodically herald morning, a loon whistles mournfully as daylight arrives, and chipmunks scurry across the deck on their indeterminate business.

Little has changed over the years. Maybe a few more people come, and camps now have running water, flush toilets, showers, refrigeration, and gas or electric stoves. But the camps still are modest, filled with well-used furniture, served by previously owned fixtures, supplied with water by an over-the-ground system of black plastic hoses.

Many people require the luxuries of a superior hotel: swimming pool, Jacuzzi, big-screen television, gambling, maid service, gourmet restaurant, etc. Maybe our materialistic world has led people to wish for that in order to get away from the tensions of the fast-moving working world. That’s not our preference, particularly after discovering the Pond.

We’ve been coming here for years. Returning each summer means passing into a time warp, going back to when things were less complicated and more relaxed. Nature’s beauty is largely unaffected, and the environment is essentially unspoiled. It’s comparable to writing by hand as opposed to using a computer. Not that we don’t have laptops, digital cameras, and cell phones at hand. But…

The pond water is clean and clear, the trees are unmanicured, and the landscape is natural and open. On clear days the dirt road is speckled by sunlight penetrating tree leaves.

Each morning we begin the day with a swim in the Pond, whether in bright sunlight, under cloud cover, or in the rain. There’s a rhythm of life that beats with the soul, and there’s time to read, think, reflect, and talk. The pace of life is slow and easy. No tenseness about meetings to attend or appointments to keep. Time is measured more by sunrise, mealtimes, tennis, the cool of evening, and sleep.

We are not hermits or isolates, however. The community is a mixture of stimulating natives and summer people, many of the latter having spent all the summers of their childhoods here. For a rural neighborhood, the population is remarkably diverse in background and sophistication. Whether year-round or summer, residents range in education from high school graduates to scholars and scientists with advanced degrees. But formal education has not determined erudition or sophistication.

Social life is active and delightful. There is plenty of discussion addressing social concerns, current books, Great Books, and political issues. The exchange is vigorous and challenging. The combination of worldly wisdom, technical perspective, and political savoir faire makes for very lively conversation.

Entertaining in camps and homes competes with first-rate local restaurants. Gourmet cooks and wine connoisseurs are common. On Monday nights, contra dancing at the town hall is a staple. Concerts and summer theater are within 15 miles. Fine restaurants are equally close by.

Life at the Pond is not simple in the sense of being plain, bland, or mundane. It is simple in the sense of being genuine and natural.

Leaving the Pond at summer’s end would not be easy if we were not going home to Chapel Hill, which is renowned as the southern part of heaven. How lucky we are to occupy the two sections of heaven here on earth.