I went to Laurel Lake for the weekend. Bernie’s daughter was here for a visit, so I jumped into my car at 2 on Friday and drove to Laurel Lake in the Berkshires, just north of the town of Lee, an old New England town reminding me of the 1950s, with its large, somewhat drab colonial houses, an old Carr Hardware, and a General Store on Main Street rather than in a far-away mall. It’s Norman Rockwell’s 1950s America without Norman Rockwell, who lived in Stockbridge just five miles away.
I went to the Black Swan Inn where Bernie and I used to go. I think it was a Best Western hotel then, still called the Black Swan though I never saw any swans there, black or otherwise. We were living communally in the Montague Farm then, in a large 18th century farmhouse, and on the 2-3 weekends when we felt: Enough!, we fled to the Black Swan Inn with its two floors of rooms above Laurel Lake. It was easy then, just get into the car and drive. No organizing coverage and writing notes on what to do and when, no dogs to care for, no reminders that I’m just a phone call away.
It was always cold, I remember; we didn’t go in summer, which was prime season. The trees were always bare, but once I sat out on the small porch and wrote poetry. I looked for it this past weekend and couldn’t find it. This time, too, I tried to sit on the porch, but Friday and Saturday were cold, and while Sunday was warmer I had to leave the room by 11.
Two things are always going on at the same time. There’s the lake itself, the lakeness of it, dark waters driven south by the wind, cresting and depressing, with small gabby geese floating around a tiny pier bobbling in the water. The lake circles north towards Lenox while feeding the Housatonic River on the south, gentling and unwinding, but the water always looks dark and cold.
There’s the lake, and what it evokes. There’s looking deeply, and there are memories and reflections. Not one, not two. We went to Laurel Lake for refuge, seeking something different from work and people, from making plans and raising money. I was going to the Middle East a lot then, to Amman and Bethlehem and Jerusalem, met with much idealism and hope. Loved the hot desert winds and summer salads kissed by sun. Laurel Lake felt far away from sun. Nevertheless, that’s where we went in search of a connection beyond work.
By then Bernie had several lifetimes’ work behind him. Was he, in between the calculations and improvisations, thinking of the future? Thinking of his legacy? Did he share with me anything important? Can’t remember. Yes and no.
I remember meals. A good dinner at the Morgan House one time, a bad one six months later. Walking along the edge of the lake while he waved from the porch of our room, prepared to freeze in his denim Greyston Bakery jacket and red beret for the sake of several puffs on a cigar.
We weren’t the type to tootle around looking at antique shops. I imagine that even there we probably talked a lot about work—it’s what we usually did—even as I wished for us to talk of other things. I was always glad to be there with him but I also felt alone, and that’s probably why I wrote some poetry that now I can’t find.
Already then I was scrutinizing the waters looking for some truth, and getting the inscrutable right back. And that’s what happened this past weekend, too. I tried to capture in my mind something basically uncapturable. It resisted the fat gush of my longings and my stories, so that it could be forever free.