I know, I know. It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy! Some travel for work, some travel for fun and a whole lot of laziness. But, here I am, rest easy!
And I’ve even got a story for you too.
For as long as I’ve been alive my family has had a place that is near and dear to our hearts. We used to rent a cabin every year in the White Mountains of Arizona (eastern part of the state, near Sunrise) for a little summer getaway to escape the scorching heat. Up in the White Mountains is a lakeside paradise on Apache land surrounding Earl and Hawley Lake. Before I was born my mom’s uncle owned a cabin on the lake. One summer, my parents escaped to the cabin with their two little boys at the time and started the tradition that they’d continue for many years to come.
Hawley Lake was going through some tough times and big transformations right around this trip with the tribe making some big decisions about the future of the lake. More about that in this NY Times article from the mid 80’s (crazy I found this online). Essentially, the tribe had learned that the leases they were offering on the land were not sustainable and the losses they were taking were tremendous. So when the leases came due after 25 years the tribe decided they weren’t going to renew and the homeowners had to go. At the time there were nearly 500 cabins on the land, all privately owned, ranging in price from $150,000 – $200,000, the NY Times even describes some as “luxurious structures”. The community was vibrant, especially in the summers with kids out playing all day, adults fishing at the lake that was stocked with trout, and neighbors sitting outside enjoying the weather and a bottle of wine (or two).
The tribe had options to weigh: they could restore the land to a peaceful natural landscape, or they could go the opposite direction and turn the land into a full blown resort.
I can assure you that neither of those things happened.
Instead, they decided to rent the cabins out for less than a couple hundred dollars a night. Very reasonable considering the cabins could sleep up to a dozen people pretty easily (I wouldn’t necessarily say comfortably, however). This turned into our family summer retreat for a weekend at a time.
In 1994 the tradition got a whole lot better. We brought another family with us! Our relationship with the Gruber family had just recently begun. My mom taught their oldest daughter, and I was in preschool with their youngest daughter. They lived just down the street from us and our parents became great friends (friendships that are as strong today as ever)! Eric and Maddie are the parents to four incredible kids named: Nyomi, Sam, Max and Nina. My heart smiles thinking about this family and really struggles to call them friends because they really are family to me too. They are certainly different than us in many ways, but I think that’s what draws us to them and maybe them to us too.
I remember Maddie trying to convince my mom when I was a young teen that I’d probably already fooled around with a boy and just hadn’t told her about it, or that surely I’d experimented with drugs and alcohol. Not that I was a bad kid, just that all kids do! My mom couldn’t fathom the possibility (nor could I). I hadn’t done any of those things. But the Gruber’s are just much more culturally open than we are. They had boy/girl slumber parties in high school! That would not have happened in our house. Not that my parents were strict, I never really felt like they were, but we were definitely sheltered. The Gruber’s are also much more worldly than we are. This is one of the things I admire most about them. They have never concerned themselves with possessions. Instead, they seek out experiences. This is one of the neatest things that Maddie and Eric passed along to their children. You see, Maddie’s family lives in Holland and so they’d go spend time in Europe regularly (love you, Nana!). After high school, Nina moved to Switzerland for a while, something I am so envious of because I’d never have the guts to do something like that! And even just a month or so ago, Max joined the Peace Corps with his girlfriend and moved to Kosovo! No chance I could point out the general location of Kosovo on a map and Max is already giving speeches in their language, so cool. Sam is headed out on a six week European vacation with his girlfriend before moving across the country to upstate New York. And then there’s Nyomi. Nyomi is really special to me. I grew up with two older brothers who weren’t really interested in hanging out with their little sister. But Nyomi was always like the big sister I never had. She was so warm and inviting, always giving me advice and attention when I was young. We usually shared a room at Hawley Lake (with Nina too) and I have such fond memories of the girl talk we’d share before drifting off to sleep.
I love this family.
So needless to say, we love our Hawley Lake trip. There are so many things to love. The boys would spend hours fishing every day, teaching the younger ones how to gut a fish. Then they’d play pranks on the girls with the skeletons and fish heads (gross!). They’d hit golf balls around the lake, trying to get all the way around with as few golf balls as possible. The girls would hike, read and cook. Then at night we’d all play games together, having a blast and the occasional argument. We were always so secluded so it really was quite the bonding experience year in and year out. There were no cell phones and there’s still no reception today (except for one little spot on the outskirts of Hawley Lake where my Dad and I caught Eric hanging out one morning on our hike a couple of weeks ago). It’s safe, pet friendly (we always had a dog, I’d like to point this out as an area where Behrens > Gruber), and gorgeous. If you’ve been living in the city for awhile you would be astounded by all of the stars that are out there and how vivid the Milky Way can be. Absolutely stunning.
Now for the last decade my parents have been living in Canada so we only went to Hawley Lake one time (although I think Eric has gone every year). But this year since they’d retired we were all pretty excited when Eric started planning another trip. I think this was my 17th trip or so, but it felt like going back home. So much so in fact that when we arrived it was clear that nothing had changed. Not even the sheets (literally). We’ve stayed in many of the cabins on the lakes and they all kind of blend together for me, so I don’t remember this specific cabin that we stayed in this year. But it quickly became apparent that at least one of three things was occurring: the cabins were getting really run down, they always were and I’d never noticed it or I have become more of a princess. In any case, I was a little grossed out. Rust in the showers, stains on the floor, signs that have been up for a decade saying that the water isn’t safe to drink (we still don’t know if the water is safe or not so we keep bringing our own with us). Outside of the cabin things were mostly the same. The lake was beautiful, full of water and trout. The stars were vivid and the stillness of the night a little spooky. It’s neat being one of the adults now with a bunch of kiddos running around, getting to watch them experience the lake like we did as kids. They even built a pretty stellar tee pee!
But they are down to only 30 usable cabins, the other few hundred are just rotting away, quite the eyesore. And on the second day, right after I’d taken a shower my sister in law Amber walks in and right back out of the bathroom. She warns us all not to go in there, so of course I go back in and take a look. There are literally dozens of bugs (ant sized up to small cockroach sized) pouring out of the wall. Like, just falling, several at a time. All alive. I didn’t go to the bathroom for the rest of the trip (another 24 hours). That night after a game of Catch Phrase I had brought up the idea of moving our destination to another location. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hawley Lake, but I think we’ve graduated from these types of living quarters. I’m willing to pay quite a bit more money to urinate in peace. This was met with strong resistance. So much nostalgia at Hawley, I get that. I asked the group what the elements are of the trip that they value the most so that we can see if there is another cleanlier destination that could meet our desires. Nyomi responded with the most specific list of requirements possible. Essentially, “I’ll go anywhere so long as we get two secluded cabins, with no cell service, in the white mountains, without televisions, with no civilization within 40 minutes, in a wooded area with some risk of bears but not a lot of risk, on a lake named Hawley”. She really loves this place, and I love that she loves it. But the next morning, after finding a black widow in a cabinet in the kitchen, our entire cabin left early, but Nyomi stuck it out in the cabin next door. I want to enjoy my vacation, not have nightmares about spiders and roaches.
I’m nostalgic about our trips too, just not so much for the same reasons. My list is very short. I want to spend time with our two families enjoying each other’s company. I don’t care where we go so long as it’s clean and safe, we’ll have fun no matter what.
So if you have any ideas for a good destination, leave it in the comments!
Until next time,