“If you go straight, you’ll drive right into the bay.” That’s what my mother says when she gives newcomers directions to the cottage. I smile as I make the sharp left turn necessary to avoid such a fate and pull up next to the mini-van my baby sister has driven from Pennsylvania. Trekking five hours east while I drove eight hours west, we meet in Fair Haven, N.Y., for the celebration of our mom’s 75th birthday.

Mom, my sister, niece and nephew spill out of the cottage to officially greet me. There’s a flurry of activity as my vehicle is relieved of its contents. In short order, we settle down to Mom’s idea of a four-course meal. Homemade chicken soup is eaten in the dining room before starting a campfire on the shore for courses two and three. We cover robust hotdogs with refrigerated dough and roast them to a golden turn before moving along to s’mores.

All the while, Mitchell, who will soon be 11, talks excitedly about the prospect of fishing in the morning.

Taking a break before ice cream, the final course of the meal, he goes off with his mother and grandmother in search of worms, leaving Carly and me to tend the fire. Within minutes we spy a creature determinedly swimming toward the shore, where mallard ducks are grouped for their nightly gossip session. Knowingly, I tell my niece the swimmer is probably a mere muskrat and relate that I’ve seen them before.

The animal comes closer to the mallards and, returning to our conversation about Carly’s summer job, we don’t pay it any mind until it half-emerges from the water. Much to our surprise, my muskrat turns out to be a beaver, and a very large beaver at that. I believe we’ve just seen a beaver on steroids – a beaver as large as a bear cub, earning the name “bear-ver,” thought up on the spot by my improvisational nephew when I relate the story to him.

Of course, by the time Mom, Corinne and Mitchell return to the campfire, the “bear-ver” is gone, startled by the flock of flustered mallards; and Carly and I are left sitting in our Adirondack chairs with our eyes popping out of our heads. I really can’t believe what I just saw, but my loyal niece vouches for me and I feel vindicated when later in the weekend, my uncle Harold confirms that beavers can weigh in at 60 pounds or more.

Although we watch for the “bear-ver” every evening, he doesn’t grace us with a return visit. However, during my weekend in Fair Haven, I see a hungry deer, two bunnies munching clover on a dewy morning, three swans in all their graceful splendor, flocks of ever-present Canada geese and mallards with their fuzzy offspring, and a red-headed duck, which is a new favorite of my mother’s.

I can also report that my young nephew catches and releases dozens of fish from the dock. There’s something special about a boy casting a line into the tranquil bay then patiently, faithfully waiting for that tug, the thrill of the glimmering catch and its return to the sun-warmed water. As I observe him, I am enchanted.

Each evening, over bowls of ice cream, Mitchell shares the adventures of his day and anticipates all the others yet to come. Oh, to be 11 years old. To have summer stretching out before you when you can choose to do nothing at all. To know there’s a place you can always return to, a place simply called “The Cottage.”

Karen Schneider is a freelance writer living in West Bath. She may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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