I have now lived in my house for 30 years. Over that time, I have redecorated every room in the house. As you see, apparently speed was not a priority! Some of the improvements I did on my own, others I contracted out.
While there is a nautical theme that runs through the décor of my entire house it is probably most prevalent in my guest room. This room is filled with photographs, mementos and models of a life enjoyed unconstrained by the limitations of land. The room makes me happy. One of the focal points in the room is a 2- foot by 4-foot poster photograph that my parents gave me several years ago. The photo was taken via satellite and covers a section of the St. Lawrence River where we would spend our summer vacations. It predominantly evokes wonderful memories but there is another emotion that has crept in as I look at it now. That emotion is regret. Let me explain.
The section of the River captured in the photo covers a 35-mile stretch from Cape Vincent to Alexandria Bay. This is arguably one of the most scenic stretches of River that exists. It is populated with island after island all connected by an unbreakable labyrinth of channels each with a promise that beckons around the next bend; quaint cottages nestled amongst the trees that seem to be able to trace their lineage using the same chronology as the River itself; stately homes, some on rocky cliffs others set back across an expanse of green, striking a perfect balance of opulence and rustic charm and yes, there was even a castle replete with a story of lost love. There was River traffic of every size, shape and vintage ranging from the largest cargo ships traversing the seaway from the Great Lakes to points around the globe to elegant vintage craft constructed from wood as God originally intended.
The River never provided the same experience nor the same scenery twice. And yet, looking at the satellite photo I can’t help but have some regret. You see the descriptions that I provided were from cruises we took countless times, wonderful times, but all these lovely images were experienced beginning at our cottage on Round Island to a destination about 12 miles Northeast. This was always our “go-to” voyage.
Make no mistake, more beautiful scenery would be hard to find and granted it was never the same twice but when I think of it in retrospect, if it is possible to create a rut in water we were in a rut.
I have heard that the only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. This may be overstating things a bit, but we definitely fell into a rut when it came to our itinerary.
As I indicated, our practice was always to proceed northeast from our cottage. It doesn’t take a world class geography expert or cartographer to realize that every River has a point of origin and a point of termination. The point of termination for the St Lawrence River is at the Gulf of St Lawrence at the Atlantic Ocean.
The point of origin for both the River and my regret is at Lake Ontario. The Gulf of St Lawrence was well beyond our reasonable expectations for a cruise but the distance from our cottage to Cape Vincent at Lake Ontario was about 20 miles…not even twice as far as the cruises we embarked upon hundreds of times and easily achievable in a leisurely afternoon cruise. This geographic reality lesson was never part of my consciousness growing up and that is the only thing that somewhat tempers my regret.
It never occurred to us to head in the other direction. We assumed the scenery would not be as awe inspiring and that very well may have been true. Based on charts the River was much more open and the channels much wider in that direction. In reality, I think we just became overly comfortable with the familiar and hence missed the chance to leave an old rut for a new route.
Even if the scenery on this alternate route did not provide the same level of breathtaking beauty as our normal routine, there were other aspects that should not have been summarily overlooked and certainly were worth exploring. As I think about it now there is something alluring about venturing beyond the origin of the River into open waters where no land is in sight. Would the scenery be as beautiful? Perhaps not, but it is still an adventure that I regret never experiencing. Our assumptions, untested and unproven, dictated our actions and for that I hold some regret.
While the stories may be largely apocryphal, I have heard that nautical charts in days gone by would often contain warnings to mariners. These warnings were intended to keep sailors from venturing into areas unknown or destinations cloaked in mystery where other vessels had ventured but never returned. The warning was said to have taken the dual form of a visual depiction of a dragon and the ominous inscription of “Beyond Here There Be Dragons” to call attention to one and all, both the literate and illiterate, that venturing beyond this point was ill advised to say the least. The River charts that we used had no such images of dragons, but the impact was the same. A dragon positioned just Southwest of Clayton, NY for all practical purposes may as well have been standing guard, blocking the channel and hastening all who approached to reconsider their itinerary or proceed at their own peril.
Mythical dragons should be slain so as not to prevent us from seizing on the experiences and the opportunities there for the taking if we will only choose to recognize them. Regrets of commission should always be avoided and regrets of omission can always be avoided if we remain open and aware of the roads and rivers that beckon us to choose.
Do I now live my life without regrets? I would be less than candid if I attempted to make that claim. I do however live with a much more prevalent awareness of the entrapment of Ruts. My guest room serves as a frequent reminder of the occasional regret far outweighed by wonderful memories of my time on the River. All regrets may never be eradicated but I still hold out hope that the 20 mile long regret from my past may someday be transformed in to a new memory of an adventure undertaken.
By Donald Middleton
Don Middleton spent his Summers growing up at his grandparents cottage, Shady Ledge, on Round Island. While the demands of life may keep him away, his fondness for the Islands has never diminished. Don, by vocation, is a manager in Retail Lending at PNC Bank. By avocation, he enjoys the outlet of expressing his thoughts via the periodic blog as inspiration strikes, where a version of this article was first published.