Once More to the Lake entails an intensely personal reflection of the memories and changes that result from the passage of time. Elwyn Brooks White returns to a serene lake with his son after many years, confronting the multiple changes and the illusion that the world of his glorious childhood and that of the present is immutable. However, White himself is different due to the fundamental irony of life, i.e., the natural life cycle (birth, childhood, adulthood, and finally death). On the contrary, the lake itself remains unchanged. He expresses emotions and feelings regarding the natural changes of both the lake and himself. White uses such sensory details when comparing his memories of the lake with his experience on the day he revisited it with his son. In this essay, the author focusses on the past experiences and relates them to the present to keep his memories alive. However, this brings the illusion that the past idyllic childhood experiences and those of the present remain the same.
White relives his past experiences at the lake by describing the events at the cabins, showing the possibility of similarity of the present and past. He remembered, "the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless," "how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of" (1). His description of the cabins showed that the cabins features were sustained through the passage of time. He also notes the habits of his son being similar to his boyhood habits, relating the present to the past. During his past boyhood life, he was usually the first to wake up and dress softly so as not to wake the others . . . sneak out . . . start out in the canoe, keeping close along the shore in the long shadows of the pines (1). Upon his return to the lake, he notes that it was going to be pretty much the same as it has been before . . . lying in bed the first morning, hearing the boy sneak quietly out and go off along the shore in a boat (2). Whites description of the cabin life shows that it can be revived by the natural immutability of its sensuous qualities and the intuitive response of children (his son).
White is convinced that nothing had changed when he took his son fishing at the lake. He observes the dragonfly alight on the tip of his rod as it hovered a few inches from the surface of the water (2). When he lowered the tip of his fishing rod into the water, and pensively dislodging the fly, which darted two feet away . . . darted two feet back", and returned to the rod again, he notes that there had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly" and that of the other one from his memory (2). Besides, the rusty discarded fishhook, wisps of moss, and freshwater leavings and debris make White yearn to return to his past as he starts to feel the close link between his memory and the present (2).
White also feels that there is no years between his memories and the present. Not only did the experience at the lake identify the present with the past experiences, but also the continuity of the lake culture. He observes campers swimming along the shore on the first day of fishing, and one of them with a cake of soap. White remembers that over the years there had been this person with the cake of soap, this cultist, and here he was (3). The recurrent figure (cultist) acts as proof that nothing has changed. In one instance, after a thunderstorm, he watches the campers running out in joy and relief to go swimming in the rain (5). Besides the permanence of nature, these recurring rituals on the lake reaffirm the continuity of the lake culture together with a uniting cultural bond among generations. However, while such recurrent events may seem stable and enduring, changes are inevitable in other aspects such as the urban life and technology. For instance, White notes the changes in transportation in the lake region. During his childhood, his family arrived at Belgrade by railway, loaded trunks onto a farm wagon and driven to the lake by the host-farmer. He observed that the road is now tarred and you sneaked up in your car and parked it under a tree . . . took out the bags and in five minutes it was all over . . . no loud wonderful fuss about trunks (4). The illusions of reliving ones childhood due to the recurrent lake culture, and generations are disputed by the evolution of nature (the environment) and life itself.
While the lake (what White refers to as a holy spot) has endured over the years, some instances forced him to realize that time had passed, and that the enduring cycle of life will also lead to his death. On his return to the lake, he encounters the illusion of reliving the experiences and sensations of his childhood while observing his son. He observes his sons hard little body . . . as he pulled up around his vitals . . . my groin felt a chill of death (5). In that instance, he felt that sometimes he took his sons identity, and sometimes he is his father. The metaphor of chill of death is associated with the idea that procreation is the precursor of death. At this point, White realizes that everyone including himself is subject to the universal truth that life cycle leads from birth to death, and as he observes his son developing into maturity and independence that signifies his nearing death. Regarding this personal experience, White is reminded of human mortality upon realization of the illusion brought by natures immortality, the lakes immutability and the indestructible chain linking generations together (5).
White, Elwyn Brooks. "Once More to the Lake." published in Harper's magazine in (1941).
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