I couldn’t create the perfect day, but I found one today, as fresh as a fried perch straight from the lake. True, it started with my dog kissing my face at 5:20 in the morning, but I was already awake. We walked along the lakeshore trail, still moist from twenty-four hours of rain, as the sun made its way into the sky despite the looming clouds.
I fixed my tea and granola in this tiny cottage and put on my bike kit. Blue, blue, blue: helmet, jersey, bike—trying to fight those clouds. And though Google Maps has no idea what a hill looks like, promising me the ride would be “mostly flat”, I knew better. This is the same ride I did with my dad growing up, on my old BMX, my Huffy ten-speed, just nine or ten, and just like then, I pedaled my ass up and down the many hills on Lake to Lake Road.
Now, at forty-three, I can feel the weight of those hills. The weight of what is left behind at the lake or what waits before you when you make it home.
And I made it home. Though I have visited several times between moving to Denver at age eleven and today, this was the first time I came upon my tiny childhood town on a bicycle. On a bike, you can stop every ten feet. Every five feet. You can feel the mist in the air at the same moist moment that you feel the tears streaming down your face, so overwhelmed by how this little town is almost exactly, in every way shape and form, just as you remembered it. How you remembered walking up the hill to this elementary school built more than a hundred years ago. How your childhood was saving every last dime to buy a piece of 5-cent Bazooka gum or 10-cent fireball from this market. How the curve of the road meant the curve to Dewey Avenue, and this grandiose house built by the construction company two doors down that is Still. There.
How they painted it green now, how the tire swing is missing from the maple but the maple still stands, how the stone wall with the steps down to the street that froze over in the winter for a sledding hill will never be gone. How Flint Creek is as muddy as the day it was born, frozen in winter for ice skating, ripe with frogs and snakes in summer for endless wildlife fantasies.
And you could be here with me, reimagining those summer nights on the upstairs screened porch. Riding your bike up and down the hills, all the way to Canandaigua Lake. Living in a different time.
The perfect day doesn’t end at 9:00 a.m., when my teary-eyed, Amish-sighting bike ride concluded.
It continues with fresh biscuits and apple butter from yesterday’s farm stand. With my girls being agreeable with each other and today’s adventure: Sonnenberg (“sunny hill” in German) Gardens, another childhood favorite. With adventures through a Japanese, a pansy, a rock, an old-fashioned, a blue-and-green, garden.
Throw in a nineteenth-century mansion built by the founder of Citibank, and we have ourselves the perfect locale for beauty and peace, plants and prosperity.
On a road trip, they are together, not isolated in their rooms. They touch plants and share stories and talk, and it’s like they’re little even if we’re about to send one to college. And there is a magic in this walk that can’t be captured in a photo, in a blog post, but only in a grown-and-flown mama’s heart.
A magic that flowed through them as, surprise and joy to us all, we came upon a street fair in the center of Canandaigua. Mythili bought hand-made soap, Rio and Izzy found earrings, Bruce bought a new coffee mug, and I found the perfect wood-carved gift for Fabian. More than the gifts to local artists was the gift of a crowd. Post-COVID crowds, live music, the joy of being vaccinated and free from worry.
How hard it is to be an American, and how easy.
How simple, that within ten square miles, you can see scenes like this, tourist me, and scenes like this, Amish living their independent-yet-free lives.
And that is not the end of my perfect day. My perfect day is this lake where my mother, afraid of water because her parents never taught her how to swim, signed me up for swim lessons at age four. Not in a pool. Not in a rec center. In Canandaigua Lake, where today, the clouds broke free and listened to my blue-morning-beckoning, and brought you this lake, this view, this seventy-five-degree perfection of glacial meltdown between these perfect hills, my childhood hills.
That is my middle child, offering her perfect smile on this perfect day.
That is me, blue on blue on blue, offering my two fingers of peace from my Finger Lake, offering you this memory, this perfect day.
Take it. Tuck it away. Eat your Pontillo’s New York Pizza before it gets cold.
And travel the country, the world, while you still can, where you still can.
Find yourself your own perfect day.