There are street corners in our lives. Favorite hang outs, haunts, temporary residences and fleeting memory makers that are but moments in time. They captured our imagination for a while, holding sway to wondrous thoughts and dreams and illusions. Then, as quickly, they were gone and replaced by yet another set of realities as our lives moved forward once again.
|Army barracks at Presidio|
|Basement Apartment in Denmark|
|Apartment on University Ave|
For me, it was an Army barracks at the Presidio of San Francisco, a basement apartment in Denmark and a decrepit relic of a once palatial residence in Northeast Minneapolis. All temporary residences until something better came along. It was, to coin one of my favorite tunes at the time, ‘Somewhere beyond the Sea.’
Lake Nokomis has always held a special place in my heart. Even before dropping out of college, entering military service and leaving civilian life behind, the lake was a magnet for my dreams, illusions, and high hopes for the future.
Around the turn of the century, the lake and its development was a part of Theodore Wirth’s grand plan to capitalize on the string of lakes in Minneapolis. He was one of the driving forces that transformed Minneapolis into a city known for its parks, lakes, and outdoor recreational opportunity.
Lake Nokomis was the largest body of water near my home. While it didn’t chorus the siren songs of passing ships and meandering waters that crept down to the Mississippi delta, it did feed my psychic with its calm waters and the strange natives who inhabited its shores.
It was often a destination point for my long distance bike rides and a contemplative mountaintop without the elevation. It was a stolen glimpse into the wild and carefree antics of other youth who perhaps had more clarity toward their future. Nokomis became an icon for what I thought the future might hold for me. It became my inland ocean on that distant horizon.
But instead of salt air, there was the sweet scent of pine. Instead of seagulls floating overhead, Robins stalked worms in a blanket of green. Instead of ocean waves crashing against the shore line, there was the gentle lapping of water moved only by a passing canoe. It wasn’t the same but it was about as good as it was going to get…at the time. That was before Uncle Sam took me away for two plus years.
By March of 1966, I was back in my old habitat…or so I thought.
After escaping the regimented confines of olive drab, I had quietly slipped back into the real world and, of course, had to return to my old haunts like Lake Nokomis. It was like hearing an old song which brings back distant memories of your past life that are so real and clear you can almost taste it all over again.
The lake hadn’t changed as much as I had. It was back to that quagmire of dreams unfulfilled, a confusing relationship and travel plans that were shacked by a year and a half of college left to complete. Yet somehow, the lake brought focus and clarity where the fog of reality clouded my vision of the future.
Circling the lake and meandering its shoreline brought out my contemplative nature and opened my world to all kinds of possibilities; both real and imagined. Even before that warm summer of ’66 had begun, I would venture over to my own inland ocean to walk the shoreline and imagine those frozen waters lined with bathing beauties and bronze gods. There was something magical about that expanse of water and shoreline and meditative mounds where a young man could imagine what the real world might be like after graduation.
Would it be a career in advertising (‘Mad Men’, here I come) or a return to my pre-hippie roots in San Francisco or travel around the world on a tramp steamer as I had fantasized about for years. Somehow, Lake Nokomis brought all those wonderful thoughts, dreams, and wild ideas to the surface even in the last dying gasp of winter.
Like my old hippie haunt, Dinkytown, Lake Nokomis became my oceanic home away from home. I could look across the shore line and see Rincon Beach, Half Moon Bay, Huntington Beach, Sunset, Malibu or Laguna Beach. It was all there for the imagination.
A casual circumvention of the lake last summer brought back old memories displaced by today’s reality. The old unofficial high school beach is still there. The girls look the same except they seem younger now and show a lot more skin. The boys still act as if they are all by themselves playing Frisbee or soccer. But now when the boys take off their shirts there is more exposed ink than a platoon of Marines or a bevy of truck drivers.
It used to be young white kids fishing off the pier. Now it’s immigrant families hoping to hook an evening meal. I’m sure they were there back then but I never saw them. I noticed porta-potties in place of the bushes where we used to go. Couples still walk arm in arm like they’re in some three-legged race and oblivious to the world around them.
The couples pushing baby strollers around the lake are usually hipsters. He is in his press pants, white t-shirt and hat. She is sporting a flowered skirt or sarong. They’re pushing baby precious in their $800 stroller which is probably equipped with more accessories than my old Pinto. There are the obligatory latté cup holders, a pouch for all weather gear, IPhone holders, Wi-Fi and of course GPS.
In ‘66 the main beach was mainly for families and oldsters who would lie on the sand and soak up the sun. Now the main beach has a plethora of activities, refreshment stands and places to get a snack. You can rent paddle boards, canoes, kayaks, fishing boats, fishing equipment, sailboats and paddle-bikes. I guess Park and Rec. has to make a buck too.
I guess I hadn’t realized it at the time but Nokomis had become an icon for what I was seeking in my life. My summer of ’66 wasn’t quite “The Summer of 44” but it was nevertheless a pivotal point in my life. It was a summer of love and lust and confusion. Olive drab was replaced by Madras and blue jeans and the real world was slowly opening up to my young imagination. It came before that winter breakup, graduation and living in Europe. It came before my real world was augmented with loves found and lost, the sweet nectar of satisfying work, being a foreign correspondent on the West Bank and enjoying the ebbing foolishness of youth.
It came before I began work at Channel Two and met the nighttime receptionist there. A stunning blond who had focus and clarity and understanding. She’s been one heck of a friend for the last forty-seven years.
The lake is still a magnet for all kinds of people. They still come to play and rest and dream and enjoy the visceral appeal of what might be. It served that purpose for me. It brought excitement and comfort and finally closure to that part of my life.
A body of water can do that sometimes.