By Jamie Schafer
Each summer, during the same week and with the same people, my family escapes to a cooler part of Maryland, both in its temperature and in its experience than at the Mason Dixon Line where we live. We pack our cars and wait for the countdown timers on our phones to go off and make the three hour drive up the mountains to Western Maryland. Yet, when I arrived this time, something was strangely different; the temperature was below 35 degrees, there was snow falling, and the busy summer town I grew to love was peacefully empty. I had arrived at Deep Creek Lake in the off season.
I had been so swamped with school that I had to schedule time for myself to pack; I hurled sweaters, scarves, gloves, and boots at my roommate who was helping me pack for the colder temperatures, and quite frankly trying to spice up my wardrobe for me. It was October 23, three days before my twenty-second birthday, and I was leaving in the morning with my boyfriend for a long weekend in Deep Creek with my family.
My mother was extremely eager to see the fall colors and to escape to her future place of retirement, and my grandparents, aunt and cousins couldn’t contain their excitement either. We love traveling to Deep Creek; my mom often referred to it as an “old time vacation,” meaning that people actually stepped away from their devices, enjoyed their surroundings and more importantly, each other.
The morning of my boyfriend Brandon and I drove out towards Western Maryland and were met with dropping temperatures and flurries of snow as we made our way deeper into the mountains. I looked out for my usual landmarks, the giant mountain we drive directly through the middle of, the Appalachian Trail, a church re-building Noah’s Ark on the side of the road, Cumberland, and Accident, Maryland. I mentally checked off each of these as we drove towards our destination, not even stopping to use the rest stop.
Finally, I could see my last landmark. Engulfed by the mountains, we were about to drive through Accident, Maryland, which folk-lore states the name came from two engineers who, by accident, had both surveyed the same tract of land beginning and ending at a tall oak tree. The small town, which is made up of houses, a Church, some dealerships and a fire department, all hug the road that spit you into Deep Creek, and seem to bid you well on your journey. I could see the mountain that Wisp Resort calls its home coming closer to us, and it was covered with a thin layer of snow that still allowed patches of green to show. I directed Brandon, my boyfriend of almost two years, to Mountain Railey Lake Vacations Welcome Center and was shocked to be greeted by freshly falling snow. I stood outside of the truck, staring up into the sky, seeing my breath dissipate into the air as tiny snowflakes fell on me and the bare trees around us, and quickly dashed inside to use the facilities.
After getting the relief that I had been looking for, we set out to one of the buildings next door, The Santa Fe Grille, which is a usual hot-spot in the summer; neither Brandon nor I had been there before. We walked inside and were greeted and seated by a man who lead us through the restaurant, even though we were the only two people inside, other than the employees. The Santa Fe Grille was cozy, even with the hard concrete tops of empty tables. Brandon and I made ourselves at home, and I gawked at the Old Chairlift from Wisp that hung from the ceiling while he ordered a French dip, an oatmeal stout and I the chicken flat bread. The stout, which I thoroughly enjoyed despite Brandon’s initial assumption, was named The Coal Miner’s Daughter, and was so rich in flavor; its dark, almost black, color was so beautiful in contrast to the creamy foam that peaked just over the rim.
After we finished our lunch, we met my parents and youngest cousin across the street at Perkins, which I would relate to a Fridays, but not in the chain restaurant sense- a complete local spot. Inside, the temperature was warm and there were fresh pies greeting us as we walked in and people were scattered across the whole restaurant, talking in their collective groups. We talked with my parents about their drive up and the waitress tried to get us something to drink while they ate their meal. I stared out the window off into the snow, which was now falling in huge flakes, and could not believe the following: (1) I was in Deep Creek, and (2) that it was snowing. Two men in heavy camouflage jackets walked in, breaking my daze. Once my parents and cousin had finished their meal, we piled into the two Dodge trucks that had a fresh coat of salt on them, and headed into town more, towards the house we were staying at, Bella Vista.
As Brandon guided us down the barren road, my view again drifted out the window onto the lake, and I thought back to August when we were there last; the wind in my hair the warm sun on my body and greeting smiles and waves from other boaters passing by. Now no one was on the lake, docks were pulled up, leaves were shades of orange or missing and it was snowing slightly. I curled my jacket around me tighter and the lake dashed from my view as it rounded a bend and we rounded another.
We passed marinas that were vacant, stores that were closed, and the still lake peaked in and out of our view. Pulling up to the house, we eagerly all spilled out the trucks and grabbed our bags and headed into the house, which sat right on the lake. The entire back wall of the house was windows, which gave us the most spectacular view of the lake, especially now that the trees were mostly bare.
I gave Brandon the tour and we ended up standing on the lower deck in silence watching the snow fall and melt just as it touched the lake. We were out there, just in front of this house, three months earlier, laughing as my cousins were being pulled behind our boat on a tube and enjoying our ice cream. Now we stood in what seemed to be a different place; what a dramatic difference in just three short months.
The temperature in Deep Creek Lake during October is anywhere from 62 to 38 degrees on average. We were on the lower end of the thirties and, for someone who hates the cold, it was beautiful. A land that was so lush and fresh in the summer was now crisply bare as if it was exposing its bones. Deep Creek was beautifully different now from the peak of summer.
As my family began to trickle into the house, we set into a rhythm; my grandparents brought my other cousin with them and we all reflected on how the house seemed different to us in the six years since we had stayed there last.
“The furniture is new,”
“It’s also smaller than I remember.”
Comments like these were tossed around in conversation as we all generally starred out the huge windows in front of us. In reality we had changed; the house stood in all seasons and year after year never changed, never moved. We, however, gained new relationships, hit milestones in our lives, aged, changed our views and opinions and appearances. Because this house, in which we all now stood six years later, remained almost exactly the same it allowed us to see the changes in ourselves.
Usually my family would bring food to cook for dinner during our stay, but this time we expanded our palates and tried some new places to eat. My cousin, Summer, had grabbed a mini menu for Brenda’s Pizzeria. We gathered around and placed our orders and Brandon, Summer and I volunteered to go get the food. We set out in the dark and flurrying snow to find the pizza joint; it was in a small shopping center that had a gorgeous view of the lake and was located upstairs, directly on top of Traders Coffee House.
Walking up the stairs, we were hit first by the smell of rich Italian food and then by the warmth; there was so much New York Yankee memorabilia all around the restaurant and couples sat by the windows looking out at the dark lake. The girl working the register handed us our bags and the biggest pizza box I have ever seen and we made the short trip back “home.” That pizza was like having an out of body experience. Sweet red tomatoes made into a velvet sauce that could have never been jarred, and the topping of real cheese that melted beautifully into the sauce created the most sweetly savory pizza any of us have had. One piece was the size of my face- no exaggeration needed.
The next morning, a gray fog rose off of the lake in wisps, signaling that the lake’s waters were still warmer than the 29-degree air. A few of us bundled up and headed out to take a short walk next door to the Popcorn Factory which shared a parking lot with The Lakeside Creamery, which was closed for the season. The parking lot, which is usually full, only held two cars and allowed us to have an expansive view of the lake. I reflected back to the past summer, when we docked our boat and ran across the jostling dock, clad only in bathing suits, and up the expansive stairs to reach the creamery. The windows were now shrouded with cloth and the white building, which anytime I had previously passed it was usually bustling with people, sat still and alone.
Once we loaded up on flavored popcorn and assorted chocolates, I got dark chocolate truffles with sea salt, we headed back to our house. I reminded my cousin Zack that the last time we stayed at this house he was only about five years old. I told him about the time he ran out of the door after my friend and I, who had made the same walk to the Creamery and Popcorn Factory we now made, giving his mother a heart attack. Zack, who was now twelve with facial hair and had to look down a smidge to see directly into my eyes, gave me a confused look.
“Don’t you remember?” I prodded with furrowed brows.
“No” he maturely responded.
“Well my friend and I walked out of the door to get some ice cream and you saw us leave and thought you could just walk out of the house after us.”
He laughed at himself and recounted again that he didn’t remember and we continued to walk back to the house. The main road, Garrett Highway, was at the end of our driveway and was barren now, but in the summer months it always guided cars and trucks to their destination.
Later that night, after my family had gone to bed, I made my way into the living room. It was dark and the huge windows showed only and a few glimmering lights from the bridge across the way. The only light in the house came from the fireplace. It was warm and roaring orange danced along the walls; Brandon’s tall shadow casted along the floor and onto the couch as he prodded the fire. We sat there together on the couch for a good while, just watching the fire dance and feeling its warmth. It was perfect, just the two of us sitting there not having to speak. It was in that moment that I reflected on my life, whatever obstacles I overcame or didn’t, whatever I did to lead me to that moment, I was ever thankful for.
The following day was my birthday, and my Mom and I set out to spend some quality time together in Traders Coffee House. We entered and were greeted by warm colors, the smell of pastries, and a fire. I ordered a Leafy Breeze, which included hazelnut and English toffee, and remarked at the t-shirts our barista was wearing that said, “Friends don’t let friends drink franchised coffee.” Mom picked a table by the windows, and I realized the two houses that caught my gaze across the lake were the same houses I ogle at each time we are on the lake during the summer; their manicured lawns and almost royal exteriors seemed so out of place now without the protection from the summer’s lush leaves.
Together we sat in silence, Mom worked on her Bible study, and I watched the other patrons. There were two couples sitting by the fire with their young children, I could tell they wanted their kids to enjoy nature and be cultured. The parents were dressed in pristine “outdoorsy clothing” without a speck of dirt to be found and were scolding their children for playing on the sofa. They eventually herded their children up and headed out the door, in search of some trails to walk. Mom and I made the move over to the fire and my dad joined us. We discussed the art on the walls that were for sale and they discussed having their own house here on the lake. I shared with them an article that I had found online which was compiled by Garrett County Historians for Deep Creek Lake Homes. It covered the construction of the lake and how it filled in two short months when it was expected to take eight.
Something so expansive, that I have still never seen every inch of it, could fill in such a short amount of time is truly a testament to its presence and power. I sat back in the big leather couch and watched my parents talk by the fire without any concern for tomorrow and I realized how good coming to the lake is. The feeling of relief that my grandfather feels each time he pulls into Deep Creek, the excitement that my cousins feel each time their countdown timers reach zero, and the peace I feel watching the lake, all show in a small part how good for us coming to the lake it. I sipped the last of my Leafy Breeze and reflected that be it getting away from a hectic job, realizing the changes within one’s self, or just being happy about where you are in a moment, it can be found here, on the lake.