~ Thoughts by a lake ~


There are two moments that stand out for me from my time at the Squam Art Workshops, and for both of them I was alone. I discovered very quickly that you have to find your own rhythm when you attend a retreat of this sort; it's very easy to turn up at your cabin with a suitcase full of expectations, and it's definitely best to leave them on the plane. I was surrounded by friends I already knew, bloggers i felt i knew and could finally hug in person and people i had yet to befriend. One of my biggest thrills was getting to meet some Unravellers in the flesh – it's wonderful getting feedback in an email, but sitting down and discussing their experience of the course over breakfast completely knocked my socks off.


After a few days filled with people and hugs (and a LOT of coughing – I wasn't able to shake off the cold, and spent the entire week sounding like Kathleen Turner meets Marge Simpson) i found myself alone on Friday afternoon. It had started to rain and i wasn't sure the clouds would clear – Friday was my designated day to take photos of the lake – but as i toyed with the idea of lighting a fire in the cabin, the sun suddenly came out (as captured above) so i grabbed my cameras and ran outside. People-hugging aside, this trip away has, surprise surprise, been all about the Polaroids for me. I've had moments, in both Montreal and by Squam Lake, when i thought my head would explode, there was so much new stuff to see and shoot. My camera and I were bonded at the wrist, and I discovered that Polaroid portraits are my new obsession. That afternoon, as i walked along the twisting path by the lake, i tried to capture the scene…. the changing leaves… the stillness. Sitting on a rock at the edge of the water, i flipped through my polas, as you do when the sun is on your face and you can only hear the leaves rustling. And it was at that exact moment the wind raised its head and whipped one of my Polaroids in the air, flipping it out onto the lake. I let out a very ineffectual and croaky 'noooo!' as i watched my Polaroid float away. For a split-second i wondered whether i should wade out and get it, but the water was cold, and i was ill, and as ridiculous as it sounds now, i honestly had to say to myself with a soupcon of irony you've just got to let it go. So i stood on the rock, and watched my photograph bob along the water, getting smaller and smaller. And it was then that, out of nowhere, a man in a green canoe came paddling around the rocks.
'Is that your photo?' he shouted.
"Yes!" i shrieked back.
This magical being of the lake paddled over, scooped my Polaroid out of the water, and paddled back to me on the shore, the sun glistening on his tanned muscled forearms, a dashing twinkle in his eye. Oh okay, it wasn't really an Eat Pray Love ending – he was actually a rather portly gentleman named John who was holidaying by the lake with his family. We spent a good half an hour chatting about life – turns out he'd spent a few years in London in his twenties and that was when i saw the twinkle in his eye. As I walked to the dining hall later that evening i kept marvelling at the saved Polaroid. I mean, what are the odds?

Saved_pola500[the saved Polaroid]

My other Squam moment happened later that night. I'd spent the evening with friends talking about work and life, sat by a crackling fire in what was affectionately dubbed the 'party cabin'. When i got back to my own cabin i discovered Jeanine had lit a fire before going to bed, so i entered the warmth and sent her some extremely thankful vibes through the wall. Earlier she'd been telling me about the previous night's skinny dipping and wine by the lake – Canadians are apparently very hardy! – and while i knew there was no way i'd be getting in to the water (are you sensing a theme here?) i knew i had to be out there, so i wrapped up extra warm and trundled out to the dock with my torch and tissues.

I felt a thrill being out alone in the darkness; it was a perfectly clear night, and i lay back on the wooden jetty, staring straight up at the stars. I didn't feel the cold, I didn't need to cough, i just lay there: looking, thinking, wondering, planning. I whispered a few words to the universe, and before I closed my eyes I saw a shooting star. People, i'm not making this up. It happened; it was magical. After half an hour of communing with the stars I took my tired self indoors and sat by the fire for a while before going to bed. i felt full. i felt content. It was a really good feeling.

i remember reading the post-Squam blog posts last year and feeling a mix of envy and curiosity. And i'm here to say that, yes, it really is that good of a time. But there was no levitating over the lake (i tried – it didn't happen ;) and while friendships are made and renewed, it really was mostly about reconnecting with yourself and your creative dreams, and sitting under the shade of the trees, and having some much-needed fun. Lots of smiles. No stress. The perfect way to spend four days. Elizabeth has created a special place we can visit, and i hope it grows and expands as the years pass. There is room for all of us.

I'll be there again next year for sure, so if you are too, can i take a Polaroid of you?


34 responses
  1. Jo

    I’m so glad you had this good a time after what was going on when you left. I hope you feel as renewed and validated and inspired as you sound. I LOVE your polaroid portraits, they really are beautiful. If you didn’t already have a forté, I’d say you’ve found it.
    I want to see more. x

  2. jeanine

    sigh. i love your “mr. canoe man” story. it is a perfect squam moment. and those polaroids! woman, you captured everyone’s beauty so well. i’m already looking forward to our next big adventure. love.

  3. Une

    I`m reading your blog for a few days & I find it out so creative. I really love it, I read it like nice book – full with grate pictures (several I saved ;))and stories.
    Thank you for inspiration! :)

  4. kristen

    I saw my first shooting star ever too & this year, I found myself. Until next year, when we will most definitely compare ink! xx

  5. darlene

    i love that i saw a shooting star with jeanine and lisa that first night of skinny dipping, such a magical place. it was so lovely to see and hear you and feel you love and as i get ready to spend my last day in new york city, my stack of polaroids by my side, i nod my head and tears prick my eyes because it is absolutely about getting back in touch with you. and to be seen and understood by so many lovely friends, well, pure bliss. love you, xo
    and you take the most amazingly beautiful polaroid portraits *swoon

  6. Kathryn - Collage Diva

    Lovely post and photos. You took me there. It is on my list to get to Squam next year. You are definitely welcome to take a polaroid of me. I would be honored!

  7. Susannah

    Kathryn – yay!!
    On 25 Sep 2009, at 15:13, typepad@sixapart.com wrote:

  8. Shanon

    Oh, it sounds so perfect! What a great story of what unfolded for you there. It was a pleasure to read, and your polaroids are lovely. I can’t wait to see more– didn’t you say once you had over 100? =)

  9. Susannah

    hee, yes, in the end i shot 130 Polaroids of Montreal + Squam….. :)

  10. denise

    oh how i love to snuggle up to your words, always, always…
    i didn’t know you left our cabin and had this romantic evening alone stargazing. oh how i love this and wish i had done that. i am inspired to create this space for myself next year if i go (although since i am not yet canadian, skinny dipping still sounds a wee cold for my bones).
    you sound so at peace.
    loved our morning and early afternoon together. i go back to those moments often…
    love you.

  11. Jamie

    I have something for you, dear. Can you please email me?

  12. Fiona

    You write about this perfectly.

  13. sas

    this post was worth waiting for.
    blowing you kisses (from safe not-getting-flu distance ;)
    we missed you.

  14. Jan's camera

    Hi, thanks for sharing your story with us. I live in nearby Mass. and I have never heard of these workshops. It sounds wonderful to be on the lake doing something that you love. Thanks for sharing the ‘lost Polaroid’ story. And to see a shooting star out on the lake like that, amazing. You can take my portrait anytime. Your portraits of your friends are very warm and loving.

  15. jenica

    abSOULutely beautiful.

  16. Bella

    it’s beautiful how we all have a different magical tale to tell. i loved reading yours.
    even though i felt as if i’d known you for a long time, i loved meeting you in the flesh. you are a lovely, golden beauty ~ even when you’re blowing your nose :) xo

  17. Swirly

    Such beautiful moments…I miss you already.

  18. chez danisse

    Lovely…wonderful connections w/ others and it seems your experiences took place in a beautiful setting. Your first image, of the pier, it is so quiet and inviting and as an extra bonus- it brings back so many memories for me.

  19. Lee

    So wonderful. Enjoyed every bit of your post and the photos are, as always, lovely in their dreamy elegance.
    Hope to meet you next September, I’ve already negotiated with the husband and my four little bosses. Not sure about the polaroid, but looking forward to meeting you, for sure!

  20. Susannah

    Lee – yay!!
    the more the merrier, that’s what i reckon :)

  21. Marianne

    I’m so glad you found this time reconnect with yourself. Your photos, as always, are beautiful and I’ve ESP been loving the Polaroid portraits. X

  22. gypsyalex

    Loved Loved this post, Susannah! And thank you for making me feel like there is room for all of us. I really want to be there next year. xo

  23. Carol

    ah, I knew that this post was going to be a brilliant one on so many levels and it is, it is :-)
    Thank you for sharing with us!

  24. charlane

    oh the serendipity of someone being there to save it and then having lived in London. that’s a beautiful thing.
    i so want to be there

  25. Roxanne

    what a great story … love the lost polaroid story!

  26. clara

    i’ve been following your blog for quite sometime now. reading it every now and then and loving it every time i read the entries that i’ve missed. i dream of being a good photographer and an articulate writer and you inspire me with your photos and your stories. you are one of those positive forces that i need in my life and i just wanted to thank you. beautiful pictures and beautiful words. i’ll be following this blog as usual so keep on. :)

  27. Lucinda

    I love this. You tell a good story and your polaroids make it dreamy and romantic. I’m glad you had a lovely time. I really hope to make it to Squam one day so you can take a polaroid of me. :)
    Next time you shall take a polaroid of yourself, put it in a bottle and send it out to sea. Then he’ll find you.

  28. Chris

    Oh, SAW sounds so amazing. I love reading all the posts from bloggers/artists who attend every year. One of these days when the fates, and the finances, align I’ll get to go, too!

  29. alexa

    Lovely post and glad your time away was enriching and uplifting – and hope that cold leaves you soon …

  30. Michelle Shopped

    yes you can…just caught warhol’s polaroid portrait exhibit yesterday at umass amherst…http://www.umass.edu/fac/universitygallery/
    naturally i thought of you!

  31. Marisa and Creative Thursday

    I love these stories. Could this possibly be one of the best post-Squam blog posts ever? The right balance of sharing your personal experience while leaving it open for those who will attend in the future. No saccharin here :) loved meeting you Susannah! xoxo

  32. christy { dandelion muse }

    your photo of the dock is gorgeous – the way that the water sparkles makes it look like you stepped right into a dream to take it

  33. jan

    Lovely post Susannah, made me wish i had been there..

  34. abby

    I enjoyed this post more than I can say!
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful images and words. You crack me up-that kathleen turner/marge reference-I can hear you now :D

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