Tuesday, August 24, 2004

castles in the clouds

My mother and I took a mini-vacation today to Alexandria Bay, where we enjoyed the gorgeous weather on a two hour boat tour of some of the more famous of the 1000 (actually, according to the tour guide, 1700ish) islands in the St. Lawrence Seaway between U.S. and Canada. We spent part of our time on Heart Island at Boldt Castle. The castle was built in the early 1900s by millionaire George C. Boldt as a monument of love for his wife, Louise. The castle is huge - and has been much restored since I last visited in high-school - it has 365 windows, one for every day of the year, 4 floors, pool, servants quarters, 30+ fireplaces, bathrooms galore, bowling alley, a 'playhouse' for the children where the family of 4 lived during construction, which had its own bowling alley, a hennery, a huge boat house, and a replica of the L'arche de Triomphe.. When his wife died suddenly, George ordered construction to cease, and the building lay in ruins until purchased by the 1000 Islands Bridge Authority in the 1970s.
I must admit, my mother and I admired the beautiful castle, the gorgeous grounds, the view of the Seaway - what a beautiful region and beautiful architecture! But we had to say to each other: "a bit much, isn't it?" All of that time and energy and money poured into a building - and suddenly George discovered that though this monument would last, the person for whom he was building it left his life too quickly. Did he spend their last years together? Was he busy with this project and his other financial endeavors? Was this gigantic building worth it, only to be abandoned?
So my mom and I spent some time reminiscing about vacations we've taken in our family - when I was in elementary school, we were much worse off financially - living in a house that was literally falling down around us, using food stamps to get by, struggling with a lay-off in employment, and four children in the family. But we still managed to have such good times together. Every year we'd have a garage sale in the summer, and if we earned at least $30 from it, we would go to the state fair. There, we would eat $1 hot dogs, (pre-vegetarian days ;) ) have 25 cent milk, look at the butter sculptures, visit the animals, watch the dancing at the Indian Village, and visit the Center of Progress building. We never went on the rides on the midway, but we had a great time.
The drive for more and bigger and better is constant in our world, and it seems so hard not to fall into the trap of wanting, always wanting. Today, I remembered a bit of how much joy there is with so little, if let ourselves experience it, how much pain there can be in the abundance of things, when we let our possessions possess us.

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