I love my lake house! It is my favorite place on earth. When I am there, I feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I am free to relax and truly live my life. Being by the water is immediately refreshing, and the rhythm of the water draws me. It is soothing and compelling and seems to call to me in some age-old manner.
This love of the water is shared by many. Our species has felt this pull of water and sea from time immemorial. From the early days we carved out canoes to take us across the water. We have gotten our dinners from the water, made our livings on the water, and built our homes near its shores. The magnetism that draws me to the shore each morning to stand and stare is the same fascination that leads me to bring that nautical theme indoors. My love of the water gives me the desire to surround myself with all things nautical. And while you could find sea or water-related items anywhere, it is the antiques that speak to me with their superior knowledge.
We have attempted to conquer the sea for our purposes, but that will never be a reality. The water is its own master and an entity that only allows us tenuous passage. The objects that were used in an attempt to safely navigate the 70% of earth that is covered in water, hold a particular interest for me. They show a bit of the struggle to adapt and also the love of being on the water.
I have learned so much of our early attempts at navigation and of the hardships of those who chose a life at sea.
One of my favorite items is hanging over the fireplace at my lake house, and it is a replica map from the 1800s of Puget Sound. Puget Sound is a fascinating inlet of the Pacific Ocean that is located along the northwestern coast of the state of Washington. It is a complex estuarine system of interconnected waterways and basins. Studying the map reminds me that although we can try to corral and divert its flow, water will always make its way.
There are several antique shops in my area, and as the area is near lakes, I can often find nautical artifacts to decorate my lake house. I tend to prefer pieces that show their previous life in the wear and tear on their surface. It reminds me that these were once useful items that had a function and purpose.
At times, someone’s life might have depended on them to perform as they were intended.
In my bedroom, I am fortunate to have a large window that looks out to the lake. At night when the lights are on, I wanted a curtain to draw across the window. While in one of the local shops, I saw propped in a corner an oar from a longboat. It came to mind that the oar, being long and slender, would make the perfect rod for a curtain in my bedroom. And it has! Each time I draw the curtain across at night, I think about those sailors whose hands had pulled the oar through the water to propel the boat toward land.
What strength that would have taken with everyone working in unison to propel a boat, up to 75 feet in length, through turbulent waters! The dugout, an ancestor of the longboat, brought the Vikings on piratical raids and conveyed Leif Eriksson to America.
Now, resting from its labors, the oar still overlooks the water and is a reminder of those who depended on this elementary tool to carry them to safety.
Buoys (or floats) have been used on the water for a variety of purposes. I have several antique floats made from blown glass in a variety of colors; green, blue, amber, and rarest of all, a cranberry hue. The ones that I have as decorative items in my lake house still have the original netting around them. These buoys, referred to as glass floats, were first produced in Norway around 1840 and were either oblong or bubble-shaped. Used by fishermen on their nets and to mark fishing spots, they come in a variety of sizes, depending on the size of the net.
When Japan, because of its sizable deep-sea fishing industry, started making glass floats in the 1940s, they were primarily green in color. This was because they used recycled sake bottles to make the floats. I have taken the smaller of these floats and hung them in windows where they catch the light and reflect it into the room.
The largest one that I have is about 20 inches across, which sits in a large basket and has pride of place on the coffee table in the living room. Besides being a beautiful object, it is another reminder of our connection to the water and the role the seas have played in providing food for those onshore.
Hanging in the entryway of my lake house is a beautiful gift from a close friend. It is a vintage brass bell that had been used on a ship. Used in the days before electrical power on boats, this beautiful brass bell would work by pulling on the rope attached to the bell. That meant that an alarm could be sounded in emergencies.
Today, the bell pulling is a pleasant and welcome sound, as it announces family and friends who have arrived at the lake house. In the days when this bell was used on a ship, it would have heralded a far less welcome event. I have found myself upon hearing the bell today, wondering what other happenings the bell signaled. It could not have been a comforting sound for those who were aboard a ship, with no land in sight. Did it signal a coming storm, poor visibility, or a life-threatening fire on board? The bell was also used to mark the end of a watch that was usually four hours long.
The bell was struck once at the end of the first half-hour of the watch. Twice after the second hour until eight bells had been struck at the end of the shift. The phrase “eight bells and all’s well” refers to completing a watch without incident. When the bell alarm is sounded at my lake house it is the sound that, indeed, with family and friends arriving, all is well.
BLOCK AND TACKLE PULLEYS
In the kitchen at my lake house, I have an antique wooden block pulley sitting on the table. I use it as a trivet for hot dishes like my cast iron skillet or a steaming kettle of boiling water. This pulley, part of a block and tackle, shows its life on its face.
While the rope would go around the groove carved into the side of the pulley, the accompanying rope harness would ride across the front of the pulley and often had a hook on the end that would be used as a tether. As the ship would toss or sway on the waves, the rope would rub across the pulley’s face.
My particular pulley shows the wear of innumerable waves carved into its face. It is a testament to years on the water in good and bad weather and years of performing its function. Again, I wonder about the stories this nautical artifact could tell!
It is somehow comforting to me that it continues to be useful and is still near the water where it has spent its life in service to the sailors who both loved and feared their time on the water.
I have learned a lot about the life that sailors led years ago by researching the stories behind the nautical antiques that I have purchased for my lake house. Each object, and the stories behind them, have made me appreciate those who came before.
It is with awe that I have contemplated the challenges they faced and the strength and courage that life on the water would have demanded. Despite all of the struggles and dangers, the water has an undeniable draw that can be satisfied in no other way than being on or near it. I have written about just a few of the antique nautical items at my lake house. Each one has an exciting story to tell about a life far different from my peaceful existence near the water.
I will continue to invite the nautical antiques into my home to reside and share their stories.