Superficially, E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake” seems to be a recollection of a man’s childhood vacations and his attempt to bond them with his son. Upon careful inspection, the essay is about worries brought upon by the nature fear of death. Expecting a peaceful return to nature, he finds that his childhood place has been changed, and through his son, realizes that his youth has slipped away. We first see this when White grasps the idea that “nature is forever but man is not.” In White’s mind, the lake being the most prominent piece of nature is his possession, nonexistent without his presence. This is well shown when he claims that “it was all that same as he left it” and there was “summer without end.” This is derived from the nature’s untouchable beauty and oblivious consistency.
A tree does not know that it is a tree or why. It does not long for the time when it was half as big as it is now, and unlike humans, it does not dwell on its inevitable demise. Tragically, some memories of nature actually did turn up when White and his son came across the missing track in the road. Though track this may have meant nothing to him as a child, it represents one memory that can longer change. Although the lake itself had not changed, White is extremely bothered with the loud and obnoxious sounds of motors near the shore. He can no longer find the peace he once found within the lake.
There is a conflict amongst men occurring in this story as well. It is between the intuitive, which would come to enjoy what nature has to offer, and the ignorant, who are unsatisfied unless everything coincides with their schedule. They are also unable to detach themselves from modern lifestyles and its high end products. Something myself, I would have a hard time doing. As well as growing attachment that people have with their technology. Eventually due to these modernizations, the relationships between families will soon suffer. Very few will still be able to enjoy the simple things in life such as nature.
White begins to notice changes through his son as well. Describing the feeling as living a “dual existence”, he feels as if he is living as his father and as his son in the same moment. This feeling becomes so intense that it manifests itself physically during his encounter with the dragonfly. Attempting more so to experience the trip through his son’s eyes, he realizes he is now and forever stuck playing the father’s role. Even more startling to him is the realization that he is not his father, but E.B. White himself, washing ashore as he describes “a creepy sensation.” He finally reaches the inevitable conclusion that he is unable grasp his childhood. During the thunderstorm White claims that the “gods are grinning”, as if he is feeling spite toward his all-knowing creators, by that, his angry with them for depriving us with the answers to life.. He witnesses the campers yelling toward the children, presenting the “deathless joke” that the now-mature parents have lost touch with what these children are experiencing. Finally, as he glances over to his son freeze in his cold swim trunks, a voice within his subconscious erupts, finally culminating the “creepy sensation” he experienced into what he calls a “chill of death”. Almost instantly as he attempts to come to terms with the loss of his youth, he is conflicted yet again by the fear of his inevitable end. The passage of time didn’t wait for him, and will not stop for him either.
He learned that as human beings, we cannot transcend time. We cannot relive or recreate our childhood, only visit the locations it took place. When he manages to find solace in his recollection of memories, he realizes that his memories can be comforting, and even passed on, but never relived. Not allowing the passing of time come into play solidifies the fact that these delicate memories will be locked in his childhood forever. On another interesting note, White may have felt that his son was not as appreciative toward the experience as he was as a child. Whether this is true or not, through White’s father’s eyes; White himself may not have been either. Ironically it is the aimless awe of a child that creates the beauty of childhood that we vicariously live to return to as we grow old. Unfortunately, most of us are not aware of these thoughts until a turning point in our life such as parenthood. It seems as if when we have children, according to White, we also unknowingly begin to die.