It’s a scene familiar enough to any family vacationer. As you approach your destination, as your child sits in the backseat of the car—his mind lost in the limitless possibilities to be found in a week far away from home, his eyes darting back and forth between the passenger and driver’s side windows—he catches a flash of roadside attraction, locks onto it and slowly lets it consume him.
The possibilities no longer seem so limitless because this is the thing he’s decided he most wants to do. Forget about going out on the boat, or going out to eat, or making s’mores, or doing any of the other things you’ve planned. If visiting that one place doesn’t make the cut, it’ll be the only thing he truly remembers about the whole trip.
For my wife, Cassie, vacationing in the Thousand Islands as a child, that place was Mazeland, and any time we’ve ever passed it since, she gazes at its sign compelling visitors to “GET LOST” and laments, “It was the only thing I wanted to do, but we never got to.”
Well, to be fair to my in-laws, they did take her. It was just that, by the time they’d visited Heart Island and had lunch and fudge and perused the shops along Alexandria Bay’s main drag, Mazeland was closed (or they were too tired to get lost and told her it was closed…the details are a little hazy).
Regardless, Mazeland was put off with vows of a return that never came, and for as much as Cassie and her mother laugh about it 20 years later, that missed trip wouldn’t keep coming up if it didn’t conjure those small doses of guilt and disappointment we tend to accumulate in life.
So, with Labor Day looming and the dying days of summer in full swing, my mother-in-law finally decided to make good on her promise, and as we wandered through the cedar hedges, looking for hidden letters to complete our scavenger hunt, I could hear that childlike uptick in my wife’s voice, urging us to come on, and the contented giggle of my mother-in-law as she dutifully followed.
For my part, I was simply along for the adventure, scraping my arms on stray branches and squeezing through shortcuts I’ve long since overgrown. Before long, the narrow paths and twists and turns started to nauseate me, the heat crept up my neck, and I began to feel old with every step. But then Cassie came to a tree in one of the maze clearings, and rather than seek out the bench in its shade for a quick break as I wished to do, she climbed. She found a thick branch and sat, swinging her legs and wondering how high she could go, and I’d like to think it was more than just a lost experience she was able to capture up there.