Buy experiences, not stuff. That is the sage advice of Wealthy Barber author David Chilton, according to my sister who has been rereading the 25th anniversary of his best-selling book this summer.

My sister quotes his wisdom to me just as we are beginning our shared vacation at our lakeside cabin in western Newfoundland.

“That’s what Dad did when he built this place,” I say to her.  She agrees and we spend the next 10 days reminding each other of so many of those experiences, sometimes laughing, sometimes just being quiet, our thoughts trailing further into memory.

View from the canoe.

There was the night the moose swam across the lake, stumbling to shore just behind our campfire. There was the day my sister and her family drove up the road, only to be stopped by a bear cup scrambling across it, then up a tree.

My brother and I had a similar experience, but were riding his Honda 50 motorcycle at the time, he a teenager clutching the handlebars, me, maybe 10 or 11, clutching his waist. We scooted back home and the bear cub scooted off to its mother.

There were the forts we built in the woods.  And the huge salmon our neighbour’s wife caught on a line cast from our dock (the fish gets bigger every time the story is told).

Only the memory remains of the playhouse/fort that was just off this path.

Mother Nature offered us those experiences free for the taking.  But we also collected experiences from the things my Dad bought.

It’s the rare person who can live without purchased stuff and our cabin has its share of accumulated chattel. Through the years there have been motorboats and water skis, rowboats and canoes, fishing rods and badminton rackets, croquet sets and volley ball nets.

The cabin itself was built of and filled with stuff – couches and beds, cupboards, drawers, tables and chairs.  Most of it came already well used from our house in town, or as surplus inventory from the travel trailers my Dad once sold.

The stuff has mostly lost it sheen. The experiences regain their luster every time we come here.

You have to get up early to catch a sunrise like this one.

We’ve been doing that, coming here, for 45 years.  It’s a longer journey for all of us than it used to be when we lived in Corner Brook, which is just a 20-minute highway drive away. When we all still lived in the western Newfoundland city, we’d spend entire summers at the lake, driving back and forth through the weekdays for jobs and grocery runs.

Now we measure our visits in precious weeks, sometimes even days. We travel here by ferry or by plane, packing suitcases with cabin clothes, and, always, a camera.

I mostly arrive in Newfoundland via Marine Atlantic ferry.

Cameras fall in the category of purchased stuff but I can’t imagine Chilton would advise against them, so necessary are they for preserving memories of experience. I need to reread Chilton to see if he has a recommendation for the kind of stuff worthy of monetary investment. I’d put a camera there, whether he does or not.

Just yesterday, my camera captured a full day’s worth of images and stirred memories of past experiences.

There isn’t much new that happens here, just the same extraordinary occurrences one might expect from a place bordered by water and edged in by hills, a place where wildflowers and alder bushes grow at their own steady pace, and where everyone likes the fact that the lawn is woven not just from grass but from purple clover, pink-fringed English daisies and yellow buttercups.

Meandering through the woods turns up treasures like this lovely little toadstool.

Yesterday, the lake was perfectly calm and I wandered early along its shoreline and into the shallows, snapping photos of water lilies, the water so clear I could see all the way down to their roots.

Water lilies are not just lovely to look at, the loons apparently like to eat their tuberous roots.

I scanned my lens upwards, to take advantage of the reflection of a cloudless blue sky and spruce-green mountains. As I wandered around the point of land that protects our cove from the greater expanse of the lake, a loon surfaced.

Not surprisingly, as I wandered, I heard the loon calling, just around the bend.

I watched it swimming and diving until it disappeared into the horizon and I thought of all the mama ducks and babies we’ve seen over the years swimming in neat formation across the lake. We look for them every year, although we don’t always see them.

As the quietness of morning drifted away, the day became busier, if one can use that word for a day on the lake.  We swam and fished, paddled the canoe, played on a raft, tried to lift a sail on the windsurfer. We made a trip to town for a few groceries, and beat it back as quickly as we could.

There’s little that satisfies the soul like a paddle on a calm lake.

Friends arrived and conversation turned to more memories, for they have been visiting us here as long as we have occupied this point of land. The barbecue was lit, burgers cooked and then eaten around a table on the front verandah.

Later, as the sky turned pink with the setting sun, our neighbour’s son scurried up from the beach, inviting us to a bonfire on the beach.

Sigh.

Another day of experience drew to a close. Thanks, Dad, for buying it for us.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday. Connect at  lmacgibbon@gmail.com or on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon. 

4 thoughts on “Experience: the gift that keeps on giving

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