Skaneateles, NY

Returning from our Pennsylvania weekend, we had one last week staying in Skaneateles. With Rett’s biking “yips” on the mend, we finally had an opportunity to do our traditional ride around Skaneateles Lake. It’s a beautiful 42-mile ride, filled with challenging hills, but the power of the lake got Rett’s confidence back at least close to normal levels.

#FindRett descending to Skaneateles Lake.
Summer in the Finger Lakes (er, FLX)
After passing it many times, we finally stopped at Anyela’s Vineyards (the only winery on the lake, though the broader region is packed with them) as we returned up the west side on our clockwise loop. At $22 for a 4-wine tasting, I guess I’m glad we hadn’t stopped before!

Our main reason for staying through the next weekend was to visit the Sterling Renaissance Festival. We had gone a few years ago during another of our Skaneateles vacations, and found it even more magical than our “home” Faire in Bristol, Wisconsin (though Sterling was Rett’s “home” Faire before Bristol). Rett did an excellent job of putting together some semblance of a themed costume (given our minuscule and performance-wear-oriented “closets”), while I was lucky enough to be able to cheat substantially, with Ken loaning out some truly-vintage hippie-wear from his closet (including a shirt older than me that his mother had made for him!) Sterling itself is a “vintage” Festival of a similar age, and like Bristol, its 40+ year-old permanent buildings and setting have brought an aged authenticity that magically makes the 400+ year-old time-travel seem nearly believable.

A wizard, a gypsy, and a flashy farmer go to the Renaissance Festival… (ok, the wizard stayed home to work on his spells…)

Once again Ken was nice enough to loan us his van for the hour-long drive north, and once again, the door-to-door route never had us on anything more “major” than a county road (and even that for only a few miles!) Except for our gas-powered chariot, coming in (and out, at sunset!) through that pastoral setting deepened the time-traveling illusion. Too bad we weren’t on our “steel horses”, something we had considered at one point!

Explored the whole place nearly twice before we found the face-painter for Rett!
Beautiful Rett in the naturally lived-in setting we love so much.

Due to the COVID-era understaffed nature of everything, I was a bit concerned that the spell put on us during our last Sterling visit would fizzle under the realities of commerce, but, although the lines were a bit long (and the one girl working the tavern that would normally have three or four behind the counter, had no time to even empty her overstuffed tip-jar), our interactions with the performers and royal court were just as genuine as the last time. And the final pub sing, where dozens of the most-dedicated Festival-goers linger to the last note, even exceeded my cherished memory. Where else does a large group of people, sitting outside beneath tall shading trees, come together to make semi-spontaneous music together? In musicals, the perfect and harmonious “spontaneous” performances are a complete fantasy. And that’s a large part of why people love them, they like to imagine that someday, they could break into song and dance and everyone on the street will fall in behind them while the camera whirls above. But these pub-sings hint that such unifying, communal expressions of emotion could actually occur in our universe, and are the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to actually living in a musical.

Our jousting champion, the first time we’ve seen a woman! She didn’t win, but the WWE-style theme to the joust was an entertaining twist.

Our final event in Skaneateles was meeting Rett’s old friends Audrey and Nick (who have gotten married and produced three pretty cool half-adult kids since Rett has seen them, thus far exceeding my friend-break with Dan!) Where would we meet? How about a boat ride on Skaneateles Lake, on Audrey’s dad’s boat? Yes please! (every time we rode around the lake and stopped to see the house Rett and her mom and sister once lived in in Mandana, she would point out the Brewers who still lived across the street.) So that’s where we spent most of the day, with Rett catching up with her old friends, and me learning valuable information about Rett from her younger days, and talking obscure metal-adjacent bands with Nick.

Rett and Audrey.
Looking across the water back to downtown Skaneateles, with “The Judge” motoring home in the foreground.
A view of some of the water-level houses that we’ve never gotten to see during our road-based circumnavigations.
We’re on a boat on Skaneateles Lake!

One thing led to another, and we stayed out longer than expected, so making a run from the south end of the lake all the way back to downtown Skaneateles would have been a challenge. So Audrey’s parents told us to just drop the boat near them at Mandana, walk on up to the house, and come in for dinner around their giant kitchen table in their beautiful and welcoming home. Touring the house (and above-garage “clubhouse” space) also gave Rett and Audrey more opportunities to revel in nostalgic memories. And then we all piled into an SUV so Audrey’s mom could drive us back to Ken’s.

If I had written “station wagon” instead of “SUV”, the previous paragraph could have described a summer lake evening from 1988 just as well as one from 2022. The Brewers had of course known Rett’s mom well, and I imagine the opportunity to be “parents” one more time for us “kids” was both instinctual and conscious for them. I felt privileged to be able to partake in that love and generosity, and live a Skaneateles Lake summer evening from 1988. For the second time in a few days, a time machine had brought me to an unlived nostalgia, just as perfectly sepia-toned as the trip that brought us to unite with our Festival people in 1585. Too bad it’s time to move on, and this time machine is too big to carry on our bikes!



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