Sunday, June 23, 2013

summer Julia

Julia.  She is nine this summer.  And Summer Julia is a different creature than school year Julia.  During the school year, Julia is a happily quiet and conscientious student.  She loves school and thoughtfully observes the social world of her peers.  She is a kind and loyal friend and is challenged by the complexities of nine year old girl friendships.

I, too, was a quiet child.  A child who loved school and its school work, and who was completely flummoxed by some of the challenges of friendships, wishing the world rewarded the Meg-types more, as it did in my favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle.

But Summer Julia?  Summer Julia is fierce. And today, though not a perfect day, today was a day in which Julia was in her element.

This weekend we made an overnight visit to my mother's camp in the western mountains of Maine. The camp, built by my mother's father, was where I went every summer with my family as a child.  

And I loved my time at camp with my family, where I could read on my cot all day if I wanted, under a sleeping bag, taking breaks to eat peanut butter and potato stick sandwiches.  Where I could listen to loons and spy herons on the big rocks on the edge of our cove.  Where I could hike and take a break from the social world that was being nine...and beyond.

Nowadays, for my family, we love...I mean we talk about it all hike up Tumbledown Mountain, a part of the mountain range that surrounds the lake.  To get there, you have to head off into the great unknown, leaving the paved road that winds around the lake, and head into the wilderness in which I know from family stories that my Grandpa used to hunt for bears on Thanksgiving morning.  The driving trek ends at the signs that tell you that here is where you should park if you are climbing Tumbledown.  And then ignore these signs and go a few miles farther until you find another widening of the road...which makes it feel a bit adventurous, a bit 007 for the preteens among us.  But if, once parked and bathed in bug spray, you take the Brook Trail, you criss and cross your way up the mountain in an on and off again relationship with a brook, sometimes a trickle, sometimes a babble, sometimes a full on deep pool with waterfalls as you climb several hours up to an amazing summit lake, in which you can swim.  You feel like you are one of a very few who have experienced this scenic and wild bliss.    

It is one of the few hikes we know that has a destination.  Well a destination besides a view.  There is nothing more motivating for hikers with young children (besides a pocket-full of candy, of course) than knowing that ahead there is a summit lake.  Cool and refreshing after several hours of hiking, climbing, and then scrambling up the ledges.  To a mountain top, with views of the mountains in all directions, in a lake with a small island in the center, covered in wild blueberries.  .

I tell you all of this about the summit in order to help you better understand the following:  Today, we were not going to make the summit. We will make this hike again this summer, at least twice.  But today, with the weather seeming a bit ominous, with predictions of thunderstorms, we decided that we would not try to reach the summit.  That we would aim for the deep cool runoff from the lake above, where we stopped last year for a snack.  Today, a deep pooled area with sparkling cascading water was our destination.  

After a hot and chatty hike, we reached the area and sat there eating our granola snack, barefooted and tired, watching other hikers descend, these wet and bathing suited hikers clearly having recently swum in the mountaintop lake.  Though we had not been summit bound, I felt a bit envious of their cooled bodies and conversation.  It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be.  It was warm.

And then I turned to Julia, who was a steady and positive presence today, despite the how much further and why can't we go to the lake protestations of her brothers.  This Green Kangaroo of ours.  

She was our quiet leader today.  And for that, I thank her, and I thank Summer.  For its break from school.  For its gift of time.  For its combination of warmth and tag sales and pajamas without schedules.  For its mountain streams and large rocks that beg to be climbed and time to noodle over her place in the world, between two wonderful and different brothers.  

To be able to cool her face in a brook.  And to inspire her brothers to do the same.  This quiet leader of ours.

And to catch toads in her hands, because she knows her younger brother would love to see them.  And to suggest that her toad meets her brother's toad.  And to work through her discomfort with the hopping and scurrying in her hands and to feel a bit more powerful because she was able to do it.

To swim in the brook.  Able to wrap her mind around the pleasure of this as our goal for the day, even though there was a summit lake just beyond our reach.

And to place her thumb beside an very large slug.

It was a wonderful day of togetherness, all connecting after a week of lacrosse camp and of Jonathan still busy at work.

But tonight, as I look back at our day, I think a great deal of Julia.  And of the girl who loves to hike.  To stick her head in a mountain stream to cool off.  Who quietly finds pleasure in a less than summit experience, and who shares her enjoyment with others.

And who kept all of us completely transfixed as we walked back down the mountain, tired, floppy, hot, and grumpish, and a bit worried about possible lightning.  With her telling us about her most recent read, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door.

Her pace.  Her steadiness.  Her quietness.  Her ability to experience this as strength and something to be emulated.  This is what summer is for.

All that.  But also for her leading us all through musical Parcheesi.

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