Sunday, July 28, 2013

before I die I want to ______________

Outside Flatbreads Pizza in Portland, "Before I Die" and the Maine Center for Creativity have created one of its many public art installations to inspire the thinking of those who pass by.

Candy Chang, the creator of these walls, explains:
Our public spaces are as profound as we allow them to be. The historian Lewis Mumford once wrote that the origins of society were not just for physical survival but for sacred things that offer “a more valuable and meaningful kind of life.” At their greatest, our public spaces can nourish our well-being and help us see that we’re not alone as we try to make sense of our lives... With more ways to share in public space, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us become our best selves.
I was surprised as we left dinner on Friday that all three kids wanted to stop to add their thoughts.

I particularly liked Julia's.

Learn more about "Before I Die" on their website or on Twitter.

I can't help but think of what it has been like to write for this blog for the past months.  Of sharing in a public space, of the people around us, and of becoming our better selves.

* * *

We're off for a week of internet-free camping and a visit to camp.  More when we return.

Friday, July 26, 2013

friday night riddles

If he asks twelve, the answer is six.  If he asks six, the answer is three.  But if he asks ten, the answer isn't five.
This has been an unusual summer week for us, with Nicholas and Julia both at week long day camps and Jonathan working.

It has felt a bit more like a school week to me in some ways, even if my drop off and pick up for Nicholas has been far from typical.  He attended a week of Rippleffect day camp on Cow Island and in order to get to this Casco Bay experience, we have braved the summer traffic and congestion of the Old Port in Portland to drive him to and from the ferry landing each day.

What has been particularly strange, and also magical, has been our daily routine for this camp.  Each day, we sat with him at the Casco Bay Lines terminal, waited for his guides and other campers to arrive, watched the ferries come and go, and then watched him walk the ramp onto the ferry and disappear, into the morning mist.  He rode the ferry to a larger island and then hopped aboard a small boat and was shuttled to Cow Island.

Never having been to Cow Island ourselves, we only know what happened there, the landscape of it, the activities and facilities, through what Nicholas has told us.  And he has told us a good deal.  But I find myself wondering what the boat landing looks like there, what he could see while riding their zip line, wishing I had seen him kayaking from island to island, paddling and laughing and chatting with his friends.  I have little windows into this landscape of their day from their Facebook page, but it's not quite the same as seeing it for myself.

But I also think my not knowing this is a good part of what has made the camp experience so very good.  I can only see what Nicholas has told me, and from what I have inferred from what he has told me. I see the camp through his eyes and not my own. And he gets to decide what he tells me.
Julia, watch this. Nicholas holds the jelly jar in his hands and proceeds to tip it upside down and then upside right over and over again, alternating between saying my jar is open and my jar is closed in a seemingly random order. What's the rule?
These growing children.  Figuring them out is sometimes like solving a riddle.  Listening to them, what they share.  Trying get a sense of where they are, how they are feeling, what is on their mind.  Because sometimes the direct question is not the best way to find this out.  And sometimes it is not really an answer that I want.  It is that I want to observe his thinking, what seems important to him, what gives him pause.  His process.

As they grow, so much of what happens for them occurs internally. My early days of watching them play on the playground or with each other, observing their behavior and what it means, have been replaced -- with listening to them talk, catching glimpses of the subtle clues, peeking in at their inner world.

And trying to make meaning of it.  And accepting that some of it?  I am not going to understand or even know.
There's a man in a suit lying dead on the sidewalk.  No blood.  No visible injuries.  No, it wasn't a heart attack or a stroke.  How did he die?
What we did hear, and what we saw, was all evidence of a wonderful week. When we decided on this camp with him, we focused on the outdoor experience aspects of it.  Of kayaking and rock climbing and zip lining.  Of getting to know a new group of kids and his guides.  Of the independence he would feel from riding the ferry without us each day.  Of what we would feel putting him on that ferry each day.  

But what came home?  Yes, he did tell us of those activities.  But what he most wanted to tell us about was about the games, riddles, and mind teasers that he learned.
Nicholas holds up five fingers and says this is one.  He shows four fingers.  This is five.  He shows seven fingers.  This is four.  He holds up one finger.  What's this?
Perhaps it was the long ferry rides while still waking up in the morning and then the rides each evening while exhausted from the day.  Perhaps it was the simplicity of the facilities on this eco-minded island, relatively undeveloped except for yurts and the remains of Fort Lyon.  But there was as much talking and mind challenging and new game playing as there was kayaking and climbing and zip lining.

As the week went on, he started to leave Jonathan or I on the bench each morning to play his new favorite game, Ninja, in the middle of the ferry terminal.  Kids would call to him as they arrived and he would jump up to join the hilarious hootenanny that would ensue, entertaining all the commuters as they watched.

And then, when the time came, he would run to pick up his backpack and head off down the ramp. And have his day away.  But then, each night.
Julia!  Elliott!  Do you want me to teach you to play Ninja?
* * *

At the end of each day, we met his ferry.

The walk to our car. The ride home. That's when I heard the stories of his day.

Can we walk up to where we can see the harbor? I want to show you where we paddled today.

We saw this huge boat docked over there as we came into the harbor. Can we go see it?

We walked into the bunker, into a long narrow hall that was built for ventilation for the cannons.  It was completely dark and you couldn't see anything. We held on to the person's shoulder in front of us. It was kind of scary.  But cool.  Except for the huge spiders.  Those were just scary.

Can I have some money for tomorrow to buy a piece of candy when we paddle to Great Diamond?

I climbed the rock wall. Blindfolded.

The last night of camp, he had the option to spend the night on Cow Island in a yurt. He decided he wanted to do this, and we felt very confident that he was going to be ok, given how the week was going for him.  But there is something strange and unsettling nonetheless about your child being away on an island, an ocean separating you, no option for a late night pickup should the need arise.  I imagined the midnight ride on a water taxi that I would summon if we received that call.

But we knew this was not going to happen.  And it did not.

And this evening, the four of us headed down to the ferry terminal to meet him and waited for his ferry to arrive.   Before he came off, the older kids emerged.  It was clear that they had been on the island for longer, given their gear, their elaborately painted faces and clothing, and the huddles and hugs and tears as they said goodbye to each other.  They had grown close.

Nicholas' group emerged from the boat after them and they each got a cheery and chatty high five from their guide.  Nicholas waved goodbye to a few new friends.  Their parting was developmentally just right, more reserved, but warm.  He allowed a one handed hug and kiss from me.  And even a picture of his wind blown salt water crusty sunscreen smelling self.

Good?  I whispered to him.

He smiled and nodded.  Awesome.  But are we still having dinner at Flatbreads?

I exhaled the breath I had apparently held for his 48 hours away.

* * *

So we headed just across the pier to our favorite pizza place, Flatbreads, which has been hiding in plain sight at each drop off and pick up.  What's funny to me is that this was the first restaurant that we ate at in Portland in 2004.  We were visiting my sister-in-law, Wendy Rich Stetson, who was here to perform in a play.  And she brought all of us here -- well, sans Elliott, who was not born yet -- for dinner after we watched her performance in Almost, Maine at Portland Stage.

We had planned our family dinner at Flatbreads this last night, talking about it all week.  Jonathan ran ahead and reserved us a table out on the deck, which sits just above the ferry terminal.

When we asked him to tell us about his past two days, he started with a complete detailing of the food he had eaten. Ah, eleven year old boys.

He told us about the island treasure hunt the guides had set up for them.

He taught us several new brain teasers during dinner, eating more pizza than I have ever seen him eat, talking with his mouth full.  I tried not to interrupt him too many times in order to ask him to swallow before he spoke.
There were three camels in a line.  One said there are two camels behind me.  Another one said there is one camel behind me.  The last one said there are two camels behind me.  How is this possible?
I think we may have officially become a three pizza per meal family.  

He looked tired.  And a bit spacey at times, staring off at the ferries as we ate.  Between riddles.

I am kind of sad it is over.  The guides always had something fun for us.  And they were so energetic.

I pushed back the little worry that maybe he was quiet at times because he was unhappy, that things had not gone well, that he was thinking about something troubling.  And forced myself not to ask this question.  He was tired.  He was apparently starving.  And he was talking in bursts of enthusiastic detail.  

So I sat back and listened.  And I will continue to listen as he shares in the days ahead.

He was happy.

And so, realizing he might put his head down on the table and fall asleep, we paid and gathered all of his overnight things, and headed home.

We kind of fell in love with Portland during that first visit here with Wendy.  And unexpected job changes and opportunities and also careful choices have landed us here.  Exactly where we want to be.

With three children.  Growing.  Challenging us to let them grow and move and look outward, developing independence, confidence, and experiences that are away from us.  It's good.

But that doesn't mean I didn't have to hold back tears as I said goodbye to him as he headed off on his overnight.  Or that I am not teary again as I write this post.

What better place to grow up a bit than on a small island off the coast of Maine?

Riddles. With answers only he holds. Learning them elsewhere. But bringing them home to teach us.
My backpack is not Black Magic. The sky is not Black Magic. That pigeon is not Black Magic. But your Keens? They are Black Magic. Now you do it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I made a rug! Julia announced as we walked away from her camp pick up area.  It's in my back pack.  Want to see it?

Without waiting for an answer, she swung her back pack off her back and thudded it down onto the pavement.  Sat down on the ground.  Unzipped her bag.  And started digging.

At that moment, Julia, Elliott and I were standing in the middle of the parking lot, crossing through the cars in the drive through pick up line.

Um.  Can we wait until we are in the car?  I asked, fully aware of the disappointment I was creating with my desire to avoid needing to pick her and her backpack up, and run Donkey Kong style across the parking lot, Elliott clinging to one ankle, looping and weaving my way in between speeding cars.  That was my image.  But it probably wasn't really all that dramatic.

I grinned and waved at my friend behind the closest windshield who was cheerfully waiting for me to get Julia and her backpack out of her way.

Fine.  Followed by a sigh and a terse zip.

She forgave me quickly and as we walked to our car she told me all about the process of making the rug.  That they had used hula hoops as frames for the weaving.  And t-shirt material for the base strings and then all sorts of fabric scraps for weaving.  She was particularly excited about one piece of fabric she had found and woven in, a shiny synthetic with sequins attached.


Mid-sentence and mid-crosswalk she stopped herself short, and said, Wait.  I will draw you a picture of it when we get home.  Its hard to explain, but I want to teach you so we can do more at home.

We got in the car and as I threw her lunch box and my bag in the passenger seat and then myself into the driver's seat, I heard unzipping. She was digging for her rug.  And out came this.

It's wonky.  Disorganized.  Beautiful.  In the way that much of Julia's art can be.

I wanted it to be a rug, but it is kind of small.  I guess I could use it as a door mat. But I wanted to stop doing this so I could use the floor loom.  Because the floor loom is really cool.  And no one else seems to want to use one.  But I do.  Because it is so neat how it works.  I'll draw it when we get home, too.

We joked about what her rug could be used for all the way home.

I suggested a doily.  And then needed to explain what a doily was...which is not such a simple thing to do for children who place their wet water glasses directly onto their night stands.  And this doily was going to be a bit tippy for the lamp placed upon it.  I gave up and suggested a trivet for hot dishes.  Or wall art.

Julia suggested pulling the outside ring of fabric tight and making it a basket.

Elliott suggested using it as a frisbee to throw for the dogs.

When we got out of the car in our driveway, Julia was wearing it as a hat.  That was pretty awesome.  And clearly the best purpose for her rug.

As I threw together a fast snack to avoid post-ecstatically-happy mood plummets into despair, Julia sat right down and started drawing.  She drew and then described how the floor loom works, pushing down every other string in a group of parallel strings in order for you to pass your shuttle through, then with a switch in foot pedals, pushing down the opposite strings.  She drew a picture of the hula hoop process, too, how you cut strips of old t-shirts horizontally in order to make the loops, 13 loops to be exact, to stretch across the hoop as a loom for the rugs.  She sketched design ideas for string patterns and bracelet patterns for the next day.  She was talking fast, using a voice and phrases that sounded like a knowledgeable teacher.  And grinning.

Alicia Keys' This Girl is on Fire was running through my head as I layered on protein.  

But also, I was thinking about colors and patterns and threading and looping and textures.  And of the directions and twists and crossing of threads within a fabric.  I was, I believe, thinking about the world in a way more similar to the way Julia does.

She was enthralled by a friendship bracelet maker as well.  A cardboard square her teacher modeled for the group that allowed them to create a nearly perfect twisting pattern.

This morning was rainy.  And we had downpours all day.  I dropped Julia off with her counselor who was holding a large striped umbrella, spinning it a bit as she waited for more campers to arrive.  I also noticed her hair was pink, something I had not noticed the day before.  I watched the two of them move off together toward the art building, quietly chatting about today's plans, both now under the umbrella.

I jogged back across the parking lot to my car, pulling my hood back a bit so I could see the cars as they moved through the drop off line, with Elliott in tow.  And had a moment of realizing that the large splattering raindrops were like the threads on the loom, as were the cars moving on both sides of the street, and Elliott and I were like a shuttle, weaving.  Over, under, over, under.

And we headed straight for the thrift shop for t-shirts of various colors and then dug around the barn to find one of the left over hula hoops from Julia's hula hoop decorating birthday party last year.  I had plans to make wacky fabric creations with Elliott all day.  But he had plans of his own and instead we made complicated and sticky duct tape mosaics of parading animals.  We baked chocolate chip cookies.  And built Noah's Ark with blocks.  That was good, too.

So it often goes with Elliott.  I make a plan, gather materials or ideas for a project, only to have him not be all that interested in doing my plan.  Wanting to come up with his own ideas for projects.  Of course, these ideas are invariably complicated.

But when Julia got home again after Weaving Camp: Day Two with a friend who is at the camp with her, there were two bigger girl buddies who were jazzed and ready to go to town with the old t-shirts.  And so now he was ready to join in.

First, I found them fashioning the t-shirts into hilarious upside down jumpsuits.  Of course.  I mean, why wouldn't you?

And then, eventually, they began cutting their 13 horizontal strips and placing them on the hula hoop.

I think this is what I am loving most about this camp for Julia.  It's seems to be exactly what camp should be.  And her enthusiasm, her joy, her comfort, and her new skills spill right over past the camp day and into our home time in the late afternoon.  She arrives here brimming with new activities and gets to be the expert and teach us all how to do something.

Because, there certainly wasn't anyone else here who knew how to make a rug or a hat or a doily out of fabric scraps.  And a hula hoop.

Monday, July 22, 2013

butterfly bush

                               To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, 
                               One clover, and a bee,
                               And revery.
                               The revery alone will do
                               If bees are few.
                                                                             Emily Dickinson

Its would be easy to focus on the weeds.  Because honestly?  There are oodles of weeds in our gardens.  And really, the lawn needs to be mowed and the weed whacker needs to be taken out of the barn and fired up and used to tame the wild grasses that are taking over along our fences and out buildings.  We are just a bit untamed.

So I could focus on that. The mess, the lack of beauty that exists in our yard right now.

Or, I could focus on the peas, lettuce, kale, every manner of herbs, and beets that are some part of every meal these days.  Despite the fact that these plants are surviving amongst a tangle of unintentional cohabitants.  I'll do that instead.

And our peach tree, which is providing us with fruit, sweet and precious.

In the garden, I am weeding row by row.  Before we escaped the heat yesterday and headed to my parents' camp to swim and enjoy the mountains' relative chill, I worked a bit in the garden. I reclaimed a path that had been overgrown with weeds, rescuing the cucumber hills that were all but invisible in the tall grass, intermingled with a few ornamental strawberries and mint as well.

Though I could not see them before I started weeding, apparently the bees could still find them.  As I made my way down to them, I thought I could hear the cucumbers gasping for air.  But the bees were already down in there. I will work on clearing out the onion patch and the asparagus patch next.

Despite my days of not getting out there, things seem to be moving along.  I will soon have late-planted broccoli to add to our dinner options, and a fresh row of peas and several rows of beans that are not far behind.

But the weeds in the vegetable garden are only the beginning of our problem.

Last year, I turned a small area, a garden that was near the house and next to the patio where we often eat outside, into a butterfly garden.  I planted perennial plants that I love, echoing those that I have long admired at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts.  We visit this garden each summer, as it is in the town where Jonathan and I met.  It is a place that our children have visited often and have come to love as well.

There are some lovely insect friendly plants in our butterfly garden and, despite its needing to be pruned and tidied up, it is alive, abuzz with working insects.  I spent a good while trying to photograph some of the insect life that we are attracting to our garden.  Admittedly, instead of weeding.  Like the garden bees, these creatures don't seem to mind the obstacle course they need to run in order to get to the nectar and pollen.

Perhaps the long grasses of the prairie are exactly what we want here.  Then they would not be weeds anymore.  They may not be beautiful in a formal garden, but they do seem to be bringing all these creatures to us.

So maybe I'll focus on that. The life, the beauty that exists in our yard right now.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

watching, fencing, and shooing our urban wildlife

It is not often that I get to listen to NPR on the radio.  But I was out and about early in the morning, running a few errands, including returning some books to the library.  I caught the beginning of an interview with Jim Sterba, author of Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds.

I listened for a bit while he described his own relationship with Maine, particularly with Acadia National Park.  And his research into the effects of wildlife conservation efforts in the United States which were begin in the early twentieth century on wildlife populations in our country and the struggles that this can create between humans and animals.  Sterba and the interviewer spoke of bear sightings in Maine, and their attacks on honeybee hives, deer overpopulation, coyote comebacks, and geese taking up residence on soccer fields.  And of the battles that this can create between humans and animals, emerging out of well intended efforts to protect, respect, and undo the harm humans have inflicted.

He spoke of the social capacity tipping point.  When enjoyment of the animals who are making a comeback, thanks to conservation efforts, crosses into having trouble with them.  Creating issues of road kill and dangers of driving, diseases carried by these wild animals such as Lyme Disease-infected ticks, and birds that destroy blueberry crops.

Sterba spoke of the fact that, as a society, we have become de-natured.  We experience very little of true nature, spending more and more time indoors.  And with this has come a loss of stewardship of the natural landscape -- people losing the skills we need to take care of the earth in order to help it maintain its balance over generations -- and an increase in preservation but without controls.

I sat for a few minutes in my car after I had reached the library, listening, and then went into our teeny tiny branch of our city library, and found it on the shelf.  I have already begun reading it; and it is a fascinating study, a whole book about the phenomenon of what I decided to term "urban wildlife" when I first began writing this blog.

I think that here we have a relatively strong relationship with nature and wildlife.  We spend much of our summer out in it, and in the other seasons as well.  We watch for beavers in the river like others watch TV.  We work to create a welcoming habitat for wildlife, pollinators, birds, and plants.  We get excited when we see creatures, running about to make sure everyone in our family gets to see them.  Trying to snap a picture.  We take pride in providing a safe, quiet and in some parts of the yard wild habitat for these creatures, a place of sanctuary on this side of the hedge, as cars whiz past on the busy street.

And, yes, we have introduced domesticated animals into the mix, indoor cat...honeybees even.  And a tended garden that changes the landscape from wild to maintained.

Despite having moved from a country setting to an urban one, I have never lived in a place that has such a diverse population of wildlife.  Skunks and porcupines frequent our yard and spar with our dogs.  We have struggled with urban predators of our flock of chickens as well as of our garden.  I have watched city hawks and eagles take my chickens, I monitor mite infestation of our bees, I trap mice in our house, relocate groundhogs from our garden, chase turkeys out of our fruit patch, and try to keep squirrels and chipmunks out of my garden seed and chicken feed.  Battie, our cat, who once was of the streets herself, tries to help us keep the mice out of the house.  Don't get me started on the pests of the insect variety in the garden.

We are up to our urban elbows here in wildlife.  And this wildlife is city-stock, adapted quite effectively to living closely to humans, unafraid of us, and of our cars.  Like the eagle that took our chickens, it stares us down.  Waits for us to leave.  And attacks the food that we have left out for them as a buffet.  When we are at my family's camps, we watch for these birds of prey, excited to see them, trying to get pictures, enjoying watching them hunt for food in the lakes.  When they are here in our back yard?  I run screaming at them, sometimes with a stick, letting our dogs out to chase them off with me.

We spend a good deal of time working on fencing.  To keep what we tend here safe.

One of the reasons we became interested in chickens was their natural tick control as they hunt for insects in the fringe areas of yards.  Julia was treated for Lyme a couple of years ago, and here and in previous homes we have struggled with a hearty population of ticks.

We are just back from a camping trip to a state park, where our children were delighted to see deer and ducks on the lake, that they were able to get so close to them while walking about the campground, sharing the same air with them as opposed to seeing them from inside the car or fleetingly as the animals run off into the woods.  I kept pushing my own thoughts about their tameness, duck parasites in the swimming water, and ticks as both ducks and deer passed a bit too close to our towels on the beach.  That the deer came into the sites as campers departed, clearly looking for food left behind.

Tick checks each night are a part of our children's night time routine, though they were never a part of mine.  Despite our vigilance, we sometimes find them on us, and a few have already attached themselves.  The children panic, I reassure them, remove them, tell them it's no big deal, that we removed them in time...and then google pictures of a potentially Lyme disease carrying deer tick as compared to a less concerning dog tick.  And begin my weeks of watching for a target rash without telling them, surreptitiously checking them over while I brush their hair and teeth, while giving them a hug, or sunscreening them.

We are out in it.  We are in our yard, growing and eating from it.  Despite our love of, our respect for, our welcome mat laid out for nature, we are also engaged in efforts to contain it.  Putting up fencing to try to keep it where we want it.  With bug spray and fencing and traps we are trying to reroute, divert, protect, and yes, adjust.  To coexist with this scrappy feisty urban menagerie, who -- due to their adaptation to what is a seemingly unwelcoming and challenging urban habitat here -- are a bit more intimidating, a bit more feral.

It is an interesting battle we wage.  One that is likely confusing to the creatures who venture here, and to our children as well.

There is currently unidentified scat out behind the chicken coop.  I plan to try to identify it today, which I am sure will involve googling pictures of scat on our iPad, held up next to the specimen on the bank, just behind the coop.  I considered showing you the picture of it that I have taken...but decided that might not be appreciated.  We were recently away for a few days and returned to find the chickens' feeder ripped off its hook in the chicken area and dragged away, emptied and abandoned.  This has happened every night since we returned home.  I am not yet sure what creature is doing this.  Whatever it is seems more interested in the feed than the chickens so far, so this offers a bit of relief.  I am going to need to improve the fencing around the larger chicken run.

* * *

I arrived home and carried my library bag with Nature Wars in it into the house and set about making everyone lunch.  I went outside to grab some peas from the garden, slammed the door behind me, and saw a flutter of movement in the grass.

And saw these.  A family of wild turkeys, the babies still small.

Moving about the yard.  Relatively unafraid of me, moving away from me slowly as I tried to photograph them, but not running off, eating as they went, the mother watching me cautiously. 

 As I walked behind them, they moved down the hill and toward the coop.  And then the turkeys stopped short.

They had come face to face with our chickens, who were escaping the blazing sun and heat by sitting in the shade of the rock wall part of our swing set.  Our chickens became alert and looked at them, sideways, in the way they do when concerned, head twitching, bodies held tall and rigid.  The turkeys and the chickens checked each other out for a bit, not getting too close, the chickens holding their ground like bullies on the playground. 

I guided the turkeys away from them, aware that one does not want wild fowl and domesticated fowl to intermingle as it can bring disease, and then encouraged the turkeys down the bank, and out of our yard.

I headed back to the garden to pick the peas.

And heard fluttering and squawking.

I looked over to the coop and saw that the chickens and the turkeys were having a West Side Story moment.  The turkeys had returned in the few minutes that had lapsed and had actually entered the coop area.  And Raspberry, our hen who thinks she is a rooster, was lining up her ladies to protect their hood.  There was a good deal of feathery fluttering and fowl jibber jabbering and soon the turkeys were on the run.  But one baby turkey took flight, and sat up on the door jam, eight feet off the ground.  She sat there for a bit and looked around.  And then serenely flew down to her mother.

So, given that apparently baby turkeys can fly, perhaps we have found our coop burglar.  But there are plenty of other likely suspects lurking about in the shadows as well.

The kids had all joined me at this point, and were taking about how cute the baby turkeys were, but also taking in stride my explanation about why these turkeys should not mingle with our chickens.  They seemed to be able to accept this strange relationship we have with our urban wildlife better than I would have expected.  Perhaps tick checks and Triple E and parasites and such are this generation's reminders of the need for balance, of letting the wild be wild, and treating it as such.  That there are dangers for them and for us being in too close a proximity.  We are all adapting to each other, and to our changing earth.

The kids helped me chase off the turkeys a second time.  A respectful shoo-ing...if you will.  Or, in Jim Sterba's words, our expressing our social tipping point.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

just back

We are just back from a few days spent camping at Lily Bay State Park on Moosehead Lake here in Maine.  It was a wonderful few days.  I missed it even before we left, knowing that when we did, the peace, quiet, and simplicity of our days was inevitably going to change.

Man, is it hard to get out of Dodge.  It feels like it took an entire day to leave.  To find all the camping gear in the attic and bring it down.  To prepare the chickens and the bees for just a few days away.  To harvest everything I could from the garden.  To complete my self-imposed task of finally finishing stacking the wood, all ten cords.  Grocery shopping, laundry, and packing.  And then repacking when we realized that it was not all going to fit in the way we had first loaded up.

We were exhausted when we finally left the driveway which probably accounts for why we got lost three times on our way into the Great Woods of Maine.  But don't feel too sorry for us.  We therefore found an amazing homemade ice cream stand.  A farm for fresh raspberries and blueberries to plunk on our campsite picnic table during sugar lows.  And we listened to Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead.  It was all good.

Despite Jonathan's and my love of camping, as evidenced by the fact that we registered at L. L. Bean instead of at some kind of fancy schmancy bridal registry place long ago, and therefore have an impressive stash of camping supplies, we have not camped more than a few times since we had children.  This is partly due to the gift of several family vacation places we are invited to each summer.  And partly because camping just seemed so very difficult with young children.  My fear of late night crying and sweaty breastfeeding and unhappy car drives and bad weather and on and on made us make different choices each summer.

But this summer?  We seemed ready.  And three hot and thunderstorm-free days ahead practically propelled us to Lily Bay State Park.  I don't think I had ever been there before, despite the fact that camping was a frequent summer activity for us as kids.

From the moment we were assigned our campsite number, it seemed we were destined for a true Maine experience.

For those of you non-Mainers, 207 is the Maine area code.  A quick campsite set up and we were off to the beach.  Given our issues with navigation, by the time we had eaten and set up the site, the light was fading.

As we walked away from our site and down the long woodland path to the beach for an evening swim, we all quieted, slowed our pace, and walked together, talking in whispers.  The light, through the trees and then down on the beach, tinging everything with a bit of pinkish hue, sharpening everything, was extraordinary.  We swam, alone on the beach, looking out at the enormous lake dotted with small islands and with Mount Kineo in the distance.  Deer walked across the beach, passing between us and our heap of towels.  Ducks, seemingly nested for the evening began to walk about, coexisting with our splashing.

We swam, and watched the sun go down.  And breathed.

The next two days were full of swimming, exploring, and swimming some more.  And, it turns out, lots of food.  My nostalgia for my own time camping with my family and friends set in. 

And as I shopped for food before we left, I couldn't help throwing into the cart some of the camp food that I remembered from camping as a child.  They didn't have all my mother's camp food at my grocery store.  Whole Foods doesn't seem to stock Jiffy Pop.  So I needed to stop at another one on the way home.  My mother used to stock our camp kitchen, or chuck box, with food we only ate while camping.  I remember loving Chinese food in a can, two cans attached to each other in a stack with crunchy noodles on the side.  So I threw frozen Chinese food into my cart and quickly boiled brown rice before we left.  Our other meal?  Tacos.  Yup.  Camp food is of a different variety than our home food.  

I also threw in s'more fixings and found potato sticks for my mother's specialty, peanut butter and potato stick sandwiches.  I served them on my own whole wheat bread which clearly made them much healthier.  Hah.  The children were amused.  

They also enjoyed all the clever camping accessories I kept pulling out of the dish bin, like pots that nested, one inside an other like Matryoshka dolls.  Or cooking on two burners and dishwashing campsite style, our dogs leashed nearby, hoping for falling crumbs.

I was flooded while there with my memories of camping and told the kids some of them as they came to mind.  But as I remembered my own childhood, I wondered, in this new place, a place only we five have ever been to: what would they remember of this place, so beautiful and quiet and sweet?  Would they bring their own loved ones here some day?  And what of this visit would they tell about?

I am thinking it might be things that did not make as much of an impression on me, things that they said quietly to each other when I was not listening.  Or things that happened on their early morning buddy trips to the bathroom.  Or things about their mommy making weird food in the campsite.  Or about spitting their toothpaste water in the woods.

Or perhaps they will remember some of what I will remember:

Daddy propelled launching in the lake.

Games played at the picnic table.

The oddity of collecting wood in the woods.  Despite having just completed stacking ten cords of wood back at home.  

Learning to use matches.  And campfires and s'mores.

The hour that Julia and I spent sitting in the tent, reading our books and chatting, while the men/boy folk were off walking the dogs.  She was just finishing The Great Unexpected and wanted to tell me its resolution.  

A swimming area, unattended by life guards and often with only us using it.  Except for the ducks and deer that seemed to accept our presence in the twilight with them. 

And coffee...and food...with a story and made in the dishes we were gifted by our loved ones years ago.

There were also the funny moments.  Like just how much bug spray we needed while there. That I brought my natural herbal version but had also thrown The Deet, as my children refer to it, into my grocery cart for a worst case scenario. Upon arriving at the campsite, we began to unload and almost immediately a moose fly -- seriously bird-sized, with yellow stripes on its body that made it very bite likely -- began persistently attacking us.  Given their gigantic proportions, these creatures are prone to take a large part of you with them if they bite.  And their bites were, in our minds, so big, so painful, that you could actual feel the teeth on them before they bit.  Allowing you, if you were vigilant, to slap them away before the real devouring began.  

Nicholas had a theory that the rangers had one moose fly assigned to each campsite, set free from the ranger station upon each camper's arrival, just to keep things interesting, to make it not too perfect an experience. So that, eventually, you would want to leave.

Or that Julia developed a serious addiction to topical Benadryl while there.  Her skin, besides Jonathan's, is the most sensitive and her bug bites were ballooning up, her body staging a mutiny.  Carrying a tube of Benadryl with her everywhere we went, clutching it as closely as she did her lovey, ZZ, at bedtime.  Only to be lost four times before she finally fell asleep on the first night.  Jonathan and I searching the sleeping bags with flashlights until it was found, but to then be called to her bedside several more times.

Or me waking to a sleepwalking Elliott that same night, walking in circles in the tent, unsuccessfully trying to undo the zippers, responding in nonsensical verbal mush when I spoke to him and guided him back to his sleeping bag.

The park rangers drove about, keeping their park pristine.  With a rake and a broom, glistening beautifully in the sunlight.

I think I need this hospitality cart here at home.  Upon returning here, we were greeted with chickens who had been visited by some sort of predator (luckily more interested in their kibble than the actual flock), bees that were bearding in the heat and needing more syrup, a yard that had gone even wilder with tall grass and overgrown weeds.  A garden that was thirsty and needing much attention.  A kitchen left messy in our rush out the door.

Any ranger in a golf cart worth his or her salt would be able to handle this better than I who needed a shower and was tired.  But so relaxed.

And wondering when we can get back there.