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.

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