Tuesday, August 6, 2013

navigating the imperfection of family life

The Croods, Dreamworks 2013     
The Werner Family, Moosehead Lake, Summer 2013.

No, not really.  But kind of.  My mom does not carry a swirly dinosaur bone as a stick.  Nor was she there.  So that old woman is actually Nicholas.  Or me.  

Otherwise?  Just about right. 

This week, we returned to Lily Bay State Park on Moosehead Lake.  

Having had such a wonderful time there a few weeks ago and with a last minute change of plans due to my family's camp being under a bit of construction, we reserved a campsite there and headed back.  Ready for another lovely trip, having retained all the best parts of our trip there last time. We had blotted any overtired grumpy behavior.  The terror brought on by bugs.  The split in Elliott's knee when he tripped walking the dogs.  The perfection was what we all remembered, and there was much to remember.

This time, we took our boat.  And had ourselves a bit of an adventure.

The presence of our boat made this trip and bit more lake centered.  And it was amazing.  I grew up visiting smaller lakes in Maine.  My family has always had an Old Town canoe and a small Old Town motor boat.  Both our boat and my parents' boat are still powered by motors that are of the same era as the boats.  

Therefore, they sometimes run.  But often part of the adventure of using the boat is that the motor does not start.  Or starts and then stops.  It stops once out in the middle of the lake. Or up the river.  Many a misadventure has been had with these beautiful but unreliable boats.  And that is part of their charm.  Luckily, the lakes on which we have used them are small, and filled with friendly boaters who can lend a hand.  

But Moosehead Lake?  It is enormous.  The largest in Maine.  And frequently compared with the ocean.
The lake to-day was rougher than I found the ocean, either going or returning, and Joe remarked that it would swamp his birch. Off Lily Bay it is a dozen miles wide, but it is much broken by islands. The scenery is not merely wild, but varied and interesting; mountains were seen, farther or nearer, on all sides but the northwest, their summits now lost in the clouds; but Mount Kineo is the principal feature of the lake, and more exclusively belongs to it. After leaving Greenville, at the foot, which is the nucleus of a town some eight or ten years old, you see but three or four houses for the whole length of the lake, or about forty miles, three of them the public houses at which the steamer is advertised to stop, and the shore is an unbroken wilderness.
Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods

Jonathan and I swallowed our fear as we looked at it, hoping it would not swamp our birch. We started up the motor that gave us such trouble last year.  And it started.  We glanced at each other.  A bit shocked.  And headed off.

We tootled.  It was gorgeous.  Fluffy clouds skittled across the sky. 

As Thoreau observed, the lake is filled with craggy rocked and tree rooted islands, both big and small, with sweet cottages tucked in amongst the towering cedars.  All in the shadows of mountains.

And we headed down the lake, a very long trip, toward Greenville.  I was using my map of the lake on my cell phone to guide us toward the town wharf.  A check of our gas tank confirmed to us just how large the lake was.  We were going to use more than a half of our gas tank to get down the lake.  We had focused, of course, on the homemade ice cream stand in town when we passed through by car.  But today, we also needed gas and hoped there was a station within walking distance.

Though the kids will probably first tell you about the homemade ice cream we enjoyed while docked there, I was most taken by the lakeside gas station.  For its charm, but also because we were not going to make it back up the lake without a refill.  To be honest, I had not really expected the boat to start, much less drive us miles to the distant town.

After we had pulled in, filled our tank and ran about the station's dock a bit, we headed out.  And tootled some more, in and around the small islands.  If the adventure had ended there, it would have been perfect.  But of course it did not.

When we had told my parents about our planned trip, my father mentioned that the lake was big, and that the waves could get quite choppy.  Much to my chagrin, my father is often right, and this day was no exception.  The wind came up as we headed back, ready to be back at the park for a swim and a walk.  Jonathan and I pretended it was funny, exciting, and nothing to be concerned about as we headed into the wind, boat rising and crashing into the waves while I held on tight to my seat, and closed my eyes, and fought the motion sickness I get when on choppy water.  

Nonetheless we arrived back at the wharf safely, if queasy, unloaded, and breathed a sigh of relief.

* * *

We had thrown in the paper map book for this trip to Lily Bay, having discovered that our cell phones' GPS does not work consistently up there.  It is too remote for our service.  DeLorme was our friend this trip, particularly the next day when we loaded up a picnic lunch and the dogs and headed out for a short hike, planning to return in a couple of hours for an afternoon swim.  

A quick stop at the ranger station for a recommendation, and we headed further north, to the top of the lake, even further into the North Woods.   

Follow the signs to Little Kineo, the ranger told us.

We watched for said signs.  But only saw these.

Albeit amusing, they didn't really help guide us.  

Others were informative.  But this fork in the road?  Not on my map.

Some provided wonderful examples of irony.

But none were in any way helpful in terms of telling us where we were.

These creatures roadside were beautiful, but too busy to offer directions.

A logging truck came by, whizzed past us as we sat pulled off a bit, searching our Delorme map for clues.  Where had that come from?  And then, it was gone.  We waited a bit longer to let the dust it kicked up settle.  So we could actually see the "road" again.

We knew where we were trying to go.  But the roads were not cooperating.  We followed a road for a bit from an unmarked fork.  This road, much to the kids' amusement, was clearly marked with empty beer cans hung from trees at carefully spaced intervals.  

We turned around after a bit.  Maybe it would have been fun to arrive at whatever event the cans were marking.  But maybe not.

Eventually, from parsing Delorme, we figured out where we were by counting brook crossings and forks and turns.  We were out on the peninsula that the mountain we were seeking was on.  We felt we were getting close.  On the possible right road.  And then...

Rock throwing and skipping commenced.  It really does not take much to inspire this activity in my children, and it is quite entertaining...especially when you can stop your car in the middle of the road, let them out and allow them to pass the time this way while we again consulted the map.  And had a bit of a tiff about whether it was a good idea to drive through the puddle.  I won.  

We turned around.

I handed sandwiches packed for the hike into the back seat without a word.

And we soldiered on.  Determined at this point by our stubbornness, that two hours had passed since we left the campsite and we were going to find this mountain.

Another road, sure to be the right one.  Ended thusly.

Turns out that the symbols for "gate" and "stone wall" are remarkably similar.

We turned around and tried again.

We came to the seventh tree that had fallen across the road and had not been cleared.  I finally announced that this tree, blocking most of the road and therefore indicating that few had passed this way recently, was our last.  Seven signs that we should turn around was apparently my limit.  

So we did.

Nicholas said, "Retreat!!  Back to the campground!  It is fear that has kept us alive!!"  A reference to a line from The Croods.  We all laughed.  Jonathan and I likely mostly out of relief, that they were being good natured and finding the humor in this.  And then we retreated.

* * *

Back at the campground, three hours after we left, we still needed a walk, an adventure, a turn around for our deflated adventure mood.  So we headed out, with the unexercised dogs, on a walking trail we had seen as we left the park hours before.

We had no map.  And no idea where this path would take us.  

The dogs were being wild, unaccustomed to being walked on leashes.  Having wrangled them through numerous encounters with unfamiliar canines and their owners that were rather embarrassing, I saw a small path that led off the main trail and down toward the water.  And suggested we take it.  And found this.  A tiny island, just off the rocky shore.

The kids named it Blueberry Island.  Because it was small and round.  And covered in wild blueberry plants, the fruit ripe and unpicked.

A bit frustrated by our day, we all spread out at first on this small but heavily wooded island, with a rocky beach all around it and one path down its center.  And had our adventure there.  A short walk from our campsite.

Having had some space, after stretching our muscles and spreading our arms to this unexpected destination, we came back together.  And rather giddily enjoyed an afternoon there.

Of course, rock skipping and throwing and swimming, some of it intentional, happened.  Followed by a walk, but really more of a dance, back to our campsite, barefoot and wet.  Trying to ignore the imprudence of it.  Of the late hour for supper.  Of the potential for cut feet.  Of the chill, without dry clothes to change into.

In this whole parenting experience, we have to push ourselves to get out of our comfort zones.  Yet at any moment, and we never know when this balance is going to shift, things could slip out of control and become dangerous.  Or scary.  Or just plain fall apart.  Then again we could also have this amazing moment that we wouldn't have had if we hadn't pushed ourselves.  

Sometimes I wish it was clearer when to push forward.  Or to turn back.  But then it wouldn't be an adventure.  

Will we remember the hike that never was?  That Julia was stung by a bee our first night there and would not come out of the tent for hours?  That we forgot many things, including one of the ropes needed to tie the boat to the dock?  That we had to leave a day early in order to avoid a morning spent packing up our campsite in the heavy downpour?

I hope not.  Given how we recall our last visit here, I think they will remember the ice cream and the boat trip into town.  And skipping rocks in a huge puddle.  And Blueberry Island.

Those woods.  Their textures.  A large and rocky lake.  Magic.

At least that's how I remember it.
It's not what you look at that matters. It's what you see.
 Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods

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