Friday, August 22, 2014

that rhythmic whispering sound

There was still the sound -- airy, like a long breath, only not that.  I followed it until I came to an old phonograph with a record spinning on the turntable, but the needle was at the end, making only that rhythmic whispering sound... 
"You were upset when you ran down here.  So I put on the white space for you.  To calm you down.  That's what I do when I'm upset.  I listen to the white space.  Do you feel better?"
from Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool

Nicholas is just back from another week attending Rippleffect Camp on Cow Island in Casco Bay.  We have all heard so much about his days there, but since getting him to camp each morning involves driving to the Casco Bay Lines terminal and waving to him as he boards a ferry heading toward the first of three island stops followed by a water taxi ride to the small island, we had not actually seen the landscape of his adventures.

This year, I was able to join Nicholas for the Parent Paddle Day, the part of the week-long camp when parents are invited to join their kids and counselors on the island.  Having sent Nicholas off for the day earlier that morning, I rode a later ferry out with other parents, each following our campers' steps to Cow Island.

And so, I got to have my own island experience, got to see what I had heard so much about, got to spend the day chatting with a dear friend who was also heading out to see her son, and got to spend some time with just Nicholas, well, Nicholas and all of his camp mates, a rare and delightful opportunity.

My friend and I giggled about how, despite our eye rolling at times about our children's difficulty getting themselves and their gear together each morning, and our typically nail-biting last-minute drives to the dock, we too were running a bit late, and both of us ended up forgetting something.  In the end, like our children, we were driven and picked up by our lovely husbands in order to save time and to help us avoid having to find parking.  It made us feel even more like our kids, following along in their footsteps.

The night before, the remnants of a hurricane had ripped through Portland.  I had heard that approximately six inches of hard and fast rain had fallen and, as we drove into Old Port, there were signs of washing and flooding everywhere.  Everything had the appearance of drying out.

Despite the weather the day before, it was a beautiful morning.  The sun was emerging and it was warm.  We boarded our ferry and pulled away from the dock.  And began our trip.  A harbor seal accompanied our ferry for awhile, swimming beside us and then flashing his flippers and diving out of sight.

Once out amongst the Casco Bay islands, we saw more evidence of the rainfall the night before.  There were gushing waterfalls running down like deep roaring exhalations out and off the small islands and into the bay.  Adding a new aspect of the landscape to the piney, scrubby, rocky terrain.

Our ferry master was fabulous that morning, and despite our living here and visiting some of the islands regularly, I found myself listening to him and his explanations and information as though I were a tourist.  He explained that with the rainfall and the storm now off shore, we were going to experience more significant swells than usual. And he showed us the lines of foam that were forming near the shores of the islands, with blue water on one side of the foam and green on the other, where the fresh water running off the land was meeting the salt water of the bay.

We were surrounded by a small group of parents and then outside that circle were other ferry riders, visitors to the islands and residents mingling together.  The ferry ride was slow and calm and quiet, people talking and laughing, but with their eyes focused out at the Bay and the water and the islands.  And I realized just how much a part of Nicholas' day was spent on the ferry rides themselves, getting to Cow Island in the morning and then back in the afternoon.  That, like me, sitting next to a friend, there was so much time to look and talk and breathe.  And doing this independently, moving about this island world on his own, with a different set of people moving with him than on his typical days.  It certainly explained where and why all of those puzzles and word games had been developed and perfected last year.

It made me think of our reading of Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool earlier in the summer, and of how the boy in this book, Early Auden, talks about the white space, the scratchy circling moments in between songs on a record, as soothing, as being as much a part of the record, of the music, as the songs themselves.  As something to be listened to independently.  I was now experiencing the white space of Nicholas' camp day as much as the songs and activities and games.

After three stops, we arrived at the next leg of our trip, collected our back packs and hopped off the ferry at Diamond Cove.  Followed our guide for the morning across the dock and behind the ticket booth.  And down the ramp to where the water taxi was waiting to take us on the final leg of the journey.

That's the water taxi on the right in the picture above.  And as I uncoordinatedly stepped into the high walled and deep bottomed boat, meeting the driver, Bob --  a man about whom I have heard a great deal-- by way of his grabbing my arm to keep me from falling, I realized that this part of the trip was going to happen while standing.  So I spread my feet apart and braced myself.  And we were off.  Truly, a huge part of the adventure of this camp?  It's getting there.  It is the same realization about the journey and not the destination that Jack, the narrator in Navigating Early, makes about his own water odyssey with Early, the same one so many realize, of course, but one that sometimes needs to be rediscovered.

We were headed just a short distance, around the point of Great Diamond, through a narrow channel and then to the private dock of Rippleffect on Cow Island.  

This was the view as we rounded the point through the channel.  Rippleffect kayakers and Portland Yacht Club sailors smiling and mingling.  It was really such a gorgeous view.  So truly Maine ocean, and not a world that I have fully wrapped my mind around before.

I clumsily stepped out of the boat onto the Cow Island dock.  Felt the movement of the floating pier beneath my feet, and decided to tuck my camera safely away into my backpack.  We waited for a few more trips of the water taxi for the remaining parents, and then we headed up the gangplank to the island.

Remember how I said that, like our children, I had forgotten something that morning?  Well, I had not charged my camera battery, and soon after arriving on the island, my battery gave out.  So it remained tucked away in my backpack and I was left to experience the rest of the day without it, snapping a few pictures here and there with my iPhone.  It certainly made me more present in some ways, but I wish for just a few more pictures that captured what the island is like.

For example, I wish I had a picture of the paths and the gorgeous wild bramble on Cow Island.  These small islands, Goat, Sheep, Ram, got their names from their original use by farmers in the early 1800's for their animals to graze, using the water boundaries as natural fencing from predators and as barriers to contain the animals themselves.  This practice obviously no longer continues, so the island grows without the natural pruning grazing provided.  In the early 1900's, Fort Lyon was constructed upon Cow, and small military companies served there during WW I and WW II.  The fort and its barracks still exist on the island, and Rippleffect has built its facility around the terrain and the concrete.  

Nicholas had described so much; he is a very detailed reporter.  But I don't think he had told me about the terrain there.  I was captivated by it.  And you are going to have to imagine it, because I did not snap any decent pictures of it.

As you walked off the dock, you entered a constant of the landscape on the island: scrub.  Lush, shimmering, and enchanting scrub.  Trails run all about the island marked with various buoys.  The paths are wide enough for walking along with your group of campers, but each cluster of people needs to remain aware of the width of the paths, pausing where the path narrows or bends, turning here and there, rising and falling rhythmically with the grade of the ground.  The trees and shrubs and plants on each side of the path are well above your head, and therefore typically the only thing that you can see. Surrounded by green on a curving path with smaller trails heading off into more scrub, it was disorienting but in a wonderful way.  With brush too dense and scratchy to move within, you are restricted to the trails and small number of clearings.  It felt a bit like being in an exciting maze, guiding you, hiding what was around the next curve, controlling where you emerged each time.  Occasionally, you come upon a clearing, and the first clearing my friend and I came to was where we found our boys, waiting for us and playing a group game of some silly variation on tag.  They were smiling and laughing, ran up to us, checked in with us and then asked if they could rejoin their game.

Once we had played a hilarious round of cooperative field games, we headed off on a tour of the island, walking from the partially shaded clearing back into the shrubbery.  Our boys moved with confidence on the trails, and I realized they knew this island, were leading us places that seemed confusing to me.  Like the ferry ride, they chatted and tripped and paused and walked the trails.  Navigating these trails was also a part of their days here that, though not mentioned to me in his description, were as much a part of the landscape of his days as the activities.  More white space between each destination.

After visiting the yurt where he would be spending that night for his one overnight of the week, we continued winding down the trail until we came to a large organic terraced garden built into the slope of the island and used for staff and campers' meals.  And then emerged into the only other shaded but more open space I saw on the island, the Battery Bayard.  

I know it is strange, but I found the bathrooms on the island oddly beautiful.  

The environmental mindedness of the program was evidenced everywhere, the solar powered kitchen, rain barrels set up to collect fresh water, food grown on the island, the composting toilets.

The camp fits itself into the remoteness of the island and the remains of the fort so beautifully.  We walked up and over the barracks and down again into Kayak Cove, where a fleet of ocean kayaks waited for us to head out on a paddle around the island.

It takes a great deal of work to settle a large group of inexperienced parents and their more experienced children into a fleet of kayaks at high tide made higher by storm related swells and rainfall.  I was again struck, as I sat beside Nicholas in our kayaks for a good long time before we launched, skirted and sealed into my kayak's opening, reminded to hydrate frequently, and given a quickie paddling tutorial, how the sitting, the waiting, the chatting was such a significant part of his day.  This social time created by patience and preparation and process is important as well.  The Rippleffect staff has an energy, and camaraderie, and calmness about them as they work enthusiastically and with humor and with a reassuring eye toward safety and information at all times.  Their way of moving during these in between times gave us and our children space to just be together for long periods of time.

And then, we were off.  Launched from the beach, learning quickly how different an ocean kayak is from the kayaks I am used to using on rivers and lakes.  Navigating swells and wakes and tides in a very narrow tippy shell is a whole different beast.  But once out of the cove and in the open Bay alongside Cow's coast, it was utterly fabulous.  The plan for circumnavigating the island did not happen that day given the somewhat turbulent waters.  But we had a very lovely paddle to an area of calm waters.  Then again ensued some hilarious games, on the water this time instead of in the shade of the shrub on land: peanut butter and jelly tag followed by challenges to do bow kisses without rolling your kayak.  We were encouraged to fill our lungs with the air and to yell as we played.

That kayak ride with Nicholas was a highlight of the day for me.  Afterwards, we said goodbye to our boys who would be spending the night there, and then reversed our trip home.  Riding the water taxi and ferries and then in cars back home.  More quiet, and talking and reflection, a long breath out after a day together with my friend.  Time which, when I think back on the day, was just as meaningful to me as the games and kayaking.

The next evening we were all back at the ferry dock to pick Nicholas up one last time.  As I explored the new ferry station, I spied his ferry coming in outside the wall of windows.

Dashed outside to snap a picture of the campers and counselors laughing and talking and moving together on the boat.  Understanding more this part of his day, not as a way of getting somewhere, but as the sound of quiet, of the groove between the songs, of continuing rhythm.  His ferry moving and breathing out and then in again with each trip.

I resisted interrupting the last moments of his day as my tousled salty smelling boy said goodbye to his counselors and new friends, and then we headed down the dock to our now traditional dinner at our favorite pizza place, Flatbreads, just at the end of the pier.  I snuck a hug and squeeze in there as we walked down the dock.

The getting there, the trails, the time in between.  The white space of his days at camp.  I am so glad to have been a part of it for a short time.  To have gotten to walk and drive and ride and skim across a bit of it with him.

We all move in the white spaces of our days together, getting from one place to another, to school and activities, the times of transition between summer and school, and between seasons.  As they get older, I think this white space becomes even more important, becomes more where a good deal of family time and talk and reflection and being together happens, inspired by what just was and the energy created by what is about to be.  It is the landscape of our days.  We will keep moving in it together.  And I think I will be listening to it a bit more now.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this so much and felt I had been there. As an island dweller myself it was so familiar yet so new. Thank you x


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