Monday, June 19, 2006

The Scent of a Campsite

Some of my memories from childhood seem to have a taste or smell associated with them that is entirely unrelated to anything I ate or sniffed at the time. There was a Golden Book I had that I can still "taste," that taste having to do with the texture of the illustrations and the mood it created in me. It would be impossible to define the flavor, but it's there in my mind very clearly.

One such set of memories involves Laurel Lake. This spring my dad showed me some pictures he'd taken there and I seemed to smell something besides trees and campfire smoke and water and sand. Every summer from the time I was about 8 years old I went camping there with my Dad for around two nights. We even had a favorite site that we managed to get most years. When we first started this tradition it was by design a very primitive experience. We slept in a small two-man tent and carefully selected perfect logs to serve as camp chairs. The sites came with a picnic table and fire pit.

As years passed (and perhaps as his body aged) my dad decided that the optimal circumstances for communing with nature were more luxurious. Comfy folding chairs started making appearances as well as pads for the sleeping bags, and toward the end we'd gotten a nice roomy dome tent that I could stand upright in and probably could have slept 4. This tent was particularly nice one year when it rained. Dad and I spent the day playing gin rummy inside, which took on a strangely sunny effect from the light colors of the fabrics. Dad always brought nice quality meats to fry and one year we found blueberries on a hike that we picked and put in our pancakes the next morning.

My dad also took my brother camping--separately though. Mostly I'd go first and help set up camp. But I think there were years that Dan had his turn and then I'd take down camp with my dad. These trips always involved finding fire wood, hiking around, and many walks and talks. We would go to the lake, as I remember, only in the evenings as part of a walk. (Many Saturdays during each summer were spent at the lake, swimming, and sunning, and trying to keep sand out of our tuna sandwiches.) I love walking and talking with my dad and have since I was very little. And I think this was my favorite part about these trips--a lot of time for talking.

One year though, in high school, I was NOT up for camping. I spent a bit of time as a teenager coming up with reasons to be angry at my dad. I can't recall if that was the reason I didn't want to go or if it was truly the camping itself. I didn't have the guts to say no, so I acted grumpy in protest. I also can't remember if I had helped to set up camp that year, but I think I had. We'd only been there a couple of hours when my dad turned to me and asked if I'd rather go shopping. I couldn't believe he was serious--but he was. We packed the car back up and went home. I think we did shop a little at the mall, but mostly we just spent the time together at his house. Even at the time I realized what a considerate and loving gesture this was and felt very thankful. Looking back, it means even more. It seems like the next year we didn't even try camping--we did something more urban for fun instead.

College makes you a little nostalgic sometimes, and coming home my freshman year we did the camping trip again. I knew it was probably going to be my last and I think it was the best because of that. There was nothing exciting or out of the ordinary. Just a lot of talking.

That kind of time with my dad just doesn't happen now. Not really because we don't go camping together anymore, but because we're rarely alone anymore for more than a few minutes here and there. I'd not change that--I want my kids to get to know their grandpa as well as possible--but sometime it would be nice to have a day for walks and talks. Living in the mountains, I've got a perfect setting for that. But maybe my dad would prefer I take him to the mall.

Friday, June 02, 2006

"Oh what do you do in the summertime. . ."

". . . when all the world is green? Do you march in parades, or drink lemonades, or count all the starts in the sky? Is that what you do? So do I."
CS, p. 245

Confession: I am more excited for summer break than my kids. As I type, they are finishing up their 10th to the last day of school. With 18 days to go, I made one of those paper chains that the kids often bring home in December to count down to Christmas. But instead of red and green construction paper, I used pink and yellow and orange, with red numbers. I enlisted the help of #2 and #3. #1 was not interested. I cut and they stapled and labeled numbers. It was quite fun, and this afternoon the chain will be half as long!

Second confession: I will be sadder for school to start back up at the end of August than my kids--even #2. The other three will likely be excited to get back! The last two weeks of summer break I will be trying my hardest to ignore the dreadful growing pit in my stomach and instead fully enjoy what's left of my vacation. I will try to balance doing lots of fun things with doing nothing at all, which is also fun.

Why do I love school breaks? Part of it is entirely about me. I tend to resist structure and routine. I prefer events and projects. I'm sure structure is good for me. But so is wheat bread, and most of the time I'd clearly rather have a donut. (Um, not that I do, but that would be my preference.) Summer is right up my alley. I get to have the chocolate glazed Krispy Kreme in my whole-grain filled life.

The other part of my love of summer is my kids. I love to have them home. I love to have that time to interact and learn together. We can have more moments like yesterday. #3 brought home some sunflower and corn seedlings that she'd grown at school. We planted them after lunch, which was fun in and of itself. Then I noticed a ladybug in the pine tree above our head. It's ladybug season and they are everywhere. I pointed it out to the kids then saw another. I counted 5. Then I counted 10. And suddenly they began to pop out all over. Little red bugs on green needles--hundreds of them, all the way up the tree. It felt like we'd entered a fairy land.

Maybe they'd been in the pines before, but I'd never noticed them. They are small and easy to miss. And yesterday, we saw magic in our front yard. So much of life is like that. So much of raising kids is like that. When I'm in a hurry and life is busy, I miss more of the magic and fun and beauty that is always there. But when there is time, when I'm relaxed, I see it. And my kids and I together have the opportunity to see it in the world around us.

This summer we will swim and hike. We will tie dye and knit and make ribbon barrettes. We'll play monster trucks and we'll read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We'll see sights along the road and we'll make ice cream on the back deck. And I'll try not to worry about what's getting done and what's not.

My little ladybugs will fly away before I know it. I want to enjoy them as much as I can.