Sometimes the symbolism hits you over the head


I was lying in the summer-warmed water of a small New Hampshire lake. The sun was gently warm on my upturned face. Pines surrounded the lake with taller peaks framing the tableau. The air was full of the sound of happy children playing — the yells and shouts and laughter. My ears were stopped by the water, where it was blessedly blissfully quiet. I noticed I was far more buoyant than normal, with my nursing-large breasts and Tevas dragging the rest of me towards the surface. And for that glinting moment in the sun, I just WAS and it was good.

Later that afternoon — after a long leisurely tent-nap — I noticed my watch had stopped keeping time on that swim.

Every once in a while, the symbolism just comes down and smacks you.

We had a fantastic three-day weekend camping. We spent two nights at White Lake State Park, this time. The water was the best. When I was playing with my sons in the water, I had the rare sensation of being completely engaged. I was entirely present in the play, and not thinking ahead or behind or calculating or listening to something else or wishing that I was anywhere but where I was. I threw my laughing children into the air and caught them as they splashed in the water. I watched them discover what they could do in this unusual medium — sand squishing between small toes and eyes squinting against bright sun. I watched my husband, strong and lithe, play with the boys who look so much like him.

The camping parts were great too. We made a vast improvement by putting Thane to sleep in his car seat inside the tent. He was far more comfortable AND we had more room for important things like stomp rockets, rope for practicing making knots and marshmallows. My husband delighted in knot tying (really delighted — he was nearly illuminated with the joy of learning this new skill — and our tarp only took about 4 hours to get up!) Grey poked things with sticks and stayed up too late and ate his bodyweight in marshmallows and made his brother laugh. Thane? Well, Thane probably got the short end of the deal. He really liked the water (a lot!) but spent most of his time hanging out in his stroller, which is probably not as much fun as getting to eat dirt and rub pine needles into his hair.

There were, of course, tribulations. Notably, the first night was an absolute deluge. The rain was phenomenal. On the plus side, we had a drum-tight tarp to keep us dry, which it did. On the negative side, we therefore had a snare drummer playing above our head all night long. Also, Thane woke up inconsolable, which is really hard when we’re all in such a short space. I’m not sure what was wrong with him, and therefore I couldn’t fix it quickly and that woke up Grey and that meant, well, let’s just say we were sleepy by the time the weekend was over.

Also, let us discuss for a moment the word cheap. Cheap can mean inexpensive — a bargain. Cheap can also mean low-quality. When one encounters “cheap” firewood, perhaps one should not be surprised when it turns out to have been cut last week in a bog, where it has been stored since. It took me two and a half hours to get a fire going with said “cheap” firewood. I can usually get a fire going with one match using no man-made materials in about 15 minutes. (We used to heat with wood. I’m really pretty good at fire-building.) The tinder would go up, the fire would appear started and then in 5 minutes it would be dead. The cheap firewood didn’t just smoke, it steamed.

There was also a plague of frogs. If I had to pick a plague, I think the plague of frogs was probably the one I’d mind least. They were pretty cute little buggers, but TINY. There were so many of them that on a walk with Grey we could hardly step without imperiling the little froggy bodies below us. The forest floor twitched with the movement of perfectly camouflaged frogs.

Tiny little frogs everywhere!
Tiny little frogs everywhere!

I think we will go camping again SOON. I keep wishing we could go with friends or another grownup so that my husband and I could go witness the miracle of stars, or listen to the loon sing a night-song on the lonely lake. But even if my husband didn’t like camping (which he does), I think he would go just to watch the petals of the flower that is me uncurl and turn to the new-shining sun. The wilderness is manna to me. It is sunshine. It opens me up and drops my defenses. It makes me remember what I like about myself and forget my mantras of doubt, gloom and distraction. I like who I am in the woods.

Driving home, I couldn’t help but be excited by what we were doing, and had done. Already, a grand two trips in, we have traditions. There’s the “Miss Wakefield Diner” and their chocolate chip pancakes. There’s the spooooooky stories (not so spooky) around the fire. There’s rough-housing in the tent. There’s swimming in the lake. There are memories saved up against cold February days and the creeping sense of dismal sameness.

There is joy, a shared joy, and remembered joy.

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

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