Bumpy roads and traditions

Here are the infallible Flynn Family Camping Traditions:

1) Stop on the way up at the Toys’r’Us (sadly likely last time) & Starbucks in Portsmouth
2) Late lunch at Miss Wakefield. One time, we forgot Grey’s old Kindle there on Labor Day weekend. They had it waiting for us Memorial Day Weekend the next year.
3) Camping at either White Lake, Covered Bridge or Waterville Valley campgrounds
4) Soccer at Almost There tavern. 100% of the time, Gerd will be there. If it’s slow, he’ll do magic tricks.
5) Dinner at Hart’s Turkey Farm. Order the poutine. Poutine is always a great choice.

Many great traditions include moose

This long weekend contained all of those ingredients. It was Waterville Valley, this time. In a rare moment of discretion and wisdom, I checked Google Maps to get a route from Miss Wakefield’s to Waterville Valley. Sure, it’s tempting to run the Kancamagus just for fun, but it’s also nice to get to your campsite before dark. Google directed me on a route I hadn’t taken before, likely some rural way cutting up Rt 25 (home to one of the scariest drives I’ve ever done in dense fog) up through byways to 49. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

At first the route was captivating and charming in that old New England way with stately old houses, scenic fallen stone walls, beautiful vistas and ancient orchards. Then it started getting really rustic. Then it stopped being paved. At one point, bouncing along a rutted dirt road which had been one lane for at least the last two miles, tires tipping over the top of a hill whose other side I could not see, I began laughing hysterically with joy. THIS WAS A REAL ROAD (and it wasn’t my fault we were on it). I have gone years and years without getting to drive a real road in a completely inappropriate vehicle! I skirted massive holes, went over granite boulders, edged along with bare inches between my wheel and a dropoff and generally had a blast. There was that one minor issue, when whining in the back seat about hitting their heads on the top of the car made me slow down a bit and then I didn’t have enough momentum to make it up the hill. For a while, I didn’t quite have leverage to make it back down, either. Eventually I got myself straightened out. Of course, that’s when we saw the first other vehicle in half an hour. It was too narrow for him to pass me, and I needed a moment to figure out how I could move my vehicle aside before making another attempt at the hill – gazing at the ruts my previous attempt had made.

This would be more accurate if it read “Abandon hope all ye who enter here without four wheel drive. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been much changed since 1801.”

I pulled out my finest “Mountain Mom”. “Sorry, I’ll move aside. I need to plan my attack for the hill better. Google Maps didn’t mention this.” The gentleman in his ginormous 4×4 pickup turned white, “What, you’re on The Sandwich Notch Road by surprise! (He shuddered.) You don’t have four wheel drive, only all wheel drive?” We discussed routes for a moment in a swirling vortex of mosquitos. We agreed that my best bet was to take the outside corner. He said he’d drive it for me (“I drive this road all the time”) but… “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for damaging your vehicle.” I pulled my car, laden with bicycles, tents, NERF guns and terrified children out of the way. I didn’t mention that I don’t have all wheel drive either – I only have front wheel drive. Crappy front wheel drive. He passed me. My chicken family told me they’d meet me when I got to the top. I pulled back, gunned it, and made it to the top no problem. Eventually they walked back up to me.

Adam says I’m not allowed to ever drive that road again, unless I have a four wheel drive. Meanie! We totally didn’t die. Man was that fun.

It ended up raining less than expected this weekend, which is not to say it didn’t rain. It just didn’t rain *much*. Adam got to do a lot of rope and tarp-tying, which surprisingly makes him very happy. The boys went swimming in the river. Grey and I did some geocaching. We played a Cthulu game. There was laser tag and Nerf gun wars. The campfire was going pretty much non-stop.

We had four tarps up

Our middle night in, with freshening winds rising up the valley along the Mad River, Adam and I were just getting ready for bed when we heard this iconic creaking, breaking and crashing sounds. Very clearly a tree had just fallen, very nearby. We listened for screaming – none. We went to where we heard it and were assured everyone was fine. One person said, “It wasn’t as bad as it sounded.” When I went back in the light of day, I had to beg to differ. I didn’t take pictures of their camp site, but this was only a few feet from tents, tarps and cars where a whole family was staying.

The trunk had bifurcated and each part had fallen to the sides – twice as potentially deadly!
Easily fatal – times two

This was especially alarming to me since there was an already splintered pine tree very nearly overhanging our tent. This widowmaker was very stably caught in the Y of a very lithe and healthy looking birch tree – I couldn’t see how it could come free. But it creaked alarmingly in the winds. I would claim I couldn’t sleep soundly with it up there, but that would be an out and out lie. I think I might have been the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my life lying on that air mattress on Sunday morning.

Helpful ladder replacement

The boys were remarkably helpful this time. I kept having flashbacks to camping when they were like 18 months old and 4 and I had conniptions every single night trying to get them to sleep. But now they could start fires, they did the chores we asked (from carrying firewood to water to fetching – anything!) They were cheerful and helpful and kind and… they went to bed when they decided they were tired. It was amazing. I never dreamed this day would really come, but it did. All those years of effort have really paid off! Now to get them to like hiking…

Hiking to find a geocache

My heart is filled with longing

A month ago, I wrote that winter had lasted forever. There have been several forevers in the interim, and still there are shoulder-high snowbanks, and just today flakes flew across the street in front of us, like a veil of winter. You can’t walk along the sidewalks. You can’t really go hiking. The world seems to close in on itself. I’m sick of every single room in my house. (Which – hey! April 3 is THE DATE for demo to begin on the attic project! We have a backup plan of if the snow is still so heavy we can’t park on the street.)

The last two weeks or so, my brain has started playing some tricks on me. As I walk through my day to day, my mind will flash a quick scene in front of me. There’s that stretch of Hwy 16 in New Hampshire near Ossippee where a lazy river runs under a steel bridge with an expansiveness of space and time my busy life can barely imagine. The beeches, with their course green and gold leaves, in the campgrounds of White Lake and Covered Bridge, flicker in a remembered sunlight. The vast fields of milkweed, in the shadow of Mt. Whittier. The loon on the lake. The mists settling across marshes at sunset near Tamworth on 25. The crackle of the fire, springing sparks up to a warm night sky.

The Loons

These visions come unbidden. Some of these things I can’t even believe I remember. Many of the scenes that show up are ones from the road – and I’m almost always going about 55 through those zones, after 3 hours of driving. How can my memory so perfectly lay out not just the field, but the shape of the milkweed across it. The shadows on the east side of Whittier. The music on the radio. The warmth of the air. I do not think I could have voluntarily pulled that image – that memory – from my mind. But without summoning it, there it is.

I think I find these even more precious when I discovered they are not universal. I know and love some folks with aphantasia. Not everyone can close their eyes and be back in a moment they loved, or see from afar the fields and forests where their heart lives.

I wonder what my subconscious is telling me? It feels like a hopeful message. “Wait”, it seems to say, “This too will pass. It will not be winter forever. There is such a thing as summer, and you will know it again.” In these moments, my heart is filled with longing for what I saw – but also for hope. I will see it again. Soon. This summer. In two months, I’ll be wending my way up Hwy 16, past the lazy river and milkweed fields once more. Be patient.

There is another gift in this. It is remarkable to discover what treasures your mind has stored up for you, all unknown to you. I did not stare hard at those moments, willing them to remain in my memory forever. They just passed past my eyes and stuck there, like gold in the bottom of a pan. How many beautiful moments lurk behind my eyes, waiting until I need comfort or consolation to appear? When my eyes darken with age and my limbs will no longer take me to the woods, will these all be waiting for me? A treasure trove of beauty I didn’t even know I was remembering?

I hope so. And I look forward, with joy, to adding to that trove again this summer.

Beeches in the setting sun

Church Camp – a love letter

My first church camp was Camp Ghormley*, up on White Pass in Washington State. I went in maybe 1986 with my church youth group. I was young – Thane’s age perhaps. I remember loving the songs around the campfire, the way the bark on the pine trees fit like a puzzle, the deliciousness of a 5c green apple Jolly Rancher, and that our youth director (in one week) fell off the zip line and hit his head (blood everywhere) and slid down the railing of a cabin in tight shorts (extensive and embarrassing splinter removal). His name was Clayton, he had a Texan accent and a funny tick of jerking his head to his shoulder. We tried really hard to keep him out of trouble, but it took more than the combined powers of our Church youth group to work miracles like that.

There are no photos of me at Ghormley. Cameras were expensive. I certainly wouldn’t have given one to a kid to take to camp. So all I have are vague memories and well-memorized camp songs.

In fourth grade, we moved from the town with the big Presbyterian Church (it was PCUSA at the time) and to a town where on some Sundays the folks on the “Great War” honor roll were more plentiful than the folks worshiping in the pews. There wasn’t a youth group (there were four of us though!) but there was still Presbytery church camp. After a break of a year or two, I went to Buck Creek (now defunct, I’m afraid) where I went backpacking for the first time in my life. Even though we got rained out and were poorly kitted, I was totally and completely hooked on backpacking. We slept under the stars, back at the field at Buck Creek, and the Perseids were in full blossom across the sky and I could not shut my eyes. From then on, I took every possible opportunity to do backpacking camp. I loved the backpacking. I loved nature. I loved the songs, and the sense of worship. It’s still one of the most holy things for me.

So when Grey was like in 1st grade I started looking up the Presbyterian Camps in the area. Our church had a relationship with Camp Wilmot, so it was a short search. The very first summer he was old enough, he was signed up. But as I followed circuitous GPS directions into the “parking lot” (eg field area) I was struck by serious doubts. He was so little. He was so clearly uncertain, and nervous. And so was I, I realized. I knew *no one* at this camp. No kids. No grownups. Nothing. I was going to leave my beloved first-born child in the wilderness in the hands of strangers.

First year dropoff

I drove away anyway.

Around Thursday I got a letter. It was short – two sentences. They were both dedicated to how amazing Anthony’s BBQ chicken was.

When I picked him up he was tired, happy to see me, and ready to come back again the next year.

He wore that shirt all week – it was in every picture

The next year, he talked no fewer than four of his friends into coming to camp with him. (I think he’ll do very well in sales, if he chooses, as a career.) Where he’d been alone and afraid the first year, he was in excellent company and confident the second. And he remembered his favorite “camp shirt” as well.

The “latrines” photo has become a favorite of the parents. We threaten to hold their candy money hostage if they don’t cooperate.

Last year he was ready to do both sessions. He’d originally claimed that he didn’t need to be picked up, but called on Thursday asking for a day at home. They don’t go to bed until like 10 pm there and they’re up at 7, which is a short sleep ration for a kid his age. Also, I think he missed the cats.

I’m not sure where Matthew is in this one

This year is going to be the epicalest yet. Today I drove a packed car up to New Hampshire with a wild game of poker in the backseat (Grey: “I packed poker chips!”) and a friend in the front seat. This year he’s going to do a full two weeks. On the second week, his brother will head to camp for HIS first ever sleepaway camp (and Adam and I will be childless! Craziness!) And he and his Camp Wilmot compatriots have been talking about the awesomeness of the camp all year. This year, a total of ELEVEN kids from our town will make the trek up to White’s Pond to experience Anthony’s BBQ chicken.

There are so many incredible and wonderful things summer camp does. It gives us all practice in living without each other. The role of a parent is to raise a child who doesn’t need us. Camp is an excellent experiment in structured self-reliance. No one made Grey change his shirt, but he came home happy and healthy. He packs his own bag. He knows things that we do not know. I think it’s a grievous thing to send a person to independence for the very first time when they are an adult, and there is no safety net. Summer camp is how you practice for college. It’s also a place for children to have deep meaningful thoughts, and begin to stretch the muscles of what *they* believe and what *they* think and what’s important to *them*. Some of my greatest moments of faith happened at summer camp. I can only pray that my sons find the experience meaningful and moving too.

It also plays an important role for we parents. I am more than halfway through the raising of Grey. Thane is only a few years behind him. Who are Adam and I, when we are not coparents? What interests do we share? What bonds have we strengthened? In the week our children are learning to kayak and kyrie, we can also remember the love we have for each other.

It’s hard to walk away from your kid, like I did that first year. It’s hard when your kid walks away from you and doesn’t look back. But it’s good and right that they practice doing just that.

Week 1 latrine photo
We decided to take our OWN latrine photo
Goodbye, boys. God bless.

If you’d like to follow along with all the info we get on camp, you can follow “Camp Wilmot’s Facebook page. If you’re suddenly dying to send your kid, you can still register for week 2. And if you happen to have a truck that will pass registration and which you don’t want anymore, that’s a tough capital purchase for a scrappy summer camp. They’d be incredibly grateful for the donation!

* If I’d known about this at the time, my campfire ghost stories would’ve been epic! “But upon his sudden death in 1948 (he was stricken fatally ill at the camp as he was preparing to begin a week of camp for children) members of the church moved to have the camp named after him.”

The perfect age of boy

I remember when Grey was about three months old. He’d just started smiling. I looked over his fuzzy head to my husband and said, “I wish I could just freeze him at this age. He’s just perfect.” I wished it again at a year, and at three years (each time thinking I’d been foolish the last time – he’d clearly only improved). Granted, there were a few times in the life of each boy I haven’t wished to freeze them in place (see also: Thane at 4, Grey at 6), but so far I’ve really enjoyed my sons.

This last week or so was a particularly great time to be their mom.

On Friday, I installed Pokemon Go. I mean, everyone ELSE in the office was playing, and I’d really enjoyed Ingress. It’s, um, a touch addictive, so I happened to mention to the boys. Which explains why I spent hours this week, walking around my town with my youngest son, consulting my living breathing encyclopedia of all knowledge Pokemon related. (Seriously, these kids are amazing. They can rattle of the evolution paths, types, relative rarity and stats on like hundreds of different Pokemon. This may seem like arcane information until they’re out of their minds excited because you caught an Eevee, which can evolve into any type!)

Thane and I walked along the waters of Spot Pond for two hours today, trying to catch water type Pokemon. We stood in the twilight, and listened to the wolves in Stone Zoo howl to the waning crescent moon, while catching yet another Ratatta.

Serious Pokemon Expert
Serious Pokemon Expert

Thane will have considerable time this next two weeks to display his astonishing expertise to me. This afternoon, on a cold and drizzly day, I dropped my eldest son off at Camp Wilmot, with four other good friends by his side. It was a very gray day, and a very long ride in the car. About an hour in, he said, “Mom, I appreciate you doing so much driving. I appreciate everything you do for me. Thank you.” Awwwww. I think he’s actually gotten more affectionate as he’s gotten older, and better sees what it is that his parents do for him. I’m going to miss his good company over the next two weeks, very much.

Even though he was more than ready for me to go, and invited me to depart _several_ times before I actually went. There’s loving your mom, and not wanting to look too much like you love your mom at dropoff time.

I’m under strict instructions to write regularly, and to send a care package with his father’s bread in it.

The camper, very ready for his mom to depart
The camper, very ready for his mom to depart

You can see pictures from our 4th of July Camping Trip, and this Camp Wilmot dropoff! Enjoy!

Screen free camping

For the eight year in a row, as Memorial Day has come around, we turned the car northward to New Hampshire to go camping. I marvel every year that Thane has done this literally every year of his entire life.

The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.
The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.

Usually, the kids play on their screens on the car rides while we’re camping. Well, and in the mornings while mommy sleeps in. (Let’s talk about things I’m really, really bad at: mornings.) As their screen tastes have trended less towards DS games and more towards top 10 Youtube lists, Vines and those gawdawful addictive freemium games, the whining about the fact there’s no wifi in camping has ramped up a notch. In fact, I’ve been increasingly unimpressed with what they use their screenful time for. At least video games are problem solving. Watching other people play video games? Mmmmm…. And those freemium games are just click click click “Mom can I buy some gems with my allowance?” (Ugh. No.)

My children like to read, but it’s not their first choice activity. Their first choice activity is screen time. They only read when they don’t get to do screens. I wrestle with this. I love reading. Adam loves reading. The kids apparently read voraciously at school. But they don’t lose themselves in their rooms for hours working their way through novels. This makes me sad. I really don’t think watching other people play video games is as rich an experience as, say, reading Lord of the Rings was for me. (Which I read when I was Grey’s age.)

Ice Cream & Book
Ice Cream & Book

After a particularly whiny session in which the kids argued about who got which iPad and complained about the lack of wifi, I told the kids I was thinking about a screen free camping trip (I heretofore unheard of concept). And then we decided to do it. Better yet, our camp site was out of cell coverage, so Adam and I also put away our screens. And we all spent four days doing other things.

I prepared for this by making sure everyone had lots of books. A heavy stock-up trip to The Book Oasis was the bulk of the material, with a top-up trip to White Birch Books mid-trip. We also stopped at Toys-R-Us with an amount that the kids were to spend on toys that didn’t require screens. Thane got a Lego set. Grey got a Nerf Gun. Adam got a Nerf Gun with which to pelt Grey. I got a mocha at Starbucks.

I also prepared myself for the massive amounts of whining I expected. “I’m bored!” “There’s nothing to do!” “I hate this – I wish I had screens.” I practiced my lines in the mirror “Being bored builds character.” “Go read a book.” “If you don’t have anything to do, the dishes need doing.” “How can you be bored when you have this beautiful camp site to play at?”

You know what? I hardly needed those lines at all. Grey spent then weekend nose-deep in The Mysterious Benedict Society which is on the Stoneham Fifth Grade Reading List (which in an awesome small town moment was sent to me by the owner of the Book Oasis). I read it after him, and I have to admit it’s a very enjoyable read.

He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.
He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.

Thane dove into Tashi. I keep overestimating Thane’s reading level, and it’s been hard to find just the right books for him since he finished The Magic Treehouse series. He tried a few others, and did a great job of keeping count of the words he didn’t know to identify his just right reading level. But he loved Tashi, and I loved the fact that when he’s reading, he can hardly hear you talk.

I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That's it. (I'm not afraid of heights, but I didn't love the torsion on my knee.)
I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That’s it. (I’m not afraid of heights, but I didn’t love the torsion on my knee.)

In addition to time spent reading, we did a bunch of fun adventures. We did a great ropes course that Thane is now just tall enough to fully participate in. (I am also tall enough, but between my knee and my lack of upper body strength, I had less fun than the boys did.) The boys rode their bikes around the campground. We rented innertubes and as the mercury cracked 97 degrees we floated our way down the Saco, splashing together and really enjoying each other’s company. And yes, we did the rope swing pictured in the link above, but I didn’t bring a camera since I don’t (yet) have a waterproof one. We hiked to the top of a granite cliff (the course of the biggest screen free meltdown as Grey opined that we were completely wasting a day by hiking). The boys biked around the campground, and built a fort in the boulders behind us.

Grey had exactly 0 fear
Grey had exactly 0 fear

It was idyllic. I feel like the children grew a lot even in so brief a time.

Of course, now I’m caught on the horns of a dilemma. I never want to bring screens again – this was perfect. But I also don’t want to punish the kids for their great behavior. And they do see screen free time as a penury. So now I have to figure out how to talk them into doing it again for the 4th of July!

Looking over Echo Lake
Looking over Echo Lake

Sunset of summer

I love these guys.
I love these guys.

We mark the beginning and ending of summer the same way: with a camping trip. Although with the same cast of characters, and often in the same location, the two trips feel radically different. The one opens and discovers – checking to see where we are in this stage of our lifes. The other closes and revels – sure-footed patterns and a long lingering last kiss of summer.

I dallied this year when it came to booking the last trip of the year. I wanted to go back to Covered Bridge, which we’d enjoyed last year. Last year I hadn’t been early to book, but there had been many good sites available. But by the time I went to book this year, there were none. Hardly any spots were open in the entire White Mountains. Thus we are forced into innovation. We find ourselves at Campton Camground this time. It is much, much nicer than the execrable Wolfe Point campground in New Brunswick was, but not so nice as Covered Bridge. It’s scenically located between a major road – the noises of which never cease – and a power line clearing. But the sites themselves are quite nice. (The firewood is overpriced, scanty and wet. The bathrooms are ok.)

We found, setting up the tent, that New Brunswick had left quite an impression. Mildew was growing where none had ever grown before, on things that had not ostensibly gotten wet (like our air mattress). It’s a good thing that was not the last camping trip of the year, or some of our gear might have become entirely unusable!

Of note so far:

There was a lot of reading time this trip. Blessed reading time....
There was a lot of reading time this trip. Blessed reading time….

Grey is reading The Hobbit. He is nine, and in fourth grade, and he is reading the author with whom I fell life-changingly in love when I was nine and in fourth grade. I can’t tell you how my heart thrills to watch my son follow the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves. Tolkien is not so action packed, nor is he always easy. But Grey has embarked on the journey anyway.

Thane is also reading constantly. He’s currently on Book 51 of The Magic Treehouse. He’s read every single one, in order, starting from the first one on our vacation in Cozumel this April. If my math stands, that’s an average of two Magic Treehouse books a week (although he usually goes on binges). The big question, with the end of the series looming, is what to give him next. He’s a good reader, but he’s only going into first grade so probably isn’t ready for, well, Tolkien.

I’m attempting to read the Silmarillion for about the sixth time. I’ve gotten farther than usual, which is a scanty accomplishment. I swear the intro is dryer than the Old Testament, or anything by Chaucer. Adam is reading and thoroughly enjoying Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The night before the mattress went pfllmph
The night before the mattress went pfllmph

Two of our air mattresses went flat last night. We have three – two twins and a queen. Without probable cause, the queen and one twin went phllmph last night. There’s nothing quite like waking in a divot with your spouse falling into the gravitational black hole with you, and your hip on the cold, cold ground to interrupt a night’s sleep. I threw the long-serving air mattresses away. They have done yeomen duty on many a camping trip, but their work was done.

The Flynns
The Flynns

Yesterday’s big adventure was a 4.8 mile hike of Dickey and Welch Mountains. The first twenty minutes were full of complaining, and I was afraid we might not make it this time. We hit a rocky slope with signs that pointed out that we were surrounded by rare and precious plants whick had started their growth as the first colonists landed on Plymouth Rock – and to tread carefully accordingly. About that time, the going got really rocky (ha ha! New Hampshire joke there!) as we scrambled up cliff faces and through precipices. The worse the footing, the more cheerful and enthusiastic the kids were. As we were about to summit Welch Mountain, I was really struggling and the kids were powering on. Thane practically ran down Dickey Mountain – held back only by his parents. Could this perhaps be the last year the hiking will be easier for me than for my young sons?

Not a bad kingdom, if I say so myself.
Not a bad kingdom, if I say so myself.

Today (after a quick detour to Walmart to buy new air mattresses) we lounged in the Mad River. Last year the boys and I had built castles in the river rocks and searched for buried treasure in the mica and quartz that richly line the precious waterways of the Whites. They longed to repeat the adventure, and Adam (who had chosen to take an epic nap instead last year) I think felt a little left out of the fun. So we found a good place to park and a section of the Mad River in full sun to counteract the chill of the running waters, and we built a castle in the creek, destined to last for eternity – or until the spring floods. Injuries being the price you must pay for such adventures, I waited to see who would bear the burden on their flesh. Smart money was on Thane, who can’t walk across a room without tripping. Tragically, it was I who fell before Neptune and paid the toll. I suspect it will be quite a lurid bruise.

If I had to say what I love most about camping, I think it is that it is about the only time in my life when I shouldn’t be doing something else. Right now, at this moment I write, there is nothing more pressing I should be doing than what I am doing: writing to you. There are moments when I can be quiet and look at this glorious nature that finds its way in the small spaces between the road and the electric lines in which to be lovely. I can deeply contemplate the glint of mica in a river rock as I chill my bruised shin in the fast currents of the river. I can stop on my way to the bathrooms at night and look up at the stars as long as my screen-crimped neck will tolerate. I can gaze into the mesmeric flames of the evening campfire and find in it remnants of my wild ancestors’ visions, and pause. And I can give one last deep thought to summer.

For this is high summer for me. It’s not just the meteorological summer of 2015, or the astrological summer. It is the summer of my life. I have grown to full growth. I have planted my own seeds, and am watching them germinate in the lazy warmth of my 30s. In the calendar of my life this is July, not September. But already the days shorten. It requires less imagination to picture dropping Grey off at college, say. I look in the mirror and the effulgence of youth is missing (or requires very flattering lighting).

It is the memory of these days that will warm my winter, when Adam and I have safely brought home the harvest to which we have been entrusted. I will see these moments most clearly, I suspect, when the present day grows dimmer and I begin to live more in memory than in hope. And so I linger in these sun-flocked forests, in the quiet of a warm Sunday afternoon, and drink deeply of the woodsmoke and freely-given snuggles. I take pictures, both on my camera in the camera of my memory. I write the story of those moments here, engraving them in my heart by sharing them. And I savor the sense of warmth, love and joy that sinks into my skin in this September sunset.


You can find pictures of our White Mountain adventures here!

The Bay of Fundy

While my parents and children were off exploring colonial America (and being Very Hot in the process), Adam and I took an alternate track and went up North to the Bay of Fundy.

I struggled quite a bit with what to do this vacation. I knew it would be happening, as it’s a crying shame not to go on vacation with your spouse when your parents are taking your children for a week. For a while I dabbled with the South of France, but after a very lovely month off and tropical island vacation between jobs, that seemed a touch financially irresponsible. (Tragically. Still saving it for next time.) So then I figured we’d go camping in Canada. You know – like the White Mountains only with Tim Hortons. I did not very much research, no prebooking, and very little planning. I knew I wanted to see the Joggins Cliffs. I knew the Bay of Fundy was internationally renowned for have the world’s largest tidal differences. I knew it was a Dark Sky preserve. And I knew it was in Canada. On this vast wealth of knowledge we went on vacation.

On Friday we went to a very swank French restaurant in Boston (the meal there may have cost us as much as the rest of the week put together) and walked across a glowing Boston back to where my car was parked at my office in Cambridge. Then Saturday we packed and headed north. The first night we spent in Bangor (which might be the first time I’ve ever used rewards miles for anything). The second day, we listened to podcasts and hit the Bay of Fundy National Park. We went to the middle of nowhere, took a right, and drove for another hour on mosquito-ridden roads to get to Point Wolfe Campground. I’d picked it because it seemed rural, tent-focused, and was right near the bay we’d come so far to see.

It wasn't bad when we were by ourselves, but a bit crowded when four other families were there.
You are seeing four campsites in this picture.

It was also, it turns out, crammed cheek-to-jowl and lit with obnoxious street lights. (Which seriously – National Park in a dark sky reserve with street lights?!?! What are you thinking, people?!) The sites were also often too small for us to pitch our (granted – enormous) tent on. We picked the least bad site and thought dark thoughts about switching campgrounds, although we were too lazy.

We thought it looked like Venus, or some other planet.
We thought it looked like Venus, or some other planet.

That first night we came in was beyond foggy. We kept driving past these viewpoints that claimed to be veiwpoints that were really fog-points. It started raining almost as soon as we entered Canada, and not a day on vacation was without its precipitation. But that first night was the foggiest. We went down the trail in the dying light to the Wolfe Point beach. We walked and walked on slick rocks and red clay and never found the ocean – it was too far out. Our shoes and pants were covered nearly to the knee in the reddest of clay. It was otherworldly in the mist, as we could not even hear the sound of waves and mountains appeared and disappeared to our right and left. As we slept that night, raindrops fell on our head through the thin cover of our tent-sides.

Rocks in the fog
Rocks in the fog

On Monday we went to Cape Enrage. With the timing that evinced my careful preparation and thought, we were there at high tide (which meant we couldn’t see very much). We opted not to do the zip line or rappelling, but we spent a long time sorting through rocks finding all manner of 320 million year old fossils. We thoroughly enjoyed the treasure hunt of finding the fossils. In fact, so much of my photography of this journey was fossil-related I have an entire album of fossils from Cape Enrage and Joggins Cliffs (penultimate day) which you can see here. We also got some dulse. Gamers beware.

Adam examines the cliff faces at Cape Enrage
Adam examines the cliff faces at Cape Enrage

It should be noted that someone (who would that be?) quite literally did not think for a minute about the well known fact that our cell coverage does not extend to Canada. We grabbed 15 minutes of wifi a day by parking outside of the National Park headquarters, and once or twice dining in establishments that offered free wifi. We navigated with actual paper maps and brochures. How very odd it was!

I handed the camera to Adam
Me, sea kayaking in the Bay of Fundy

Tuesday we went sea kayaking. Given that we’d come so far to see these cliffs and tides, this seemed like the thing to do. Fun fact: sea kayaking is quite a workout! We didn’t turn over (there are hardly any waves that we witnessed in the Bay of Fundy, although we saw dolphins twice). We did manage to keep up with all the appallingly energetic Quebecois couples with their teeny French-speaking children who went on the tour with us. Mostly. It was a really lovely trip on what we were assured was a “beautiful warm” day on the Bay of Fundy. By which they mean light rain and mid-60s. Man, those are some muscles I don’t use often. But it was a lot of fun!

The tilted strata were so very clear. Apparently further down the coast than we could go with the tides stand 320 million year old trees where they first grew.
The tilted strata were so very clear. Apparently further down the coast than we could go with the tides stand 320 million year old trees where they first grew.

Wednesday I thought far enough ahead to plan for a day that involved a lot of sitting. It also involved thunder as we drove through Moncton. We arrived at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs after a long drive and several outlandish theories about Nova Scotia (supported by too few data points – eg “Nova Scotia is primarily inhabited by cows”).

So here’s the thing about your Bay of Fundy vacation.
1) Be prepared for it to be cold, even during a heat wave in Boston in mid summer.
2) Be prepared for it to be soggy. See also #1.
3) Plan your trip around the tides.

This was my favorite of the fossils we found, with shells embedded throughout it.
This was my favorite of the fossils we found, with shells embedded throughout it.

But in this case, I tragically did not calculate the tides. One great thing I got out of this was a clearer understanding of how tides world. They go low to high every 6 hours and 18 minutes – based on where the moon is as the earth turns plus the fact that the moon is also in motion (that’s the 18 minutes). We got to Joggins 2 hours before high tide, just as the water was getting high enough to prevent us from getting to the coolest stuff. And four hours before it would be any lower than it was that very moment (at 3 pm, a 3 hour drive from our tent). We hunted the shore for neat fossils and found very many indeed – but I was really sad that we’d come so far in order to NOT see the famed standing trees which have stood where they took root for well over 300 million years. Trees that helped Darwin understand evolution. And they remained past a spit of land that the high tide kept from us. So close!

That night, for the first time, we truly enjoyed the dark skies afforded us by being 100 miles from the nearest Starbucks. The Milky Way was as clear as though it was painted across the sky. The stars were close, glorious, beguiling, beloved. We stayed out, necks crooked, enjoying the brilliance of the archaic night sky.

It's quite literally a beach of priceless fossils, where at any moment a rock might fall and our understanding of early life on earth might change.
It’s quite literally a beach of priceless fossils, where at any moment a rock might fall and our understanding of early life on earth might change.

By this time, we’d pretty much exhausted the entertainment options within a 2 mile drive. I mean, there were hiking trails. And, um, er… the Hopewell Rocks. We didn’t see those. It was a beautiful, lovely, restful place. But the combination of an inhospitable campground and not much else to do encouraged us to go home a wee bit earlier than originally planned. On Thursday, we awoke to a novelty. Sunshine.

Point Wolfe, at near low tide
Point Wolfe, at near low tide

We grabbed the advantage to go on a hike. Now, Adam was nervous because the hike said “difficult”. When you take a “difficult” hike in the White Mountains (or even a “moderate”) you’re well advised to name your next-of-kin and carry a body brace in for the very likely event you break a leg falling off a cliff after being struck by lightening. I trusted this was more a “difficult” hike the way every other place I’ve been rated difficult and my confidence was rewarded. We hiked up these rain-forest hills along a bluff and to a spectacular lookout of the Bay. It looks almost cheery in the sunshine!

LOOK! We even vacationed together!
LOOK! We even vacationed together!

Then we crawled in the car and began the 10 hour drive home.

It was a good vacation. It was restful. It opened the clogged arteries of the soul. We had a really good time being together, as we so often do. I crossed off a few bucket list items: sea kayaking, Joggins Cliffs, dulse, dragging my husband to Canada. But it was not a transcendently wonderful vacation in the way the Wonderland Trail, Istanbul, or even Ashland have been.

Next time, I do more research.


I did take many pictures!

1) Pictures of us hitting the beach before Camp Gramp kicked off
2) Pictures of our time in New Brunswick (with narrative comments)
3) Many many pictures of the cool fossils we found (and left behind)