Chocorua: a third person narrative

Since I have discovered that I apparently am incapable of writing in the third person, and since I have insufficient time this sabbatical to remedy the issue with more structured fiction, I figured I’d be adventurous and attempt this blog post in the third person. Don’t worry – this won’t be the normal thing. You will soon be able to resume not-reading my first person blog posts.

The day started with pie. There are much worse ways to start a day. This pie was made of tart, locally grown cherries picked in season, and almost entirely pitted. And as all the best pies should be, it was eaten for breakfast. The pie was a gluten-free gift from the wife of today’s hiking companion, Anthony, sent north from Massachusetts to nourish and sustain the travelers. It was well established that Brenda likes pie quite a lot.

The intrepid hikers

The day was slated to be very hot, to the point of records being set. There is no way to hike Chocorua in only the cool of the day. The hike was planned for 10 miles, crossing from Champney Brook to the bald summit of the mountain. They’d then turn their steps towards the invisible ocean, claim the summmits of the other two sisters, then tackle the long, hot descent through beech forests to the waiting car in the White Ledge parking lot.

Champney Brook has a quick loop that for the measly cost of .1 of a mile gives you a long and lingering view of beautiful waterfalls across granite. The morning was still cool when their steps brought them to the falls, already the province of old hikers and young enthusiasts alike. With hours of hiking in front of them, they still lingered in front of the splashing spray of the clear mountain river, pure and golden in morning light. Heedless of risk to shoe and sock, they hopped across stones like a pair of young kids instead of the sedate software Stonehamites you may have met. Pushing across shimmering waters, they found a long dark wall of basalt with a vernal fall silhouetted against the impossibly blue sky and green leaves. They lingered in the spray of the waters, marveling at the work done by ephemeral water against impossibly soft stone. But the summit still awaited, and the heat would only mount throughout the day. They tore themselves away with deep regret that they and their to-be weary feet would not pass this way again. At least not this trip. If there were secret heart-felt vows to come back again with hiking-reluctant loved ones, they were only somewhat spoken.

Laughing at the laughing waters
Vernal sprays in midsummer

Altitude, time and distance all fell under their greedy boots as their strides sought the open skies.

“You know, last time I did this trail I didn’t have a single undamaged tendon in my entire left knee” Brenda marveled, boosting herself up the granite. “I did this all with no left ACL, major tears in both meniscus, a bone bruise and two cysts – only to be stymied a half mile short of the summit by the sound of thunder.”

No thunder sounding in the mounting heat – only birdsong, the persistent buzz of mosquitoes, and the elegant huffing of two friends hauling themselves up a mountain side for fun. As they broke into the sunlight, they were rewarded by spectacular views of their next climb and refreshing breezes that swept aside both mosquito and humid heat. Despite their desire to achieve that summit, they stopped often to admire it and revel in the New Hampshire spread before them: lakes and civilization to one side, unpeopled White Mountain vastness to the other. Both raised the cameras to the horizons in the fond hope of capturing this warmth and joy for the cold, long days of winter.

Striking the heroic pose
The path ahead

A quick scramble up the last steep incline, and the summit was theirs. It was peopled with similarly victorious hikers: kids with their parents, the kind of retirees that the ardent hikers someday hoped to be, young folks bursting with energy and vitality, selfie-takers all. Long they lingered on the summit, seeking the freshest breezes and the most glorious views. The remaining hours of hiking gave them no fear: the days are still long so early in the summer, and the miles ahead were all downhill. The breezes blew away their fears, the warmth baked into them melting New England ice. The birds flew below them, hovering on hot winds. Snacks were consumed.

Victors against the hike
Glorious summit winds

Long they lingered. Long they looked. Long they tried to record every moment of sound, scent, feeling and sight into their minds, for future recovery. But at last the miles ahead beckoned and then slid down the mountainside they’d lately ascended, headed to the other two sisters of the peak. Long was the discussion about which one was Middle Sister and where the Little Sister peak might be found. The second summit of their day boasted a spectacular view of their first, as well as old ruins and new mysterious towers. On the last high bit of ground, they looked back over the work of their feet, ate cheese, and were satisfied.

Towers old and new
Looking back

They descended into the long, slow slope back to civilization. Finding on the farthest trail the unexpected beneficence of a granite slope with lovely views and ripe blueberries, they picked a portion for the maker of pies, still in Massachusetts. As he carefully filled the Pringles can with the blueberries, she sat in the sun. “You know, some day we’ll be talking and I’ll remind you of the time we picked blueberries on the mountain together.” “Ah,” he responded, “But I’ll have to say ‘Which time'”? The friends grinned and picked the blueberries for those who had not been able to eat them, sunwarmed, in the waning slopes of the mountain.

Blueberries

The hike down was long, leafy and buggy. No more views beckoned. No more summits summoned. Only the beer and burger which are the inalienable right of all hikers remained of their adventure. But all through the descent of hard-earned altitude the theme spun: when can we hike again, and who can we bring along with us on the next journey – to share these wonders and joys.

I invent holidays

I’ve always admired people with great intent for their lives, who know exactly who they want to be and what they want to do and pursue those clear visions with purpose and determination. I’m hardly unfocused or unaccomplished, but I’ve come to realize in my middle years that what I really am is opportunistic. I have a general vision for the kind of person I’d like to be and the kind of things I like to do. But what I’m really good at is seeing a hole – an opening – and then leaping into it to make my mark.

This year’s Mocksgiving

Most especially, with holidays. You all know my calendar of unique holidays. We have Mocksgiving two weeks before Thanksgiving (November 16 this year – mark your calendars). That was followed by Piemas, coming up next weekend. Then Flynn’s Fiery Feast, which is still forming but seems to have the theme of “we can’t make up our mind whether it’s inside or out”. These are not fake holidays, for all their provenance is known and created. I have heard many times that Mocksgiving is a true celebration of gratitude, friendship like unto family and tradition. (The mock, for the record, is not mock as in mocking. It’s mock as in trial run. It turns out you can’t rename holidays after 20 years of having them under one name.) These holidays have traditions and rules that guide and govern them just as any other holiday does. They even have holiday attire. (I have a great pie-themed dress! I still need a better Mocksgiving outfit.) There are things we always do, the community of shared experience, the stories of what happened last time we gathered. They are entirely real.

Me, in my Piedress, eating Pie

This gift of inventing holidays has a lot, I generally think, to do with the open-mindedness and joyfulness of my friends to indulge my flights of fancy. I’m hardly the only person on the block to have a traditional celebration. Around here, we also celebrate Oktoberfest and Vinterfest and other shared joys.

But what made me realize that this was, perhaps, my calling in life was when I managed to invent a holiday at work. Now, I didn’t do this on purpose (and I can’t go into too many details). But a while back I invited some colleagues to join me in an activity on International Women’s Day. And I gave it one of those great trademark Brenda names. (Eg. a cross between lame, descriptive and memorable.) I had no thought of making it an annual holiday, just like Piemas. But a goodly number of people asked me very politely (and persistently) if we could please do it again. So we just celebrated this last week, from the least to the greatest of us, and I realized. This is now a *thing*, with a tradition, and set of rules and memory of past celebrations. People refer to it by name, and look forward to it, and are joyful when it comes. All I had to do this year was set the date, invite people, and they came gladly and with alacrity with their offerings, like a joyful potluck. You know, like Piemas. Or Mocksgiving.

There are so many people in this world that our niches of uniqueness become ever more granular. I’m willing to share space with the rest of the world and the things that make other special. But I like being the person who creates the joyful holiday. I think I’ll lean into that one.

What about you? What have you discovered you somehow end up doing over and over? Are you a person who knows what they want to do and who they want to be, and does it? Do you have any holidays of your own creation?

Four happy thoughts

1) Hooray for fathers!
For the first time in… maybe ever? I got to spend Father’s Day with the top 2 dads in my life. Both of them, I have great first hand knowledge, are superb dads. My father has always been a warm and loving presence. His bad jokes are legendary, his grounding in all the things I needed to know was thorough and he’s always the first one to lend a hand or solve a problem. He made it to every single one of my sports matches growing up – surely a purgatory when one’s daughter was a perpetual bench-warmer. He and my mother, in keeping with their generosity of spirit, drove out to Boston to help cover that awkward week where there is no child care. Thanks daddy!

The other father in my life is an excellent one. Adam spent his day like he does so many – teaching his kids, enjoying their company, spending time with them. He fixed Thane’s laptop (with several hours of labor) this morning. He is currently downstairs watching the Incredibles to prep for The Incredibles 2. He cares so deeply about his sons, and invests his though, labor, skills and heart into being the very best dad he could be for them, and I love him so much for it.

I hold a space in my heart today for that third missing father – Adam’s father. He lives on in story and song, but his daily presence in our lives is much missed. I’m sad that there are no new memories of him to be had, but I’ll cling to the beautiful ones I have.

We choose welcome

2) I’m really proud of my church
As many of you know, I worked really, really, really hard to help my church through the retirement of our pastor of umpteen years (his emeritus service is next week!), the death of our interim, and the really long hard pastor search. There were more than a few times when I wondered whether I’d completely burn myself out on this labor, and possibly have nothing left to stay with the church after I’d completed my work. But the last few months have been just a joy. Our music program, under the loving direction of my dear friend, has become a source of inspiration, enjoyment & pride. The music ringing from within that sanctuary seems like the sound of hope to me. That pastor we hired after long seeking has done me proud. Today’s sermon was truly excellent. On Father’s Day, we are remembering too those fathers at the American border whose children are being torn from them as they apply for asylum. But we, in our church, choose to welcome those immigrants instead, as much as we can. It’s remarkable to see something go from careworn and tired to joyful and vibrant, but that is my beloved congregation.

Preparing for kickoff on a perfect day

3) Stoneham Soccer
Have you ever encountered a group doing so much stuff right you can’t think of a single criticism, or improvement? As in the weight of my years, I come to understand how hard it is to do things well, I get more and more impressed with the group that runs Stoneham’s soccer program. It’s one of the most reasonable sports programs around, for cost. And for this modest investment, we get this amazing community. The refs are teenagers – and they’re 99% of the time treated with respect by kid, coach and parent. The parents are positive and yell out support and encouragement – not abuse. The coaches are all volunteers – a mix of parents and people who love soccer. Saturday was the end of year tournament and cook out. Seeing the kids play really pretty excellent soccer was awesome. Watching the community enjoy the games, their kids, the company of each other and the darn good and free hamburgers, hot dogs, watermelon & sodas. Well. Honestly, it restores a bit of my faith in humanity every time. It’s somewhat remarkable to see competence, good faith, great intentions and excellent skills all come together in something you can sign your kids up for.

Hanging on

4) There’s still one plum left
It even looks like a plum. It’s maybe the size of a cherry tomato. Despite the dour doom of plumdom, not all hope is lost for this year, yet.

What about with you? What fails to make the news, but brings joy to your heart? What has gotten better? What is excellent? Tell me!!

Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter

I’ve written (and thought) a lot about how oppressive this winter has been. My favorite joke last week, you know, when it was snowing, was that today wasn’t actually the 16th of April. It was the 96th of January. Man, did that FEEL true. Every cold, gray morning felt like a soul tax, making it that much harder to get out of bed and do the things that needed to be done – never mind do them with joy and thanksgiving.

But, alleluia! The weather finally broke this weekend. On Friday night, still childless, Adam and I wandered alone in the empty quiet of the Fells in the waning light. It was cold still, but a little like finally being able to scratch an itch that’s been plaguing you, just out of reach. Saturday was so bright and fair. I sat on the front steps of my house in the warm sun – coatless. I drank black coffee from a cheerful mug with a ceramic bird on the handle. I looked at the hyacinth and narcissus in their springtime flush. And I ate a delicious muffin brought to me by a friend. And I was deeply content.

Flowers, coffee, muffin

My children returned to me over this weekend. I picked Thane up, very tired, on Saturday. I missed his sweetness and snuggles. He was still on Pacific time, but brought his A game and hit the soccer fields bright and early at 8 am in the sunshine.

I went to church, and found myself rejoicing in worship and fellowship. It didn’t hurt that I had a very proud moment as a teacher. I work with my kids throughout the year to memorize the books of the Bible. Memorization has fallen out of fashion, but I think it has a valuable role to play in general. In specific, I think that memorizing the books of the Bible (and whether they’re old or new testament, and what kind – prophecy, history, poetry etc.) gives the kids something to hang further knowledge on. If you hear a passage from Isaiah and you’ve never heard of Isaiah, you just gloss it out. If you know where Isaiah is – where it sits in the Bible and that it’s one of the major prophets – maybe you listen just a little bit harder to hear the prophecy. Maybe you remember just a little bit more. Anyway, TWO of my kids today came to class with the books memorized. One had memorized the Old Testament and rattled off the minor prophets like a champ. The other had gotten the New Testament, and sailed through the letters of Paul like they were old friends. I couldn’t have been more proud. (Any implication that I bribe them with gigantic chocolate bars for this feat is absolutely true.) And then we had this fantastic discussion about the Lord’s Prayer, the Catholic version, the various Protestant versions (debts, sins, trespasses?) and the version in Luke. Then THAT led to talking about translation and transcription in the Bible. Finally we ended up talking about what Jesus taught us was important in prayer (in that passage it’s persistence). It was the sort of Sunday morning that pays for a year’s worth of getting up early.

I teach the 2nd through 5th graders

Then to turn your face to the sky, and find it warm and welcoming. I swear it’s a miracle. Adam and I have barely been able to drag ourselves inside. We’ve gone for two hikes. We went for a run. I’ve walked hither and yon. And just now, we set a fire in our firepit, ordered pizza and called to our friends to join us. Sitting under the still-bare branches of winter, but smelling the smoke, seeing the buds, and not freezing to death… it was amazing.

Our friends will play games with us

Suddenly, my dour cynicism is feeling more hopeful. I see myself noticing the good things. ANOTHER new restaurant is opening in town, and it’s calling itself the Nobility Hill Tavern. That’s one of my favorite parts of Stoneham! The blue flowers on the hill across from us are spreading and naturalizing new spots. The Greenway is coming closer to fruition, with just one bridge left between us and Winchester to build. Grey got civic permission to put in his first geocache, which should help to address the dearth thereof in Stoneham. Our attic is making great progress, and the long-awaited improvements might realistically be done before the 4th of July. (Ok, more likely August…) The boys had amazing weeks getting 1:1 time with people who loved them, and my husband and I got to spend wonderful 1:1 time with each other. My life is filled with kind, generous and fun people. This is a totally different perspective than I had in 30 degree weather, assuredly.

So today I celebrate! Huzzah for all that is good in life!

OK, this picture of Grey is admittedly terrifying

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

Piemas XI: The Piemas We Deserve

On Friday night at 6 pm, I stumbled in the door after a long week at work. There was no pie starter. There was no dinner plan. The house was unclean. Not a single pie had been made. I wrote a list of what needed to be done in the next 18 hours and stared it it with dismay.

Dressed a la mode

By 7:30 my parents had taken the kids out to dinner, my husband was a dervish of cleaning efficiency and I had both the lard and butter pie starter cooling in the freezer. And when 1:59 pm hit on Saturday, I was ready. I’d made six pies: lemon meringue, blueberry, pecan, two chicken pot pies & a moussaka. Some people (Adam) quibbled about whether moussaka is really a pie. But, it’s my party and I’ll pie if I want to. The house was clean and all things party-ready. These are the miracles of Piemas and beloved helpful relatives.

Apostles of Pie

I think I say this after every one of my fake holidays, but this was a particularly fine Piemas. There were many (many!) pies, but I think we actually ate more of them than usual. I wonder how many kilacalories were consumed in my house on Saturday? Lots. Lots and lots. There were vegan pies. There were meat-rich pies. There were pies of impeccable character and origin, such as apple pies. There were pies that showed that my friends are geniuses. Evil geniuses. Somehow five large pizzas were also demolished.

Evil genius at work: this looked even better than the Youtube video pie it was based on. It tasted pretty decent too!

The conversation was also a particularly fine vintage. There were all sorts of connections made across slices – people with shared interests, people with shared professions, people who only see each other every four months at our parties, people who had never met before. We talked about backing up log trucks. My parents told embarrassing stories about me. There were board games a-plenty. The conversation ended on a particularly liberal arts note with an animated discourse on the nature of evil and whether virtue can be taught.

Boom Sauce makes philosophers of us all!

It was a little unfair of the universe to make this the daylight savings weekend, though. Of all the mornings to lose an hour of sleep before church, this was a rough one.

Wide ranging conversations

There are few things I feel as fortunate in as in the people who populate my life. I feel like I’m surrounded by a richness of amazing folks. The people in my life are funny, kind, thoughtful, intelligent, caring, RSVP consistently to parties, and are phenomenal cooks. (They also have passionate and divergent ideas about Oxford commas, which made me edit that sentence no fewer than 4 times.) In the still of the night after the last merry-maker has gone home, I often fall asleep feeling like I’ve won the lottery in the greatest wealth of all – friendship.

Some of the ladies on the street

To all who celebrated with me this weekend – thank you. To all who could not be there – you were missed. To all who wished they could be there – I wish so too. May you all find as much joy and merriment in your lives as a sequence of made-up holidays supported by enthusiastic friends has brought to mine.

Happy Piemas!

Valediction to a Cutting Board
by Adam Flynn

A cutting board, alone it sat
Abandoned on my cold, cold porch.
A brown cenotaph, long and flat
Lurking yet with quiet reproach.

Oh why then was it not retrieved?
What weighty judgement was laid o’er
That gave no option for reprieve
And left it lying by my door?

Or worse, a more ignoble fate –
Was Lethe’s cup instead to blame?
Did feast, and drink, and hours late
Rob sweet Mnemosyne of her name?

So may your heart of stone be moved
And claim this prize if yours it be.
For certainly it may be proved,
It really don’t belong to me!

The forlorn board

PS – If you have pictures from Piemas, please add them here!

The Summer of their Years

As we close the book on the summer, I can’t help but think that this will be The Summer. I’m sure you had a summer like that – a summer you look back to in your childhood. It stands out golden and long and joyful, and is the marker for what summer should be. My Summer was when I was 9, and it included a pond and a raft, waves of grasshoppers that would explode from every footstep I took and journeys through the wild woods behind my house.

This summer, Grey was 11 and Thane was 8. And if this summer wasn’t peak-childhood-summer, I don’t know what could be.

We did a bit of pre-season summering with our first camping trip of the year, to the Waterville Valley Campground. It was a superbly relaxing weekend. We didn’t go very far or do very much, and were contented to hang out in hammocks and read books and be together. It was a superb camping trip, and we resolved in the future to carefully plan more nothing for our camping trips.

The summit of our one hike

The summer started a bit quietly. School ended in mid June. We spent the last few weeks of June saying goodbye to our dear and beloved friends, as they prepared to move. We spent absolutely as much time together as possible, including heading up to New Hampshire together to celebrate about five of the kids’ birthdays. I armed them all with NERF for some epic neighborhood battles.

Last hurrahs

It was a strangely empty neighborhood we left for our longest camping trip of the year, the 4th of July trip, to our ancestral camping grounds at White Lake State Park. We’ve been there every summer since Thane was a 9 month old, and it never ceases to be a favorite of all of ours. You can take a hike, hang in a hammock, go down to the beach, ride bikes or forage for the sweet fern which grows nearby. In keeping with the traditions of our camping trip, there was extreme weather. In this case, we upped our game to include tornado warning, which sent us to a favorite local watering hole. In this case, the correlation between the soccer game we wanted to watch and the necessity to shelter in place was very serendipitous. We returned to a campsite that hadn’t been evacuated, but which had been clearly flash-flooded. Since we include moderate flooding in all our camping plans, this was accepted as nothing more than expected excitement.

Waiting out the storm
After the rains left

We’d only be home a few days from the camping trip when the second annual Flynn’s Fiery Feast came up. It was a particularly peripatetic adventure, since the weather was gorgeous… between storm cells. So we kept moving the people and the stuff in and out, and in and out. Everyone was remarkably good sports about the whole thing.

The very next day, it was time to drive to New Hampshire again (a theme in my summer) to drop an extremely confident eldest son off at his third (or fourth?) year at Camp Wilmot. We spent a special week at home with our littlest one, and got exactly one letter from our eldest telling us what we’d forgotten to pack him. The next Sunday found me driving that oh-so-familiar stretch of 93 to drop Thane off for his first year. He sent three letters in six days, earning the “Mailman” award at camp. When Erin and I picked up our collected progeny, Thane told me that as much as Grey loved Camp Wilmot, he (Thane) loved it more.

Week one Wilmotters
The week 2 Camp Wilmotters, minus M. whom we couldn’t find

We picked the kids up from New Hampshire on Saturday. On Sunday, we drove up to New Hampshire for a tubing trip on the Saco (rescheduled from the 4th weekend when the river was at flood stage). We had a great time throwing frisbees and floating, with the exception of the section where Thane and I managed to get totally tangled up, lose our tubes and I permanently lost my favorite hair thingy. Woe! Thane is not a huge fan of tubing after that, sadly.

How can you not love this?

They had a whole five days between that tubing trip to recover before it was time for my company summer outing at Six Flags. It rained, but that just meant that there were ZERO lines for the biggest baddest rides. Thane is now tall enough for Superman (the biggest of the Six Flags roller coasters, and a legitimately big one). They have no fear, those children. It was neat to be able to do it with friends, as well!

The rain was our friend

The day after our Six Flags adventure, we flew to Barcelona and spent a totally jetlagged day there, as well as most of a second, walking the green and joyful espalandes of Las Ramblas. Thane chased the pigeons, we ate ice cream and caught Pokemon and lost ourselves in the rambling alleys of the Gothic Quarter.

Thane and the pigeons had a special relationship
The Gothic Quarter

The next day we went up to Montjuic on the Funicular, and spent time going deep on the history of that grim fortress – first built to protect the city and then used to terrorize it. We walked in the gulleys where hundreds were executed, and watched the flags flying with philosophical questions.

Thought provoking art installation
Montjuic parapets

The next day we took the train from Barcelona to Carcassonne. As we sped through the Mediterranean countryside, the boys opened their dice bags and continued the role-playing games that have threaded through all the fun times of our journey. Carcassonne city was glorious. We stayed in the newer section (you know, like 1600) in this Roaring 20s era hotel near the train station. We’d walk through the high end shops and cross the bridge to go up to the medieval city itself. It was truly remarkable, even knowing that it had been restored a mere shmere 130 or so years ago. You could lay your hands against stones that had been placed there by the Romans as they spread across Europe. But there was this whole lack of self-consciousness of the weight of history that only the Europeans can really pull off. Even the medieval city felt lived in, as though it was home to real people.

Also, the cassoulet was unbelievable.

The city had walls connecting it to the river
The keep
The small well in the city

Our greatest highlight of the Carcassonne portion of our visit was the day we spent with James MacDonald visiting Lastour and Minerve, and coming to come to intimately know the Cathars and the Crusaders who persecuted them. Climbing up to the remarkable towers at Lastours was unbelievable. It looked like a Byronic play backdrop. Minerve seemed barely changed at all from the siege of 1220, except for the Victorian bridge that now spanned the chasms. Between them we visited a neolithic tomb. There are some days where you can feel yourself accruing the value of your life. Days where you find the very meaning that you have longed and yearned for. This day was all that – to gaze on these places and walk their worn steps. It was remarkable.

How could this possibly be real?
High above the modern era
Thousands of years ago, this was wrought by human hands
Long imagined city, visited

Adam and I passed our 17th anniversary in the warmth of Barcelona, before we headed back to the states from a truly remarkable week in the 13th century. (And a scant week before terrorists plowed through the crowds we’d just been part of in Las Ramblas.)

Barcelona cathedral

Once again, we gave the boys a gracious allowance of a week before the next thing. Although this particular week, we sent them to boating camp on Spot Pond where they spent six or so hours a day on the water honing their sailing and kayaking skills. I counted, and the children kayaked on three distinct bodies of water this summer, in three different states. I kayaked in zero bodies of water. I think this shows that my children are living more wisely than I am.

My folks departed Boston ASAP on Friday night after they finished boating camp for parts west, racing the sun across the country to be in Idaho Falls in totality to witness the complete eclipse. On the way they passed through Niagara Falls, Minnesota with their cousins, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, the Hiawatha Trail (where they went on a 17 mile bike ride) and Yellowstone. They also kayaked on Mineral Lake at the end of their journey.

Niagara
Wall Drug
Mt. Rushmore
Eclipse
Hiawatha Trail
Kayaking on Mineral Lake

They got back from this adventure about 3 days before school started. (Meanwhile, I was hiking Chocorua.)

We were supposed to go camping Labor Day weekend. I regret that we didn’t. It is not restful to be home, I swear. But we were so worn out from all our wanderings that we just stayed at home and took a deep breath in preparation for our busiest season, the fall.

But truly, if that doesn’t count as the best summer of your childhood (maybe your life?) then, well, I’m not really sure what it is you are hoping for. It was a glimmering, golden, busy, joy-filled, friend-filled, nature-filled, history-filled, ice-cream-filled summer, and I will treasure it forever.