The wrong trail

When I come up to New Hampshire, I almost always stand with my metaphorical eyes north to the White Mountains and my back to the Lakes Region. Sadly lacking the relatives with a summer home purchased for $2 in 1964, which seems to be how everyone else I know has access to a lake/beach house, my New Hampshire heart’s home is White Lake State Park, but I’m generally itinerant. From White Lake, you can look south to prosaic Mt. Whittier with the big ol’ antennae on it, or you could look north to the majestic, mysterious and storied Mt. Chocorua, the jewel in the crown of the Whites (in my opinion).

Hike More, Worry Less – my motto this trip

But this cabin I’m staying in is called the Ring Dike cabin. And inside an overfull white folder, scattered between brochures for train rides and menus from BBQ joints, were a handful of geological and (most intriguingly) astrological printed internet articles talking about the Ring Dike left behind by a 10,000 ft volcano that did a lot of exploding hereabouts 200m years ago. There is, in fact, this bizarrely circular ring of mountains about 10 miles wide where the caldera of this long-extinct volcano once stood. And I, having driven past it dozens of times or more, have never realized (never mind explored) it.

There is a relief map hanging in my bedroom showing the Ossipee Mountains. You can see how weirdly circular they are!

This seems like the world’s most perfect ghost story fodder. (Cabin in the woods. Alone. In a PSYCHIC RING.) And I promise to do more investigation and write a bit about the geologic and loony aspects of this Ring Dike. But first, I wanted to get in it and see it for myself. The morning was bright and clear. The day open and inviting. The hiking boots were already by the door.

Looking into the heart of the ring

But where to go? I have an extensive collection of maps and books to guide my hiking while I’m up here. And not a single one of them looks south of White Lake. So I turned to my trusty ol’ friend, the internet (I sweet-talked the wifi password from the landlord), and found a perfect hike. You’d drive into the heart of the great circle, then climb up to a ridge and look around and then climb back down. Looked great. (Anyone who has hiked with me before is already having heart palpitations.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a description of the trail head, but the road dead ended there. How hard could it be. (Really, I should come with a warning sign for hiking.) I emailed my itinerary to my husband and consoled myself that I may not have a map, but I do have a compass!

Mountain stream
The heavenly stream

I never found the trail head. I did have a splendid time driving through increasingly remotish woods on dirt roads, being passed by cars that were cool when I was in high school with tattoo’d men hanging most of the way out of the moonroof. Oh New Hampshire. Never change. But the road was marked private where it should have continued. I drove back to the spot where there had been parking and a private land, public use trailhead. There was a river there, a mighty confluence of three streams, that looked like a slice of heaven in dappled light. As I was debating which random trail to follow, two guys got out of a car and headed up the path. I followed them. They made me uncomfortable. They kept skirting off the path for brief excursions, going from in front of me to behind me then passing me again. I was edgy, until I realized that they were geocaching. Phew! They were friendly and fine.

Northward squalls

A little ways in, I met a kind man wearing a music tshirt and walking a dog. He advised me to watch for the cairn and the red blazes, and take the Bayle Mountain trail. I took his advice, and attained a spectacular view for not that much hiking. I watched a rain squall pass over Chocorua lake. I ate my lunch. The wind blew away the flies. The mountain was entirely covered in ripe blueberries, like in Blueberries for Sal, only shorter. A man explained to his tiny, triumphant son that the hill had been scoured by a fire four years ago, and that it brought us the views and the blueberries.

The blueberries were perfectly ripe and delicious

Man. It was everything I wanted it to be. Except my ultraviolet light water purifier ran out of batteries and I couldn’t fill up my thermos when I got back to the glorious river.

I have now purchased a subscription to AllTrails and sent tomorrow’s itinerary to my phone. I think I would be content if I hiked every day, and forgot about the writing book. You can write books in winter.

I was about to wrap this all up philosophically when I remembered the most exciting part! I found a kind of scat I’d never seen before (clearly herbivore) and was wondering what it could be when I also found a tuft of white fur in a nearby pond. I think there must be a mountain goat up there! Very exciting!

Whose scat is that?
Clues point to goat!

Um, philosophical ending. It was really nice to go hiking, and it’s really nice to rest and make my own choices. But I’m still kind of bad at it. Guess I need more practice!


Cabin in the woods

Sabbatical is a word which, at the root, is a Sabbath. Sabbath is word which has fallen greatly out of favor. Chances are excellent that you, dear reader, append the “Black” to the word Sabbath in your mental reading of it, and it brings to mind such musical offerings as “War Pigs”. (Which, I confess, I secretly loving singing in Rock Band.)

But Sabbath, forgotten word it is, means something critically important. So important, in fact, that it lies at the heart of one of God’s ten commandments: Remember the Sabbath, and keep it Holy. The Sabbath is the word we use to describe the seventh day. In the story of Genesis, when God created the world, he worked for six days and on the seventh, he rested. Jesus, in the New Testament, turns the rigid traditions of this unworking day to human kindness. As he and his friends healed and ate on the holy day he explained, “Man is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath is made for man.”

We do not treat resting as though it is one of the most important things God has called us to do – a critical and crucial element of the foundational Western religions. We do not rest on the seventh day, or the seventh week, or the seventh month. In a traditional sense, that Sabbatical I reference is to be taken in the seventh year. I have deeply and gravely violated this commandment, over and over. Of all my failings as reckoned by the ten commandments, this one is the worst. I’ve rarely even tried to keep it. But this winter, I was straining under the weight of my tasks and obligations, and I got to counting how little time I had taken for rest. It was nearly 10 months this year between times when I took a week off. And it’s been about 18 years since I took two or more weeks off from work. So often when I’m not working, I’m still not resting. I’m off having fun with all my measure: camping, being with friends, taking the kids somewhere, canning, cooking, gardening, gaming, hiking, etc. These are all things I love and enjoy and gravitate to. But they are not rest.

But there’s a reason we were given this commandment, the strongest abjuration, to rest. We desperately need it. I cannot speak for you, but without a real, bone-deep reset I get hollow, irritable, shallow and short-sighted. I struggle to bring my most loving self. I can barely pick my eyes off my feet and look at the glory of this world and life I’ve been called to live.

In that snapping point this winter, where I felt barely-held-together, I had this fantasy. In my fantasy, I rented a cabin near Jackson Hole – a log Aframe – with a full view of the Tetons in all their spectacular glory. I went out there, alone, in the second week of September and spent 6 weeks there watching the fall creep across the countryside. Maybe I’d even see the first glazing of white across the face of the peaks before I finished my novel and returned home. Yes yes, a great American novel fantasy is an old chestnut. But these things are popular for good reasons! Of course, you can’t write all day. So there would be the hikes I would take, attaining vast views. There would be rambles by the (conveniently close) river. I would watch the world around me carefully, touching it with wondering hands, and become friends again with nature. I would slow down. My breathing would slow. My world would slow. I would have space to remember who I am and why I choose to be that person.

But of course, there’s absolutely no way I can take six weeks off, go two thousand miles from my family and leave my husband with all the job, all the kids, all the chores that the two of us can barely keep up with. If you know me in person, you might also be rightfully skeptical about just how crazy I might go in six weeks of solitude. I am an unabashed extrovert, and I love people.

Then the project manager part of my brain raised an excellent thought: OK, if six weeks in the Tetons is not possible, what CAN you do?

I thought of what I wanted: the mountains, the nature, the writing, the slowness, the time alone, the rest. And I recalled that my beloved children were going to be at Camp Wilmot for two and four weeks. I realized that I could be gone for a week, inclusive of two weekends, and leave my husband with no more responsibility than himself. I looked for a cabin, and I found one where the dining room table has a view of my second favorite mountain: Chocorua. I booked it for a week, and ignored the draconian refund policy.

Chocorua from White Lake in November

So here I am. At a table overlooking that increasingly-beloved mountain. Alone, in a cabin (although within easy call of the hosts). I have my laptop, but no wifi. I have a crate of books (quite literally). I have printed a draft of my novel, and the ‘fridge is full of enough food that I don’t have to leave for days.

This neglect of my writing here reveals a lot, I think, about how much time and space for thinking I have had. It may even show a glimpse of the state of my soul. I _think_ by writing. I understand myself by telling you stories. I used to talk with you all the time, but lately my words have dried up. I feel like I’ve said the things that I know. I’ve come to understand that many of my thoughts are cyclical, winding their way through the seasons like the constellations. I have made absolutely no commitments this week. I have not promised anything to myself or others. Perhaps this post will be the only thing I write before I’m entirely overtaken by a much-needed lethargy. But I’m hopeful that as I renew my spirit, refresh my mind, and restore my soul in this Sabbath week – I will also reconnect with my writing, and with you.

My company this week

“Come to me, you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

This post was made with no internet access. You are now discovering how differently I write when I can’t look up facts, cite my quotes, or double check my details.

Moving on and moving up

Risers full of young children

This is the time of year for endings, with a fallow summer sitting between the late-spring endings and brisk fall beginnings. There’s always that last-week-of-school rush of concerts, inconsistent schedules, no child care and backpacks overflowing with items which somehow migrated from home to class room over the course of the year.

On Tuesday I found myself in the South School gym looking at risers full of fourth-graders, for my last time as a South School parent. In Stoneham, for good but complicated reasons, kids leave elementary school for middle school after they complete 4th grade. Thane has completed that grade and therefore (and this seems impossible) is headed to middle school next year. We’ve had a kid in South School for the better part of a decade. And just like that, it’s a chapter that is concluding.

Kid with a weird face covering and bizarre background
Thane at 4th grade party

It gives you pause, like a birthday, to see your beloved child from a bit of a distance. He stood tall and handsome on the risers. He sang with enthusiasm, alacrity and skill. (I’ve been incredibly impressed by the progress the grade school concerts have made in terms of quality over the years I’ve been attending them.) He made an announcement clearly and confidently. He expressed his fond desire to be a scientist when he grows up.

Mom hugging her son
My boy

I was a little surprised that the wasn’t more specific: he would like to be a cosmologist living in Switzerland. He’s currently studying German in order to prepare for this future, and prefers to hold all conversations in German regardless of the language facility of the person to whom he is speaking. Cosmology is also very specific, he’s not really that interested in astrophysics. When I asked why his goal wasn’t a Nobel prize (given the number of future professional athletes on the podium – awesomely including some girls who want to play in the World Cup – this didn’t seem too outrageous). But in response he rolled his eyes and told me that there was no Nobel Prize in Cosmology MOM. (No one tell him about these guys.)

I think he can pull this one off

We all enjoy the more laid-backness of the summer. Thane will be spending 2 weeks at Camp Wilmot, 2 weeks with his parents to himself (no bad thing), and a week with his grandparents at Camp Gramp. We’ll also be heading to Greece – this makes for a busy summer. But he heads to 5th grade in the big school with his feet firmly under him, in command of himself and his fate. And I’m crazy proud of him.

So, farewell to the South School gym, and the many times I’ve hung out with this crew to watch our children grow together!

Parents in the gym on folding chairs
My people


The only picture my mom could find of the car – the station wagon in the background.

The year was 1981, and my seat in the blue-with-wooden-panel station wagon was on brown plastic booster seat that would get sweaty in the sultry summer heat. There was no AC in “The Bluebird”. My parents, sister and I were just back from four years spent in the heart of Africa – Zaire – where they’d helped build a hydroelectric dam and run a regional hospital. I had never lived in the US before, and found Atlanta astonishing through the eyes of a two or three year old. The music playing on the tape deck was a “Maranatha Praise” album. And on the window where I could see it from my back seat, my parents had put a translucent sticker of a rainbow.

I loved that rainbow, and the way the light shined through it. I loved rainbows. I have always loved colors and the shifting iridescence of light. And that rainbow had a story for the tiny girl in the back seat. It was the story of Noah and the Ark. The impression Noah and the Ark has left on our culture is as a nursery decoration theme, with the boat and the animals and the rainbow. The full story is so much darker – it’s hard to believe that a cheerful nursery decoration is possible. The story is of Noah is one of the oldest recorded in human history. It lurks back in oral traditions in the millennia before humans learned to write our stories for each other.

Just a few chapters in Genesis after God created the world in seven days, he regretted it. “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

The righteousness of Noah and the mercy of God spared the human species and all life on Earth. God told Noah to build an ark and bring the animals with him. The waters covered the earth for 150 days killing every thing and every one that lived upon it. But Noah’s family and his livestock survived. And when Noah and his flock of people and animals emerged from the Ark, they righteously worshiped God and God made a promise in return. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” (Genesis 9:13-15)

The story of the rainbow is of God hating the violence of humans and looking to destroy it – but of seeing something in us worth saving. Christians see it as a story of repentence, trust and a new start. And it’s a story of God’s promise to us (although I was always slightly freaked out as a kid at just how only one specific method of wiping out human life was removed – all the others are apparently still on the table). Historians think it might have its roots in a flood that we find in the archaeological record.

A picture of Boston Pride parade
Boston Pride parade

Today I still love rainbows. But on this June Saturday, they carry a second meaning to me. On the first truly glorious weekend of the summer, we worked our way into Boston to celebrate with many rainbow-adorned people. Once again the symbol of hope has risen in colors. I’ve never gone to a Pride parade before, mostly because I’m straight. I have been unsure what is supporting vs. where you are co-opting. But this year I have a reason to be there.

I found the absolute perfect shirt for this Pride celebration. It’s a picture of a momma bear hugging tight a rainbow baby bear. Grey walked through the common with a bracelet his friend made in pink, blue and purple – the bisexual colors.

Sporting Pride gear
Proud mom

We had an awesome time on one of the most glorious days I’ve seen in a long time. Boston Common was beautiful, and full of joyful happy people sporting signs and shirts and flag with words of love, welcome and joy. On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots Boston Common was full of people openly and cheerfully celebrating. The parade was awesome, and included retirement homes, churches, school groups, banks, black & hispanic groups, costumed participants (Cos Players), political officials and aspirants and lots of short men and tall women. There was only cheering and whistling and joyful sounds to be heard. As we walked away from the tumult of the Common, my sons both told me that they were really happy we’d come. Thane asked if we could come again next year!

I’m really glad where we live in a world that remembers how to be joyful. I’m glad that the rainbow is still a sign of hope. It’s a sign that we are repenting from the violence of our past, and the harm we have done to our sisters and brothers. I looked out on that rainbow-clad crowd and had to think that on a beautiful day like this one, God must be glad that he made us, and glad he let us hang around.

My beloved bi son

NOTE: Grey read and approved this post!

Signs and Portents

White Lake State Park has history, for my family. This is the 11th year in a row we have visited the loon-infested, bucolic waters of this glacier-dug lake in the shadow of Mt. Chocorua. But we’re hardly the only ones who have history with it. When I post pictures on Facebook, old timers from Stoneham comment how they’ve been going there for decades, and how it was their haunting ground when their kids were young too.

My sons’ favorite poetry book is a local publication called “A Boy’s First Diary“. The author grew up on this street. He talks about dancing with the former owner of our house. Names the wall I’m looking at right now (Dike’s Wall). Talks about sledding down our street. And to my great surprise, included a picture of himself holding a trout and labeled “White Lake State Park”.

But my favorite White Lake history is the living history. Especially on the 4th of July weekend, the old-timers come out. They have ample setups and big families and decorative bunting for their sites. And they have name tags. Sometimes they’re carved in wood. Sometimes they’re painted on cast iron skillets. Sometimes they’re burned into boards. One or two of my favorites are incredibly specific, saying things like “The Campbells: Camping at White Lake since 1972”. I’ve even seen “anniversary” versions hanging from trees, site markers and RV sides, commemorating the 30th year of camping right there.

And of course, I coveted one. I want a sign to hang out on the site marker that declares “I’m so into this, I have a sign made to show you how into it I am”. I may have mentioned this to my husband once or twice. Casually, you know. But even so, when he started getting excited about his secret a few weeks ago, I couldn’t guess what it might be, other than that he was showing it to practically everyone BUT me. Still, he carefully checked my arrival time on Thursday to make sure I’d be here and ready at 6:30 when the delivery driver of my surprise would show up.

Right on time, a man arrived holding an absolutely gorgeous carving of our family crest, done in mahogany and sealed in a marine grade sealant, designed to mark our campground. Adam had googled to find someone who could create such custom work, and it turned out his very first hit was a guy with a CNC machine who lives maybe a mile away. Sign Me Up turned this sign around in 2 weeks (and for a crazy reasonable rate!) – just in time for his daughter’s graduation. And it’s really, really lovely.

I might have taken the sign for a photo shoot
You have to admit it’s rather photogenic

This whole weekend of camping was a delight. The weather was gorgeous. The company excellent. The children well behaved (and read actual real books!!!) My only complaint is that the time I had there was far too short. I have so much more nothing to do.

But as we hung the sign on W6 (one of the best sites in all of White Lake, if you ask me), I was happy for my place in history, and this marker of tradition.

I’ve had SO MUCH FUN with the family crest designed for us by Fealty Designs. We had a stained glass window designed for our home. (It likely originally had one, but the original one probably burned in a major fire 50 years ago. Putting in such a meaningful replacement felt amazing.) If someone has a crest (and the original design files which Julie will provide you), suddenly so many creative things are possible. My favorite part is, much to my surprise, these custom creations (which also support these passionate artisans) are often WAY more affordable than I might have guessed.

With the wedding season coming up – if you’re wondering what to get that couple that already has all the things they need (and especially if you ever have to buy other presents for them in the future) – let me strongly recommend a family crest!

Sign and window

Wilmot Work Weekend

In a historically rainy and cold spring, we’ve had a few glorious days break through. This Saturday was one of them. I’d been hoping for good weather for the work weekend, and it came as requested.

We weren’t quite sure ahead of time what tasks we’d need to do. Every one of us has a tool kit of our own – we bought them for the boys last Christmas, and Thane’s been ardent about filling his out. So the back of the car was filled with tools and overnight bags. Adam and Thane ended up in one of the 60 year old cabins replacing floor boards. I helped sweep and mop the dining hall, and then got the enviable task of washing every single dish in the entire camp while the folks around me deep cleaned the kitchen and washed the windows.

Huge stack of dishes
A partial view of my demense

I spent about 5 hours on the task. First you had to get the dishes out and wash down the cupboard. Then you would stack two minute loads. While prior loads were drying, you’d put away the dryest, oldest rack. I also scoured the dish pit. In this process, I developed very strong feelings and opinions about the dishes. If you want to know, they sum to:

1) No one needs that many saucers. In fact, your average Christian summer camp needs 0 saucers.
2) It was a fascinating collection of coffee mugs. There were two large collections of two mugs from companies – one celebrating a 50th anniversary, and the other with the name in a boring pattern. The rest were “island of misfit” mugs. I carefully rearranged them to put my favorites towards the front and hide the boring (and/or Christmas) mugs in the back.
3) I wish I’d been outside

Three people standing on the WIlmot field in bright sunlight
Growing up fast! (Grey & two of the directors)

I think it was great for the kids to participate in this work. It’s easy as a child not to realize how hard people work to make your life possible. A day of scrubbing the camp to prepare helps open your eyes to the quiet service that makes so much possible.

I also enjoy on these trips the opportunity to talk with the Wilmot directors and staff. It’s astonishing what this camp is doing. They are adding programming every year (this year a fourth week of adventure camp which will be going up to an island in Maine!). They are adding campers every year two. Almost 50% of the kids who will be eating off those clean dishes get financial support from the camp to be there. The camp is incredibly thrifty and resourceful to make so much possible on such a tight budget. I’m always amazed, too, at how much positive impact they make in the life of my kids. Every time my sons go there, they come back more resourceful, kinder, more ethical people. That’s a great prize.

If you are also impressed by what I’m describing, they will use your donations incredibly wisely. You can donate here. If you prefer to imagine exactly what they’ll do, they have a fun Amazon wishlist (select shipping to Robin when checking out).

Five more weeks until the first campers arrive!

Boy reading on a pew
Taking a break from hard labors

Playing hookie

I made a huge mistake in scheduling this year. Despite finally having enough tenure to have breathing room in the “vacation time” arena, when I planned the end of last year and the start of this year, I put all the fun stuff in the summer. I’d had a plan for a trip during April break, but when that didn’t quite work out I ended up not taking more than one day off at a time … between August of 2018 and June of 2019. This is what we call “a big mistake”. There’s no denying that I’ve been pretty crunchy-fried lately. So much to do at work. Lots to do at home. My obligations to my community… it all gets harder when you don’t give yourself periodic breaks.

When I realized this, in an exhausted fog, I immediately did the only sensible thing: I booked a getaway on the next weekend where it was plausible. This was still nearly two months ago, but finally the date came! The leaves are budding, the birds are singing and the vacation time is coming!

Our destination was Provincetown. I was there for an afternoon in September and found myself thinking what a lovely getaway spot it was – and nicely close to Boston! Going so early in May, we found that not everything was open yet (sadly, including the fast ferry). But it also meant the prices for a lovely tiny apartment were low, and everywhere we went all weekend, we could hear the locals and the seasonal crews all greeting each other and catching up after a winter apart.

We walked a lot, ate a lot of food, and did some mostly window shopping. The boys and Adam roleplayed for hours. There was reading time and puzzle time. And we watched The Matrix (Grey didn’t like it). It was absolutely perfect.

My boys in a stone tower
We climbed to the very top of the Pilgrim tower! It was a gorgeous view, and the day was unexpectedly lovely.
Me hugging my sons
I’m still not accepting that Grey is taller than me

Boy looking with binoculars under nautical bell with blue skies
Any blue sky we saw was an unexpected blessing. We’d expected all rain, all weekend

Me, on a stone breakwater
I walked most of the way down this breakwater. I got to watch seagulls breaking clams on the rocks!

Boys eating breakfast
Two boys and their dad playing roleplaying games at a small table
This was the only window where you could see the water, and the boys played a role playing game there the whole weekend

A boy and a very difficult puzzle
Why do I let Thane talk me into these puzzles? I stayed up until 12:30 last night to get it finished enough that he could put in the last pieces this morning

Me and my sons in front of a Cape Cod beach
We visited a few spots on the National Seashore, but it was pretty rainy and cold