Infinity to one

I wrote this in front of the fire while camping, and went into the week smug that I’d already done my blogly duty. Then I forgot to schedule it for publication. In the immortal words of Homer, d’oh!

There was less cursing than usual Friday morning. Part of that was because we’d done a good job of prep late into Thursday night. Part of that is because we have it down to a science – and a Google doc. “Did you remember the dish detergent?” “I don’t think we need a full complement of beach towels this time, do you?” “Which outfit do you want pemrethrin impregnated?” By 11 we were on the road. By the time we’d gotten to Miss Wakefield’s for lunch, I’d stopped paying attention to time.

We were camping.

Many of my friends humorously (right – that was a joke?) mentioned that they’d be sure to plan for rain this weekend. It’s true that it has been historically soggy on our camping trips. The second year we went, it rained every day, every trip. Last year we were “blessed” with snow in the Memorial Day trip and extreme thunderstorms on the 4th of July (to the point where a friend of mine, watching the radar, kept texting to see if we were still alive).

But this weekend, no rain on the forecast! It’s incredibly novel! We have no tarps strung!! We are sitting OUTSIDE. (In 40 degree weather, with 30 mph winds. I mean, I wouldn’t want it to get boring!)

Last night was very cold – down near freezing. We were prepared for it. I put the kids to bed in layers and wrapped up like caterpillars in cocoons. Adam and I have found a two layer approach to be the best, since our sleeping bags are rated for a warm day with a light breeze. (It’s possible we could do better in the sleeping bag department – the kids’ are better. We lay in bed and listened to the loons and I thought “This is the life I want.”

This morning is even better. My husband made breakfast while I stayed warm and cozy in the sheets. (In retrospect, it was a good idea to set that precedent while a newly wed, that I’m completely useless until someone hands me a cup of coffee.) Right now, Adam is playing with sticks (“I’m doing useful work in the kindling department! – he objects”), Thane is reading in the tent and Grey has disappeared to go play with a newly minted friend. I’m sitting by the fire drinking coffee and blogging. This is the moment I’ve fantasized about for years – the fulfillment of my dreams.

Other than the cold wind, which manner of misfortune is the spice in the chili-pot of life, I can’t honestly think of anything that would make this better.

Last night, as we sat around the fire and told tales, I asked my boys if they thought they would bring their children camping. “The probability” quoth the eldest, “Is infinity to one.” “Yeah,” chimed in the youngest, “Infinity to negative infinity.” Since their numeracy is still nascent, I verified, “So you’d bring your kids camping.” Grey sighed a deeply contented sigh over his hot cocoa. “Oh yeah. I can’t wait.”


Arthur, King of the Britons

It's a bad sign when waterfowl make themselves at home in your campsite
It’s a bad sign when waterfowl make themselves at home in your campsite

Some people go camping to have fun. Others to spend quality time with their family, relax, enjoy the outdoors, and build really big fires. I – apparently – go camping to see how much suffering I can inflict on my family before they start refusing to go camping with me.

After a five day Memorial Day camping trip last year where it rained every day – except for the last when it snowed – I moved our longest camping trip of the year to the Fourth of July this year. The fourth usually has the best camping weather of the year, with the heat mitigated by the cool breezes over the eponymous lake. After a long cold winter and the buggiest weekend ever for Memorial Day this year, I looked forward to long afternoons on the still waters of the lake baking beneath a New Hampshire sun.

We arrived later than desired to White Lake on Wednesday, but with plenty of daylight and fire-time ahead. The site seemed unusually dark for the time of day and year. Adam started slinging ropes in his inimitable manner. The first knot was not tied when the rumble of thunder drifted across the darkening waters. By the time the guidelines were set, the rain started. Halfway through getting the first of the tarps up, the rain was so fiercely intense that even Adam and I had to give up. We went to Hart’s Turkey Farm, hoping the storm would abate with enough daylight left for tent-pitching, or we might have to (for the first time ever) give in and get a hotel.

My rope-ninja husband managed to get everything strung. We slept contented that night to the staccato fugue of raindrops on a tarp. Thursday started strong. We went swimming in the morning. However the forecast said a major thunder cell would come through at four, and that the rest of the weekend would improve. So we went to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2” at 5 pm. We emerged to a sultry hot evening that would’v been perfect for swimming. D’oh! We got a chance to roast our hot dogs, but the rain started about bedtime. Once again, the sound of the loons was drowned by the tap tap tapping on tarp tarp tarps.

Friday was a complete loss. When it wasn’t raining, it was because it was pouring. Buckets of water. Multiple emergency alerts on the phone saying things like, “For the love of Pete, you idiots! If you’re camping, stop camping! What part of extreme thunderstorm makes camping sound like a good idea!” We spent the entire day in our tent. With our tarps up I didn’t really consider bugging out, until I started getting texts from a friend back home asking who my next of kin was and whether I preferred cremation or interment. Apparently Stoneham got hit hard. (I’m writing this on the iPad on the way back, so I don’t know what the damage looks like yet.) Happily we missed the hardest punch that Arthur landed, but as I lay there next to a vernal creek flooding its banks, listening to branches creak above me and – yes – the veritable 1812 overture the rain was playing on the tarps I wondered. Just what would it actually take to talk me into getting a hotel room? Pondering this unponderable, I rolled over and zonked out.

Upon waking on Saturday, I felt the expansive five day trip compress before me. We had exactly one full day of non-crap weather in which to do all the summer camping things that needed doing. I stepped out. It was cool and windy. Now, I’ve been training my eldest son in the finer ways of the world. Specifically, I’ve managed to convince him that Mt. Chocorua is taunting him and calling him a weenie and claiming that Grey can’t climb Mt. Chocorua. All this was in preparation for getting some company in my attempt to get Mt. Chocorua to stop calling me a weenie and taunting me all the time. However, I had an unexpected attack of common sense, and realized that my 8 year old actually couldn’t hike Chocorua, especially since I was a little nervous if I could make it.

Instead, the whole family headed North to Pinkerman Notch to make an attempt on Lowe’s Bald Spot. It looked easy on a map – 2.5 miles in and 2.5 back. I strapped on my brand new hiking boots and loaded up a 25 pound pack entirely filled by water bottles and sweaters. Adam and I are planning to backpack the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier this summer. That’s my first backpacking trip since I got my ACL replaced, and so I reckoned I needed to do some training and figure out what my knee will require to be comfortable. The four of us (plus Puppy) set off up the trail.

In my head, I knew that the whining would start about 10 minutes in. I planned on at least 3 times when one or both boys would just sit down and refuse to proceed. We forded rain-flooded streams. We climbed up roots and boulders. We walked across log bridges. The boys? WERE SPECTACULAR. Grey was a gazelle, running like Legolas across boulder-strewn pathways with unconscious ease. Thane was more a Gimli character, if Gimli liked to skip and preferred to find the muddiest, soggiest, wettest path. He had my heart in my throat as he crossed flooded streams. Still it took him nearly 2 miles of hiking before he ended up completely in the drink. Then he complained about the fact he had wet shoes and socks… exactly zero times.

We made the summit we were headed for and tasted the sweet flavor of victory. Also, Hershey’s chocolate with those great peanut-butter filled pretzels. (At least SOME of us did. Others of us had our chocolate cruelly given away.) The path back home, my knee starting to ache with unaccustomed use, melted away in front of us as Thane talked Pokemon and Grey laid out some awesome ideas for a role-playing games he was going to run. It was an awesome hike. Grey, Adam and I all think it was the best part of the trip. (Thane votes for the swimming on Thursday.) Plus, I got the data I needed. I do need two hiking sticks, plus a regular support brace on both knees to feel comfortable backpacking. Also, my new hiking boots are da bomb.

Today, the plan was to go swimming after we broke camp. We were faster than usual about the camp breaking, since Adam got a head start last night. We sunscreened, bathing suited, etc etc. We got to the beach. The wind was blowing hard off the water. The sun was MIA. We spent like 20 minutes attempting to have fun.

But Hurricane Arthur did not defeat us! My streak of sticking out the weather remains unbroken! I admit I’m getting a little nervous, though, about how our bad weather keeps raising the stakes. For Labor Day I’m anticipating either a Category 3 Hurricane, a blizzard. or maybe both!

You can see pictures, mostly of our hike, by clicking here.

Finding darkness

We sat next to the campfire, sparks ascending to heaven against the backdrop of idyllic lake towards glimmering stars peeking between lush birch and pine boughs. The mysterious and mystical call of the loon lofted over the glacier-scoured waters. My husband and I, softly singing together the old folk tunes, shaded our eyes from the 100 watt glare emanating from the next campsite.

It is fair to ask why I choose to go camping. As I walked the other night to the campground restroom, I started doing the math in my head. We’ve come here three times a year for five years now (since before Thane celebrated his first birthday). That’s fifteen camping trips. The trips have averaged four days. That’s two months. Two months of my life I’ve spent here at White Lake State Park, with coin showers and loon calls. What would inspire me to spend those two months here instead of back in my house, with cable and wireless and delivery sushi?

There are a few things. It is possible, in a campground, to have nothing you need to do. Rare, yes. Unusual. But possible. It is not possible for this to happen to me in my house. I could have a month of leisure in my house and never run out of things I need to do. I only ever run out of either energy or motivation. Do not underestimate the power of nothing to do.

The concentrated time with my family, where I am undistracted and capable of fully experiencing and (usually) enjoying them is lovely. The campfire – we humans are drawn to flames and the every-playing pattern of the salamander-tongues of fire springing from a rocky plain of throbbing coals.

But quite possibly my greatest motivation is to find darkness. There is no darkness in my life. I live within the aureole of Boston. Standing in the shadows of my back yard, hiding from the porch lights and street lights, I can see maybe 30 stars. The Big Dipper and Venus are there. But the sky is permanently bright. Inside the house, no room is free from the banal orange of the street light, the blue LED, like lurking lizards’ eyes, from the charging devices, the night lights and energy vampires.

I did know darkness, once. I was raised high in the mountains, where there is less air to capture and refract the light. Furthermore, I was raised in the mountains far from other people and their addiction to the bright lights. My parents actually stopped paying for the lighting of the street light outside our house, so we could enjoy our dark. I could walk up mountain roads to the dark and quiet graveyard – half hill, half vale – and listen to the quiet of the Northwest and watch the bright cheerful streak of the Milky Way spanning a star-filled sky. Sometimes, driving home from Seattle at one in the morning, I would be forced to pull over on a dark stretch, so bright and imperative were the stars.

The brightest darkness I have ever known was in Africa – in a tiny town in northern Mozambique. My travels across the southern tip of Africa had, even at the time, a dreamlike quality brought on by not knowing where I was or where I was going, and not having sufficient sleep, water or food. I was, perhaps, in Cuamba. There was a prayer meeting that night – all in Chichewa of which I spoke not a word. I didn’t know anyone but the missionary I was with. I do recall a little baby, whose name was Manuelito, peed on the dark suit of the pastor, who was less than pleased. I remember the dingy, 1950s/concrete feel of the living room in which we met. And then the power went out. It was not an infrequent even, but it signalled the end of the prayer meeting. I stepped out the door to go (where, I remember not) and was struck still and dumb by the stars. The entire town – the entire region perhaps – were dark from the power outage. It was late enough that no on had bothered to start generators or light lanterns. And what I saw on that night was a sight I had not seen before, nor since. The Southern Cross, landmark of a whole new night sky, lay at easy gaze across the still silent corrugated roofs of the town. That moment is surrounded on either side by a fog of memory, but itself blazes bright and clear.

All this is to say, not only have I known darkness, but I loved it. And I miss it. Part of the reason I go camping is to find darkness again, in a small way. In fact, at night on that walk to the bathroom, I often do not take a light. My feet travel the now-well-known path, finding careful way across star-studded field. I walk between the high branches on soft loamy paths, the mist swirling around me, the darkness undisturbed. I see others going with bright flashlights and loud voices, and almost pity them as being blinded by their lights. When you hold a beam of light, you can only see where that beam points. When you go in darkness, you can see all the darkness, the deeper shadows, the stars and the flicker of fireflies or lightening. (Although last night, when I truly found my way through thick, eldtrich mists periodically illumed by flashes of nearby lightening and accompanied by near-constant rumble of thunder, even I found it eerie. That might have had something to do with the Lovecraft I was reading, though.)

When I walk back from the bathroom, not only is it dark but I am blind. I’m extremely nearsighted, and always always always wear my contacts. Even my husband hardly realizes or remembers how poorly I can see. I’m bright-blind from the bathroom lights, blind-blind from nearsightedness, and still turn on no light. I walk through a fuzzy, dark world more felt than seen. And I savor it.

So deeply do I love the darkness that I actually get confused by the bright lights my fellow campers bring. My neighbor this weekend had a Coleman lantern that easily exceeded 100 watts. He sat next to it for hours, playing on his (backlit) phone. Its beams cut through the humid air like rays from a medieval painting of Jesus’ natal star. It cast shadows from 30 feet away. Here was someone who had, at expense and effort, left his home to come to the shores of White Lake. And once there he turned on the lights, up the radio and played Candy Crush. (Of course, I update Facebook and write blog posts while out here, so I’m hardly innocent, but I do enjoy my moments of dark and quiet in the evening.)

We gather our things to go, and say farewell to our summer abode. We sweep up sand and needles, and shake out towels. We fold, wipe, stuff and pack, thoughts toward school and home and the coming year. But I fold up, along with the tarps and sheets, a little scrap of warm darkness – gemmed with stars and lightening – to carry with me through the winter.

Teaser: we have brought home not only Data, but his beloved brother Tiberius. Expect a post tomorrow with details and pictures!

Camping with kids in the 21st century

The last camping trip we undertook was, as I said, a Fine and Pleasant misery. Near constant rain, freezing temperatures and winds conspired to keep us damp, cold and in the tent or the car for most of the trip.

This is what bliss looks like
This is what bliss looks like

This trip, a mere four weeks later, could hardly be more different. The temperatures were literally double Memorial Day, making gentle waves between 90 and 65. We had a spectacular time this trip. For the first time maybe ever we just stayed in the camp and went swimming and sat around and generally had a superb time. (Well, except for our trip to go see Despicable Me II, which the boys thought was hilarious and which Adam and enjoyed enough.) All in all, this camping trip was one of the most enjoyable we’ve ever had as a family.

Last time I went camping, a number of my friends and readers mentioned that they’d love to hear how one goes about camping these days. (Ok, so maybe that was one person… but it totally counts, right?) Having once again read far too much McManus this trip, I’d be happy to offer my expertise on the topic.

I was trying to remember why I decided to go camping the first time. I mean, I’ve loved camping since I was a little girl. I remember camping when I was five and my mother was pregnant with my brother. I loved wandering the woods, building dams in mountain streams. I loved the sound of the zipper on the tent, the patter of pine needles on the canvas roof. But for reasons that escape me, Adam and I did very little camping while we were unchilded. I think I thought I was too busy, when in fact I was just prioritizing wrong. I was also, in truth, still a total snob about East Coast vs. West Coast mountains and disdained the mountains and woods that were available to me.

But likely the summer I was pregnant with Thane I realized that this was it. This was my life. I lived in New England. I owned a house. And if I wanted to go camping with my kids, I would need to go camping in New England. My longing for backpacking as a family, of reading by the stream while their feet went numb and they built a dam, would only happen if we actually went camping.

Actually taken two days before the famous "dance class" picture
Actually taken two days before the famous “dance class” picture

Thane was 7 months old the first time we went camping as a family. I, more or less at random, picked White Lake State Park for our trip. It had facilities (a bathroom, running water), it was a reasonable drive for us, and it had a very highly rated beach. I figured it was as good a start as any. That first camping trip, I don’t think we had any chairs. We brought the pack ‘n’ play for baby Thane. We bought a cheap tent at Target (which I loved, by the way, until it died a good death this year). We froze because I didn’t bring nearly enough blankets. It was tough to work camping around naps and babies and lack of expertise. But yet, somehow, we kept coming back. Nearly every trip back, Adam and I review the trip and make notes on what we should do differently next time. We’ve gotten to a point now where it is pretty optimized and all we need to do is make adjustments for the particular time of year and the boys’ stages in life.

This year we attempted fishing.
This year we attempted fishing.

So… if you, dear friend with small children, were thinking about camping, what would I recommend?

First of all, gear. We have always had insufficient car space to take all the gear I’d like to take. I joke that our camping trips are equivalent to a space shuttle launch, in terms of our careful choice and selection of gear. The absolute minimum requirements are: a tent, an air mattress for the grownups, a chair for each person. Chairs are unexpectedly key; trust me. Most of the rest of the gear is small and/or optional. It’s definitely wise to have a light source per person and a knife. My husband will add that you should have roughly a thousand feet of rope and three tarps – definitely preferable if it rains. Tents start to leak under sustained precipitation. Then there are the nice-to-haves: table cloths, wood-shop class name plates (I don’t have one and confess to actually wanting one. I have years to go until my sons take woodshop though. I wonder if Boston suburbs actually teach woodshop?) Finally, approximately a thousand toys, which should be doled out to children gradually over the trip.

Food is actually a challenge. I have no problem planning breakfast. First morning: eggs and bacon. Second morning: pancakes and bacon. Third morning: instant oatmeal. Lunches can be managed with a loaf or two of bread, cold cuts, cheese, peanut butter and jam. Pretzels, cheese sticks, apples and snack foods fill out the lunch. Oreos and smores are the traditional desserts. Dinners, though. Dinners are tough. Usually we have hot dogs/sausages the first night. I tried hamburgers, but they never turn out tasty. Sometimes I’ll bring a soup – either a frozen stew I made ahead of time, or two cans of some sort of Campell’s. But usually I only plan on eating at the campsite for half the time – the rest of the time we’ll eat out.

Next summer I bet Thane will be reading too
Next summer I bet Thane will be reading too

And that’s one of the secrets of my brand of camping: we don’t stay at the campsite most of the time. We go on “Car walks” up the Kancamagus Highway. We go climb a local (small) mountain. We drive to North Conway or Lincoln for various excuses. (Starbucks!) We visited Mt. Washington and the Polar Caves. We bring our food with us, so we can stop and make our lunch wherever we find ourselves. But it’s nice to go to a nice clean restaurant and have dinner out. These car walks started, I think, because Thane had so much trouble napping in a tent and so much less trouble napping in a car seat. (A fact that remains true even today. Someone is snoozing in the back seat as I write, which would not be true if we were at the site.)

So one secret to camping with small children is to not be a purist. Our camp site has lovely amenities. It also has full cell phone coverage. We eat out while camping. We watch movies. We have digital devices, although we try to save them for times when there is not too much opportunity lost.

Key: build traditions. Have a favorite diner you stop at on your way down. (Like Miss Wakefield’s.) Stop by a little roadside stand. Have a favorite hike, or cookie, or campfire song. Have a set of toys that are sacred to camping. It takes very few times to have something become a tradition when you have small kids. Three times is plenty.

Our Miss Wakefield ritual is down to the exact parking spot
Our Miss Wakefield ritual is down to the exact parking spot

Finally: Starbucks Via is a great way of getting your morning coffee. Just putting that out there.

So how about you? Do you go camping? Are you horrified at how many compromises I’ve made to pure camping? Are you horrified at the thought of coin-operated showers? Have you found a great way to bring your kids camping? (Or your spouse?) Do you aspire to go camping? Do you have any logistical questions I have failed to address?

A fine and pleasant misery

“Modern technology has taken most of the misery out of the outdoors. Camping now is aluminum-covered, propane-heated, foam-padded, air-conditioned, bug-proofed, flip-topped, disposable and transistorized. Hardship on a modern camping trip is blowing a fuse on your electric underwear, or having the battery peter out on your Porta-Shaver. A major catastrophe is spending your last coin on a recorded Nature Talk and then discovering that Camp Comfort and Sanitation Center (featuring forest green tile floors and hot showers) has pay toilets.

“There are many people around nowadays who seem to appreciate the fact that a family can go on an outing without being out. But I am not one of them. Personally, I miss the old-fashioned misery of old-fashioned camping.”

Patrick McManus – A Fine and Pleasant Misery

Below the deluge

Gazing over the scene on Saturday morning, I gazed around contentedly. “Patrick,” I thought, “Patrick would be proud of me now.” Mr. McManus was quite an influence on my young mind. He and I had briefly lived in the same part of the country: his high school football team had played against the town my brother had been born in. But I had been an itinerant through Idaho’s panhandle, and he. Well, he belonged there. But it was from Patrick that I learned that it was the nature of a rope to be 6 inches too short. Patrick taught me that any time my husband asks for some expensive hobby gear, the right answer is always, “At least he doesn’t like bass fishing”. I have learned from this old sage from the time I was about Grey’s age and found a stack of his books in my grandfather’s cabin in the woods of Washington State.

But the last few years, I felt like I’d been letting old Pat down. I mean, White Lake State Park is a nice campground. Far too nice. I mean, the Sanitation center has flush toilets and coin operated showers! Running water! A nice little store. You can get pizza delivered, for heaven’s sake. And we sleep on an air mattress. I can feel his disappointment from here.

This camping trip, though, I was making up for it. I stood under a patchwork of tarps, held together by a labrynthine network of ropes that were all 6 feet too long (my husband likes to do things with his own flair). The rain made an incessant, staccato beat – drowning out the call of the loons. The wind was picking up, driving the sheets of water further under the tarp. And it was about fifty degrees, but the forecast called for it to get cold soon. All in all, it was a fine and pleasant misery, and I was content. I puttered around, humming, “It is Well With My Soul”, deeply satisfied.

When I made reservations last year, I accidentally made the Memorial Day reservation an extra day. Gazing at dreariness of November, I figured that was just the thing. I imagined lolling by the lake, regaling each other in front of the fire and perhaps even practicing my guitar and being discovered as an astonishing new talent. I kept the five days, and took Tuesday as a vacation day. As Memorial day crept closer and closer, I started getting nervous. It looked a little soggy and cool. But, I reasoned, it had rained every camping trip of the first year we went camping, when Thane was nine months old. I bought better-rated sleeping bags and cast my faith on the Lord.

This wasn’t accurate. It got colder than that, and rained more.

And lo, it wasn’t as bad as it had looked a few days prior. No, it was much worse. Saturday was horrific by camping standards. It was about 50 degrees and bucketing. One began to worry about flooding. We didn’t have a tarp over the fire, so breakfast that morning was courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts. “Hey boys!” I called. “Let’s go swimming!!!” “Moooooooom! Stop lying!” “Nope. Go get your swim suits.”

Well, what Patrick McManus doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

It cost a bundle, but it was worth it to be warm.

We went to Kahuna Laguna up in North Conway. It was actually very fun. I discovered that thanks to his swimming lessons during afterschool, Grey was now a good enough swimmer to be released on his own recognizance in a controlled environment with lifeguards, so we did just that. This left one grownup able to pursue their own agenda. The fourteen year old boys running the fastest water slide started giving me a funny look after my fourth run… but what good is it being a grownup if you can’t run the big, fast waterslide?

After three or so hours of swimming, Thane started crying because his foot hurt. Now, if you know Thane you know that broken bones would most likely be shrugged off in the right circumstance, so this was suspicious. He was presented with chicken fingers, which he verbally disdained. Then he bolted three of them, slurped down 10 ounces of lemonade, and collapsed on me solidly asleep. I held his incredibly tall, strong, long, active boyness for over an hour, losing sensation in various body parts. And I thought as I held my golden-haired son, quiet on my lap, that this was very likely the last time one of my sons would ever sleep in my arms. Long-lashes against ruddy cheek, I did not begrudge the failing circulation in my legs for the gift of that last time – known and recognized.

That night, Adam and I played BattleLine on the picnic table – cold and far from the fire that spit against the falling rain. The peace of our evening was only periodically disturbed by having to yell at the kids to GO TO SLEEP ALREADY twenty or so times.

Having fun together – regardless of location – since 2007.

Finally, the weather turned the next day. Yes, it started getting windy and dropped to about 45 degrees. Leveraging un-Patrick-approved powers of technology (indeed, one of my friends started making fun of my Facebook updates of misery), I arranged to meet our next door neighbors from home at the Meredith Children’s Museum. Now, this museum might not seem like a great museum to someone without children. But here’s the thing… there were NO SIGNS telling you what not to do. Instead, everything was fair game for kids to play with. And oh they did! The Rube Goldberg Room, the Castle Room, the Bubbles and Puzzles room. It was GREAT. It was full of things that actually appealed to kids, instead of things that appeal to grownups misunderstandings of kids. I’m definitely adding it to our list of things to do when it rains.

Even the bigger kids really got into parts of it.

We went out to lunch afterwards. Grey and his best friend wandered off by themselves. We found them playing cards together, and just left them to it. Who knew they played cards? Thank you, afterschool, for teaching them useful things!

I’m not even sure what the game was!

That night, returning to our campsite, we luxuriated in the tarp over the fire, which helped to more efficiently direct smoke into our car. The rain had also discovered a new trip and was coming in sideways. One thing I love about camping is how you get to bed so early! 9 pm!

To be continued…

If you want to see pictures, I’ve uploaded some here: A portion of the pictures

And the thunder rolls

Fierce weather has cut a swath across this continent. Tonight it is touching down in my small Commonwealth – but so far distantly. Tonight, after the children were tucked in, I snuck up to our high attic to watch the lightening. It was truly a remarkable night for lightening. The sky flickered as though some distant celestial campfire threw shadows upon our darkened world – illuminating the spring-heavy trees and church steeples. The thunder was a constant rumble. The lightening I saw never touched down – it threaded across the sky like revealed veins in the encircling arms of the sky. But here, north and east of Boston, it seems not much more than a summer storm, ushering fast, cool winds.

The fifteen minutes I spent there, in a dark room watching lightening flicker ceaselessly, seems like the first quiet fifteen minutes I’ve had in about two weeks. It has been a busy stretch! When I think of all the things I’ve saved up to tell you – important things! – I feel nearly overwhelmed. And tonight I feel too poetic for bullet points. Last night I stayed up until 1:15 in the morning transcribing 18 pages of notes on the risks and mitigations of an ERP transition for a 9 hour meeting I attended. If I never see another brutally factual bullet point, it may be too soon.

Two boys and two puppies
Two boys and two puppies

So instead we will wander on together, long form.

First: my knee. When last we left our favorite joint, it was in dire discomfort. I checked that wall I so blithely jumped off again yesterday, and I must confess that it might be closer to five feet than the four I defended myself with. A week after the initial injury I met with an orthopedic surgeon, who got me to PT not 5 minutes later. Really. Remarkable. I did a few PT sessions, and now I’m quite certain that it was a bad sprain. Today, I managed to do several flights of stairs leading with BOTH legs. I even ran for a bit before I realized that was probably a bad idea. (But it was pouring!) I kneeled to pick up toys. I am pretty sure in two weeks there will be barely a twinge left. I’m going to try to actually get ahead of my pre-injured state with the PT sessions I have remaining though. This knee has never been quite as strong and capable as we might desire. But at this point, it is only hampering the most enthusiastic of my activities. (No 5K for me this weekend, not that I was planning on one!)

Second: it’s a darn good thing I was 90% mobile, as we went camping this weekend. At the time, I would’ve told you it was buggy, stressful and I was unsure of whether this was all worth it. It has only taken a few days to fade into lovely memories. How wonderful and odd our minds are to make it possible for us to enjoy things in retrospect that we did not enjoy at the time, or to forget pain and remember pleasure. One of those remembered pleasures was swimming. Our preferred campground, White Lake State Park boasts a lovely sandy beach offering access to a lovely mountain lake which is surprisingly warm, even in May. We went swimming three times, which is a pretty good ratio for so early in the season. Grey displayed significantly more water skill. Thane showed significantly more water-wariness (after recreationally attempting to drown himself constantly last year). I got to take some lovely swims out towards the middle of the lake, past the sight of inflatable alligators where all I could see were mountains, trees and water. Grey made a friend in the little boy at the next campsite. Thane did 1000 puzzles, just like he would’ve done at home. We also had a lovely “car walk” across the Kankamangus, down to Lake Winnepesaukee and back. I have concluded that the thing that would make camping super fun was if some of my friends came too, so we could tell tall tales around campfire. Unfortunately, my friends all seem to have either a) lake houses or access thereto or b) sense.

My boys
My boys

Third. It has come to my attention that my children are growing up too fast. I’d like to complain to the management, please! This morning was, truth be told, Kindergarten orientation. We went up to Grey’s to-be classroom and met his to-be classmates and to-be teacher. It is a lovely classroom, with books and colors and name tags. It is a place where I think he will be happy. The school is super duper. I mean, I went to FOUR elementary schools, and you could combine the enrichment features of all four of them and still end up short of this one. There’s a music room, and art room, a gym, a stage, a science room (seriously?!!?). They have onsite physical and occupational therapists. There is a school nurse and school psychologist. The library was large and friendly. There was a well equipped computer classroom. The children we saw all seemed to be engaged, having fun, learning, doing cool things. They were very friendly, welcoming the little kids to the school. It felt like a very healthy, happy place where the kids learned good things – and where there was room for them to be themselves. I am super-pleased, since this is just our local public school!

Then, when I picked Thane up, I got the word that he will be going to preschool next month. Indeed, he had apparently gone for a visit today, and his teachers had a hard time convincing him to come back to the Toddler 2 classroom. “He’s so ready” they told me. I know he is. I can’t argue. But sometimes I look at him and wonder where my little baby went. I can hardly see any traces of the infant in his determined features and flamboyant curls.

So while the accountant in me looks at these big changes and says “KACHING!” (because lo! Preschool + public Kindergarten < toddler care + preschool!), the woman in me, growing a little older, looks a little wistfully at how quickly her sons are wantonly abandoning their baby-hoods in preference for boyhood. I like babies. I was rather fond of my babies. I'm proud and pleased by the young men my sons are becoming, but I hope they don't feel the need to be too grown, too soon.

There you go – the momentous events of the last week and a half. Perhaps sometime I'll have the leisure and opportunity to post things that are NOT bare-bones updates… but we will all have to wait together for that moment.
A nearly preschooler looks for frogs

Camping, Round II

Last year, summer was replaced by several months of late April. I recall one or two blessed moments of warmth, between rain storms, but the camping last year was heavy on tarps and light on swimming. This year, so far, the weather has been fantastic!

I recall last year, when Thane was a 9 month old patiently accompanying us in his stroller, thinking that this was the hardest camping would be — it would never be so hard again. HA! My youngest child, delight of my heart, is a fantastic sleeper with one caveat: only when he is at home in his own bed an his own circumstances. Given the novelty of a bed where moving around is possible, he took full advantage of his liberty in order to not sleep.

Howdy howdy howdy. I'm a cowboy.
Howdy howdy howdy. I'm a cowboy.

Example Scene:
-Thane is obviously tired: eye-rubbing, cranky and easily upset
-Mom reads Thane several books, lays him gently on the air mattress, gives him Puppy and says “night night”!
-Thane looks angelic, thumb in his mouth with his hand wrapped around Puppy’s ear. (Note: Puppy is a rabbit. Ours is not to question why….)
-Thane lets out a deep sigh of contentment and says, blissed out, “Puppy”
-Mom leaves the tent (nearly tripping) certain that Thane will now go to sleep like he would in his bed
-A voice emerges as she zips up, “Mama?”
-More insistent “Mama? Mama. Mama! MAMA!!!!!”
-A Thane-shape appears outlined in the green nylon of the tent “MAAAAMAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!”
-Mom returns to the tent. Tucks Thane in with puppy. He gives an angelic sigh and sucks his thumb…. rinse and repeat. For several hours.

On the fourth of July, he got up at around 5:45 and caught only about half an hour’s nap. He stayed up until after the fireworks… nearly 11 pm. This from a kid who usually wakes up around 6:15, takes a 2.5 hour nap between 1 – 3:30 and goes to bed at 7:15 sharp (or you pay for it).

But other than the complete and utter lack of sleeping children, we had an awesome time camping. We’ve gone with the boys five times now? At five times, your traditions start to feel like real traditions. You begin to be an old hand. There are ways you “usually do things”.

Camping boys
Camping boys

One of the neatest parts of this particular camping trip is that it marks the first time Grey has been part of a kid-herd. These phenomenon, a relic of simpler times, have more or less disappeared from suburban neighborhoods (at least mine). On either side of our campsite was a gaggle of children, roughly Grey’s age. Both gaggles invited him to tag along. So for hours at a time I could SEE him, but he was over there, playing with the other kids, swapping silly bands and playing those imaginative games I remember so fondly from my youth. It was wonderful to have him safe, making friends, and playing outside (while I attempted to keep Thane from launching head-first into the fire or eating the Cheerios he’d dropped on the ground).

We did a lot of swimming this last time, since the weather was perfect for it. It’s a nerve-wracking time. When *I* was 4 I knew how to swim, or at least well enough. I didn’t have swimming lessons until I was 9 or so, but I recall being perfectly happy in the water, even when my feet didn’t touch. Grey isn’t there – not at all. We did swimming lessons last summer, but we missed half of them because we were camping. (Ah! Irony!) So we figured this year we’d wait until fall. In the interim, though, we keep Grey very close. Thane, in his continuing quest to give us gray hair, loves the following water sports: flinging yourself backwards until your ears are under water, falling down in the water (forward – allows you to see if your arms are long enough to reach the ground AND keep your mouth above water), falling down in the water (backward – babies have no core strength and really can’t do a “situp”), eel-imitation, and sand-eating. Also, taking whatever toys are unguarded on the shore.

There were notably fewer calm and relaxing swims out to the bouys this time than there were last summer.

Our big “car walk” this trip was up to Mt. Washington. I would hereby like to apologize for all my snide Northwest superiority regarding our mountains. I have long felt that any mountain you could drive up was no mountain. Then I drove the road up Mt. Washington. Now, I’m an experienced mountain driver. I grew up on car-commercial roads. But the 16% grades and no guard rails… well. Actually, I’m not so sure that’s a new experience (I remember particularly vividly a trip we took up to some Lion rock or some such thing up a one-lane logging road that had recently had a washout…. and let’s not even discuss the state of the road last time I went up Llad pass), but it was a rather daunting one. And Mt. Washington is pretty extreme. We went on a very, very hot day — temperatures in the mid-80s to low 90s. At the windswept top of the mountain it was about 50. And there was snow. So I’ll admit it. It’s a real mountain.

Adam & the boys at the top of New England
Adam & the boys at the top of New England

On my way back down, pausing to cool the brakes, I had the momentary thought that maybe, just maybe, on this adventure so like my childhood adventures (see also: Llad Pass) I was the first Johnstone to do this very-Johnstoneish trip. I reveled in the thought that there was a crazy, mountainous adventure that I got to first. Then I called my parents, “Yeah, that’s quite a road isn’t it?”

I should’ve known better.

The boys and me at the same spot
The boys and me at the same spot - the hat does move around!

It was a wonderful time. I really like camping. I like being out in the woods. I like resetting my view of the world. I like the depth and breadth of time I spend with my family. And I like cooking everything in bacon grease. I would really like to find some “camping buddies” — folks who wanted to share those bacon-grease cooked eggs, or who can handle a s’more with the best of them. Ideally, perhaps, someone with a few kids so we could have a built-in gaggle. (Also because anyone without kids would likely be really annoyed at the stuff it’s hard to do while camping AND be a responsible parent of young children.)

And this is obviously the hardest time of life to go camping. Next year? Will definitely be easier.

Next year, just wait mom!
Next year, just wait mom!