Grind their bones

This is been an interesting winter for skiing in New England. On Christmas Day, a hearty foot plus of snow fell on the region, and skiiers rejoiced. Right after they finished their figgy pudding, to the slopes! But mere hours after the snow came the cold. Bitter cold.

Last year this time, we planned a weekend trip to the White Mountains. The original weekend has ended up being the installation weekend for our new pastor – so that was out. I moved it to the weekend right after New Years. But as the forecast unfolded, the very day the boys would’ve been hitting the slopes was also the day of record-breaking cold. If these were the temperatures in Boston, next to the water, what would they look like in the mountains of New Hampshire? Not skiing weather, for sure.

Past bitter to dangerous

I figured there were some big upsides from pushing it back to the long weekend. On the downside, it was a bit more expensive to get the rooms, and they weren’t as nice. But an extra day! That’s definitely worth something. And the record cold was supposed to clear out.

What I didn’t figure was the record warm we got to end the week last week. It was 60. Then, over a thirty hour period, it dropped a degree and a half every hour. In the morning we had the windows open. By bedtime it was hovering near single digits. And raining – hard. I’d been afraid of the flash-freeze impact on the roads when I planned our drive up for Friday after work. But the temperatures held. What I didn’t anticipate, because I’d never seen it before, was what the warm rains on the so-frozen snows did to the drive. We went through nearly 100 miles of the densest fog I’ve ever seen in New England. This was San Francisco fog; Central Valley fog. There were times when I had to slow to 10 miles an hour to not overdrive the few feet of visibility I had, clinging to the reflective center line of the road like a lifeline. The fog moved fast, skittering across the road as though chased by some unseen horror. The periodic rips in the fog-cloth only served to show us just how dense it really was. There were a few times where I held my breath as we left some brief intermission of the clouds only to slam again into a near solid-wall of mist. I’ve never seen anything even close to that before. New England fog clings to low-lying spots and is elusive. This was anything but.

I arrive at the hotel as white-knuckled as I’d been LAST year when we drove up through a snow storm. Life lesson – you should never plan a vacation at the same time and place I do.

Saturday was a complete loss for outdoor activities. It was just too wet. The ski resorts lost TWO FEET of snow in just two days. I’m sure they’re tearing their hair out. It was un-ski-able, and several of them closed. We read books, played role-playing games, hung out in the hot tub, watched Jurassic Park on cable (OMG the commercials!), I got a massage and enjoyed the Patriot’s game. But I didn’t step off the hotel grounds all day.

Today was at least cold. A little too cold – teens. But the resorts were open and making snow and by gum, we’re New Englanders now.

That last part is actually a good bit of why I work so hard to make the snow sports happen. I never skied growing up, despite living in striking distance of two of Washington’s greatest ski areas. My father is legally disabled with a knee injury. My mother is a California girl. There was no one who would’ve brought us, and we never went. So the very first time I ever strapped on skis in college, on the very first slope I ever went down, I didn’t do it well. In fact, within the first few turns I snapped my ACL, and have been struggling with the consequences ever since. But instead of concluding that “skiing is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs” I’ve instead decided “if you don’t pick up skiing when you’re young and you bounce then you better never try it”. And since I’m raising New Englanders, I’m bound and determined to do a proper job of it.

Plus, I’ve had this fantasy for years now of having choreless hours to myself with this as my muse:

Dining room view
White Horse Ledge view

I’d finally finish my book. I’d write brilliant blog posts that would go viral. I’d read a book. I’d pray. I’d read poetry and feel it. I’d read history and live it. I’d rest: body, soul and mind. Such daydreams we have! To digress on my active fantasy life, in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series most inns have a library. In my daydreams (alas, not in reality) this incredibly beautiful hotel has one too, on the third floor, with a killer view, where I could sit and read quietly or write or think. It doesn’t, and the public areas are more, uh, golfy than bookish. But still I dream.

My daydreams got off to a great start this morning! We had the famous brunch. I drove the boys to Attitash and pushed them out of the car. “Bye guys!” Then I hightailed it back to the hotel to brew coffee, stare out the window, and write the next major scene in my long-neglected novel. Heck, it’s the penultimate scene. I’m almost there. After about 2000 words, I decided to exercise both mind and body and put on my work out gear. This is the first time in the history of me I’ve actually followed through one of my resolutions to run while on vacation. I’d really like to do a serious hike this summer, so I have motivation to get fit.

I’d been on for about 3 minutes when I got a call from Adam. “Thane fell and hurt his wrist. We’re going to talk to the medical folk and see what they think.” I only had time to just start regretting my 6 mph pace when I got another call, “He needs to go for xrays at the hospital.” It is, perhaps, a blessing to be in the right place to take your child to the hospital yourself. Last time I got a call that my son had hurt himself on the slopes… you remember, a week before Christmas? (It was Grey. He fell on his head. He’s fine.) I’d been 3.5 hours away and had to trust my friend who’d taken him, and then my husband to pick him up. I high-tailed it to retrieve my child, and a sorry state he looked. He had this massive sling encompassing his right arm.

The local hospital deal with so many skiing patients they return the splits to the ski resort listed on a regular basis. They have codes for which mountain you hurt yourself on.

The hospital was close and *very* well set up to deal with out-of-staters with skiing injuries. In a hilarious turn of events, while waiting with my son I got a LinkedIn message from a former coworker who had worked with me years ago. His daughter had a rather more serious leg injury in the room across the hall. It was a weird place to catch up, but we did so anyway!

Anyway, while we waited I watched Thane use his hand. I figured it definitely wasn’t broken. It might not even be much of a sprain! He had good range of motion, was tolerating the pain well, and didn’t see THAT bothered. There was little bruising or swelling, and he can move his fingers, turn his hands and be touched. But then when he went in for xrays I saw a … wrinkle in a bone where it didn’t look like there should be one. I am no doctor, and I had trouble making out the ultrasounds that proved he was a male issue, so I didn’t put too much credit on it. But I began to doubt.

I’m struck by how big he looks here

In a remarkably short amount of time we were having a conversation with a nice (and very experienced in snowboarding injury) doctor. It’s a buckle fracture. Thane has a splint to prevent him from moving it too much. Ibuprofen for pain. And a followup prescribed with his PCP and probably orthopedist. But he may only have to wear the splint for a week or two. It’s about as unserious as a broken wrist can be. I took him out to his first ever Taco Bell, and then we picked up his brother and father.

He was very excited to win his bet with me about the nature of the injury

The slopes were apparently treacherous today – a sturdy remnant of ice limned by a bare modesty of created snow. Adam says it’s the worst he’s ever skied on. He feels guilty for bringing his son there to be injured. We both feel badly about basketball. Thane’s been doing SO WELL on the courts lately, and he has an amazing coach this year. I’d venture this is at least a two week outage on the courts. Given that it’s his dominant shooting/dribbling hand, maybe more. Thane was a trooper the whole way through. He’s so sturdy and reliable and tough.

I “treated his pain” by playing a bunch of Plants vs. Zombies mini games while he offered expert advice. But when the time came to turn out the lights and go to sleep, the whimpering began. The pain had broken through (I was probably late offering his next dose of Ibuprofen, but during the video games he wasn’t feeling any pain). And he was thinking through the implications. How would he be able to write in school? How long would he be forced to wear this uncomfortable brace? How could he sleep with it? He was, for the first time he could remember, broken and unmendable. He was away from home, and it was dark, and he had a broken wrist.

Thus, in the end, we all confront our brokenness and fears and not all the love in the world can wipe them away. May all your healing in times to come be as fast and complete as this one will be, my sweet son.

Broken, but healing

Conquering Chocorua

Carter Ledge Trail crosses a small brook and soon ascends a steep gravelly slope with poor footing, then turns sharply right and up at a gravelly slide with a view of Mt. Chocorua; this turn is easily missed, especially on the descent. Continuing to climb steeply… The trail passes through a sag then climbs, steeply at times, up the slope of Third Sister, with several excellent outlooks, but with some ledges that can be dangerous in wet or icy conditions. Higher up is a particularly tricky scramble across a potentially slippery, downward sloping ledge (especially difficult on the descent)… White Mountain Guide 30th edition p.385

If only I’d seen this

About the time we hit that gravelly slide bit (on the descent, of course), we’d already been on the trail for about 8 hours. I’d noticed the beautiful way the light slanted through the jack pines that we were just about to lose it behind Chocorua, on whose summit we’d so recently stood. I figured that it was probably a bad idea to point this out to Erin, who was clinging to the ragged edges of sanity after the “slippery, downward sloping ledge” bit. It had rained torrentially the night before and was very humid, turning all the granite rock faces to a slip-slide zone. But I picked up the pace just a bit anyway.

Note how ominously close that sun is to the horizon – that’s also where we’d been a few hours prior

My fears were justified. We reached the blessed safety of our car at just the tipping point between when ruining your night vision with a flashlight would’ve been worth it. Every muscle in our body screamed. Successive adrenaline jolts were wearing off, and we scarfed a bag of M&Ms by the fistful. Erin is an extremely polite and well mannered person. So when she turned to me to express feelings on the hike all she said was “I am NEVER hiking that mountain again.”

Not the steepest, scariest part of the trail

It’s possible I’d slightly undersold the experience. You see, I’ve wanted to hike to the top of Chocorua REALLY BADLY for about the last six years. I made an attempt six years ago (on a shredded knee, right before surgery) but had gotten turned back. It’s logistically challenging. It’s definitely a full day hike. The kids definitely aren’t up for it. And it’s several hours drive from my house. Also, you really really shouldn’t do it alone. This made it hard for me to “convince” my husband he wanted to do it, or to figure out how to do it at all. But this summer, a window opened. The kids were off at Camp Gramp chasing the eclipse. Adam was at Gencon. And I had a summer weekend all to myself. Sometime this spring Erin and I were talking about hiking and the high pressures of modern life and I said, “Hey, you wanna come on this hike with me? We’d get a hotel, make a weekend out of it, and really relax.”

My usual view of Chocorua from White Lake State Park

The last few times I’ve gazed at Chocorua’s lovely & taunting profile I’ve taunted back “This time I’m going to get you!” But for having been on my bucket list for years, I’d spent remarkably little time thinking through which trails I wanted to take. We’d been using a hike book the last 6 or 7 years, but Irene did a number on several off the local trails and we’d gotten in a bit of trouble, so I stopped at EMS to try to buy a new copy. They were fresh out! But hey, if I wanted a “Paddling the Ohio” copy no problem. I figured I’d stop at the Ranger Station to get a copy there. But traffic was awful and I hit the ranger station after 5 when it was closed. But hey, I had a recent map of Chocorua! Erin and I reviewed the route that night.

Not enough information

We had two cars and wanted to do a circle route. I picked one of the shortest loops that seemed to also include the most viewpoints. “So we’ll go up the Hammond Trail, pick up the Liberty Trail across the summit, and then come down the Carter Ledge Trail to White Ledge Campground, which has plenty of parking. It’s about 10 miles. Sound good?”

I mean, ten miles eeeeeeaaaaasssssy right? AHAHAHAHAHAH!

Chocorua is on the left here. We’d be coming down where the white cliffs are to the right.

Well, it was absolutely gorgeous. The pull up was long and hard and humid. The ground was steaming. The leaves were steaming. We were definitely steaming. It had rained so hard the night before, but it was still warm – touching 80. We’d brought lots of water – nearly 5 liters – as well as a UV water purifier that I’ve wanted for years but never splurged on. (See also: stop at EMS) But we were losing water at a great rate, which was ironic given that vast muddy puddles littered the trail. The rocks couldn’t dry off in the humidity, so stayed slick the whole day. And we needed to climb 3,200 feet. Then summit about three different peaks in a row. Then descend that 3,200 feet.

The wild blueberries were superb and I grazed continually as I hiked!

We ran out of water with about 3 miles to go. Fortunately, I did have my schmancy fancy new water purified and got us a critical additional liter for the last two fast miles out. Did I mention on that descending Carter Ledge Trail we saw not a single other human? We were definitely going the wrong direction, and were very likely the only people on that trail. We couldn’t call mountain rescue if we got in trouble, either, since Erin’s brother would’ve been the one to answer our call and that might’ve been mortally embarrassing.

The view of Chocorua from Middle Sister

This climb was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done. Every single stabilization muscle was spent. The big muscles of my legs screamed. Bands of pain radiated across both knees with every step up and down. The next day, I could hardly walk up or down a staircase. The biggest surprise was how incredibly sore my arms and core muscles were. We did a LOT of climbing and used a lot of arm strength to get ourselves up and down. I’m not sure any part of my body didn’t hurt. Erin had some blisters she didn’t even know she had because their pain signals were hidden in the overall pain-signals from all other parts of her body.

But oh my friends, what a triumph it was. What a great blessing it is to push yourself to and past your limits, and emerge victorious from the battle. I live so much in my mind, that to spend 10 hours being very much within my body was a great gift. It was truly everything I wanted – and more. Now to figure out how to talk Erin into making this an annual event….

See more pictures here!

White Mountain Hotel: historic without history

White Mountain Hotel - taking in fading light. Not in black and white.
White Mountain Hotel – taken in fading light. Not in black and white.

I will never ski again. This is not a mournful expression, but a promise to myself to ease my anxiety even looking at the slopes. Skiing, which I have only done once, and only for half a run, cost me great pain and brought me no pleasure. But I am raising New Englanders, and we love the mountains of New Hampshire, so… here I am, close to the shadow of Chocorua, in the snow.

For the second year we are staying at the
White Mountain Hotel
. It’s a grand old inn, nestled between a state park containing a truly impressive thousand foot granite cliff, and a state park containing a picturesque mountain lake. It has a gazebo, a pool heated to 90+ degrees where my children swim in the driving snow, a grand entryway with a roaring fireplace, and an elegant dining room with an unparalleled view of the mountains around Conway.

It is charming, comfortable and soothes my heart with the glimpses of mountain majesty through every window. From the warm couch in my comfortable room, I’ve all day watched a line of cold-looking people wait their turn in 17 degree weather to scale White Horse Ledge. That sounds hard enough in good weather!

This grand hotel is also just that level of worn that makes you think of ghosts. I polled through the histories of the region, to see if I could find the provenance of this grand old lady on the hill. It has the feel of history to it. One book I found (thank you Google Books!) had descriptions of hotels and I wondered if it might be this one, under a different name.

Sunset Pavilion
Sunset Pavilion
(The History of the White Mountains: From the First Settlement of Upper Coos and Pequaket by Lucy Crawford, 1883)

My favorite line there is from another ad, which speaks of “the beautiful views of weird Chocorua”. Mount Chocorua haunts me. I once tried to climb it and failed, and have been thwarted in climbing it ever since. (It’s too long and risky to go alone. My children cannot yet tackle it. And I can’t go with my husband because who would watch the children? And so I watch it and it taunts me in its loveliness. Someday!)

Chocorua is the peak to the right in this picture of White Lake
Chocorua is the peak to the right in this picture of White Lake

I began to wonder why the hotel didn’t boast of it’s history anywhere I could see. Where was the “built in 18XX”, or the faded picture on the wall to give it that great sense of gravitas that so rightly belonged to it? Although I scanned the histories and advertisements, I found nothing that boasted of this spot between cliff and lake. I pondered the scandal that might cause them to try to blot out all prior histories. A murder perhaps? Was this hotel featured in some haunting book? Like, oh, The Shining?

Finally, I looked up specifically when this hotel was built. 1990. So much for that romantic fancy! And so much for my quiet afternoon – time to pick up my skiiers!

My snow bunnies
My snow bunnies

Winter Sports

This is why we don't wait for good weather to get outside
This is why we don’t wait for good weather to get outside

Last year, for a period of about two months, we could not take a walk. Every week we got pounded by another storm. Every week we’d laboriously clear the new fallen snow – moving it on top of the shoulder-high piles of snow that had already fallen. We struggled to make it to work. By the time the last foot fell, I was pretty sure that if another storm came it would be physically impossible to dig ourselves out – there was no where left to put snow. Everywhere we walked, we walked in narrow channels between vast and dirty snow banks. My awesome neighbors had a rotating potluck on storm nights so we could get out of our own walls, but eventually the entire world felt constrained and constricted. The walls seemed to compress under the weight of the frigid winter, as though it might finally crush us.

Family snow portrait
Family snow portrait

But some people seemed less claustrophobic. The skiers were ecstatic at the powder. The cross country folks went places they’d never gone before. The snow-shoers had the Fells to themselves. In the heart of this winter vice, we rented snow shoes to see if we’d like it. It was like taking the first deep breath for weeks, to get out into those woods again. My mother must have heard us gushing, because for Christmas this year we got the great gift of four sets of snow shoes, so we can break down those walls again.

Liberty!
Liberty!

2015 was also the first year that the Y offered ski lessons for the boys after school. They got picked up from the Y and taken to Nashoba Valley, where they were learning to ski like proper New Englanders. We signed them up again this year (with a ski group that doubled in size since last year!).

Then, this summer, came word that Stoneham Town Common would host a free, open to the public ice skating rink. For the price of a pair of skates, we could all glide around the common whenever we wanted, with our friends and families. Plus, Grey has started getting invited to open time at the Stoneham Arena (ice rink) on Fridays by one of his friends. When the local used sporting goods store announced they were going out of business, we quickly procured four pairs of ice skates.

So in the course of one year, we went from people with no winter sport proclivities to folks with snow shoes, ice skates and kids who know how to ski. (That’s what last winter did to us!) And now we find ourselves in our summer stomping grounds in the White Mountains. We have switched our regular tent for an unexpectedly swanky White Mountain Resort. I do not ski. I actually cringe if I start thinking too much about skiing, due to major knee injuries from the first and only time I went skiing. But Adam likes snowboarding, and the kids enjoy the slopes too. (Even if they do seem to be geniuses at losing ski gear.) So I’m enjoying hanging out in the resort and working on my book while the guys are skiing. (Edited: here are a few pictures I took!)

Well, at least that was the concept. In reality, it’s difficult to manage two not-strong-yet skiers simultaneously. Right now I have on my left a sweet little Thane-boy narrating the creation of Lego elements telling the story of Lloyd Alexander’s “Book of Three”, which he’s reading at the moment. Adam and Grey are skiing together. They’ll switch off in a little bit.

Brunch was tasty AND scenic
Brunch was tasty AND scenic

I’m enjoying the hygge of a mountain lodge. The scenery here is downright spectacular. The food is unexpectedly excellent. Last night, all the boys were asleep by 8:30. If the time spent skiing hadn’t gotten them to bed early, the hour the kids spent in the heated-to-99-degree pool while having a snowball fight would’ve helped them nod off. I wasn’t tired, though, so I got to spend two hours in front of the roaring fireplace working on my novel and listening to the guy behind me hold court for two hours. (I’m not sure anyone else in his party got a single word in that entire time.)

Of course, the hilarious thing is that this winter has so far been record-shatteringly warm. That ice rink on the common will open nearly a month after it was scheduled to. There hasn’t been enough snow to snow shoe on yet this year. In a Murphy’s Law moment, some of the heaviest snow of the year so far fell JUST as we were driving up here. I had an hour of white-knuckle driving of the highest degree. We haven’t gotten to try the rink yet. A repeat of last year is statistically unlikely, but it’s possible that this winter will be the inverse of last year’s unusual weather. (Of course, we’ll all remind you that the snow started after the Superbowl last year – it hadn’t kicked off by now.)

But when the snow comes, if the snow comes, we’ll be ready to enjoy it!

PS – Here’s a video Adam took of just how white-knuckle the driving was!

Sunset of summer

I love these guys.
I love these guys.

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

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

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

Of note so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flynns
The Flynns

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

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

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

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

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

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


You can find pictures of our White Mountain adventures here!

Oh brother, where art thou?

Yesterday, after a few farewell bike laps around White Lake State Park, we crawled into the car and across the mighty Kankamangus (for the second day in a row). The fragrance of lots and lots of soap wafted up from the back seat from a soon-to-be-fourth-grader (can that really be true?) who was disappointed that we would not be at Camp Wilmot at the earliest possible hour for dropping off. He demonstrated considerable maturity by not whining – too much – about that.

We pulled up, and I waited for the faintest hint of uncertainty or doubt to creep in. Gone! For a week! From MEEEEEE!!!!

Here’s what he looked like when that time came last year:

Profoundly uncertain

This year, though, he was a pro. A returning camper. One in the know, as it were. He was excited about the BBQ chicken, the staying up late, the polar bear dances and did I mention the BBQ chicken? He bounded out of the car as soon as I put it in park and disappeared. Not only was he back on familiar turf, but he had the additional advantage of having no fewer than FOUR of his friends from school there to join him.

No uncertainty here! (Doesn't it look like Thane is big enough to go too? He's not.)
No uncertainty here! (Doesn’t it look like Thane is big enough to go too? He’s not.)

To my great consternation I dropped him off wearing the same t-shirt he wore EVERY DAY last year. I admit to great curiosity about whether he’ll change it at all this year.

Grey handily passed his deep end test, and practically pushed us out of the grounds. “BYE MOM!” No hugs – the guys are watching. He vibrated with enjoyment and independence. We headed back to camp ground one fewer than our accustomed four.

Thane is handling only childhood with aplomb, so far. We watched the Women’s World Cup awesomeness at a local establishment, and he watched the whole thing high up on a stool with us. (Which – aside – that was SO MUCH FUN!)

You can see pictures of our camping adventures here!

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?