July 30, 2008

Gone camping

View from the canoe

We're leaving in a few minutes for camp, where the breezes sweep in off the river, the oak trees shade the picnic tables where we eat, the pine trees keep our tents cool, and the water lilies are blooming in the marsh.

July 29, 2008


Black and white

As soon as we figure out teams for Ultimate, everyone starts switching shirts, so that one team will be white and the other dark. It's so much easier to think fast in a game if you know who is on your team. Shaggy Hair Boy usually brings the extra shirts we have at home, a pile of black and white. Half the time, they are crumpled and sweaty, but sometimes, if my husband has just done laundry, Shaggy Hair will bring clean, fresh shirts on hangers and hang them from the branch of the tree. "We've got clean shirts!" someone will say gratefully, as players reach up to take the proper colour. It's a luxury to pull on a shirt that still smells sweet.

Just hanging out

Hanging out

During breaks in the Ultimate Frisbee games, we sit in the grass in the shade of a tree, near our pile of stuff: Boy in Black's bag of discs, jugs and bottles of water, a box of granola bars and a bag of pretzels, and the inevitable line-up of cell phones. Mostly, the kids gulp water, talk lazily, and check their text messages to see if anyone else is coming to play. Skater Boy and Shaggy Hair Boy stretch out on the grass like dead bodies. Pirate Boy will go up into the tree to rest in the branches, and often we forget he's there until he'll suddenly leap down out of the sky, startling everyone.

July 28, 2008

The Ultimate summer sport

Making the grab

If either Boy in Black or Shaggy Hair Boy were asked to list the five items they absolutely can't leave home without, I have no doubt what the first item on the list would be: a disc. (Or what people my age call a frisbee.) In fact, on the trip we took last week, all of us crammed into a very small car, Boy in Black still packed a whole bag of discs. I don't think he'd even go to the grocery store without a disc. You never know when someone might want to throw around in the parking lot.

As far at my kids are concerned, all daylight hours should be spend a) "throwing around" to improve your skills or b) playing a game of Ultimate. For those of you who don't know the game of Ultimate, it's played on a field with roughly the same dimensions as a football field, with seven players on each team. The game looks a bit like soccer, except instead of kicking a ball from player to player, they throw the disc. And they can't move with the disc in their hand. It's a fast-moving, exciting game, with people running and diving to catch the disc.

When my kids were little, I didn't encourage them to play organized sports. I never cared for the way that adults would be in charge of the games, with grown-ups officiating and setting the rules, with parents pressuring kids to do well, with coaches encouraging macho behavior. Oh, I know not all teams do that kind of thing — I've had students who have had terrific experiences on sports teams — but I've always preferred disorganized sports like neighborhood pickup games or individual sports like snowboarding.

But Ultimate is a bit different. It's a self-officiated sport. The fourteen players on the field have to trust each other to make calls. There is no hierarchy, and no one is in charge, except the players themselves. I like that. It's a cheap game too — all you need is a stretch of lawn, a bunch of people, and a disc. Even a top-of-the-line "official" game disk costs only $10 and can be used for years. No other equipment is required, although it's nice if you can afford a pair of cleats. It's not a game that takes years to learn: a kid who hasn't played until his senior year in high school can easily catch up with his peers and do well on a college club team. It's a competitive sport in the sense that the teams play each other for points, but it's really common to hear both teams yelling compliments when a player on either team makes a good play. It's an easy game to like.

Almost every evening all summer long, Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy have organized an Ultimate game, sending text messages by cell phone to their friends to let them know when and where the game will be played. Most of the time, they hold the games in the soccer field behind the old elementary school in Traintrack Village, less than a mile from our house. Boy in Black brings the supplies: orange cones for marking out the field, jugs of water and gatorade, and a bag full of discs. Shaggy Hair Boy brings a pile of white and black shirts, so that once they decide on teams, they can play Dark vs. White.

Sometimes, I play with them, especially when they've got an odd number of players and need someone to make even teams. I like hanging out with my kids and extras, no matter what they are doing, and I enjoy spending the evening running around the field or sitting in the shade of the tree where all of our stuff is piled. I can't really hold my own on the team — I am always the weakest player — but the kids shout encouraging stuff to me anyhow and keep asking me to play with them.

The kids who come to play are mostly high school or college-age guys; most are about a foot taller than me and in considerably better shape. I usually get asked to guard my daughter or With-a-Why. They both play far better than I can, but at least they are close to me in size. Well, at least for now. I suspect With-a-Why will be taller than me by the end of the summer. I keep asking all of our extras, "Can't you get one of your parents to play so I can get a more equal match-up?" but my wish for another middle-aged woman to play against has not yet been granted.

When I asked Boy in Black earlier this summer if he was going to do any volunteer work (he's got a full scholarship so he doesn't really need to work for money), he told me he wanted to concentrate on Ultimate. At first, I kind of rolled my eyes and thought, "Throwing around a frisbee? How is that contributing to the community?"

But I have to admit, as I am standing in the field, doing drills with Shaggy Hair or practicing my flick, and I watch teenagers arriving, talking to each other and hanging out on the grass as they wait for the game or grabbing discs to throw around, I can see that the games are, actually, something positive in our community. In a small town, there isn't much else for kids to do, and they could do far worse than spend hours running and jumping in a field, focusing on their skills, learning to cooperate with their team mates, and sitting on the lawn talking about their lives. In my eyes, organizing games that high school and college-age kids are willing to play with a 47-year-old mother has got to do something good for the community.

That's Pirate Boy in the photo.

July 27, 2008

What I'd pack

I haven't done a meme in ages. (Apologies to bloggers who keep tagging me. Really I don't meant to be rude. I always make a note of the memes on little sticky notes, which then drift to the floor of my office and eventually get swept up and discarded.) Here's a simple meme I saw at Rev. Dr. Mom's, originally from the RevGalBlogPals website.

Five things I can't leave home without.

1. My contact lens stuff and glasses. Because otherwise, I can't see anything. This is my number one necessity.

2. My journal. I've kept a journal most of my life, and I almost always have one with me. I've got a whole shelf of old journals in my office. I like them lined, spiral-bound, and 6 by 9 inches, small enough to carry in a purse or backback. Of course, I always have a pen stuck in the spirals. I think it would be pretty frustrating to have a journal with me and not be able to write in it.

3. A fleece for when it gets cold, or to use as a pillow, if necessary. My fleece is bright red, so bloggers can spot me quickly when we meet up for the first time. I usually carry the fleece with me, so maybe it doesn't count as an item to be packed.

4. Dry socks. I hate having cold, wet feet. I can tolerate soaking wet sneakers, even, if I can just change my socks.

5. A toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep them in ziploc bag so they count as just one item.

That's pretty much it. I could get along fine for a couple of weeks with just those items. Well, depending on the climate. If I was planning a winter-camping trip, a sleeping bag would take priority over a toothbrush. And any warm-weather trip would include a bathing suit. On a camping trip, a box of matches would be near the top of the list. If I'm staying in a city, I need a map and an ATM card.

If I got five bonus items, I'd expand the list to include:

6. Books
7. Camera
8. Comb
9. Change of clothes
10. Map

Well, perhaps this is why I don't do many memes. My answers are pretty practical and unoriginal. I wish I could say that I always pack a purple stuffed giraffe. Or an invisibility cloak. Or a sparkly red cape. Or a bottle of shark repellent. But alas, my life is not as exciting as that of a superhero.

July 26, 2008

Long drive home


On our trip to Ultimate Capital of the Universe, we drove through rain and rain and more rain. We spent hours in the car, eating and talking, which is more or less just what we do at home all the time, except — as Boy in Black pointed out — we had a lot less room. My car fits two adults nicely, with a back seat that would work well for some small children. It doesn't do as well at accommodating the long limbs of teenage sons. (On family trips, we take my husband's vehicle, which is considerably roomier.)

The rain stopped for about an hour in the evening, long enough for With-a-Why and me to swim in the motel pool. Of course, more exciting than the pool was the cable television we had our room. The tradition for my kids is to change the channel about every minute or so, which kind of makes me dizzy. They never really find anything they want to watch, and in fact, it doesn't seem like they are even trying; they just like the thrill of seeing just how many programs there are.

We got up early, per Shaggy Hair Boy's instructions, to drive to the Ultimate Training Camp, which was held on a campus with green lawns, old trees, brick buildings, and misty hills in the distance. Almost as soon as we parked the car, the rain began again, not a gentle summer rain, but a steady downpour. For the next three hours, we stood in the rain, totally drenched, and watched mud-splattered high school kids play Ultimate.

None of the players seemed to mind the rain. In fact, the soft soggy ground makes for an exciting game because the players are more willing to "layout," a move which entails throwing your entire body on the ground in an effort to catch a disc that's low-down and a bit far away. One team was happily practicing layouts in a ditch that had filled with water, and it looked like they were having all kinds of fun. All the players seemed to be playing their hardest and really concentrating on the game, and that always makes a sport exciting to watch.

We were pretty much the only family on the sidelines, although a handful of other parents (dressed in dry clothing, I noted enviously) did show up later for the awards ceremony that was held in the lobby of one of the buildings. I realized, gradually, that many of the kids were leaving by airplane, which explained why they didn't have parents present. The awards ceremony consisted mostly of counselors handing out discs for all kinds of things, and everyone humming Pomp and Circumstance while the kids were high school seniors went up to hug or slap hands with the older kids who had been their coaches.

Eventually, Shaggy Hair grabbed his bag of dirty clothes, and we stood in the rain trying to figure out how to wedge four people into the back of my car. My daughter had volunteered to drive, which meant the smallest person was in the roomiest seat. Boy in Black, the tallest person, pulled his seat forward until his knees were pressed against the dashboard, making room behind him for Shaggy Hair Boy, whose knees were against the back of the seat. Skater Boy, jammed against the car door, had his backpack in his lap because we'd run out of room for it. And that left me and With-a-Why to climb into the middle seat in the back, which we were somehow sharing.

It all would have been easier if we weren't all so absolutely soaking wet. I did have a happy moment when I remembered that I'd brought a pair of dry socks and could discard my dripping wet sneakers for clean white cotton. Boy in Black instructed me to shove my sneakers under the seat. "We can't have any wasted space." And then finally, crammed together so that With-a-Why's bony elbows were pressed into my side, we began the trip home, listening to Shaggy Hair Boy talk about Ultimate with the zeal of a convert who has seen the disc.

July 22, 2008

Road trip

Road trip

For last few days, we've gotten a constant stream of text messages and cell phone calls from Shaggy Hair Boy, who has been at a one-week summer camp for Ultimate Frisbee in the town that Boy in Black says is the Ultimate Capital of the Universe. It's the first time any of my kids have gone to a summer camp program, and the first time that Shaggy Hair Boy has been away from home for more than a night. From the messages he's been sending to his siblings, it sounds like he's had a good time. And most importantly, to this Ultimate-obsessed family, he's been learning all kinds of Ultimate Frisbee skills.

"I've learned so much," he told me on the phone, "that right now if I played against the me of a week ago, I would shred myself."

The camp ends Thursday, and since the Ultimate Capital of the Universe is 260 miles away, I decided I'd drive down tomorrow, stay at a hotel that night, and then get to the camp at 9 am to watch the championship Ultimate game and awards ceremony that families are invited to. I figured that it might be nice to have a quiet evening to myself. Or perhaps I'd invite one of my friends to join me.

But then I found a hotel with a pool and decided that maybe I should see if With-a-Why wanted to come. He does love a hotel pool. Then Boy in Black said he wanted to come, and maybe bring Skater Boy too. And my daughter has these two days free so she's coming as well.

Suddenly, it's a road trip.

Boy in Black says he'll be in charge of the music. Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter said, "We have to get food, of course. Snacks. And drinks."

We'll be driving through farm land, mostly, fields that shimmer gold and green during summer rain showers. For the first time ever, I have a car with air conditioning, so we'll be comfortable no matter how hot and humid the weather gets. We'll get to meet the kids and counselors that Shaggy Hair has been with all week and we'll get to watch them play some Ultimate. And of course, the most exciting part will be the drive home, when we'll all get to hear Shaggy Hair's stories about his week away from home.

July 21, 2008

Yoga: not just for statues

Meditating with the statue

I forgot to mention that I had lunch the other day with Fire Ant, the blogger who posed naked for me just a few months ago. (Yes, she has other endearing qualities, but once you've posed naked for my blog, that description trumps all others.) We ate at a Middle Eastern Restaurant, where the falafel and baba ganoush was so good that Fire Ant kicked off her shoes and began dancing barefoot in the middle of the room. That was just before the firefighters broke down the back door because they thought the smoke coming from the kitchen looked dangerous. And just after the waiter carrying a platter of food stopped to hit on my friend and accidentally dumped a bowl of hummus down her shirt.

Or maybe we just sat and talked at a table in a sunny window. The lunch was last Friday so the details are a bit hazy.

Anyhow, during a walk across the campus of Snowstorm University, Fire Ant felt inspired to pose next to one of the statues. Well, the inspiration was mostly me asking her to pose. She kept complaining that the old guy in the statue had done way more yoga than her, but then she crouched down into the pose anyhow. I wanted her to take off her clothes so that she'd look more like the statue, but her lunch hour was over and we simply didn't have time. Next time, we'll have to spend less time eating and talking, and more time taking photos. We've got a long winter here in Snowstorm Region so the window for naked outdoor photos is pretty small, and we need to take advantage of the warm weather when we can.

After midnight

After midnight

July 19, 2008

In the moonlight

"Where you going?" Boy in Black asked as I grabbed the car keys off the bookshelf near the front door.

"A moon ceremony," I said. "With a bunch of my friends."

He looked up from his laptop and grinned. "Oh, that's RIGHT. You're at the height of your mystical powers."

"I am."

"Maybe you ought to play Ultimate with us tonight. See how those powers affect your game."

"Not sure you boys could handle it."

Leaving behind the teasing teenage sons, I drove through evening sun past cornfields and red barns and at least one Christmas tree farm. I passed a cardboard sign that advertised "Free Kittens" and a gas station that has "Fresh donuts daily." I listened to the CD I've had in my car all summer, Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, and turned it off only when the pavement ended and my tires were crunching on a gravel road through the woods. At dusk, I arrived at Panther Lake, where eight of my friends were gathered on the shore.

QuiltArtist had been swimming, floating through the lily pads in the shallow lake. Wrapped in a towel, her hair pulled up off her face, the stress of the work week washed away, she was talking and slapping at mosquitoes. PsychicWoman had prepared for the ceremony by bringing tobacco and sweetgrass as well as brownies and ice cream. Gorgeous Eyes had taken her sandals off the moment she had stepped from her car, saying that she'd been thinking all day about how great it would feel to be barefoot.

Healer Man showed me a childhood photo of him and his five siblings sitting at a kitchen table inside the camp. The land has been in his family since he was about two. The small lake is lined with camps, some partially hidden by the big trees, with a few marshy, wilder areas. Lily pads and weedy patches fill in the shallow spots, and small docks reach into the quiet waters.

When it was time for the moon ceremony to begin, Healer Man disappeared quietly, as is his way, leaving the circle around the fire for the women. Psychic Woman smudged us, one at a time, telling us to leave the anxiety and stress of the week behind. We joked, as we entered the sacred circle, that perhaps the smoke from the smudge stick would keep away some of the mosquitoes. It had gotten dark, but the moon was still hidden behind a tree that leaned over the lake's edge. Signing Woman added a few sticks to the fire, causing the flames to jump with little snapping noises.

We began with the traditional prayer of thanksgiving, a custom begun by the native peoples in this area. Lights shone in the windows of little camps along the lake, but it was so quiet that I could her fish jumping in the shallows. The aroma of burning sweetgrass almost but not quite drowned out the smell of the bug spray some of my friends were wearing. My hands were fragrant with tobacco.

Moving counter-clockwise around the circle, we each took a turn to walk to the fire and make our prayers — some aloud and some silently. I knelt in front of the fire, close to the flames, before releasing my bit of tobacco into the burning.

We finished, of course, with gratitude, thankful for each other, for friends inside and outside of the circle, for family, for the beautiful world we inhabit. When the ceremony ended, Psychic Woman suggested that we stay until the fire had burned completely away, and she invited everyone to sing or dance. She'd brought handmade music-makers that made soft rhythmic noises.

The moonlight was diffuse, coming through a hazy layer of clouds, which made the dock seem a fairly private place despite the other camps around us. I slipped my clothes off and left them in a heap on the shore so that I could walk into the moonlight naked. At the end of the dock, I knelt to wash my face three times in the moonlit water. Allowing anxiety to sink slowly into the lake, I stood up into the darkness, feeling just the barest touch of the moon on my shoulders and hair. Then, following the rhythms my friends were shaking into night air, I began to dance.



July 17, 2008

Again with the naked photo

Sun bath

Scene: Lakeside room in an old mountain inn.

Spouse: Didn't we already do a naked photo?
Me: That was last summer.
Spouse: And ... the summer before.
Me: See, it's a tradition!

Spouse: Just tell me what to do.
Me: Steady yourself against this wall.
Spouse: Where's the camera?
Me: You need to be lower.
Me: I set up the shot, but you're a lot taller.
Me: Just crouch down.
Me: About a foot.
Spouse: Oh, THIS is comfortable.

Me: Make sure you get some of the wall — and my toes on this side.
Spouse: Oh, this looks TOTALLY natural.
Me: I sit like this all the time.
Him: Completely naked?
Me: Got any better ideas?
Spouse: Stay still.

Spouse: Hey, I can see you in the TV screen.
Spouse: It looks like you're watching porn.
Spouse: Full frontal nudity.
Spouse: It's a funny shot.
Me: They shouldn't have a television set here.
Spouse: So you want to pretend it's not here.
Me: Exactly.

Spouse: Turn away more.
Me: Like this?
Spouse: I'm seeing breasts.
Me: How about this?
Spouse: Lean back so I can get the edge of your face.
Me: You aren't supposed to get my face!
Spouse: It's just the edge. The light looks nice.
Me: But I'm supposed to be looking out the window.
Spouse: Because yeah, you always stare out the window naked.
Me: Just take the picture.
Spouse: I already did.

Into the woods

Into the woods

Last weekend in the mountains, my husband and I took several hikes, one of which was miles longer than we intended, due to my misinterpretation of the trail map I had consulted. I am absolutely terrible at directions, so it's a mystery to me as to how my husband, after 30 years together, will still look at me confidently and say, "Now, which way do we go here?"

I don't know where I'm going most of the time when I'm in the woods, and that doesn't bother me at all. I mean, I'm not exactly lost — I can always find my way back out — and wandering around aimlessly is sort of the point of hiking anyhow. But my husband, who prefers to hike in the southwest where there are big scenic vistas, feels lost in the dense, wooded mountains of the northeast, where you can't see very far ahead, and he is always trying to figure out where we are. Our conversations go something like this.

Him: Where's the lake?
Me: The lake? It should be on our right.
Him: I don't see a lake.
Me: The guidebook said, "affords lovely views of the lake." Or something like that.
Him: There is no lake.
Me: The woods are pretty this time of year, aren't they?
Him: Where's the map?

Him: You left the map in the car?
Me: The trail loops around the lake.
Him: There is no lake.
Me: There was a waterfall on the map, but I didn't think we would want to go that far.
Him: We've already gone miles.
Me: Yeah, it seems weird we haven't seen the lake.
Him: Do you have any idea where we are?
Me: There's going to be a lake. On our right. Pretty soon.
Him: There is no lake.

Me: Hey, walk ahead and I'll take a photo.
Him: Maybe we should turn around.
Me: Look at this cool mushroom.
Him: This must be the wrong trail.
Me: I see a lake!
Him: That's THE LEFT.
Me: It's a lake!
Him: That must be some other lake.
Me: I hear a waterfall.
Him: I thought we weren't going to the waterfall.
Me: Look! A lovely view ....

July 16, 2008

500 pieces

Although I still think a tent is the ideal place to stay in the mountains, I have to say it was nice to come back to the old mountain inn, where we had a real bed and could take hot showers. After a long afternoon hike, my husband and I ate dinner in the inn's restaurant, sitting at a table near the window, looking out across the porch, where an elderly couple were sitting in rocking chairs. A man and his two small daughters were feeding the ducks down by the docks.

The inn has several canoes and kayaks that guests are welcome to use, but in the quiet of the evening, my husband convinced me to that we should take the inn's paddleboat instead. One nice thing about the paddleboat is that we could sit next to each other and talk. (In a canoe, I'm always talking to the back of his head. ) You pedal a paddleboat just like a bicycle, which meant that my hands were free for taking photos. Luckily, the wind had died down, and the water was still as we moved slowly along the shoreline, churning our legs, talking, and trying to guess the history of the old buildings at the water's edge.

500 pieces

Low sounds by the shore

Low sounds by the shore

July 15, 2008



One summer when I was little and we were vacationing at the shore, my father and I got up at dawn to walk the beach and then to explore a marina. We rambled along the docks, just the two of us, looking at the boats and at the fishermen heading out in the dim light for the day's catch. As an adult, I still like to walk along a dock in the early morning and admire the way the curving shapes of the boats are reflected in the quietness.

July 14, 2008

When the horizon begins to appear

When the horizon begins to appear

Early Saturday morning, I left my sleeping husband and slipped quietly out of our room into the hallway of the old mountain inn where we were staying. The building is so old that floors aren't level and that, combined with the flowered wallpaper, made me feel a bit seasick as I tiptoed down the creaking stairs. The screen door slammed behind me as I stepped onto the porch where wooden rocking chairs were clustered as if filled with imaginary guests. The dew from the grass soaked the hems of my pants.

On this foggy morning, so much was hidden from view: the mountains, the opposite shoreline, even the trees above my head. As I walked, I could see docks extending into that blurry whiteness, and boats tied alongside them, and canoes pulled up on the shore. The breeze spread dewdrops along my face and arms, waking me up as I watched the far shore appear as the sun rose above the mountains to my east.

Saying goodbye


For the last fourteen years, one of the creatures joining the family at camp for July 4th week has been Zip, a collie who lived with Red-haired Sister's family. In his young days, Zip would spend the days at camp chasing chipmunks, leaping off the dock to swim, and eagerly retrieving sticks and balls. He loved the smells and freedom of camp. When Red-haired Sister and I would sometimes take the dogs for long walks on the country roads, I'd always volunteer to take Zip, because he was the easiest to handle of her crazy dogs.

This summer, Zip spent much of his time at camp sleeping. When he'd walk, he'd list to one side like a drunk staggering home from a night at the bar. Sometimes he'd fall, into the marsh or the empty fire pit, and he wouldn't be able to get up. He'd lie there, whimpering, until Tie-dye Brother-in-law would carry him over to a more comfortable spot. We all knew he was dying, but he didn't seem to be in pain. Wherever the family was, usually sitting in a circle of lawn chairs and blankets, he'd join us, stretched out on the grass, half-asleep. When I knelt down on the grass to take his photo, he tried to lift his head to look at me.

We all knew this was Zip's last trip to camp, and we said our goodbyes to him at the end of the week when it was time for Red-haired Sister's family to return home. We've all been expecting the email that came yesterday. Zip had a difficult night on Saturday; Red-haired Sister and Tie-dye Brother-in-law were up with him most of the night. But finally he fell into a deep sleep and died peacefully.

July 10, 2008

To the mountains

I've been home long enough to write a few blog posts, catch up with some work-related stuff on campus, watch an Ultimate game, clean the house — and pack my bag again. It's summer time, and we have to take advantage of the sunshine, the dry roads, the warm temperatures. My husband and I are driving to the mountains, just the two of us, for a long weekend.

Island scene

Island scene

On sunny afternoons at camp, we pile into the boats and go out to an island to swim. The islands are mostly rock with maybe a few scraggy trees and some dried grasses. This island scene features Red-haired Niece sitting on the towel, With-a-Why washing his hair, and my brother sailing by in his sailboat.

July 09, 2008

Keeping tradition: the naked photo

My teenage sons are horrified at my tradition of posting naked photos on my blog. No matter how much I protest that the nude shots are incredibly tasteful and discreet, they say things like, "My eyes are STILL burning. I'm not reading your blog anymore." One male extra claims he's going to have to go therapy someday to talk about the time he glanced at my blog and saw a naked photo of me. And that's a kid not even related to me. I hate to think how much my sons will have to pay for therapy.

But Tie-dye Brother-in-law, a faithful reader of my blog, has said that he would happily pose naked. Because, you know, he's got all kinds of respect for tradition.

Last week, I decided to test that great respect for tradition.

We had all traveled by boat to an island out on the river, where we like to swim. It's a pretty public spot, just across from a state park jammed with campers up for the Fourth of July weekend, the busiest tourist weekend of the summer, and in full view of the channel, where motorboats zoom up and down in the deep water. His two kids, Suburban Nephew and Dandelion Niece, had already expressed their views on the matter of naked blogging photos. My nephew shuddered in horror and disappeared with With-a-Why to a different part of the island, while Dandelion Niece took the route of completing disowning her father. "You'll be UNCLE Tie-dye to me from now on."

We were standing on the highest point of the island, looking out at family members happily swimming and washing their hair in the cold river water, fishing boats anchored in shallow areas, and speedboats going past, filled with tourists. I said to Tie-dye Brother-in-law, "Oh, here's a good spot for a photo. Jump off the rock naked and I'll take your picture."

Without hesitation, he stripped off his bathing suit, tossed it on the rock, and leapt into the cold river water below.

Blogging tradition:  a naked photo

(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here.)

July 08, 2008

Around the fire

Around the fire

Evenings are cool on the river, even during July, so as soon as it gets dark, we gather around the campfire. Several family members bring guitars, which leads to some music and singing, but mostly we talk and play games in the firelight.

One game that my kids love to play is the music game in which someone points to a random word in a book and then we have to sing at least eight words of a song with that word. For some reason, the book we traditionally use is Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, mostly because someone left a hard-cover copy of the book at camp years ago, and it's still there. But the words can be difficult. "Trousers?" one of the kids will say in disbelief. "WTF? Who would put the word trousers in a song?" And why is that Christmas songs always use the word sleigh instead of sled? What's with that?

We play as one team, the American team, competing against countries like China or Finland. My brother uses his announcer voice to keep us abreast of the scores: "In a surprise move, Iceland has just pulled ahead with 8 points! That's going to be tough to beat." The funny thing about my family is that they are very competitive even when they are playing imaginary opponents.

As the fire turns to red-hot coals, Tie-dye Brother-in-law and I will take turns getting branches or logs from the wood pile to add to the fire. My mother will give the fire an expert poke with a stick she keeps just for that purpose. When I add a log to the fire, my father always says, "Hey, don't make it too big." He says this every single time, even if the fire has smoldered down to just a few red coals. I've been building campfires for over forty years, and I think he's said this to me every time I've put a stick on the fire. Every. Single. Time. It's a tradition.

Between games and riddles and random trivia questions, sometimes we'll retell the old family stories. This year Red-haired Sister asked my mother to repeat some of the most gruesome ones, like the time the woman down the street was killed in her bed by her son-in-law with an axe. Yes, it's a true story that happened when I was just a kid. The part of the story my mother remembers most clearly is when the kids that lived in the house came over and asked her to call the police because the murderer had returned. The police found the axe murderer hiding in the chicken coop.

As the night stretches on, the early-risers will disappear into tents or cabins, leaving a smaller crowd. By then, the heat from the fire will feel good. When my kids were little, I used to stay up the latest, but those days are long gone. The teenagers and young people are usually still talking and joking noisily as my husband and I leave the fire to make our way to the little tent under the pine trees.

Some like it fast

Some like it fast

Most of us at camp prefer leisurely modes of traveling, like sailing on the river or paddling a canoe through the marsh or taking a walk along an old country road. My father and brother both have sailboats, and I have a bunch of canoes. We've got an old aluminum boat with a small motor for transporting folks out to an island for swimming.

But a few people in the family do like the thrill of speed. One afternoon, Tie-dye Brother-in-law tied a tube behind his speedboat and gave rides to the younger kids. Dandelion Niece, who is the lightest in the group, got an especially wild ride as the tube bounced about on the wake and the cross-wake of another boat that had just gone by. Tubing is easier that water skiing because it takes no grace or sense of balance: you just have to hang on and enjoy the ride.

July 07, 2008

Sailors delight

Sailors' delight

My parents' camp faces west, across River Named After a Dead Saint. Usually, just before the sunset begins, family members are scurrying about to do stuff they need to do before it gets dark: brushing teeth, perhaps, or finding a sweatshirt, or getting some kindling for the fire, or putting away the bocce balls, or rooting through a tent in hopes of finding that elusive flashlight. But then someone will yell, "Hey, look at the sunset," and anyone within hearing distance will take a few minutes to stop and stare. The sunsets don't last long, just a few minutes really, but for those few minutes, the calm water in our bay glows red. I've watched these sunsets all my life, and I still don't get tired of them.

For peace comes dropping slow

for peace comes dropping slow

My parents' camp is a two-acre peninsula in a marsh on the river, and when the extended family gathers for a week-long vacation, most of us bring tents, which we set up under the pine trees on the east side of the peninsula or under the oak trees that face the river. My parents do have a small cabin, sixteen feet by sixteen feet, which my father built before the wetlands legislation of 1972. Six people at the most can fit comfortably around the wooden table in their place, so when we've got about 20 people gathering for a meal, we eat outside on the picnic tables.

The wooden table is used for card games, though, and for breakfast. Since we all get up at different times, with my parents waking up earliest and Boy in Black and With-a-Why the latest, we eat in shifts, often my mother making pancakes on a griddle and serving them to whoever walks sleepily through the door. Whoever can't fit at the table will stand around, drinking coffee or juice, and eventually stumble outside, to go down to the dock to wash up perhaps, or to flop on a quilt in the morning sun and get warm.



One of the things my kids have always loved about spending the week of July 4th at my parents' camp is that that they have cousins close in age. I remember a character in the Elizabeth Enright book Gone-Away Lake saying that cousins were closer than friends, but nicer to each other than siblings. That seems to be true.

Here, my youngest son and my nephew, cousins born less than a month apart, are attempting what we call "the Sniffer Brown Challenge." A game invented by my brother decades ago, the challenge is to walk around an island while keeping your feet in the water at all times and your hands dry. I have no explanation for the name of the game: my brother routinely comes up with crazy games with strange names.

The rocks can be slippery so the challenge is harder than you might think. Dandelion Niece, just a few years younger than the two boys, was doing the challenge too, but she isn't in the picture because she was in the lead and had already gone ahead.