Firsts

It’s been two weeks of firsts, though the wedding last weekend that David and I officiated was the third for each of us. But it was the first time we’ve done it together, and many of the guests commented on how nice it was to have a married couple perform the ceremony of marriage for another couple.

The most impressive first of the wedding  was hiking with the bride. The original plan for the wedding was to do it on Neville Peak in Epsom, the proposal location and also a frequent hike for the bride when she visits her aunt and my friend Alison. But getting all the guests to the summit wasn’t going to work, so instead a hike after the wedding was planned. The hiking option was announced on the invitation: ceremony at 2:00, hiking or cocktail option at 3:00, reception at 5:00.

Would anyone really choose hiking over cocktails? The ceremony wasn’t very long, so there was time for both. After photos and drinks, the bride bustled up the train of her embroidered and beaded gown and walked down the driveway and started up the dirt road to the Epsom Town Forest, headed for the beaver pond a mile uphill in the col between Nottingham and Fort Mountains. At least half the wedding guests followed, still in dresses and suits and shirts and ties. It was a merry sight.

A one point a young family passed us on their way down the trail and were surprised to see a beautiful bride in her white gown, sparkling and magical. The two little girls stared and the parents stood behind them looking puzzled.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” the father of the bride said and the girls kept staring. “It is a fairy tale,” I said, then pointed to the bride. “And she’s a magical goddess.” The bride smiled, the groom smiled, we all resumed hiking.

The next day David and I went to pick up Emilio, who spent last week with us on a camp on Northwood Lake. Friday afternoon, as we were getting ready to drive Emilio home, he and David made a list of all his “firsts” of the week and wrote them in the cottage guest book.

  • first almost tornado (the wild thunderstorm that hit Northwood Lake last week)
  • first world cup on the water (every float trip from the dock to the beach featured pretend competition between world cup teams)
  • first time wearing goggles to search for a lost swim ring
  • first overnight in a tent (three of the five nights he was here)
  • first time sleeping in a sleeping bag (it got chilly at night later in the week)
  • first time catching a fish
  • first cotton candy ice cream (left behind by his uncle Sam)
  • first personal password for a Kindle (he’s reading “Dog Man”)
  • first ten minute river of minnows swimming past the dock (gorgeous and extraordinary)
  • first time surfing on a boogie board (Emilio stood on his own for over 10 seconds)
  • first time a bald eagle has flown right over his head with a fish in its claws
  • first snapping turtle sighting (a big one!)
  • first time seeing a scuba diver in a lake
  • first time watching a huge crane lift felled trees (see first first)
  • first time kayaking in David’s kayak

So many firsts, so much fun. It’s been a great couple of weeks.

 

Sunset on Northwood Lake
Photo by Emilio
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Too Hot to Blog

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I’ve been busy, not that being busy is in any way unusual for me, but there have been deadlines to some of what I’d had to do this past week (consulting work), and getting things done that require paying attention, sitting at a desk, in a hot house, has not been easy.  Normally, I spend an hour or three at a time at my desk, whether writing a grant as a consultant, or doing a webinar, or doing my own work, editing poetry or writing an essay or pulling something together for one of the boards I’m on.  When I get restless, which happens a lot, I go outside and weed my garden for a while, go for a bike ride, a swim, a walk, or pick some of the abundance of wild blueberries this year, something outside and direct and physical.

Not this week.  When I needed a break from my work, I just walked around looking for a cooler space in the house.   Being outside during the day was impossibly uncomfortable and hot.  I did go swimming, but not much else.  I got my work done, went for a swim, then sat on the back deck at the end of the day with David, both of us basically panting, trying to stay cool enough to get through dinner and get into bed with multiple fans blowing on us.  My brain was on semi-permanent melt — work, eat, collapse.  What was there to say that would be interesting for a blog?

But I was paying attention to the forecast (another thing that is not in any way unusual for me) and kept seeing the temperatures predicted for Friday as being the highest of the week.  Early in my week of work, I decided to get what I needed done completed by Thursday afternoon so David and I could have a summer vacation day on Friday.

We did.  We got up yesterday morning and put the kayak racks on the car for the first time this summer, then loaded up the kayaks and a cooler of snacks, and headed for Squam Lake.  Squam Lake is a special place for me.  It was our family vacation spot for all the years from when Sam was a year old until two years after Eric died — 21 years. Kayaking on Squam was Eric’s favorite thing to do, the lake his favorite place in the world.  The day Eric died, as we were trying to figure out how to prepare his body for pick up by the funeral home, Adrienne, Sam, John and I agreed that nothing would be so fitting as dressing Eric in his kayak shorts and water shoes.  We considered putting a paddle beside him, to be tucked into the coffin and buried with him, but knew Eric would object to that as a waste of good equipment.

As David and I turned onto Metcalf Road yesterday, headed for the kayak launch spot on Squaw Cove, a wave of memory passed through me, bringing back all the years of getting ready for a week on the lake, all the years of Eric and I kayaking to favorite spots to swim and pick berries and relax, all the years of dipping our paddles into the clear lake water as we watched the march of the Sandwich Range mountains fading into the haze of summer days on the north shore.

Yesterday on the lake was perfect.  It was viciously hot in most of the country, but fine sitting on the fine white sand beaches of Squam Lake, half-submerged in water.  David and I paddled and swam and read and had a picnic and I wrote in my Island Journal, a memoir I’m writing that I can only write while on islands (more on that in a later post). We went to three islands yesterday.  At one point I asked David how he was doing (not an easy week for either or us, for reasons as easy to ascribe to the heat as anything else) and he said, “I’m great.  This is the essential ‘us.’  Getting out into the world and moving and being and enjoying”

We didn’t leave the lake until dinner time, driven back to our car by hunger.  We picked up sandwiches in Holderness and ate sitting on a dock, watching the light fade over the water.  Yes, maybe it was a week too hot for blogging, a week to hot for anything but getting done what had to be done.  But it was an evening cool enough for imagination, after a week soaked in the sweat of real life and obligation.  Time to let go.  Time to float into a weekend as the cooler air moved in.

As Good As It Gets

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Yesterday was a perfect summer day.  David and I have been mostly engaged in activities that use our upper bodies since our return from that 13-day-lower-body-workout-test of walking close to 200 miles in 13 days.  We’ve been swimming and kayaking, not only because it was time to give our legs a rest, but also because it was so hot in the week after we returned home there was little energy left in me after doing whatever needed doing in the garden each day except for something cooling.

Yesterday we woke up in Scituate, Massachusetts, where I grew up, in the house where I grew up.  My sister Jeanne and her husband John were visiting from Virginia, and my sister Meg and her husband John (my three brothers-in-law are all named John or Jon; at one point early in our relationship David said to me, “Okay, I guess I need to change my name.”) live in the next town and offered to take us all sailing yesterday morning.

We met on the dock at the Yacht Club, where I spent my summers from the age of 9 until I was old enough to be working and giving sailing lessons, rather than taking them.  A school of small fish were “kippering” around the dock, flashing in the clear sunshine, the brightest, driest, coolest summer day we’ve had for weeks.  Outside Scituate Harbor we could see a line of small, silver-white clouds sitting low along the horizon in every direction, like a ring of good weather goddesses.  There wasn’t much wind, so we headed back into the harbor, out of the chop on the ocean, and “ghosted” around among the thickly moored boats of every type and size.

After lunch on the Club deck overlooking the brilliant day unfolding over the harbor, David and I took the kayaks out and headed into the inner harbor, slipped under a causeway bridge, and paddled through the marshes behind Peggoty Beach.  We watched a cormorant surface two feet in front of our boats and swallow the small fish in its beak.  We wound through the marsh grasses, birds flitting into holes of the steep mud banks as they rose out of the water in the lowering tide.

As we made our way back to the small harbor beach where we’d put in the kayaks, I stopped to watch the mass of boats lightly lifting and rocking in the water, the line of houses on the shore holding steady, the low clouds still sitting like beacons of good fortune on the horizon.

We Did It Again!

Jill came over for dinner last night, and after she left, David and I went to look at the just-past-full moon coming up through the trees, a peachy orange that reflected the huge ray of sunset light that was streaming up into the sky from where the sun set behind the trees on the horizon.

“Let’s go kayaking,” David said, so we did.  Unlike the night before, it was a bit windy, and the moon cut a choppy path of light across the water slapping up against itself.  We sat for a few minutes, just looking at the moon, the water, the reflections.  Then the wind picked up and started pushing us, so we held our paddles across the two boats, one paddle face up to catch the wind on each side, and sailed back to the beach where we’d put in.  I used my rudder to direct us and we glided home, moonlight kayak sailing.  I’ve never done that before, and on a weeknight no less!

Full Moon Kayak

Photo by Anne Burnett

“We found you,” a voice called out, and the dark shapes of our boats circled around each other. These kayaks had boat lights mounted on their sterns and we asked about where they got the lights, how much, who made them. Then Deb asked, “Who did you think you found?” “Bill?” said the woman. “No, that’s not us, but there was another group kayaking at the other end of the lake. You can see their lights out there.”

Last night was the full moon, and Anne had told me she and a group of friends were meeting on Pleasant Lake to kayak. “Yes,” David and I said. “We’re there.” We arrived at 7:00, just as the moon was clearing the trees on the east side of the lake. We had headlamps on, and Anne had a blinking red biking light hanging from her back collar. We were meeting up with Cynthia and Leslie later, and as we racked together by crossing our paddles over our boats, chatting and sipping wine, we’d seen lights approaching us from the north end of the lake.

Now we all laughed at the mistaken lake meeting, and the voices and kayak lights moved off into the thickening darkness, towards the points of light in the distance. Eventually Cynthia and Leslie found us, and as we gathered in smaller groups the headlamps of those further off moved across the water like dancers. The other group of kayakers was a cluster of lights floating along the opposite shore.

We paddled and chatted, a small party in the middle of a lake, air soft and fresh settling around us, reflected and shadowed light holding us in the night. When David and I pulled our boats out of the water, the moon was high and there was a loon calling from the lake. Even miles away, I can hear the loon through my open windows this morning.

High on Water

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Yesterday after I finished the Pumpkinman Triathlon (as fun as every year and the only triathlon I got to do this summer, so doubly fun), since we were already in Maine, David and I headed to York Harbor to check out a show of ceramics by our friend Al Jaeger. We’d never been to the George Marshall Store Gallery and were delighted to find it housed in a historic building on the bank of the York River, overlooking York Harbor.

Yesterday was a brilliant day — clear, dry, cool, and blue as days can get in New England. York Harbor was exquisite, water shimmering with sunlight, sharp wind, hot sun, river banks green with tall oaks and stately white houses, a bright harbor full of fishing boats and sail boats and dingys and Boston Whalers.  We wanted to come back and kayak up river, into the expanses of marsh we’d glimpsed between houses as we drove towards the gallery and the harbor.

Today we got up and out early enough to be on the river an hour before high tide, so we could ride the current up, and then come back down river with the tide.  With another perfect day of clear light, hard sun and cool winds, we felt like we were kayaking into a gift.  As we passed the gallery and the Barrell Mill Pond Dam I wrote about when I was in York Harbor last March, we saw what looked like dozens of herons, egrets and ducks in the marsh to our right.  “Do you see all those herons?” a man in a dingy said to me. “There are at least 10 of them.”  “Is that unusual,” I asked.  “We haven’t kayaked here before.”  “Yes,” he said.  “You might see one or two, but never this many.”  We counted 11.

The river wound around corners, past marshy banks and the trim green of a golf course,  past bleached wooden walkways out to docks, and eventually under Rte. 1 and then Rte. 95, the Maine Turnpike.  I’d never kayaked under an interstate before.  It was loud and surreal to watch trucks and cars flying by on the long bridge, just above our sight line of the water.

Kayaking back downriver, we hugged the shorelines, staying out of the east wind that had come up, making us have to paddle in spite of the strong tide running in our favor.  Along one bank I found an arrangement of rocks on top of a stone wall.  Someone had made a bit of art on the riverbank, miles up river from the art that brought us here in the first place.

Retreat

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The lake held the memory of the afternoon’s hard wind, waves chopping the water with a few caps still curling into white, as we crossed to Five Mile Island to watch the sun set.  Earlier when we paddled out of the lee of Bear Island to try kayaking straight into the north wind, the entire surface of the lake was wild, two and three foot waves slapping our boats up and down, spray blowing back at us.  We could hardly move against the wind, but the kayaks handled well and we turned and paddled back along the shore of the Island, into protected coves, skirting rocks and docks, letting the late summer sun warm us.  

Now this morning there is no wind, but the water is still moving.  I’ve missed being next to water, experiencing the changing face of the lake, yesterday’s dark, ripping waves, the softening flow as the wind died in the evening, this morning’s flicker of the cloudy morning light on the rippled surface.  After dinner last night, we watched the moon rise, first like a half-circle orange cap on the opposite shore making me wonder what unknown neon casino had opened there.  The moon rose into a bank of clouds and disappeared, then come out again like a big yellow egg, making a wider and wider path across the water as it got higher.  The path of moonlight came straight across the water to us, sitting on the camp’s deck 20 feet from the shore.

“It looks like a slow, sensuous flash of lightning,” David said, and it did, snaking and shifting in the moving water, zig-zagging into a smaller and smaller line of light until it was just a random flash here and there at the water’s edge.

This has been a brief and welcome retreat.  It was an initial treat when David and I first came out to this island camp for three days in July of 2008.  We’d only known each other four months, and those three days were magical.  We were away from all the complications surrounding our emerging relationship, like orange traffic cones we had to navigate — the need for discretion among David’s family and friends, my family and friends’ thoughtful wariness, the difficulty of finding time to be together in the face of the usual work and family demands on time.  Here on Bear Island we were alone, on the water, letting what was happening between us unfold and sweep along with the constant shift of the lake.  We talked and wrote and read poetry.  David made a pastel painting that is still tacked to one of the cabin’s walls.

We haven’t been back in the over two years since, and we were barely able to squeeze this visit in among our fall commitments, but we did it.  Yesterday morning we packed the car, stopping to admire the morning glories climbing their string through the blossoms of hydrangea as we carried gear and kayaks from the barn.  Driving north, we talked about the rise and fall of intellectual and artistic communities, the human need to connect and stretch individual thinking and creation by reaching beyond ourselves.  And we talked, as we always do, about the need to retreat, to have unconnected time to create.  Kayaking out to the camp was a bit tricky, with loaded boats and a hard wind, but once we rounded the north end of the island we had the wind at our backs and reached the sandy beach in front of the cabin easily.

Now we’re having our usual coffee on the deck, but we have a field of lake in front of us, instead of pasture or yard.  The sun is drawing shifting paths of sparkle as it moves across the cloudy sky and lights on the undulating surface of the water.

The wind is picking up again, this time from the south.  It’s time to pack up and kayak back to the car, drive home and, for me, get ready to leave.  I’ll be in Chicago tonight, but I’ll have this window of waterfront time to take with me.  Retreat.

Greens

David and I got up this morning, a week into our two week vacation, sat on the deck drinking cappuccino, moved to the porch to get out of the sun, too hot even though it was a cool morning, and talked about what we would each do today.   David was planning to continue sorting through paperwork in his studio, then work on the barn, either doing more organizing of the detritus of our blended lives, or painting in the summer studio he’s creating in the cleared out space.  I was going to bike and swim (tri prep), water the garden, and write.  We both would grocery shop, then cook for the dinner party with old friends.

“Let’s forget all that and go to the coast and kayak,” David said.

“We can get fish for dinner at Seaport,” I said, the fish market Eric and I shopped at for dinner parties.  “They have incredibly delicious smoked salmon that they smoke themselves.”

An hour later we were on the road, two hours later we were in Little Harbor, paddling towards the mouth against the tide.  I was riding on a sea of green — the green of the water above the sand and rocks, just feet below as the water swirled in to fill the harbor and creeks and marshes.  The line of marsh grass and low, scrubby trees lining the edges of the water was reflecting a deeper green onto the sea green.  The sky was as much cloud as blue and I thought about my blue kitchen, how I want it to be green.  I thought about how I wasn’t thinking about anything.  The boat was alive under me, twitching with the water pulling in with the tide, rumpled by wind, and my own strokes of direction.

Now it’s bedtime, the dinner party over, the smoked salmon raved about and devoured, the dishes done.  The green is in me and I feel full.