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Archive for August, 2013

Back to the flatlands again, and my older son starts school tomorrow, and so ends, most abruptly, our summer idyll. I’ve been getting up early to go fishing with my father the last two weeks while on vacation, and today I managed to sleep in until 6:45. A good pattern to be in, I suppose, with real-world scheduling starting up, but somehow, it’s a lot easier to wake up to go fishing than to go to the bus stop.

I don’t know a lot of people who go fishing. Though the free-falling decline in hunting and fishing in this country may have leveled off, it’s still not all that common anymore. Especially for me, a Lady Angler, as identified by even my fishing rod, which is for ladies.

Apparently, even though I can handle squirming live bait, I still have to have pink cursive writing on my fishing rod.

Apparently, even though I can handle squirming live bait, I still have to have pink cursive writing on my fishing rod.

The lake we were fishing, Long Pond in Rome, Maine, was not a particularly crowded or busy one. And at 6am, it was generally quite peaceful. We travel in a banged up aluminum boat with chipped paint and a 6 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. Occasionally, as we sat waiting for fish, the BassMasters would buzz by. The BassMasters travel in fast, Bass Tracker boats with muscley motors. The BassMasters are men’s men. They race from fishing spot to fishing spot as if it actually mattered that they get there quickly.

In the evenings, my father watched the nightly news. Being of the thirty-something demographic, I never watch the tv news at home, and I was enthralled at the advertising lineup. With laser-like focus, these commercials targeted the aging baby boomers. Every spot featured bowel irregularities, erectile dysfunction, cholesterol meds, osteoporosis, or, as in the most grotesquely fascinating ad, a dumpy looking guy applying liquid testosterone to his armpits. For, the commercial informs us, “it could be low T.” This became a joke in the house: “feeling less aggressive? Less prone to rape and murder these days? Not feeling the need to swagger and strut obnoxiously everywhere you go? It could be low testosterone!” The whole thing struck me as ludicrous, and sure enough, on further inspection, there is loud protest from many doctors that this is a creation of the drug companies who are feeding on the insecurities of aging men who naturally lose some muscle mass, or libido, or what have you, after the age of 60. In my observation, however, what the world needs now is not, in fact, more T.

Portrait of my father and bass (trolling man's boat is visible in the background)

Portrait of my father and bass (trolling man’s boat is visible in the background)

Case in point: as my father and I were fishing one of our favored spots between two small islands, an older man cruised into the area at trolling speed. He made a wide circle around us, but close enough to make it clear he wanted the spot. There is no friendly waving between fishermen in this situation; it bears no resemblance to the boozy greetings between party boaters. We kept our eyes down, and the trolling man focused on his lines. My father has a monomaniacal focus on bass during his two week vacations, and when he’s not out fishing, he’s sitting by the water watching the people who are. He’ll point and say, “Look at him! Look at that bastard right there off the point! He must have been sitting there waiting for our spot!” It’s half-joking, but only half.

My father landed a good sized bass as trolling man happened to be passing close by. I wanted a picture of the fish and had my father held it up. “Good,” I said, “Ok, he can go.” But instead of releasing the fish, he paused, suspending it over the water for a few moments. “What are you doing?” I asked him, and then looked up. The trolling fisherman was directly behind us, and my father was making sure he got a good look.

Could it be low T? No, it could not. At least on Long Pond, the shores are fairly awash in it.

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You’ve all undoubtedly faced the flat sadness that comes from a lull in my blogging, as I have been on vacation on the Belgrade Lakes in Maine. While the vacation persists, the blogging must resume.

I’m raising two young outdoorsmen, and we’ve been fishing, kayaking, and hiking for more than a week now. My older son’s stamina for fishing is impressive at this point, and he can now paddle his own kayak for a moderate distance. Hiking, however, remains an area where we are years away from the day-long treks I once did. That will require many years of breeding and careful grooming, and to get there, I must strike the delicate balance of finding hikes that are ever more challenging, yet do not break down, defeat, or bore my young men.

This part of Maine is good for that. The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance has blazed several trails of varying duration, from quick roadside vistas to rather substantial multi-mile hikes. Today, we headed to the Sander’s Hill Loop trail. It’s manageable, a modest grade with some fair views from the low summit. It’s a four snacker, requiring 2.5 hours for our troop to complete, and that with only two brief stints of carrying the boys on our shoulders.

Most importantly, there are trailside oddities and diversions:
a log ladder to a boulder overlooking Watson Pond,

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rock ledges and a warren of small caves and tunnels,
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and some small scale wildlife, like two snakelings, a copper colored frog, and a caterpillar thick as a thumb undulating luxuriantly across the trail.

A spring peeper

A spring peeper

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All these break up the journey into manageable bits. With young kids, there is no sustained attention, nor can uninterrupted hours be devoted to anything.

Last week, at the carnival of unnecessary items that is the Marden’s discount store in Waterville, their book section was stacked with publishers remainders of poetry. I was an English major, and I spent three good years mooning around reading Yeats, drinking coffee and scouring The Montague Book Mill (“Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”). I got nostalgic, standing in the Marden’s aisle across from the suede-look recliners and bins of clothesline and vinyl sandals. For six dollars, I got three books of poetry and carted them back to our cabin on Long Pond.

Most of my days here are spent stealing a bit of time to read or knit between botherings by my kids, listening to Simon say, again and again, “Mum? Wanna see this?” [crashes a misshapen paper airplane into the floor] “Wanna see that again?”

Sometimes I dart off and read a depressing poem by Philip Larkin. Then one of the boys calls again. I can only read a poem or two at a time. At first, I was feeling sorry for myself about that. Then I realized, that’s exactly how I ought to take these poems: one at a time, to carry with me while I watch the airplane crash again. One poem to roll around in my mouth like a stone for the next few hours.

Besides, there’s only so much Larkin a person can take before she loses the will to live entirely.

 

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The real reason why I run

Running is generally a solitary pursuit for me, both by circumstance and by choice. I run without headphones or a companion, and by the end of a good seven or so miles, my sanity is temporarily restored to me, my anxiety and obsessive disorders quelled for a day. On the rare instances when I get to run with a friend, most notably my dear friend Ali, it’s invariably delightful, as we gasp out a fragmented conversation and slog up and down hills. On occasion I’ve run with other people too, and I generally enjoy it. But circumstances conspire against it, so mostly I bolt out the door alone the moment my husband comes through the door to take the kids.

25987EC5-9BE2-433A-8449-D51A03A48BC8Last night, I was out running by myself when I heard footfalls behind me. By their speed and force, I guessed the runner was male, though I did not turn around to look. I strained one ear toward him and began the usual planning: “If he is a rapist, should I bolt into the woods? Or chance that the people in that house are home? If they aren’t, will I have time to bolt for the woods then? How fast is this guy? How fast is he in the woods?”

Of course, the vast majority of people are not rapists, but on a quiet country road, with footsteps unnervingly close behind, a girl has to make some plans.

Finally, he ran up alongside me on the opposite side of the road, bellowing, “Beautiful night for a run!” He was a tall, older guy, and a talker, as is turns out. He ran beside me for a mile, talking about an injury he’s just coming off of, and what sort of cross-training he does. He’s run the Boston Marathon eight times, as it turns out, and I puffed up a bit with pride as I matched his pace stride for stride.

We got to the end of the road, and he said he needed to turn back. He asked how far I’d be running and I told him ten miles. “Good for you!” he bellowed. As I wished him a good run and turned the corner, I realized I was about a minute and a half under my usual pace. It had felt easy, running with this guy, a Boston qualifier and, therefore, serious runner. Given, he’s coming off an injury, and he probably did slow to run with me, but I was feeling a swagger I don’t get when I’m running all alone. He’d known I was a real runner too.

When I was down on Cape Cod last month running on a sweltering day, I passed a middle-aged couple out for a walk. We smiled and waved, and then I passed them again on the way home. The man smiled and waved again and then yelled out, “Jeez! At least make it look hard!” My stride lengthened and I stood up taller as I thought, “I make this look easy!”

I’ll continue to be a solitary runner, if only as long as my circumstances dictate. But what I discover at these unexpected moments of human interaction is this: there’s nothing so favorable as wind at your back, unless it’s a boost to your vanity.

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Chubby the Bear really knows how to relax.

Chubby the Bear really knows how to relax.

Back home from yet another camping trip, this time to the primitive campground at Pillsbury State Park in Washington, NH. While Christophe had to stay home and go to work like a normal grown-up, the boys and I joined my friend Angie and her daughter at a canoe-in site on Butterfield Pond. Site 39 is only a very short paddle across the way from the park office, and though not really all that remote in fact, it is in feeling. There is no running water or showers.  The bathroom, however,  was incredibly spacious and had an absolutely fabulous view:

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There is some road noise from across the river, though that fades at night. No other campsites are visible from site 39, and no trails lead to it from down the peninsula, so the privacy is exquisite. Or it might be if you did not have to share a tent with a 4 year old, a 6 year old, and a 10 year old. And Chubby the Bear, who, as it turns out, is a sociopath with a fondness for knives.

Last week, my husband asked my mother where I came from, what with all this outdoorsy stuff. No one in my family ever went camping, and certainly never even contemplated backpacking–an activity I spontaneously took up when I was seventeen, with no guidance whatsoever. I kayak, hike, camp and backpack routinely now, in defiance of the conventional wisdom that a child must be led into the wilderness by an adult to come to love it and understand it. I must just have been deeply wired to fly to the woods not to have needed a guide there. I’m not taking any chances with my kids.

Our parking space.

Our parking space.

The second night at Pillsbury, the rain thrummed on the tent roof and a struggling fire billowed smoke from the firepit. The smell brought me powerfully back to one of my first weeks of college, at UMass.  I was gazing at a map of the White Mountains tacked on my wall beside our open door. A quiet, blonde guy on our floor walked by trailing a strong smell of campfire, clearly distinct from the usual pot smoke and incense cloud that hovers over most of the valley around Amherst. His actual person interested me not at all, but the smell of him was captivating. He’d been outside. He’d been in the woods somewhere with the other outing club people. I was young and malleable, and I decided right then to be an outside person too. I was already well on my way anyway, but it was vividly cemented then.

I can’t control what my kids end up loving, but I can bring them along with me and teach them about being outside people too. Yesterday, the three kids spent two hours sitting in the canoe by the shore just whittling sticks. It sometimes seems miraculous, given their default to computer games, TV and the iPad while at home. But after a short adjustment period, they settle in, cultivate their own boredom, invent games, fish for bass and catch nothing but perch and weeds. Though they never seem to master being quiet. Solitude is nothing that interests them either.

Camping with kids is not relaxing in the conventional sense. But it sure has its rewards.

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