Monday, August 10, 2009

A Great Migration, Indeed

“It’s like the great migration,” my daughter observed in the wake of my inquiries concerning a detected lack of enthusiasm as we packed for our annual camping trip to our favorite state park.

“But so much of your childhood has happened there,” I insisted.

“Soooo…much,” my daughter heartily agreed.

Last week marks thirteen years of setting up camp at the same spot. Summer just wouldn’t be summer without some days unfolding on the shores of Lake Douthat in Campground A.

I’ve always wanted us to be one of those families that heads to The Cabin every summer. In books, these leisure-loving souls while away entire months in rustic-yet-snug bungalows, allowing sea breezes to restore their spirits while engaging in all manner of creative and recreational activities. In real life, I do, from time to time, hear tell of folks running off to The Lake or The Beach House for several days, or perhaps a weekend here or there, but never like in the books.

This week, I came to realize that it’s unlikely that Real People actually summer at The Cabin these days, and after over a dozen years, I guess we can count ourselves among those who make routine lakeward pilgrimages.

And who really needs the confining walls and upkeep of a Cabin anyway, when you can make the whole outdoors your home?

And so we settled in, each of us with our own set of priorities. My husband wanted to read, while my son purchased fishing gear in hopes he might catch, gut, and fry “fish that he eats, like tuna and salmon” —right out of the freshwater, man made lake. Even my daughter got into the spirit of things, especially when we agreed to take her into “town” (a McDonalds and a Verizon store situated next to a K-Mart) to catch some cellular service for a few minutes every afternoon.

And me? I just planned to suck the marrow right out of the entire experience. I packed an entire library, but focused on the sort of activities that require one to sign waivers, such as whitewater kayaking, nighttime owl prowls, and cookery over open flame--an event in which the entire family participated and actually signed releases acknowledging the “inherent dangers” associated with campfire cooking.

But the most dangerous activity we undertook was a photo shoot on a rickety bridge, which involved no forms at all.

Fortunately, the only resulting damage occurred when I dropped my phone from the car and my husband ran over it, a situation that, according to my friend Sam, has all the makings of a country song.

And I actually did sustain a rather deep cut on the kayaking trip. Turns out that going barefoot in the river is a bad idea. Who knew?

I limited the rest of my swimming adventures to the controlled setting of the park beach, which was completely uneventful save for the discovery that I evidently have not completely recovered from academia. When my husband handed me our swimming passes, my heart leaped with excitement as I thumbed through the cards and saw they were all A’s.

The week was filled with moments that probably only matter to us, but I hope that the few I’ve shared have jogged some memories of your own. I suspect that everyone has a place or two that functions as a second home—a Real Life equivalent to summering at The Cabin. Because we all need places where, at once, we can let our imagination run wild and dream big dreams, yet think clearly enough to see the big picture. Places that are comfortable, yet engaging. Places that give us the energy, courage and strength to return to Real Life. Places—whether they’re in the back yard, across town, or cross country—at which we love to arrive and hate to leave.

Personally, I’ve never left my Cabinless Lakeside Abode without a few tears. When it was time to leave this time, my husband gave me a hug and said, “It’ll be OK.”

“When?” I asked, not quite buying it.

My husband gave a little laugh. “Probably next year about this time,” he answered, pulling me a little closer.

I’m looking toward the next Great Migration already.


Jen said...

I'm curious, is this park in Virginia? If it is.. you were only like 2 hours from me! I wish I could get Steve to go camping, but he says we don't have all the right "equipment". I thought when I married an Eagle Scout we would camping at least twice a year!!

running_with_letters said...

Jen, yes, Douthat State Park is in VA-exit 27, I believe, on 64 W. I though of you, actually, when I saw a sign for Lynchburg :)


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