I can’t imagine a more toxic campaign season than the current one, so it was with great relief this summer that we made like Louise Dickinson Rich and took to the woods.
We don’t really need the excuse of a hate-fest to unplug. Every year we make the trek to South Branch Pond for a chance to let it all go, relive our glory days, and stare down those two roads in a yellow wood. We lived here once and were creatures of the forest, but cast ourselves out of Eden in misguided pursuit of the American Dream. That and we found it taxing to live with feet in two worlds and drive the hours between them.
So we left. But part of us didn’t, or we carry it with us. This visit was particularly poignant because we ran into a former ranger we hadn’t seen in years and it made me long anew for that sense of connection we found with our north end crew all those (18) years ago. We knew it was rare even then.
But we go back each summer with our children who put their phones down without even complaining. It’s one of those ironies that we actually gain a great deal from doing without, “without” being a relative term. We are without the time-wasting distraction of social media, which we exchange for paddling on a still pond at sunset, accompanied by the rattle of a kingfisher. We gain drinking tea at sunrise as the light shimmers off the pond and warms the rocks on shore and snakes stick their tongues out to taste the new day. We gain cliff jumping and hypothermic dips in icy mountain streams. We make do with gas lights and headlamps, but we gain stars in a black sky undiluted by city light. We gain frogs, warblers, and bears (if we’re lucky) and secret swimming holes accessed only by bushwhacking. We remember to be glad to eat what we have and not to waste drinking water. When we get home, we appreciate the dishwasher and washer/dryer, not to mention hot showers, flush toilets, and a real mattress.
Returning home doesn’t make me eager to hop in the car and do the 1001 things on my Summer Bucket List. What I wish is that I was still at the pond, knitting or reading on the bunkhouse porch. I wish I were floating in the pond watching mama merganser with her six chicks or surveying the shoreline for purple fringed orchids or that I was up N. Traveler picking blueberries. I especially wish that was all I needed to think about.
But our modern lives are not like this. I need to attend to the work that makes this trip possible. And this is one of the greatest gifts: I find on my return that I can. I can think and I can plan and I can pick up my load with greater ease than before I left.
Apparently still in South Branch mode, I wandered out to my garden shortly after 6 a.m. to check on my beans. I weeded and thinned the brussels sprouts while I was out there. The soil was dry as dust, so I got the sprinkler going. I took care of my friend’s chickens and ducks and found that it was only 9:15 with a whole day ahead. I didn’t wonder for a minute how I’d fill it.