Row for your lives!
I believe there is a survival instinct that helps us forget how good summer is during the winter months.
We took a drive up to Echo Lake on Mt. Desert Island, a place where steep cliffs overlook a sandy beach and the clear, cool lake. After a few minutes in the lake, I got out, dried off and sat whittling in my camp chair. There was this feeling that came over me, watching the kids splash each other, feeling the warmth seep into my bones as I dried.
"All's well," said the feeling.
It's impossible to even comprehend something like winter on one of these perfect summer days.
We took five days off as a family and spent almost every minute of it camping, fishing, swimming, reading, bookstore browsing and relaxing. We did not watch TV and we did not play videogames, and you know what? We didn't miss it. Not even the 11-year-old.
Wesley and I had some time to bond. I bought him his own Swiss Army knife for our camping trip, along with a compass and magnifying glass. The items were listed as required gear in the "Dangerous Book for Boys." Like every boy who ever received these items, he was immediately sure he was ready to live in the wild the rest of his days. He was self-sufficient. He was Tom Sawyer, MacGyver and Rambo all in one.
However, after a few days of fishing with nothing to show for it in our bucket, I'm not sure we would last all that long without provisions from the camp store. Actually, I'm kind of glad we didn't get much more than a nibble.
After watching a video on how to clean a fish the other day that had me throwing up in my mouth, it was just as well. Instead, we got the experience of waking up early in our tent, gathering the gear and walking down to the lake.
Wesley and I both got our hands dirty putting the worms on our hooks. Then it was all about casting, enjoying the sunshine and untangling the fishing line.
Samantha, the six-year-old, and my wife, Christine, preferred the camp pool to the lake. "Watch me go underwater," Sami would say, only to say it again five seconds later.
She would hold her nose, go under and pop up again a second or two later, her blond hair slicked back like a seal's head. She gulped water every once in a while and coughed, but never worried about dunking her head again.
"Want to see me do the dead man's float?" she chirped. She would put her hands out and hover, face-down in the water, like a shipwreck victim, then come up giggling.
At night, Christine and I wondered what the crackling sounds were in the trees above the tent.
As usual, I had a hard time starting the fire with the green wood they sell you. I barely got enough of a blaze to roast our marshmallows.
In the middle of the night, I awoke and sat up startled in my sleeping bag. There was an orange flickering glow in front of the tent. Some spark had been smoldering among the logs for hours, and now, when I no longer wanted it, a perfect little campfire was crackling.
One thing I was determined to do this year was take the kids on a boat ride. I have fond memories of my Dad rowing Mom and me around Brewer Lake when I was a little kid and looking down through the water on a sunny day, thinking the abyss below went all the way to the Earth's core. One of the oars from that boat later became our family Christmas tree, as I have written about before.
We all walked down to the camp boathouse where I was treated to a scene right out of a Rockwell painting. The boathouse man, Mr. Charon let's call him, was sitting there playing cribbage at his rough-wood bench. Oars and bright orange life-preservers festooned the walls.
"The wind's just coming off the lake," he said. "You're going to row and row and get nowhere."
In a moment of Griswoldian ardor for family memory-making, I refused to take advice. Our vessel was to be an aluminum rowboat with a puddle under the seats. Samantha promptly had her thumb crushed between the hull and the dock as she tried to hold the boat steady while her mother got in. We put Wesley up front and he was immediately worried.
Mr. Charon came out onto the dock as we were rowing away and said, "I'll help him out. Ready everybody? Row, row, row your boat!" He sang, grinning. Probably took me for an out-of-stater.
"Dad!" Wesley kept hollering. "I don't think you're supposed to go that way. You're running into the rope. Dad!"
Now I know why ship's captains in movies are always so grumpy, yelling at the crew and calling them scoundrels and what-have-you.
This boat did not want to be steered. Its favorite direction was in a circle. Mr. Charon's predictions were correct, but I rowed on, taking us down the shoreline, past the tents and the people grilling meat. We rounded a horn of land and the kids were absolutely moaning with fear. They had that much faith in my nautical capabilities.
"You're going too far!" Sami wailed.
We could see the hot dogs on the grills at camp!
My hands began to ache almost immediately, and I found myself thinking of that Far Side cartoon where the man on the slave barge hollers that he thinks he might have a splinter.
With much effort and a few near collisions, we arrived back at the boathouse. Mr. Charon was still grinning and playing cribbage.
Alas, all good things end, and we came home to Rockland after a few days, feeling much more relaxed.
As I pulled a fish hook out of my flip-flop, I considered it a badge of honor. We didn't catch any fish, but we also didn't let the summer get away.
Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.