I am working on a poem about how quickly time passes. And I am working during a summer when my own children don’t particularly need me except for rides to work, captains’ practices, firepits in someone else’s back yard.
We spent last week on Lake Winnisquam. The girls brought friends. They sunned themselves on a floating dock, shopped at the nearby outlets, made their own breakfasts and lunches, recorded every moment with Go Pro’s and IPhones. Posted. Liked. Shared. I kayaked alone and walked three miles a day seeking different routes filled with things to put in my poem: a hunting hawk, wind shifts on the water, the memories of other summers.
We tried the Cape first. A friend had a place in Wellfleet and assured us there was plenty of room. There was, but it was not the kind of room suitable for two young children. A woodstove sat atop a brick hearth whose sharp edges seven month old Apphia rolled towards. Someone without children had removed the door from the stairway, and we finally had to upturn the kitchen table across the threshold to keep Beatrice, 2, from plunging down them. The children’s rooms were at the bottom of those stairs, two floors away from where we would be sleeping and with sliding doors that led out to a wooded area and that didn’t lock securely.
A trip to the beach required a $50 beach pass, packing up, and arriving early to get a parking spot. Then, we hiked all of our stuff over dunes and settled down so that one of us could pry the sand out of Apphia’s fists and the other could follow Beatrice from blanket to blanket to shore. Our friend sat in the shade flipping through People magazine.
At night, instead of putting the girls to bed where we couldn’t hear them, we crammed two pack n’ plays into our bedroom and tried to get our usually independent sleepers to drift off. After a few hours of this, we listened to them scream.
We had one day to use our beach pass. Then, for the next six days, it poured. Let’s go to breakfast, we said. So did everyone else on the Cape that week. Let’s go shopping we said. So did everyone else on the Cape that week.
Let’s rent a house on a lake next time, I said. And we did. And we discovered Half Moon Pond.
Our house was the only rental on the lake that was Boston University’s adventure camp. Each misty morning, as my daughters stood naked at the edge of the water, the campers paddled by on their way to the ropes course or a hiking trail or a zip line that plunged them into a culvert where snakes sunned themselves on ledges. I did spend a few mornings wondering where the arts and crafts tent was, but mostly I was engaged in watching the girls wade in, stand still enough for the fish to nuzzle them.
We spent several years at Half Moon Pond during the first week of August. My mother came and claimed the biggest upstairs room where the girls would drag mattresses into so they could sleep with Nana. In the middle of the night, Apphia would climb into my mother’s twin bed and say, “I thought you might be scared sleeping alone.” Justina ventured off into the woods and had to be retrieved again and again, but she couldn’t go far. Beatrice set up paints on the picnic table and directed the business of art time.
Tony visited and, even though he doesn’t swim, spent hours in the water letting the girls splash him — even the summer it was only fifty degrees. He plunged in with them and then they all ran inside to the fire. Teresa and Peter stopped by with kayaks, the girls perching on the bows as they paddled. Dom took his kids up and showed my girls how to fish. Dennis’s parents came and kept my mother company on the screen porch. Patpat came with her feet bandaged from surgery (and didn’t get too made when Apphia stepped on them).
I plunked my beach chair in the shallow water as the girls played around me (eventually they did wear swimsuits), and read four or five books, wrote some poems. Dennis ran through trails he would later take us on, places where we could see a village of yurts, a stand where you could hold bird seed in your hand and wait for a creature to alight.
No television. No wi-fi. Some old puzzles and checker games, a deck of cards. We packed dolls and stuffed animals. One year, Nana brought three one-dollar floats and hours later we had to call the girls in to finally eat something. Every afternoon before dinner, I attached swim bubbles to them and they paddled into the deep water with Dennis. Then they needed only noodles, and, finally, they set off on their own, unafraid and buoyant, as I fretted on shore. After dinner, they rode scooters, then bikes with training wheels, then bikes without, through the camp.
We ate local corn on the cob, Nana’s macaroni and cheese, grinders with salty lettuce, sharp provolone, garden tomatoes. Storms came in over the water and we watched through a dewy window, the lightning flashes over the mountains growing closer and then the forks of it on the water. Fish fed every night in rippling seams. Dragonflies hovered. Snapping turtles popped their heads up like so many pond weeds. We canoed the width and length of the pond, the girls between us on their small lawn chairs until they could paddle themselves.
One summer, Dennis and I left the girls with Nana for a few hours and looked at houses in the area. So many acres, so many rooms, for so little money. Barns and pasture for the horse and goat, a quiet country setting to prolong the kind of peace our week at Half Moon brought us. It seemed possible.
The only thing that seemed impossible, actually, was that the girls would grow up. That, one summer, that tiny pond wouldn’t be enough to entertain them. That, another summer, on another, much larger lake, they would have friends and bikinis and their own spots to tan out on the floating dock. That I would walk a few miles alone and then kayak alone, Dennis running along winding roads instead of forest trails, heading home to tend to his garden. That I’d be writing the kind of poem I couldn’t have written at Half Moon Pond, the girls’ voices floating toward me where I sat in the middle of two worlds.