The end of summer is strange. If you don’t have kids, you don’t have the hectic running around for school supplies, new clothes, meeting teachers, helping them figure out classes. Nevertheless my cells get tingly at the end of August. It’s embedded. 

I only went to summer camp twice; once when we were living in South Africa for six months building a new boat. My sister and I were enrolled in school in Cape Town, and my mom was excited for us to have the camp experiences she’d had growing up: she had visions of us singing songs around the campfire, roasting s’mores, making friends. 

My sister and I feeding deer in a park outside of Cape Town, NOT Camp SOS!

The camp was called, wait for it, Camp SOS. I kid you not. That huge red flag aside, and the fact that it was one of the few things we participated in that was not integrated (this was still during Apartheid), off we went for a week of what turned out to be more like forced labor camp. We marched in drills, had to drink either coffee or tea at meals (I was eight years old). The counselors would burst into cabins after lights out to do toothbrush checks. If one toothbrush wasn’t wet, the whole cabin was forced to go outside and run laps in their pajamas. In the dark. Raining or not. 

The two things I remember most about that week were that I didn’t change my socks even once because I was so distressed, and that my sister came to check on me any chance she could (she was in a different section because she was older). Oh, and there was sheep poop everywhere. Needless to say I was unimpressed.

About to board the train for Santa Cruz with my buddy (I’m the short one).

I had a MUCH better camp experience when I was 11 at a place in the mountains above Santa Cruz, California. I was there for three weeks with two of my best friends from 6th grade. The camp was full of horseback riding and hiking, archery, ceramics, yes there were s’mores, the counselors were great, I was homesick but had a lot of fun, and we sang songs every night. My mom was vindicated. The memory of SOS faded.

This summer has been interesting. Park City is lovely. The mountains are green. The aspens shake and shimmy and the pines smell sweet and like sunbaked bark. People are nice. But it hasn’t felt like home. We both missed our pillows. And our coffeemaker.

I’m fortunate to still have my parents with me, but I worry about them now like they worried about me when I was at camp so long ago. There have been some mishaps and scrapes and Denise and I decided to come home early. So the other morning we packed up our suitcases, dog toys, food, monitors, laptops, books, guitar, one huge wooden bowl embedded with crushed turquoise we bought at an art fair and all kinds of other stuff I don’t remember having when we drove up, and headed 670 miles south to our home in Phoenix. Throughout the day we came upon the aftermath of massive thunderstorms, always after the flash floods had subsided and the roads were muddy and steaming. The skies were swollen with clouds and light. We passed around and between Bryce Canyon and Zion, weaving through cattle pastures and Navajo Nation, below the dam that separates Lake Powell from the Colorado River with the Grand Canyon on our right, through Flagstaff, down past Sedona and Bloody Basin Road and Horse Thief Basin and into our city. 

Jolene and Teddy were underwhelmed with the beauty.

There are those who say that being alive is like being in school, that you never stop studying and learning and when you graduate from one big lesson you get a rest and then it’s back to school again. I’m inclined to agree. 

So it’s back to school. Camp is over and September is peeking around the corner. Change is in the air, and the crickets are out in force tonight making noise about it all.

I wonder what classes I’ll get. I hope I like my teachers.

The other night Denise and the dogs and I were all snuggled on the sofa bingeing the new season of “Never Have I Ever” when I thought I saw a frog. I didn’t say anything. The dogs were snoozing. I watched the frog hop out of the shadows and realized it was actually a mouse. Not a rat. A mouse. The mouse sniffed and shuffled and made its way into the bathroom. I turned very slowly to Denise so as not to disturb the pups. “Babe, stay still,” I whispered. “Don’t freak out.” The look on her face told me she was concerned and leaning towards freaking out. “Shhh,” I said. “I see a mouse and I don’t want the dogs to get riled.” Her face turned white but she didn’t move.

My family on our first boat. I’m the blonde in front.

When I was little and we were sailing around the world on a boat, one of the most dangerous things that could happen was to have a rat on board. If you ever tied up to a wharf in, say, French Polynesia, you were apt to get a copra rat. These babies were BIG. They fed on coconut. They were afraid of nothing. they were excellent swimmers. They had teeth that would insult your mom. And they needed to keep those teeth sharp, so they would chew, for example, bilge plumbing, or engine wiring and plumbing. Presto! Imminent danger of sinking and/or fire!

I think it only happened once during my childhood (maybe twice?), and we narrowly escaped disaster entering a tricky harbor when a stowaway rat had chewed through some engine hoses. 

After college and apprenticing boat building with my dad, I was crewing with my parents down through the Pacific to New Zealand where their new boat Beowulf was to be outfitted (see for all boat history stuff). Sure enough, while tied to a wharf in Takaroa, a tiny atoll in the Tuamotus, we acquired a rat. 

Beowulf, the boat I apprenticed building with my dad.

I think it took a month to catch it. We had set out traps with peanut butter. No dice. One morning my mom woke up and there was a rat dropping. On her pillow. My dad was nonplussed. But days later we discovered that the rat had been getting fat on our extra bags of potato chips and my dad was finally filled with the kind of rage that’ll put a copra rat in real trouble. We set out traps galore, now filled with jam and PowerBars. The next morning we had caught the rat, who was now easily the size of a small raccoon (I’m only exaggerating a little). My mom and dad had a bet as to whether the rat would prefer apple cinnamon PowerBar or strawberry jam. At first I thought it was the jam and yelled it out. My mom was incredulous, “It’s the JAM?!!” she shouted. “No, IT’S THE POWER BAR!!” Triumphant. She had won. The rat was toast. The boat hadn’t sunk. All was well again aboard our floating home. The remaining potato chips held out till New Zealand.

Fast forward 27 years to Park City and my little family on the sofa in the mountains. I scurried to the kitchen and grabbed a small container. Followed the mouse into the bathroom and softly closed the door. “Hey little one, I’m not going to hurt you, I’m just going to get you outside,” I sang. I don’t think the mouse believed me. Eventually I cornered it between the toilet and the wall, and it hopped right in. Covered it with a lid, walked downstairs and outside and let it go behind the aspens. The dogs never woke up. Denise said if I hadn’t been there she might have slept in the car. 

No creatures were harmed during the making of this post.

There are a lot of different ways to live this life, but they all include protecting your loved ones, in times of both real and perceived danger. Sometimes it takes potato chips to send you over the edge and sometimes it’s simply the knowledge that the sweetness of an evening pack snuggle is sacred. In any case, I’m glad I had the container and no creature was hurt. We finished “Never Have I Ever.” It’s a really good show.

It was a quiet week at Camp Dashew Park City this week. First Denise’s neck went into spasm from working at a not-ideal office setup here at camp headquarters. Then my lower back went into spasm from working at a, maybe, um, I’m not sure? 

Regardless we were not feeling our best. Plus Teddy got sick. I don’t have children, but I have it on good authority (and a bit of experience) that it is well known that if children and/or dogs are going to get sick, it is almost always going to be at, say, 1:30 am, and then maybe again after you’ve spent a solid half hour cleaning things up and getting them into the laundry and finally going back to bed and getting to sleep at, say, 4:30 am.

When he’s feeling good, he’s quite the dandy.

Teddy is our lovely wheaten terrier who is a distinguished-gentlemanly almost-9-years-old. As sensitive as I am, he is more so. Allergies? You got it. Really tender tummy? Heck yes. A massive panic brought on by any kind of flashing lights, shadows or reflections which can turn into approximately 48 hours of panting and pacing before he steadies? Don’t mind if he does! 

As we all get older, I am looking towards frustrations and irritations and spasms and middle of the night sickies as opportunities. As a way to reflect on whatever is going on that I might want to take a look at and shift. Mind you, this is not foremost on my mind in the middle of the night as I am furiously cleaning the carpet in our rental. But the next day it is. So it was that yesterday, while Denise was taking natural muscle relaxers and gently stretching her neck, while Teddy was pacing and barking, and while I was rolling deliberately on a red lacrosse ball, I started to think about things.

Before Garrison Keillor got fired for sexual misconduct, I was a fan of his storytelling. (I still think he’s a great storyteller but I haven’t decided yet where I fall on being able to separate art from the artist.) When I was a teenager I had a copy of his book Lake Wobegon Days and I devoured it. In these stories set in a fictional town in Minnesota, people had mishaps and learned lessons but for the most part they were funny, genuine, good people and I loved reading them and imagining Keillor’s voice: deep, nose whistling when stopping for a breath, calm and dry and affectionate. 

There is one story in particular that has stuck with me for the past 30 years, not because I remember the whole plot, but because I remember that it is about the end of summer coming, the feeling that rolls into place as the seasons start to shift and cool and darken even as you bake in August heat. The thing I remember most is that as the story winds down he writes, “Thank you dear God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

So I was thinking about how grateful I am for my family, for the fact that Teddy is still around and kicking and reminding me to take a pause when he gets too worked up, how grateful I am for all our challenges and for all our gifts (often one and the same), for the fact that our bodies work well (mostly), and that we can explore and talk and hear (sort of) and touch and feel where we are. 

Blurry night, beautiful night.

Last night I took the dogs out for nighttime potty, and as I was walking on the grass a wind stirred the aspen trees. They rustled. The moon was rising gibbous and gold. Someone was playing “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison and it drifted across the hill to me and rocked my gypsy soul. I was overwhelmed with love. 

Thank you dear God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.