On the Cusp of the Vacation: Everyday Magic, Day 945

I’m lucky. I get to go on a vacation, not something everyone has the privilege of doing so that they can enter into a great un-doing or other-the-usual-doings in a new or old place. For us, it’s a particularly ancient place, on the cool shores of Lake Superior (truly superior!) by way of Ames, Iowa tonight, where we will luxuriate in temperatures 10 degrees cooler than the holy hell of the weather here, then Minneapolis, which is cool in multiple ways.

At this moment, the car is packed except for the vitamins, which would melt. The gas tank is full. I have a little cash in my wallet, and plans for a eat-as-we-drive dinner (hello, cold burritos!). Most of the errands, at least the ones I can remember, are done, and within an hour, we’re off. Within a two or three hours, we’ll remember what we forgot, shrug, and keep going.

But for this moment, I want to take in all that’s here and now: Shay the dog sleeping on the cool floor beside me, the wind ruffling Cottonwood Mel, grown so big that he fills two winds, and Dar Williams singing “Closer to Me” on itunes (aka WCMG’s private radio station playing my favorites all the time). The air conditioner sings its low-hum enchantment, and the glass of some fizz water and mostly ice is covered in the cold film of condensation. Stepping outside to ready the tarp for covering the new tractor, I’m reminded what it is to live in a giant Midwestern dryer, tumbling us with bouts of heat and wind. The mountains of clouds to the south tease us with the illusion of rain one day before melting away like everything else. The tomatoes in the garden hang on for life after a good watering in the dark last night, and the lilies sheepishly open smaller-than-usual petals just enough to exhaust themselves.

What Lake Superior Looked Like (for a moment) Last Time We Were Here

This is the life I’m leaving for 10 days, a good life although lately a hot life, in the hands of our son and a friend who will keep animals and plants watered and fed. This is the place I love to return to, and although even swimming in the pool last night was almost too warm to enjoy, it’s a place I always feel a little sad to leave. Then again, I always feel more than a little excited to hit the road and see what new homecomings each turn brings into view.

On the Cusp of a Vacation: Everyday Magic, Day 873

The bed is covered in piles of clothes, the hungry suitcases are chomping at the bit, and I’m eager to clean out the car. There’s something immensely satisfying loading a little car with everything from winter coats (never know — it could be snowing on the top of a mountain we’re exploring) to trail mix. Conversely, unloading that car in 10 days isn’t quite the same, but then it’s wonderful to be with cats and dog, birds and changing leaves, and back in our own bed.

As someone who loves planning, often more than what happens after the planning, I’m looking toward cultivating a vacation mindset as soon as we hit I-70. The funny thing about planning a vacation is that when I think I’m going to go out of my mind unless I take a real break from things, planning is a kind of nirvana wishing ground. Then, in peaceful stretches like this one — right before leaving — I realize that while I’m thrilled to be exploring, I’m fine with being here to catch the monarchs starting to come through and the hummingbirds still at the feeders. Those two so-human impulses — the call of the open road, and the song of home — play simultaneously, two radio stations that sometimes harmonize in the distance.

At the same time, adventure and homecoming are two sides of the same falling leaf. I think of this especially when seeing the full moon rise, which will be tonight, and remembering how a friend once told me if I look at the full moon when he’s looking at the full moon, we’ll be connected in our gazing. So wherever the moon is, there we all are! Home beats in the center of our chests and can surround us, a cloak of shelter, wherever we are.

So it’s off to stuff things into suitcases and podcasts onto the iphone as I slide toward leaving tomorrow, and getting things ready for our housesitter and animals.  Yet just like the title of one of Ursula LeGuin’s marvelous novels, I know we’re also Always Coming Home. I wish everyone joy in travel, and in the landing in your own bed again.

Getting Down on the Gitche Gumee: Everyday Magic, Day 594

Where have I been? In a different time and climate far, far away from 100+ degrees days. I’m with my family in the big north of Minnesota, along Lake Superior (named by the Ojibwe “the Gitche Gumee,” which means big water), and the water is big. In fact, this lake contains 10% of all the fresh water in the world, and according to our guide at the nearby Split Rock Lighthouse, if you were to put all the other great lakes into this one, you would still have room to spare. Another way to envision the size: 350 miles miles across and about 160 miles tall. So what we have is something not quite lake, not quite ocean, but to all of us who watch it, more a changeable and amazing animal of water.

The changes are startling and beautiful. From the blue, calm lake feathered with pink highlights late afternoon our first day, or the greenish-gray crashing waves yesterday after the storm, the lake is never and always the same place. We sit on the deck of our very-small (slightly bigger than a RV, Ken tells me) cabin, where five of us roam, eat and sleep, and watch the water. Although the black rocks, stippled with orange lichen, are about 2 billion years old, they receive the waves and slower ebbs of the water, only about 10,000 years ago, as if they’re old friends. Meanwhile, the seagull family, to whom we are famous for our stale bread, come calling, some of them standing on our roof and yelling down, buy cialis online uk no prescription “What the hell, people? Where’s the friggin’ bread?”

Other moments aren’t so predictable. A few days ago, we saw three black heads swimming north. “Snake?” Ken wondered. I envisioned giant black inland sea snakes, but no, this was a far more amusing and whimsical species: otters. We raced up the shore as the otters got closer, watching them swim and play, mostly fixated on going upstream but also leaping a little higher at times out of the water so I could see some of their long shining bodies.

The neighbors are also friendly, so much so that we shared a double-grill feast last night with them, our friends Joe and Susan (in another cabin) and a large herd of roaming kids. We talked the economy, books, what strength of poison is necessary to spray on us to keep our skin from total mosquito immersion (and with 200% of the usual rainfall, the mosquitoes are fierce), God, the discovery of a fundamental particle that determines why objects have gravity, and whether Tom Cruise had it coming. We also ate a lot of hot dogs, silver dollars (grilled foil packets of potatoes, onions and other vegetables), corn, potato chips, burgers, watermelon, s’mores and other outdoor vittles.

Today it’s off to hike along waterfalls, tiring our legs to match the good-ache we feel in our arms today from yesterday’s canoeing at full-speed to escape an approaching thunderstorm. Mostly, though, it’s watching this water watch us, at this moment golden and black in the clear sky’s sheen, and later, whatever it will turn into next.

In Praise of Homecoming: Everyday Magic, Day 359

Take the mail, for instance, and the irrational thrill of a big pile of envelopes, ferreting out the half of them that instantly go into recycling to find a few lovely surprises (a note from a friend, a $5 gift card for a hardware store) among the bills.

Then all that was in the car that, when ferried into the house, expands exponentially to the point that it’s hard to imagine how it fit in the car, much like looking at any of my children few years after birth and wondering how s/he ever fit in me. I find it’s best to make a mad run for unloading and unpacking everything because if I don’t do it within a few hours of arrival, those lopsided suitcases will sit around various rooms for days.

Sometime in the first 30 minutes home, the animals emerge, first the dog, carrying a shoe to present us with in honor of our homecoming, and then the skin-gangster little kitty, usually meowing furiously before flinging herself in our arms, which makes it tricky to haul boxes and bags. Eventually, the anti-social cat comes out of the shadows and is uncharacteristically affectionate for five minutes before attacking us.

Within a few hours, there’s that glorious moment of sitting down in a good chair, computer on lap, new magazines to my right, animals to my left (the herd settling by my side after escorting me room to room), with a big glass of iced water. Dinner turns out to be rice krispies because anything else is too complex. The radio tells me I’m home through its familiar voice tones. The overgrown gardens wave at me through the windows.

There will be that stretchy kind of post-vacation fatigue to come, coffee to replenish, and a few trips to the grocery store in my future, but upon arrival, I lean back into one of the sweetest moments of the vacation: when it’s all over.

The End of the Vacation: Everyday Magic, Day 358

From the 14th floor of the hotel in downtown St. Paul, my family and I watch an obscure documentary on Russia after the Soviet Union collapse while early fireworks blossom in the distance over the Mississippi river and curved lines of golden street lights tell the stories of comings and goings.

Tomorrow we pry ourselves out of bed early and begin the long drive home, and in the days to come, I’ll share many waterfalls and other twists of the oxymoronic family vacation notion and reality. But for now, I land on the convergences of today. We had lunch with Frances, Kevin and their wonderful family, downing pizza and cookies on the deck and catching up a little bit more on the 40-plus years between when Kevin and I grew up together in Brooklyn, and later within a block in a New Jersey suburb because our moms have been close friends since girlhood (his mom even introduced my mom to my dad so my very existence is related to this family).

Later, the men in my family called me in a panic — Natalie and I were shopping in Ikea and they were at Mall of America — to say they were beginning to have claustrophobic hyber-ventilation bouts in the blaring noise of a massive mall that held a very loud indoor amusement park. We met in the Ikea parking lot, Natalie and I hauling some throw pillows while Daniel told me, “It was just terrible, Mom,” making us drop plans for further shopping. Instead, Daniel, Ken and I went to Minnehaha Park to see the falls, walk the trail, and wade among the rocks and people of many ages and backgrounds.

Then it was dinner at a Japanese restaurant where Forest bravely tried something that turned out to be raw beef in garlic sauce, followed by a follow-up dinner for Forest at Mickey’s Dinner, where the floor may be greasy but the food is delish and the history is 72 years full of pancakes, hash browns and burgers.

Now Russian fills the room as we watch a Russian punk rocker drive cola on TV while being interviewed, and we finish the last of the packing. The vacation will soon morph to post-vacation life at 70 mph over the seven-plus hours it will take to drive back to Kansas.