Thursday, August 29, 2013

It always begins the same way.
Scratch that.  It never really ends.
My daydreaming of Ely, MN,
the surrounding wilderness.
From the heel-dragging moment my tearful self (yes, I cry when I leave.  Pathetic, I know.)
When my kid-filled mini-van pulls away down the gravel road towards home,
to the start of the next years' August trip, 
I'm there.
Stuck in dreaming of this sacred place. 
13 years I've been making this summer trip.
First in college, then with one baby, two, now three.
I keep waiting for it to get old and boring, 
stale and lacklustre
like many things do for me, after awhile.
It hasn't.
Quite the opposite.
Each new year we are blessed to arrive,
I plan and scheme in my head, how we can stay one more day, 
maybe one more week,
or, better yet, 
can we just move here?
To this simple life?
How 'bout one day own an island here?!
(I dream.)
Until then,
a year between each trip, 
where I settle back in to life in the "city" and all my stuff,
I daydream.  I'm there.
Sweating in musty dockside sauna's,
running with goosebumps to jump in crisp, clear water. 
I am in quiet canoes.
Holding the line that bobs patiently in the water. 
Or sitting on the dock, again, and reading.
I'm teaching my kids how to Kayak,
or how to grab a fish's lower lip to paralyze him while you free him from his hook.
(Which I just learned this year from my uncle.)
Every year I try to put in to words the overwhelming draw I feel towards this place. 
I can't do it justice.
Nor adequately represent the part of me that stays here when I leave. . .or follows me home.
Often times, I feel I'm wasting my breathe.
Like when you're trying to covert someone to a new religion, YOUR religion.
Or a new diet that's working for YOU.
You can't.
Maybe you share tidbits of it or invite people who will genuinely care or seem interested,
hoping they fall in love or embrace it the way you have. 
And say, "Hey!  This is it!  This is magic!"
But you can't do that.
So you cherish it as YOUR thing.
In the meantime, I do my best and wait for another year to unfold,
until we find ourselves back here,
lodging on the most pristine lake I’ve seen.
Clear and luminous by day,
its great depths indigo and mysterious by night.
Now.  Let's take a break for a sec.
It's not all seamless and poetic.
LIFE isn't that. 
No matter HOW beautifully we reflect and pull it back in to perspective AFTER the fact,
there are the ugly moments.
Especially on a "family trip" like this.
One I, for the most part, navigate solo.
Our children spend most of the summer (this one anyway,)
camp-less and carefree.
Which I love and am proud of.
I don't sign them up for everything.
I'm good with the neighbor kids and afternoon movies, bike riding and picnics.
Sticking around home and keeping a low profile in the summer.
So this is our big nature-adventure-explore-swim-kayak-canoe-fish-nap-read-mommy camp of the year.
Where we learn not only to enjoy the wilderness,
but each other.
But it's painful.
Like many otherwise lovely events often go sour with a 9, 7 and almost 5-year-old, so does this trip.
They don't experience it the way I do.
And they shouldn't.
They're kids.
The 9-year-old scrapes the top of the water with his paddle twice and starts to whine that his arms are tired.
He just wants his ipod.
The 7-year-old just wants her best neighborhood girlfriend to play dress up with.
The 5?  Surprisingly, he's my trooper.
Up for anything (as longs as food's included in the cost.)
On these trips, we usually start the first week off alone,
just the kids and I.
Although I’m used to this by now,
it’s a titch daunting when you’re hours from home in a relatively secluded cabin,
with no cell service, no internet, no electronics other than the kitchen radio.
No way to connect and follow what’s happening in the world,
other than listening to the quiet radio station and their updates on what’s for sale in the local supermarket or who has a boat for sale or who has left a black fleece vest in the local park and what number to call to pick it up.  More importantly that the VFW is having a fundraiser for the Ely German Club, where you can buy a brat AND chips.  That's AND chips, for $4!!!  What a deal!
It takes a few days to nestle into this unfamiliar territory.
This (sort of) reclusive and alien world of the north woods 
and the small town nestled inside of it.
I watch droves of Boy Scout troops angle in to fill up on supplies.
Small groups of rugged, young and bearded men with Colorado license plates and beat up old Subaru’s,
no doubt driving cross country to get a taste of OUR wilderness for a week.
And of course, I want that. 
I want the canoe and the over-sized pack. 
Enthusiastic paddlers and strong portageurs.
The adventure and excitement to head in and ENJOY the Boundary Waters!!! 
Great family bonding and time alone together separated from the outside world!!!
Too much to ask?  Yes.
We're not there yet.
Our reality is much different and much less romantic.
They're young.  And I'm tired.
Although I excitedly count down the days in my head,

am packed and ready to go as soon as I know we can check in,

racing as if against time, to get there,
I'm always left to unpack alone amongst energetic children,
who just want to explore.
I scramble to settle while making sure know one's drowning,
or has already hooked an eyeball trying to cast.

24 hours in, I always, ALWAYS question my choices.

Seriously?  Is this really smart?  To come here. . .alone?
To think it will be any different better than at home?
As Brian reminds me, 
"Same kids.  Different place."
But no.  That's okay.
This is good.  Good for me.  For them.  Right?
To have all of me and each other,
uninterrupted by computers, iphones, Facebook and Instagram.
All I have to do is parent.
No passions to fulfill, no new hobbies to chase.
Nothing to check off my list.
Just me, 
and them.
I’m a mediocre mother at best (I'm not in denial or delusional about my abilities.) 
I do a lot but don't really EXCEL at anything I set out to do.
I'm okay with that.  I don't want to be the best.
I think I’m being honest and realistic about what I bring to the table as a parent.  I've said this before.
I'm fully aware of my strengths and weaknesses.
I think I'm REALLY good the first 3 years.
When they’re little and helpless and I HAVE to succumb to their precious schedules and feedings and nap times.  
They're harmless and sweet and easily consoled and easy to have around.
I’ll care for them lovingly and patiently.
But now, as they’re older? 
They're more irritating.
More whiny.
More vocal and more frustrating.
Their individual and strong personalities, in FULL effect.
By Day 4, with no visitors and no outside (electronic) distractions, 
I want to kill everyone.
I miss home.  I miss my husband.  I miss being able to ignore them and getting away with it.
Although the Boundary Waters beckons,
louder each year,
they’re not old enough, or mature enough, or quiet enough, or appreciative enough.
But this is good, right?  Good for me.  
Never mind the Boundary Waters.
It's good enough to be here and learn to come back to the basics.
Like when they were babies. . .simply "surviving."
Before my plate was full of all MY selfish wants and needs outside of mothering.
To remember what it was like, how SIMPLE it was,
to JUST be a stay-at-home mom.
All that was required or expected was the folded laundry, a picked up living room, kid care and cooking.
Repeat again.
But a few days in, we settle back in to that simplicity.
Once I've set my loneliness and irritation aside,
we get in to a routine.
We make our OWN adventures.
We drive to town for coffee.  Just to have SOME interaction (internet service,) with the outside world (so I can Instagram, of course.  Can't take that from me.)
We kill some time at the park.
Where I can't sit and Facebook (I try,) but actually have to PUSH my children on the swings, even though they can pump.
Chase them around and spin them on the tire swing until they throw up.
They miss that old mom too.
That did everything for them.
We take pictures on cool backdrops (the one day I actually showered.)
We fish.
Morning, noon and night.
Five days in, I've untangled each pole and each fragile line 56 times,
I've sacrificed four containers of worms and two of leeches.
I've realigned bobbers and reset weights.
Saved fish and watched them float under the dock, belly up.
We swim before and after, maybe during every meal.
Until our hands and feet are wrinkled to the bone.
We Paddle board (new this year.)
 Hike and take short nature walks to the end of the long gravel driveway and back.
(Because, you know.  They get tired after ten minutes.)
I cave.
Because let's be realistic.
ALL moms need to catch their breathe to survive.
So we rent VHS tapes from the local library, to have SOMETHING to buy me some quiet time.
The kids have no idea what a VHS is and why it has to be rewound when it's done.  Nor the patience to sit and wait for it, which is ridiculous.
But they welcome the glow of the small TV as much as I do.
As we find ourselves north of our life,
away from lofty endeavors, projects, reality,
I'm forced to just be here.

My dreaming brain follows along, but is required to simplify and live with less distraction,
simply focus on what's here now.

It increasingly becomes a bigger challenge to disconnect from the electronics that fuel our life.
The constant noise and chatter and engagement with living online.
I STRUGGLE to instill in them the importance of quiet.
Just sitting and staring at the lake.
Nothing beeping or dinging or alerting us to take our focus elsewhere.
Instead watching the choppy, windswept waters, pick up,
then die down.
Simply listen to the loons call to one another from across the lake.
Canoers paddle by on their way into the Boundary Waters,
while we eat quiet bowls of cereal.
and make friends with the grasshoppers.
Do a little yoga.
(I told you.  he's up for anything.) 
And of course, shoot stuff.
We experience the excitement of the arrival of guests,  
as Grandparents and friends come for a few days to play.
The love and comfort that comes from having familiarity and family close by.
Realizing how much we NEED that and CRAVE that.
That you can't do everything alone all the time.
(A visit that also gives ME an escape route to the water,
where I feel most at home and can catch my breath.)
In this place of peace and solitude and simple living,
there is not much else to do but get in tune with nature.
Embrace every inch of it.
I breath in the tall pines that surround our cabin.
I take the kids and skirt across a calm, morning lake.
Smooth like silk, almost black in the deep parts, taking on a syrupy texture,
as the paddle slices through it, and lifts back out.
When the sun finally hits the water in front of our cabin late afternoon,
There’s nothing like it.
It’s crystal clear 8 feet down.
Equally crisp, often numbingly cold.   
But the sauna takes care of that.
It's crazy how I can stand at the end of the same dock, on the same lake, the same week(s) in August,
and feel like it's my first visit.
Like we'd just arrived to some new, untouched place where no one has ever been.
How just a few short hours from home,
we can feel a world away.
The heaviness of its beauty and lush forests, pristine lakes
FORCES you to let go.
To disconnect.
By the end of the week,
I have broken every nail, scratched at every mosquito bite,
cried once (twice,) laughed out loud,
experienced a silence so deafening in the late hours of the night,
I can actually hear my pulse.
So terrifying yet so alive. 
When the outside world is stripped away,
you learn you have everything you'll ever need, 
right here. 
 {If you enjoy these photos and want to see more, you can follow me on Instagram at LIZWESTERHAUS.}


gabbygrace said...

an amazing writer, mother and friend, beautiful in every impressed you give this to yourself and them every year, love.

Mike Thole said...

You're a very talented writer Liz Westerhaus... I enjoyed that :)

Phyllis Smith said...

Glorious! Thank you Mother Liz :)

Sherry said...

Aw, what a great reflection of time and space. Thank you for continuing to share.

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