Saturday, May 31, 2008

Walking Through Two Parks

Deb and I went camping over Memorial Day weekend with some of our friends. We left the animals at home, with another friend at our house to keep them company, give them food and luvins.

I called my sister on Monday to invite her out to the site for dinner on Tuesday, she laughed at me and declared, "That's not camping!", when I told her that because it was so cold, Deb and I were inside the camper with the heat on, watching DVDs and eating celery. I had to agree with her that using a heater and bringing a laptop computer are definitely not what I would normally call camping. (Not to mention sleeping in a camper instead of a tent.) But, as I age, I'm finding myself less resiliant about temperature changes, sitting still for too long, and sleeping on the ground when the frost leaves a silvery glaze on the dandilions and scrubgrass surviving outside my door.

Yes, frost. As I walked to the bathroom early Wednesday morning, the frost was beautiful. But, the fog rising from the small gravel pit lake was stunning in its simplistic division between the golden Earth and the ethereal grey of the sky, lingering just above the water's glassy surface. Once the temperature difference between the frosty air and the chilly water leveled out, the beach was back to its daytime disguise of being just a plain old gravel pit, similar to many others scattered throughout Oakland County.

Because of the cool weather thus far, Deb and I decided not to brave the cold water. And, to be perfectly honest, I am still a little freaked out by the swarms of bluegill in that pit who seem to have an identity crisis. They are deluding themselves into believing that they are paranas. The last time I swam there in Sand Lake, two years ago, I was minding my own business, yacking with a friend when one of those deluded fish nibbled me toothlessly and painlessly on the thigh. I laughed, then yelped as the darn thing got me again on the back of the calf, then again on the shin. I looked down to find that not just one, but a whole school of bluegill had surrounded me on all sides and were eyeing me as I imagine a school of paranas would eye a fat juicy Black Angus who had wandered into their midst. In a momentary flash of rationality, I thought maybe I was standing in their nest. So, I moved several feet to the left. They swam several feet to the left. they still surrounded me with their watchful stares, and gave an occasional nip at my finger, toe, shoulder blade, or backside. I turned and moved again, but further this time. Again, their intimidating parana-like stalking stares, with their toothless kisses aimed for my knees, calves, shins and thighs. That's when I started to get a little freaked out. I was laughing my butt off (or, maybe only the parts that weren't being touched by the lips of fish), and running in circles at this point, while they swam in that same radius, tracking my every move.

So now, two years later, I'm a little nervous about meeting those toothless parana wannabees. The thing is, to my knowlege, these bug-eyed-big-lipped boogers have not been known to stalk anyone else!! (Did I mention that the couple who were fishing 20 feet away hadn't had a single nibble in that hour?)

One day this summer, during one of our upcoming camping trips, I will once again brave the paranas and swim i Sand Lake. Maybe, now that my chemistry and hormones have changed, they won't recognize me as a Golden Heifer upon which to feast.

Setting aside my unreasonable fear of mutant parana-bluegill, and the cold nights, this weekend of camping was just what I needed. When I'm outside like that, even the simple act of putting a coffeepot on the small propane stove is an excercise in mindfulness. I fill one percolator with a basket of coffee grounds to make my morning caffine fix. I fill the other with plain water, so that the two dish pans (one for washing and one for rinsing) will have warm water instead of cold that matches the nighttime air.

A typical camping morning for me begins with the post dawn light in my eyes, the chatter of birds filling my ears and an urgent need to pee driving me up out of bed and toward the loo. Upon my return, I light the stove with a match until two or three coils burn with a nearly invisible flame that flickers with each breath of wind, God's reminder that she is still alive. She is still softly managing things. Whether I believe in her or not, she believes in me enough to make my coffee take what feels like forever because the flame keeps teasing me, first one side flickers out with the breeze, then the other, almost dying completely. Once, I even had to re-light the burner to get htat first "blurp" in the percolator. As I wait for the "blurps" to get dark enough to call the liquid inside coffee, generally I take that time to sit quietly reading or writing. This weekend, however, I forgot my journal and was disappointed with the book that I had chosen to crack opened for the first time. So, rummaging around one of the many nifty storage areas of the pop-up, I found crayons and a coloring book. Also, early in the mornings before most people or dogs are stirring, I have been known to take a walk, cook oatmeal or bacon, eat a piece of fruit, or just sit and try to see the birds who are creating such a rucus while they hide unseen in the canopy of the small, twig-like trees just beyond the firepit.

I think that those quiet morning moments are my favorite camping moments, second only to the evenings around the fire with the kids toasting marshmallows perfectly to order ("burnt, on fire", "lightly brown, just on the end", "medium brown all the way around"), and squishing them between graham crackers with one or two pieces of chocolate embedded in the toasty goo. I have not enjoyed s'mores for many years because of the cloying sweetness of them, but 7 year old Maddie made me the most delicious s'more I have ever tasted. She first toasted the marshmallow to a golden brown, then put two small rectangles of Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate on the graham cracker sandwich. Yum. Not too sweet, but sweet enoughh to know it's a treat.

I loved seeing the three girls-Maddie, Ana and Cassidy-, play and laugh, chasing each other round and round on their bikes and scooters. Cassidy loved the super soaker that shot sideways, fooling the victim into a false complacency.

On Saturday, we all wnt to Sorenson Park to surprise Ellen with a bigger crowd of friends, fruit salad, burgers and a huge sun-shaped cake for her 50th bbirthday. (I won't reveal what came out of her mouth once she realized she had been duped with a woeful tale of a broken window and her cell phone being the only one with a person on the other end.)

My friend, Walt, and I took a quiet break form the party's bustle to wald back to the prairie and the overlook near the edge of the Shiawassee River. The wild lupines were in their first week of bloom. Blue spikes of flowers dotted the green/gold of the prairie grasses. In another 2 weeks, the blue will be joined by pink and white in a breathtaking cacophony of color. Out on the outlook, we watched a family canoe by us, through the liquid path that the Shiawassee cut among the cattails and invasive Loosestrife (not yet in bloom). On our way back, we saw a turtle in the middle of the path. She had dug out a small hollow in the ground and was excreting liquid, I think inpreparation for laying a batch of eggs. I wanted to stay there, sit on the ground and stare at this process, but we both (Walt and I, not the turtle and I) figured that we would be missed at the party if I sat there 'til dark if need be, just to see some turtle eggs that would probably be cacoon food by midnight. Makes me kind of sad to think about that, but, as always, I remind myslef that both birth and death are part of this wild ride that we call life, and, as sad as death feels, without it there can be no life. Even looking at my compost pile with its rich life-giving nutrients, at its core is compiled of death, dying, eating and pooping.

Mentioning compost, of course, leads me to thoughts of the garden, which is not yet planted, except for some beets and carrots. In containers on the deck I have spinach, lettuce, leeks and catnip. The spinach is about 3 inches tall. Yippee Yum Yum. With the cool weather, I am kind of glad that I was late in planting my tomato and pepper seeds because otherwise, I would be tempted to put them out before the ground and air warmed up enough. As it is, I think another couple of weeks should be about right for the plants and for the dirt.

Growth just keeps on happening through life's joys, fears and compost heaps of what may be mistaken for wasted strawberry hulls, shredded paper, shredded dreams or wasted energy.