Cue the seagulls

Here’s the funny thing about summer- it always seems like it’s going to last forever. You think this, this! will be the summer that I _______ (fill in the blank.) And now with the September page of the calendar looming, you look back and think, “Where did all that time go?” And here is the other thing- as much as I like to think that I am this free spirit who revels in freedom, I have to admit- I sort of like structure. Unless I’m traveling, I do much better with a bit of a schedule. And sometimes I wonder if I love the idea of summer more than I really love summer. My dad and my sister, they really love summer. My dad considers the summer solstice to be the saddest day of the year because it marks the height of summer- the days only get shorter from there-  and my sister records the crickets on her phone to listen to all year long. My mom on the other hand, really loves sweet corn but she misses football and a sense of normalcy. I can see it both ways. But summer is really bittersweet, I think. The world is your oyster, yet there is so much pressure to do it right. Around the beginning of August I start to hear the seagulls from The Boys of Summer in my head on repeat and feel regret for what could have been. But, at some point, it’s important to take stock of reality and think about what was possible, what you actually got to do, and the fact that you can’t live every moment in a perfect Instagram photo with an amaro filter. No other season makes me feel this way, but I still love you, summer. You are sneaky and wonderful and happy and sad. You are snap peas and mosquito bites and screen porches and swimmer’s itch. You are sweet corn and ragweed and swimsuits drying on the line.

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This summer I may not have started a Shovels and Rope cover band or made pitchers of sparkling rhubarb cocktails every day or even blogged once (not once!), but I did some awesome stuff, gosh darn it. I got to go hiking with some dogs and write about it.

I got to drink a few cocktails and write about those, too. I lost a lot of bocce games with some good friends at the East Side Club. I vacationed in Blanchardville, Wis. population 823, with the fam, and learned that it’s acceptable to eat salad for breakfast.

I went for lots of bike rides with Half-moon, traded three hours of labor a week for vegetables, and created this really delicious salad, but forgot to write down the recipe.

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I kayaked a few times, and canoed a couple of times. I ate dinner with my sister in a field.

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I vacationed in northern Minnesota with my family where we (some of us) worshipped the sauna. I checked out a stack of books from the library and never read them. I did some yoga. I let vegetables rot in the fridge and snuck them to the compost pile in the dark of night. We took Half-moon to Iowa, and fed him sweet corn.

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So, it turns out, we did all right.

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Hey, Clothesline

I feel like a bad correspondent and a broken record all rolled into one big ball of suntanned and bug-bitten guilt (‘I promise this time I’ll write!’). I still need to tell you about eating pizza at Delancey in Seattle, riding a police-confiscated, too-big-for-me bike in Jackson, paella in Cheyenne… the list goes on and on. But if I want to live in the present, be in the moment, focus on the here and now, then…

Greetings from the Scandinavian Riviera.

Poplar Lake, photo by Sena

As I type this, I am lucky enough to find myself with my family in the north woods of Minnesota. Even better, I find myself next to a deep, quiet lake and a sauna ten feet from its shores. The last two mornings I have started my day in the best possible way- with a 20-minute swim in the cool water (following a minute of apprehensive shivering in the shallows), a quick and furious dash to the sauna, 10 steamy-minutes of pouring ladles of lake water onto the rocks, a quick dash back to the lake, then a sigh-inducing and body-tingling five-minute swim. Yesterday this was followed by a breakfast of coffee and pancakes with lingonberries. Really, all mornings should start like this.

Afternoon splashing, photo by Sena

The last time I was able to start days this way was the last time that I was in northern Minnesota and my name wasn’t Erica, it was Clothilde. I was a camper at Lac du Bois. French camp. I spent five summers at this camp and all week I have been reminiscing about the magical time that I spent in the woods eating bon bons and listening to Salifou, a counselor from the Ivory Coast, tell us stories by the bonfire next to the beach. When I first started attending the camp, there were no showers. After getting awoken at a too-early hour (one summer I was in a cabin where my counselor would bang open the screen door and shout, ‘Bonjour Brussels!’- the name of our cabin- to rise us), we were marched down a path to an area where we bathed in the freezing cold lake, ran screaming up the slippery, steep wooden stairs to the sauna, and then back down to the lake. Breakfast in the lodge followed: Yogurt and mueslix, baguettes with butter and jam, and the best part- hot chocolate that we sipped out of bowls. Heaven.

A lot of what went on at the camp was conducted in French, and although I had studied it a little in school, I spent a lot of time at the camp not sure what was going on around me. It was wonderful. Every afternoon we gathered in a different spot for a new installment of what sounded like ‘plazeer da more,’ which was an on-going improv soap opera presented by the staff. I watched as my underwater basket-weaving instructor, wrapped in a bed sheet, moaned and cried to the tennis pro, Pascal. At the end of the ‘episode,’ I would clap and sing along to the theme song, as best I could, wondering all along what it was that I had just witnessed. Dinner followed. Fat jars of Dijon mustard with cork lids sat at each table and we would mix our own vinagrette every evening for our green salad, served family style. Campfires lit up the night and the singing of ‘Bon swa le loo’ (which, while I certainly can’t spell it, translates to ‘Good night, wolf’) meant bedtime.

While I fumbled and bumbled and spent a lot of time feeling somewhat confused, I learned the important things. I knew the sounds to make to withdraw enough francs out of my bank account to take to the store where I would say, ‘Shoov-oo-dray, ash-a-tay milk chocolate toblerone y coca-cola see-vou-play’ and walk away happily with my afternoon snack. One of my favorite counselors was a guy from France called Willie who would mimic my Wisconsin accent and had nicknamed me ‘Clothesline.’ One afternoon as I sat atop my blue and gray sleeping bag on the top bunk eating my toblerone, I looked out the screen door and saw Willie walking by my cabin. ‘Hey Willie,’ I yelled. ‘Hey, Clothesline,’ Willie responded. Fueled by an extreme sugar high, this exchange made my day and apparently, my long-term memory.

Back to the present. This excursion to the north woods has been marked by an abundance of seafood (including an out-of-this world meal at the Angry Trout in Grand Marais) and a lack of toblerones. The lake/ sauna/ lake routine seems better to me now then it ever did when I was known as Clothilde. Much like a youth may discover drugs, my mom has discovered headlamps. Last night as we lead her around in the woods she was euphoric as she declared that everything was sparkly and that there were bugs everywhere. Tonight we intend to have a campfire by the lake. I only wish that Salifou were here to tell us one of his stories.