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For the Long Days of March
I stared unseeingly out the bus window at the gray sky, pretending I was my normally happy self. Pretending I didn’t mind I was sitting alone. I shouldered my backpack and trudged off the bus, thrusting my fingers in my pockets against the cold. Summer was just a memory. The warm sun, lazy days, summer swim team…the cold wind snapped me out of my memories. Summer couldn’t be further away.
Today’s school day had dragged unbearably, filled with bad quiz grades and silence from my closest friend I could no longer talk to. And I knew once I got home, things could hardly get better. Probably my mom would force me to clean my room (messy doesn’t even begin to express it) or help with dinner and my truckload of homework loomed in the background. Suddenly I was glad to be outside, free from people at least for the moment. Wind suddenly lunged at me, shooting cold fingers down my neck and whipping my hair back to better attack my face. O.K., so maybe I wasn’t that happy. I slid my fingers out my pocket just long enough to get the mailbox open and hastily shoved the pile of mail under one arm. Bills and letters swirled around the street and I chased after them, cursing the wind and all things wintery. The last letters clamped between my numb fingers, I managed to open the door and bang it shut. The house had some merit—it was warm.
An hour later, I flung myself on my bed, restraining tears with difficulty. I lay motionless, listening to the slamming closet doors downstairs with dread. My mom had a temper. Quickly I turned up my radio, trying to ignore the thoughts swirling in my head like some giant soup. Maybe like minestrone, my all-time favorite.
Sufficiently calm about twenty minutes later, I stretched out my hand for the waiting textbook. Homework unfortunately doesn’t do itself, and I had a ton. Better get started now than later. I slid further off my bed. Where was the stupid textbook anyway? My fingers brushed a single sheet of paper under my bed and I grabbed it, hoping to see the multitude of numbers that signified my math homework. No such luck. I read the first line, written in my neat handwriting. The water, amber and dark, playfully splashes the patient rocks only to recoil with a splash of white bubbles and scamper back into the lake. Suddenly I was a million miles away. Camp Longbow seemed so familiar, so realistic. When the sun bursts through the clouds on the left, the water glistens, pushing the sunlit diamonds to the surface and thrusting them away.
Most summers, my family travels to Camp Longbow, a remote cabin in the Adirondack woods. Even now I can clearly see my family decked out in sweatshirts and gloves in the August “heat”, chugging hot cocoa as fast as we could get it down our throats. But the diamonds refuse to be thrown into the rocks; they pull back and catch the next wave, undulating smoothly. I remember the lake, all the canoeing trips we would take every morning, the peace, the silence. The rocks, half-submerged in the lake, patiently endure the ripples’ forceful caresses, reshaping themselves to the ripples’ demands. I remember the trips to the outhouse, racing down trails cut into the woods by years of hiking boots. But for enduring that there are many great joys, being treasured by the ripples and sun.
The excitement would be tangible in the cramped minivan as we turned into the driveway of Camp Longbow and opened the gate. We would drive down the long, grassy, bumpy track cut through the trees, heavy branches scraping the car roof alarmingly. Then we would park and leap from the car, desperately eager to see all the places we loved. After a few necessary trips to the car to carry the heavy suitcases and supplies for the week into the cabin, my sister and I race recklessly down the pine-needle paths as Mom and Dad prepare the cabin for our stay.
Only the dancing wind can turn the ripples against the patient rocks, smothering them completely. The attempts at bathing in the freezing lake water seem perpetually dented into my memory. Clad in a bathing suit and shoes, I would slowly sink painfully into the water, shivering and slipping on the mossy rocks hidden under the water’s surface. After a painful dunk (one was more than enough; hopefully all the shampoo had washed out), I was flying out of the water and wrapped into a fluffy towel.
The wind, dancing, spinning, laughing, tickles the water into bubbled exultations and the leaves, needles and plants move in laughter. Nights at the campfire were always fun, warm and safe around the fire’s glow. We always felt we were really roughing it, but the cabin was there, just out of sight in case we’d forgotten something. We’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers and eat them out on the rocks overlooking the calm lake. Everything tasted was so warm and good. After our stomachs were full of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate, and the darkness and mosquitoes set in, it was time for stories. I always began, the family’s designated storyteller, but the rest of my family would eagerly join in until the story ran rampantly off course, distorted and silly.
The solemn, stately trees guard the water’s shores, protecting and hiding their precious gem. Every morning, dragged into wakefulness by my parents tiptoeing through the room my sister and I shared, I would beg for my clothes to be handed to me, lest I have to escape the warm sheets and have my toes frozen off. Once dressed, I would finally drag myself out of bed, the cold more bearable already dressed in layers of warm clothes. I would run out to the rocks with my parents and watch the day begin until I got too numb to sit any longer.
The birches, white with light-green leaves, sing a sweet melody. The evergreens, a deep carrying song, and the multitudes of ferns are the clarinets. The outhouse, everyone’s worst nightmare, stands alone some distance from the cabin, filled with castoff calendars and old, rusty signs. Only when it’s absolutely necessary does one dare enter the shadowy square box, armed with a strong flashlight. Though it is probably not wise to turn that flashlight on; enormous spiders, waiting on their webs, cling to every surface. The smell is unbearable, requiring you to breathe as little as strictly necessary. After the tin can is secure over the toilet paper, you are free to leave, latching the door securely shut with an involuntary shutter.
The mountain overlooks its kingdom from high above, tired after its work well done. The lazy mornings, between the freezing sunrise-watching and the daily canoe trip, are so nice. Each family member sits silently in their chair on the screen porch, wrapped in blankets, pursing their own silent activity, whether a book, a journal, or some knitting. Just focusing on the silence. Just listening to nothing but the trees rustling.
The sky, a dark blue with gauzy clouds changes in places to light blues, aquas and soft whites. On the left where the sun breaks through, the clouds rejoice at the splendor bestowed on them. Dazzling white they explode ecstatically. The clouds on the right stay serene and gentle. The daily canoe trips, a high point on the day, begin in preparation. Everyone changes into bathing suits (given the day is as warm as it’s going to get) with clothes on top and grabs their life vest and smooth, wooden paddle. Joyfully, I race down to the docks, one stationary and one, the “floating dock” securely tied to the stationary one. The floating dock rocks gently back and forth with the slight current. Many happy days my sister and I have spent on the dock, fishing for pieces of slimy kelp, examining the flowers that grow in abundance around the calm little harbor, or just soaking up the sun, the docks being the only spot without the sheltering trees. After dividing supplies between the two canoes, my family unties the lines and pushes off. We paddle leisurely around the lake, digging the paddles in deep and pulling strongly. Water splashes us refreshingly as the sun moves to the center of the sky.
In spots, the deep blue explode from behind cloud cover, thrilling the world with the bluest blue imaginable. Occasionally these trips have a purpose. We may stop at our neighbors-across-the-lake’s dock for a quick bath and sunbathing. Another destination is a spit of sand that has zillions of tiny silver minnows, and miniature strawberries growing on the sparsely-vegetated shores. The water, moving constantly in jerks of liquid silver, is shallow and warm, though the abrupt drop and strong current prevents us from going in past our knees. The other end of the lake includes the dam that turned Rainbow Falls into a lake. Though the gleaming technology is hardly natural, it’s still a place to visit.
The tiny bugs ride the waves close to the shore, being pushed closer and closer until they hop over the next few ripples. And for those other trips of no purpose, scanning shore is hardly boring. Tiny cabins peek shyly from the dark, mysterious woods and bright flashes of beached boats are visible. Sometimes quiet loons glide close by the canoes.
The slender kelp, twisting along the water’s edge, serve as markers to the ripples’ progress, gifts bestowed on the patient rocks. At night, coyotes howl in the silence as we finish dinner and make final trips to the outhouse. The covers are snug and warm after a long day, and I can hardly wait for morning. Green and moist, they let the ripples slyly urge them on to the rocks but the ripples draw back abruptly, ignoring the kelp’s pleas to return to the lake until high tide.
My words ended abruptly and I stared for a few more seconds at the page, remembering. I remembered my favorite spot in the whole area, the Point, an outcropping of grey rocks that falls right into the lake. I would lean against the spongy moss and tree roots, watch the lake and write.
The house was silent. The bright blue digital numbers on my clock declared that an hour had passed. My eyes skipped quickly through the words once more, savoring each one. I looked out my window, imagining adding some blue to the somber gray sky and some white to lighten the heavy clouds. Summer. My calendar caught my attention. I flipped through the pages until I came to the month with a big red square around the last day of school. It was March now so I’d survived seven months and had three to go. Only three months. Less, actually, if you counted holidays and teacher workdays. I could handle that, couldn’t I? I smiled down at my piece of paper, the source of my sudden serenity.
The page had a title that I must have skipped over in my hurry to read the first line. I looked closer and smiled. For the Long Days of March. I had prepared for when I knew I would be tired and discouraged, for the grayest, plainest days of the year. And I had been right. This description that I had written had taken me back in time to the serene little spot in the Adirondacks and given me a moment of pure peace, wrapped up in happy memories.
I set down the sheet of paper and hurried downstairs, rejuvenated. I glanced at the windows, at the frightening, lead-gray sky that lurked outside…and smiled. The Adirondacks would be waiting for me when I was ready, a timeless cabin in the woods. But first I had to face the long days of March.