This morning I took the girls out to a friend’s house in Starksboro. They live a beautiful, simple home that they built on a beautiful, simple piece of land, nestled in the hills. There is a tee-pee made of birch branches, gardens with winding paths, neon snapdragons growing amidst giant fava beans and corn stalks, blowzy-looking yellow squash and zucchini blossoms. Aviva and her friend ran off together to catch frogs no bigger than my pinky nail, while Pearl and I explored the little open-air structure where they take most of their meals in the summer, a hundred bulbs of garlic drying on old window panes, a hand-hewn ladder up to the little loft (Pearl made it to the top rung, then got completely freaked out by the view). Coffee and the pastries we brought for breakfast.
Before we left home, I told Greg how I find myself sometimes resistant to going out to see our country friends. I love spending time with them; being there always feels wholesome and nourishing and abundant and soul-feeding on a cellular level. Sure, it is a bit of a drive. It is not in the one-mile zone we mostly call home…
And that’s when I realized that the resistance wasn’t to the friends or the place, but to the act of slowing down, stepping outside of our usual haunts and habits, into a place where time is still more innate, more intuitive, more earth-connected, more organic. It is not unlike the resistance to sitting, or yoga even; when I do it, it changes everything, opens up so much space, slows me down, brings me home to myself, revives me when I am checked-out, asleep at the wheel, calms me when I’m worked up.
My friend and I gathered the kids up, along with towels and bathing suits we didn’t end up wearing, and piled into her car to go swimming. “Your car and my car should go out for drinks,” I told her (she later concurred, taking a look at the rust patches on Grandpa Max’s Camry). She drove expertly up a steep, gravelly mountain road with a sharp drop-off into the trees on the passenger side (i.e. mine), while the three girls hugged each other tight in the backseat, bouncing around without so much as a booster.
Finally, we arrived at a small parking lot with a sign that said, “Leave only your footprints.” We walked maybe a quarter mile beyond that, where we were greeted with one of the most tranquil, beautiful, welcoming Vermont views I’ve ever seen: rock walls, contoured lawns, wildflowers, and a bean-shaped pond reflecting the heavy green summer trees all around it. I drew in my breath. The kids ran ahead.
We spent the next hour or so exploring – an outhouse, a bright orange newt, and a little cabin with hand-carved bunkbeds. My friend told me about the retirees who own and maintain the land. They invite people to come, to use it and enjoy it, even to spend the night in the cabin, so long as they treat it with respect and care. We all got excited about the prospect of returning someday soon for an overnight. Then we went down to the water, stripped, and dove in. Well, I dove in. And swam. The pond was cold enough to shock my system but warm enough to relax into, and I luxuriated in the sensation of bare skin gliding through the clean, freshwater.
Let’s be clear: I love skinnydipping.
A simple lunch of black beans, tortillas, cheese, and cilantro plucked from the garden followed our swim. By the time we left, the big girls were reluctant to say goodbye. Pearl was on the verge of sleep, and I promised her and Aviva creemees on the way home.
It was a beautiful summer experience. And I was this close to canceling it this morning. Not really, because I didn’t want to blow off my friend, and I knew it would be worth the drive. But really, because isn’t it easier to stay in the confines of what we know – the routines, the swimming spots, the suits we wear.
There are other things I thought I wanted to write about tonight. Plenty, as always, on my mind. Our day was not all sweetness and light – is any day ever just one thing? But as I listen to the crickets chiming in the darkness, little beads of sweat forming above my lip, the girls asleep upstairs in our bed, I just keep picturing that moment of diving into the pond, the sharp inhale that followed, the merging feeling with the water, our friend’s gardens with all those little walking paths that lead to nowhere but calm.
There’s a wall hanging in Pearl’s room that a friend of Greg’s made for him years ago, before we met. The words “CALM / BELONG” are embroidered over a picture of a little boat at sea, puffy white clouds, a whale’s tail. I’ve always loved looking at it, taking in those two simple words. I used to gaze at it for untold periods of time while Pearl nursed in the glider, the one I sold on Craigslist a few months ago. Our girls are growing up. And maybe I am too.