Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Driftwood: The Lucky Ones

We wandered through the sand along the shore picking through and marveling at the pieces of sculpted wood, scattered and half-buried at the foot of the dunes like weary travelers that finally found their beach.  Some were whole trees, others just pieces, all brought there by waves, shaped by water and time, each representing an unknowable story. Someplace, at sometime before, these stood as living trees, or parts of one.

How far they’d come and how long it took, we’ll never know. Even what they were was often beyond our ability to know. An old oak, or a young maple? A root, or a limb? We marveled and imagined, nonetheless.

I’d never thought terribly much about driftwood before, until a recent trip to the white sand beach that marks the eastern edge of the Great Lakes and serves as a repository of journeys untold and final resting place for an entire watershed of wood. Our family has a camp not far from the beach, and we take walks up its shore a few times a summer.

Sure, I’ve picked up many interesting pieces to examine on past walks, or found nature’s attempt at a perfect walking and used it for the duration of one journey.  But I’d never thought about the story of each one before.
This time, I did. It may be because I empathize at times with the drifting part of the tale. But I took time with each piece of sculpted wood we held to consider its whole story.
It struck me that only a few of the many trees and branches are preserved and reborn as driftwood. Most simply go back to the earth, or become fuel for fire -- which these may yet be. But only the lucky ones get to become driftwood, if only for a spell.

Each tree could have just fallen on land and rotted and become the soil for the next generation. But something brought them to the water – either proximity, or a storm, or a flood, or a river.  There they floated and tumbled for an unknown duration, became hardened and smooth, and found their way to a deserted beach, preserved by happenstance to live beyond their life, to be reborn as nature's own version of artwork.
As we walked, we made a game of it, and looked for ones that could be transformed again, this time in our minds, to other living things, like birds and beasts and the fish they surely knew along their journey. 

Here’s what we found: 

Parasaurolophus. It's a dinosaur.

The Loon

Snapping Turtle/Snake/Basilisk

Snarling Bear
And here, to my mind, the luckiest of all:

One piece of wood that transforms as you turn it in your hand,
into a bear, a porpoise, an anteater, a wolf, and a cardinal.
This magical piece of driftwood also could be a
shark's tooth or a sailboat.
I kept this one.  

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Letter to The Parents of Golf Cart Kids

It’s the time of year when families young and old try to get away together to that special summer place. It could be a collection of cottages around a reservoir in Alabama, a favorite R.V. park in the Midwest, or mountain campground in the Adirondacks. For my family, it was always a small community of camps (which is what we call cottages in Upstate New York) along the shores of Lake Ontario.

I spent every summer that mattered there growing up, and learned all I cared to know on those shores. Now, my wife and I take our young kids there.

But something has changed about our little community.

As a kid, my brothers and I made the best friends we ever had there: Kids from Florida, the Carolinas, New Jersey, and Central New York, all spread out among camps of the community. We swam, skipped rocks, made bonfires. Between all those activities, we walked. We walked to the beach. We walked to other friends' camps. We walked to the impromptu rec hall that was Mrs. Woesner’s, where we played cards, and croquet, and spent many rainy summer days.

When I go there now with my young kids, I see a new generation of adolescents, all about the same age we were when we had the best summers of our lives.

And here’s the difference. Rather than walking barefoot along the dirt roads to get from friend to friend, and then on to the beach, all these kids zoom around on golf carts. Most aren’t even old enough to drive, but that doesn’t stop their parents from giving them the keys to the E-Z-GO.

While I know there are many communities that have a tradition of golf carts as the main means of transportation, ours was never one of them. When I was their age (ah-hem) 25 years ago, only one family in the community owned a golf cart. That family had a disabled child, and that’s why they had a cart. Now, it seems all the camps with teenaged kids have carts. As do many others.

So, here it is: An open letter to the Parents of Golf Cart Kids. By the way, I’m fully aware that there are likely so few of these people, I could have just written a closed letter and handed it to all of them. But, “open letters” are as fashionable as golf carts these days. So, bear with me:

Dear Parents of the Golf Cart Kids,

I’ve seen your kids zooming around, going the places they think they need to get, as quickly and easily as stepping on that electric cart’s go peddle. I’m not writing to say they’re going too fast, which they probably are. Or that the incessant buzzing of carts is ruining our family’s quiet vacation, which it likely is. I’m writing on behalf of your kids.

You may think your helping these kids by giving them the keys to the golf cart, thus allowing them to zoom around the R.V. park, or the beach-front community, or the campground. But you’re not.

Some of the best times had at places like these are on those long walks between all the things we just need to do. Trust me, I walked those paths.

More importantly, there’s a lesson on those walks. It’s not only the one about slowing down, and taking it all in – your surroundings and life. It’s also about the value of earning something. When you walk to the beach, you appreciate it more. The sand is that much softer, and the water that much cooler.

When your kids just pile onto your new golf cart and speed off to their destination, they may get there a bit quicker. But they certainly miss the accomplishment, and may just miss why these summer places are so special.

So do your kids a favor; Make them walk.

Peace out.

There. Now I’m officially an old fart.

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