My Summer Vacation


My summer vacation. Fifty summers. Fifty summer vacations. Like a homing pigeon headed north, I fly. North. To the Northwoods. To the land of lakes and birch trees and hemlocks. We drive two days through the mountains and the cornfields and finally the forests, my mother and sister and niece and I.
As we wind through the Appalachians, I remember the first time I saw a mountain. I was 17 and I was enchanted. I remember a feeling bubbling up inside of me. Like a hidden spring, the possibilities of topography dawning on me, all those embossed globes of my childhood, I could feel, like a blind person the memory of my finger tips running down the spine of a mountain range and now, here it was like a wall before me.
I wondered if I had somehow missed out on something deep and mysterious and ultimately more tremendous than the dark black Illinois loam of my mother’s peony bed by having spent my first 17 years on the prairie. I would have had a similar reaction to the ocean except for the fact that Lake Michigan had prepared me better than my paper mache globe.
But now, in my fiftieth summer, as we round each curve in the Daniel Boone National Forest, my body pressed from centrifugal force against the car window, I find my heart beats harder the closer we come to Indiana and the vast expanse of corn fields all wearing their long lace collars of Queen Anne’s lace. I am going North.
When I finally see the first corn fields ahead through the asphalt mirage of the highway and glimpse the dark heart of Indiana’s hardwood forests beyond in the distance, I start to feel as if I am going home. I sigh, a long sigh, as if I have been holding my breath for yet another year when we finally stop for the evening, our first day of travel complete. I feel as if my own fetch greets me. The ghost of the girl I once was. It is the air swirling around me. It takes me back to my Midwestern girlhood. It reminds through flashes carried into my senses on the breeze. Like the ripple of playing cards in a dealer’s hand I can see of all my summers. I shiver and It reminds me why I never wore sundresses without a sweater.
In my youth I resented having to cover my pretty shoulders and now as I stand outside the Comfort Inn in Crawfordsville, Indiana which stands in the middle of a cornfield, I ache to go back in time and cover my shoulders all over again. Now. Even now when I know about the mountains and the oceans and the sultry beauty of Savannah and Charleston, I want to go back to the time when all I knew was perfectly straight strips of highway hidden in the precise grid of gently swaying cornfields and the fact that summer was only, truly, three weeks long.
In years past, our daughters stood, teeth clattering at the edge of the Indiana motel swimming pool, lamenting the chilly early July evening air and yearning for their Southern summer swimming pools. Our Southern born daughters who understood nothing about their riches of sweater-less sundresses, our daughters whose lungs ached for the languid blanket of humidity which made it possible to always wear the thinnest cotton over a bikini in the pitch black midnight of Georgia. There is a beguiling sense of recklessness inherent in a Southern summer evening. Yet only a Northerner can truly spot it. Southerners, like our daughters, raised as they are in so gentle a climate are blissfully unaware of the joys of owning multiple sundresses and walking sweater-less on a summer evening. Yes, Sundresses sum it up nicely.
The next day we drive up through the straight center of Illinois, Land of Lincoln and Chicago and me. Dan Fogleberg once sang Illinois, Illinois, Illinois, I’m your boy. If Dan Fogelberg was Illinois’ boy than I am Illinois’ girl; I can barely stand to see the road signs which point to Decatur. I drive and glance continually to my left after we leave Bloomington and Decatur fades in my rear view mirror. For reasons I can’t explain, the green interstate sign declaring this way to Decatur reminds me of my college love making conducted in a dorm room somewhere in Decatur and the sweet boy I left behind. I remember first kisses and secret good byes and because I know I can never take that exit again, my lips quiver a bit.
Soon we are flying by Rockford and then we are finally in Wisconsin and the flat land gives way to rolling hills and perfect farms with barns and silos and dairy cows that frame either side of highway. We accelerate a bit, in hurry now to exit from the lunacy that is interstate 90/94. We exit and find Highway 51, our impatience growing now to be on our island and rowing on our lake.
As the Northwoods loom ahead of us, my melancholy fades. I manage to shake off all the places I have left behind forever and turn my attention to the constancy of my ancient cottage, tucked away on a tiny round island. I am returning to the place I can always return to: the place where time stops. Here, bull frogs serenade little green ladies throughout the night and loons wail distantly in the hidden bays of the lake. Dragon flies who ironically wear Carolina Blue land on my knees and I remember I live in North Carolina now. The herons abide in marshy alcoves and otters play on their backs at the edges of our shore. A mother deer and her babe sneak across our filled in road to drink at the water’s edge and we watch humming birds drink at the feeder we have placed on an old wrought iron lamp stand outside the window.
For fifty summers I have traveled north. North. Toward the stars. On my way to heaven. My summer vacation.