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I awoke Monday morning vowing to get the Nobel prize for the person who invents a silent tent zipper.  I got very little sleep, between the constant zipping up and down of my neighbors and Ben’s frequent shouting in his sleep.   Usually, it wasn’t any sort of agitation he shouted about, mostly he was just loud.  Loudly declaiming about marshmallows.  At 2 am.  ZIIIIIIIP!

My first class of the Gathering was a grass mat-making class.  Lily took it with me.  Our instructor, Dan, was a good teacher and very funny.  He’s a tobacco chewer, however, and made me grateful this is not a vice I encounter in my everyday life.  At the outset, he said “Sorry, this is the only time all year I get to do this,” and shoved some chaw into his mouth.  And then, at short intervals, spat into a juice bottle.  A juice bottle that, increasingly, appeared to contain diarrhea.   I’m all for freedom to do with your body as you please.  And hey, it’s once a year, enjoy!  But please, please, wait for the 2 hours the class takes.  I had to keep averting my eyes and a Hermione like myself is compelled to make eye contact with a teacher, so that he or she knows I get it and I’m engaged (it’s how I mask having not done the reading).  Anyway.  Lily and I made a mat each. And by “Lily and I” I mean “I made a mat for me and one for Lily.”

Dan had said that he knew people who’d made sleeping bags of grasses using the technique we learned.  These people apparently have an exoskeleton, b/c I was covered in an itchy rash by lunch time.  I didn’t have an afternoon class, so Emily and I got into the lake.  The sun was nice and warm, in the low 80s (and no humidity!  I love this place!) but the water is c o l d.  Probably around 60, Emily said.  Emily and I hung out and chatted for quite awhile.  I went to make a “chattering mouth” motion with my hand, to illustrate someone or other who was talking too much and noticed that my hand didn’t quite work the way I wanted it too.  Noticed that my arms were kind of noodly.  We remembered Joe, at the morning circle, telling us about “cold shock” and how your blood all goes to your torso to keep your organs warm, leaving you with “noodle arms.”  Turns out he wasn’t kidding.  We were never in any sort of danger, of course, since we were standing on the ground, not floating way out from shore, but it was still kind of freaky.  An enjoyable “hey check this out” kind of freaky.  As we warmed on the beach, I could feel the warmth returning to my extremities.  Lake Superior isn’t messin’ around.

Felt good, though.  I really do love that lake.  There’s an interesting lack of life (and death) that I associate with the beach.  I’d see a hole in the sand and think “crab,” but there are no crabs or critters of any kind.  No washed up bits of sea creatures or aquatic plants.  Pretty round river rocks, not shells.  The seagulls are quiet.  The water is so clear that you can see your feet in water to your neck.  And because it’s fresh water, rather than salt, when you get out you feel tingly and clean, not sticky.

Steve, you may recall, does not camp with us.  He stays here:

See the cutey little donkeys hanging around outside?  They watched him jump rope in the morning.  He camped as a kid and is done.  Also, he likes to breathe at night and needs a bi-pap to do that properly.  And that requires electricity.  So he rises to a fresh omelet made from eggs from the backyard and comes in to camp in time for any classes he wants or just to hang out on the beach or in the lake.

On Monday, he showed fairly late and we hung out on the beach, reading, until Ben showed up.  He and Ezra (Michael and Emily’s son) get on like two cats in a bag, so we had to do a fair bit of refereeing.  It really is the only tough note in our time at camp.  We’re all hoping they grow out of it…

After dinner, we went to the welcome circle.  Everyone introduces themselves and says a bit–how many years they’ve come, how glad they are to be back.  That’s always the point at which I dispel all thoughts of not coming back and vow to return until I can no longer make the drive.  It has the feeling of a family reunion of sorts, catching up,  or even just seeing the familiar faces.  Remember Roach and Amelia, who taught the raw venison jerky class last year (Roach says the maggots are okay, remember?)?  They got married and Amelia’s pregnant!  They met at the Gathering 4 years ago.  We all got a little misty when Roach told their story.  And then, after the circle, a guy came up and said “Hey, are you from Maryland?”  And I said yes.  “Where?”  Frederick.  “Me too, I live out near Detrick!”  Yes, another guy from Frederick was there.  We have no overlap that I can discern, and yet we both made the journey.  Wild.

We had to break up the games of Foot tag and Red Rover that the kids were playing on the beach so that we could trundle off to bed.  Sundown means bedtime ’round here.  They all cried “No Fair!” but by the time our lot had brushed their teeth and gone into the tents I could hear that the games were over and everyone else had gone “home” too.  I fell asleep listening to a fiddle playing down the beach, serenading the 20somethings as they danced under the full moon.  I wondered if I could have enjoyed this as much at that age.  I’m not sure I was that girl, but I sure wish I was.

"Red Rover, Red Rover, send...Zac. WHAT is on your head?"

Ben is airborn for a Red Rover breakthrough attempt

There was a light rain in the night, but Tuesday dawned bright and cloudless.  I’d planned to go into town with Steve, so I didn’t sign up for a morning class.  After Joe hauled our van out of the ditch on the side of the road (it claims many vehicles every year), Ben joined us and we headed off to Bayfield for some smoked fish.  SUCH a cute town.  I was totally ready to move there.  I didn’t take my camera and I can’t find a shot on the web that really captures it, but it was a perfect little sea (okay, lake)-side village.  It’s a fishing town, so it even smelled right and the gulls were noisy b/c there were people to give them french fries.  It’s built on hills, so it looked like Cornwall, England (my newest obsession after seeing it in the show Doc Martin) and I want to live there.  Now.  Forever.  Apparently, and of course, it is expensive.

We were on Knife Quest 2011, trying to find Ben a fixed blade knife.  He was at his usual level of obsession.  We searched everywhere and came up empty.  We soothed the pain by stopping at Tetzner’s Dairy and getting ice cream to bring back.  I can’t believe we never got a shot of the ice cream gorge, since we did it 3 times, but we were “The camp with ice cream.”  Good ice cream.  Like you’d expect to get from a Wisconsin dairy where you drive to the farm and put your money in the envelope and take the ice cream.  good.

We swam again when we got in and then made dinner.  The kids got up a rollicking game of Capture the Flag, cutting up a yellow and a red Tshirt to give everyone an arm band.  The teens, in particular, really enjoyed these games and they were playing as often as not.  I know my kids got more exercise in that week than the rest of the summer–counting swim team!  It was good to see, but it made me a little sad that there are no neighborhood pick-up games like this.  Capture the Flag was elaborate and wide ranging, with “guards” in the water and up in the camp as well as on the beach.  Kids from 6 or 7 up into the 20s were playing.

Julianna and others "in jail" waiting to be freed

The first night of the trading blanket didn’t go well for Ben.  Last year, he’d made a wooden knife and traded it for a real (if rather crappy) folding knife.  He made another one this year, even less well-crafted, and was disappointed to get no more than a cigar box and a couple of turkey feathers (“From the guy that gives you something if no one else will!!”)  It was hard to see him so sad, so often, but hopefully the good times won out.  He seemed to settle in and find a way to get along as the week went on.

After Capture the Flag, Michael and Skogin (one of the “freegans”) were grappling on the beach.  in their drawers.  We’ve teased them (and they play along) about their “bromance” and much hilarity surrounded their lake-side wrasslin’.  One kid, though, thought Skogin was a girl and was utterly scandalized that anyone would get that close to a girl.   Ew.  Like turning a hose on the dogs, though, it started to rain and we headed back to batten down the hatches, expecting a doozy.

Where are our pancakes?

Grandfather stones

Ezra crafting armpit hair for Grace


Okay, we didn’t really search for Spock.  But it isn’t really Hippie Camp.  The name really doesn’t fit, as “hippie” suggests a sort of dirty, free-loading, space cadet.  These folks may be dirty (certainly at the end of the week), but everyone I’ve met in the last three years (with a few exceptions, of course) is hard-working and sharp.  The “camp” part, though, really does fit.  After 3 years, it feels like going back to summer camp, seeing our old camp friends, playing games, doing crafts, learning new things.  I always wished I could be a kid that went to camp every summer and as an adult, I came to long for a vacation spot we returned to at the same time each year.  Once I dreamed that would be Nantucket, but life didn’t turn out that way.  It’s okay, though, because I’m quite fond of my Lake Superior family, free of Topsiders though they may be.

We rented a van again, to save the mileage on our 2001 van (and to avoid being stranded in the Upper Peninsula at midnight).  This time, we picked it up on a Thursday, to have it loaded and ready to go Friday morning.  We’re not out-at-the-crack-of-dawn sorts of folks, but we did make it off by 8:30 am.  I’d packed some mini-quiches and hard boiled eggs and seasoned nuts and such and we didn’t need to eat at restaurants.  Steve isn’t one of those push-through-and-hold-your-pee guys, so we stop a lot to stretch legs, grab a snack from the cooler, compare the rest areas of various states (Ohio wins, a far cry from the odd hole-in-the-ground stable-themed toilets from when I was a child traveling the state).  Ipods make good travelers.  My kids bicker as much as most, but they are well behaved in their own cones of solitude.  Or when they nap inside sweater hoods:

We stopped in Rockford, Illinois for the night and had breakfast the next morning at “the Machine Shed”–the restaurant Cracker Barrel is trying to be.  Yummy, hearty food.  Unfortunate overalls for the wait staff, however.  I’d have to be making BIG tips to be willing to wear overalls.

We made it to Ashland around 3:30, stopped at the co-op for some provisions, and got to camp around 4.  Our tents were set up, thanks to Michael and Emily, in our usual area.  This year, Michael rigged a great tarp for our kitchen space instead of the EZ up/EZ down. Lily was off with friends before I was even out of the van.  Michael and Emily got a new tent this year when the zipper on the old one broke (REI just gave them a new one.  REI rocks).  We got another REI tented neighbor and ended up looking like a planned camping community:


The weather for unpacking was lovely, sunny and breezy, but the skeeters were BAD.  Big and slow, which is nice, but numerous, which is not.  This was the only year we’d really used bug spray and we went through several cans.  But I don’t use it at all the rest of the year, so I’ll push those DEET worries aside. (natural repellents, you say?  the mosquitoes think you are adorable.  And delicious)  We had a group dinner (that was really meant for instructors, but hey, there was plenty!) and then sat with the kids on the beach beside the fires they’d made.  perfectly idyllic.  Too nice to even go get my camera.

Sunday morning, I made bacon and eggs from home and Emily made pancakes.  perfect camp breakfast.  It got warm pretty quickly, so we went into the lake.  It’s cooooold.  Maybe 60 degrees?  But it is refreshing for sure.  So clean that you can see your feet in water to your neck and because it’s fresh water, you don’t feel all sticky when you get out.  Tingly and alive!  There were some nice little waves to jump and then we sat out in the sun to dry.

After lunch, I went into town with Michael, Grace, and Julianna.  Grace had music to share and she had that young teen earnestness about music that I remember with a bit of a cringe.  “You have to listen to the words!”  Some horrid R&Bish rappish thing about a guy apologizing for how he treated the subject of the song and how he thought he’d seen said person but then knew it couldn’t be so…because he was DEAD.  And was his DAD, not a girl at all.  Just like an O’Henry story.  for realz.  She was disappointed in my lack of enthusiasm and punished me by making us listen to another of this dude’s songs, about his home state of Minnesota.  It contained the line “And the women are beautiful (at least I think they are).” which totally cracked me up and made her angry again.  I made some crack along the lines of “Well, it’s just nice to know that you have black folk in Minnesota.”  To which she said “Oh, he’s white!”  Which explained a lot.  It was my punishment, really, for forcing people to seriously! listen! to Beatles songs long past when they stopped caring.

I met Steve in town and we got some groceries and a knife for Ben.  He wanted a fixed blade knife, but all I could find were big ol’ Bowie knife type things, so we got the recommended folding knife.  Turned out it was NOT what he wanted, and was hard to close.  And he’s not good at faking enthusiasm.

But he will totally cut you.

Buying the wrong knife eventually led to Knife Quest ’11, but more on that later.

We went to the “Open House” for the classes being offered.  There were a lot fewer folks there this year–150, rather than 250–and that meant fewer instructors, too.  There wasn’t much that really grabbed me.  I opted to do some spoon carving and asked about making some hurache sandals, but the instructor was cagey and borderline panicked about having more people than materials.  I did not drive 22 hours to be stressed about “getting in, ” so I let it go.  Instead, I knitted on the beach, made some dinner, and chilled.  There was a Women’s Sharing Circle, and as you can imagine, I opted out.  I wish I hadn’t, though.  My fear of people oversharing kind of gets in the way of my feeling included.  Next year.

The moon rose a gorgeous deep orange, so lovely we went after cameras, for all it was worth.  Hard to take a pic at night with a point and shoot.

Julianna has a fancy-pants camera, but she hasn’t really learned to use it.  It’s like she uses a Porsche to drive from one hole to another on the golf course.  She used me as a tripod, though

Accept my butt! Before it destroys you!

Hers came out even blurrier than mine, though.

The night was still, which unfortunately brought home how hard it is to have other people about 3 feet from your head when you’re trying to sleep.  Our neighbors (in the REI Kingdome, far left, above) were NOT the early-to-bedders that we are.  I was murderous by the end of the week.

Sunday pics:

Lily, Christy, and Zora in the ever-present mud puddle

Standard scene: Emily and I cooking, cloud of children drifting around underfoot

Julianna takes a break from wave jumping

More to come…


August 2011
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