There are some things in life that thrill me beyond what a normal and rational person would feel. Like trains. I love trains. No – I’m crazy about trains. But it can’t be just an ordinary passenger train. It has to be a dirty freight train. Santa Fe, BNSF, Union Pacific or Canadian Pacific. I get a rush when I see them coming in the distance and if I’m lucky enough to be standing next to one as it barrels by me on the tracks, so close that I can smell the diesel and feel the rumble of the wheels grinding, well, that makes the experience even better.
I’m just weird that way. Things that wouldn’t necessarily thrill a normal person send me into an orbit of bliss. They’re usually relatively simple things that tick my clock. Like taking a ride in a canoe in New England.
I am a West Coast person, a Californian, an Angeleno. When I was a kid, if anyone went to camp in the summer it was up in the local mountains, say, Big Bear. Lake Arrowhead. Or maybe in the Sierra Nevada. Places that have their own, West Coast sort of culture, up in the pine trees and dry forests.
What I always saw on television, however, or in the movies, was the quintessential “summer camp” of the East Coast where kids disappeared into thick, green forests (because let’s face it: the East Coast equals GREEN) and went to preppy camps for weeks, months, maybe even the entire summer.
Those summer camps have canoes, kayaks, tents and kids wearing plaid, bermuda shorts. Or uniforms with knee socks. That was my vision of what summer camp was supposed to be like. As a West Coast kid, I somehow felt I had missed something in life because I never had that perfect experience of “summer camp”. The East Coast summer camp. I like the one in the esoteric movie, Moonrise Kingdom.
I always wanted to go out on a river in a birchbark canoe and for a minute feel like my life was complete because of it. When I had the opportunity to go out onto the Connecticut River this summer in New Hampshire, I suddenly realized that for a brief moment in time, I was having sort of, kind of, just a little bit of that East Coast summer camp thing I had missed out on earlier in life.
I think it was the door that said Canoes (this way) and Kayaks (the other way) that did it for me. Finally as a middle aged woman I was going to have my minute on a river in New England inside a canoe. Canoes and kayaks in all kinds of shapes, colors and designs are stored in a boat house, with the long boats that the Dartmouth Crew uses to row up and down the Connecticut River stacked neatly to the side.
I stepped into the canoe and was rowed out onto the river that’s lined with dense green trees. Trees that not too long from now will be bright orange, yellow and red as what happens in New England in autumn. It’s a foreign place, really, for someone like me. I’m always in hot, dry Los Angeles or out in the desert – in Death Valley. New England is foreign territory, but it’s exciting because it’s so different from what I’ve always known.
As we rowed along, oars dipping into the dark green water I suddenly could hear Suzy’s words when Sam asks her in Moonrise Kingdom, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I don’t know. I want to go on adventures I think. Not get stuck in one place.” That’s sort of how I feel and have always felt since I was small. I don’t want to be stuck, ever, in one place. Maybe that’s why I like freight trains so much. They’re always moving, moving, moving from one place to another. On an adventure from state to state. Having momentary yet unique experiences every single day.
The current was strong and I wasn’t on the Connecticut for a long time, but just enough to feel what it’s like to be in a canoe out in the middle of it, looking at the thick forest that lines its banks, so different from where I live. Even if it’s for just a few minutes, or a half an hour, to have the experience of being in a canoe in a place that’s so completely different from my world gives me that sense of adventure that I need in order to feel alive.
To feel as if I’ve finally been to summer camp.
Newburyport, New Hampshire