A Spoonful of Sugar

One glorious day. Sometimes it’s all you get.

We’ve had very few outdoor adventures together as a family since summer ended, in spite of our vows to the contrary. School and work limit our excursions to weekends, which is OK, except that all fall we’ve stacked our weekends with obligations. Any day we manage to pry free brings a downpour and heavy winds, or so it seems.

We've felt the season, and our promises, slipping away. So last week Jim took a look at the forecast and our schedule and rented us a farmhouse on Squam Lake for Saturday night. We’d hike in the Squam Range on Saturday and paddle the lake by canoe on Sunday. Two full days of family adventure.

But on Friday, the school nurse sent Virgil home with a fever that turned into a cold by Saturday. Our early start and day of hiking became lunch at the farmhouse and an afternoon of games in front of the fire. Virgil retreated to a sleeping bag on the couch. We were having a family day, alright, but not what Jim and I had imagined. Outside, the day went on without us, unseasonably warm under hazy skies. If there was a brilliant sunset, we missed it.

On Sunday, Virgil felt well enough to come out in the canoe. Well enough, if not happy. We persevered, put the canoe in the water and lunch in the canoe, and paddled off along the shoreline. The sky was clearer than the day before, the sun even warmer, the breeze milder. The water had changed color with the season: no longer a bright cobalt, it had deepened into a rich navy hue, sparkling in the sunshine. Looking into its depths, we could make out plants and rocks on the lake bottom. Everywhere along the shore, the leaves had dropped from the trees. With the thick bumper of green gone, we could see through trunks of pine and hemlock to the bones of the land behind.

We pulled up the canoe on a sandy beach. Ursula tried wading, but hopped back to shore with a howl: “It’s freezing!” The water might be too cold for swimming, but the season was offering up other gifts. Jim pointed out that back in the summer, the water’s edge had extended far up on the beach. Sloping granite shelves, submerged then, now made a fine gangplank, which the kids walked happily to its very end. We followed a leaf-covered path along the shore, noticing winterberry and busy chipmunks. Out on the water, we saw but a single boat and no other people. We heard a loon call and watched it dive and return to the surface with something shiny in its mouth. In another month, the loons will have flown to the coast and skim ice will be forming along the lakeshore. But for one sweet day, we shared the lake with them.

On Monday, the school nurse called shortly after the start of the school day. Virgil had a slight fever, she said. Best to keep him home another day. After lunch, she called again: Ursula had a fever, too. The flu has not yet run its course in our house, but the image of that big lake in the sun, and our children standing on granite, buoys me still.

One glorious day. Sometimes it’s all you need.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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