This week I’ve been to summer camp in North Idaho twice. Well, sort of.
Last Sunday, the one before, you know, yesterday, my family and I set off in our heavily loaded PNW van for Priest Lake, Idaho.
This is what usually happens by August in our “family summer planning”. I look over the compiled lists of activities that my boys (13, 10 and almost 8) really thought sounded fun in June. I then wield my sharpie and in as kind and yet seriously burnt out mindset as possibly I can muster, cross of swaths of things that we (kind of) completed.
That means that I have for the ‘nth year running started the summer as amazing cool summer mom, piled as much summer fun as I could into the first eight or so weeks to make the boys think we are doing a ton, and then, having reached the deadline of about three weeks before back to school, curse, and then quick plan (throw together) the last top three things I promised we would get to this year.
We didn’t get to go “real” camping last summer due to across the west wild fires, so that was going to be a thing. Also, a day at Lake Coeur d’ Alene, a sweet idea begun when the boys were small and sweet that meant an hour at the waterfront in the sand before packing everything back up to go the hour back to Spokane, and now means an afternoon at the lake and a trip to Pilgrims Natural Foods obstensibly for groceries, really ice cream. And then, last and least (fun, cost effective, and/or worth my time) Silverwood Theme Park.
It was driving me crazy for a few days when I couldn’t fit the puzzle pieces that were our days left before Mark went back to school (teacher) and days open at (any) North Idaho camping lake. My oldest had requested a lake this year, the two or three times we’d gone before had been at Bowl and Pitcher, Riverside State Park on the Spokane River, one of the most beautiful spots I know. He had a point, though, and convinced me quickly by saying they and the dog would have way more to do with a lake to swim in “all the time”.
I put much time and effort and heart into most anything I do, as well as some major unrealistic expectations or never-going-to-happen-dream/thought sequences in my head as I plan and pack and pack some more. So you can imagine what it felt like for me to hear not once, from my husband, but twice, then repeated by my teen,
“Why did you pack so much stuff? Are we going to be gone for a week??”
I was still floating on the reserves of the picture perfect beach day we’d managed two days ago to Coeur d’ Alene, so was remarkably able to still talk myself into going on said camping trip with family instead of, at that point, staying home while they plus dog embarked on a trip to remember.
Once I’d finally Tetrised our August into place, a peace settled on me. Kind of like the calm before the storm.
Priest Lake Luby Bay campground won because of key words like “family friendly”, at least until my family arrived; “dogs allowed”, at least until our dog arrived; and “fishing available”, but only apparently if you have a boat. And we do not. So, yet again, inexperience killed Haden’s life long dream of being a fisherman.
I’d like to say that tent camping and cooking over an open fire pit is special bonding time. So, I’m going to say it. And it was, after the fact, everything I had hoped to have my children suffer through. Those times make the best stories.
And by those times I mean as follows; moments of sleep night one in between dog chasing shadows, nosing his way out of tent and winding himself around several trees-more than once; my teen finding that indeed our campsite had adequate wi-fi, thus ending my ‘little house on the prairie’ dreams (which Haden said sounded like a boring, stupid show); finding zero fishing spots for Haden, because all sites on the side of the lake we were on did not have docks; and me not finding the cooling burn pads I packed after looking for a half-hour when Liam roasted his fingers on the marshmallow skewer, and then finding them the next morning, inexplicably under the van??
The second, and last, night of camping, our boys tired enough to sleep, I found time to read in my tent by the light of my headlamp, that sweet enveloping of the night around me like a blanket.
I tried to fall asleep after but so much had happened in the hours of daylight behind; and every time I closed my eyes I saw across the tent flap door shadows playing with light, a flashlight to the ceiling and animals made with small fingers and hands dancing across the screen above my littlest boy Finn’s sleeping bag.
Awake, I dug for a pencil and found my notebook to write out of my head the story I had been trying to tell all day long-only in the deep dark of forested night did I begin to wonder if this story was telling me something.
The place I most longed to see on this trip up north turned out to be a place that saw me in a rather stunning turn of events.
The Roosevelt Ancient Cedar Grove leapt out at me while reading up on where-tos for our journey. Ancient trees? Old growth forests? And Teddy’s name as part of saving this bit of land? Be still my National Parks/Forests heart! The other spot, Granite Falls, an upper and lower waterfall, with the trailhead only 365 feet from the waterfall? I knew my boys could get behind that kind of hike and I could soak in the water, sun, forest with nominal complaints and whining to pack out with us.
When we arrived at the Roosevelt site, we quickly discovered that this was a two for one deal-with a bonus of two signs telling of the HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE OF THIS PLACE.
Our thirsty pointer-black-lab led my boys up the trail before I realized we were already upon the lower Granite falls, the sounds only a few steps up the hill reeled us in, the bait, bubbling, rushing, gurgling, gorgeous water tumbling gravity’s course. Handing my husband Rudy’s leash, I quickly, but carefully followed my three boys.
We were all joy, mountain-goating up and over rocks, across logs, climbing wildflower filled cracked stone and jutting granite walls. I met my boys in various stages of nimble climbing and discovering, and continued up, I hoped, carefully treading my own precipitous path up the irresistible further.
Snappy quick photo-ready shots of impossibly angled walls that had pushed and ground against plates to stand still then for eons, an echo of such violent becoming became my inspiration. And that sky! I climbed as far up the falls to its almost source as I dared before turning around; was it around the next rock? Tree? Where is everyone?
Realizing I had pushed to my knowledge-edge of this wild place, I knew I needed to retreat to what was waiting for me down the falls instead of the never going to end prone to wander and ponder beyond.
Just one more picture, to try and capture the wild beauty of this place I didn’t want to leave.
Balancing my IPhone in one hand, then tiptoeing as closely to the slick rock edge where water meets my shoes to capture the perfect rushing pulsing glacial torrent just beyond my feet selfie, and while I turn to spot the tree behind me to grab and inch to safety, I see tiny pine cones to grab in picture form, and proceed to execute a hand to hand transfer of my IPhone to secure the shot–
That was where my creative wings flew too close to that brilliant sun shining so alluringly through old growth limbs, casting an ethereal light on boulders and moss, plucky and brave flowers standing strong in their aloneness….the thing is, while these thoughts fly through my head, my body takes a slow motion downward spin, and grabbing the not quite adult tree to keep from tumbling down the upper falls, I see, not quite believing, my IPhone leave my opening hand and disappear in a particularly stunning and strong flow of whitewater falls.
In that instant, my emotions all jumbled, my senses heightened from my body’s fight or flight response, my thoughts tried to reconcile with my stunned brain that all the gloriously conceived and realized photos of the past 14 hours of our trip were gone.
I took in a quick breath, and with it, the messy cluster of situations that was now my story.
It must have taken half a second, but in that speed of light moment, all I knew was that what while I had saved myself a fall down the falls by grabbing the tree I had wanted to capture an instant memory of, my other hand was grasping the space where a literal second ago most of my recent memories were held.
Trudging down the granite I found that surprisingly I wasn’t angry or all that upset-at myself, or the water, or my lack of luck. In fact, I was so strongly affected by how the beauty of the falls made me feel, at peace, it almost didn’t matter that I’d just lost a piece of my day to day.
Reaching my boys first, I told the story, they relayed it to Mark, and I took Rudy on his leash back to the lower falls, took off my shoes and gave my feet to the freezing tumble of water. The water sparkled, Rudy splashed, my boys climbed with new muscles.
Today we were camp people again. This time at a camp on the old Marine Route, Mica Bay, on Lake Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho. It is a place that often many people, and myself, have only managed to describe as “there’s just something about this place.”
I saw that something fleshed out today in a family of about 700 plus people, gathered at the top of camp to celebrate seventy years of campers, counselors, staff members, family and friends.
The wind that blew there today was much calmer and more playful than it was the blustery, determined day before. It picked up voices singing together on it’s breezes, carried conversations and laughter to share across camp, and encouraged bubbles and quilted flags to dance in the wind.
Pictures were taken of people reunited, and reunions were created over photo books of pictures spanning seventy years of a lifetime of this place. I found a few pictures that told part of my story, and learned some new stories by listening to people who found photos of theirs.
Camp Lutherhaven is one of my favorite places on earth, and today it made it my heart full; with the joy of spending time with people I was blessed to be with, and with real sadness for not getting to spend time with some I’d hoped to.
That is what camp and camping is, though. A place to be. A place to build up. To connect to others, to connect your dots, your stories.
To share and love and forgive and still love after all the messiness of being human. To learn again to hope.
I’m forever grateful for the way that Lutherhaven is that compassionate and accepting place, living love out loud.
And that is often what my summers end up being when August winds it’s way down, and the sun burns brighter but goes down a little earlier each day, and rises a bit later each morning, bringing with it a cool scent that carries change.
We do some things we’ve planned, scrap some ideas that don’t come together, finish the hard things we’ve started, and hopefully have more of what matters most, side by side time, longer conversations, space to breath, a place to rebuild hope.
The bookends of my week reminded me how much I love being a camping person and a camp person.
And while I didn’t get to say goodbye to my IPhone (though I did say a lovely eulogy before we left Granite Falls, as well as apologized for contaminating the pure waters), I hope that I never really have to say goodbyes to either the places I camp, to the Camp I love to be at, or especially the people in my paths on my journeys.
Those are conversations and doors I hope are always open.