Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ballad of Oberon the Owl

I feel a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this morning, a little torn. The weekend is leaving me feeling split, confused, because one day was absolutely wonderful, Saturday, and one day was pretty miserable, Sunday. When I think about Saturday in isolation, I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and happy, and when I think about Sunday in isolation, I feel exhausted, disappointed, and worn-down.

I probably wouldn’t feel as bad if it was reversed, and Sunday was the wonderful day. Were that the case, I think I could conveniently forget Saturday and feel as though I had salvaged the weekend with a wonderful Sunday, but the opposite is true. I am left with the more pleasant memory the more distant. And I feel as though I pushed a perfectly wonderful weekend in front of a train, rather than pulling one back from the brink.

Our weeks have been very long, and the past few longer than most. I have been having to fill in for my boss which a week or two ago added up to over 60 hours. Blah. He was again out of town at the beginning of last week, and I covered for him, coming in at 7:30 and not leaving until after 6:00. Long days for me. Longer days for Elise at home with the kids trying to help them have a magical summer, the perfect balance of fun (read: mini-golf followed by breakfast for dinner at IHOP and root beer floats) and relaxation (entire days spent on the floor building legos), even if it killed her in the process.

With long weeks come very, very short weekends. We try to make the most of ours. And start planning as early as Monday. But you know what they say about best laid plans? And many times, by the time Saturday morning finally does roll around we often find ourselves moving slowly, just content to all be home together with no place we have to go.

This past Saturday we fought hard against the gravitational pull of the comfort of our home (though I longed for it having just finished a six mile run and thoughts already trained on an afternoon nap). We didn’t pack anything except water bottles, supremely unprepared for whatever the day might present, and drove to West Virginia. We decided to go to the historic town of Harpers Ferry, on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.

We arrived around 11:00, in the heart of the day and with the kids already hungry (are they ever not hungry?!). We parked then took the shuttle bus into town. We had fortuitously arrived during a music festival. Woodstock it wasn’t, the bluegrass singer on stage telling the crowd, “I once had an owl. His name was Oberon. We lived together in a barn for three years. But that was six years ago and I don’t know what happened to Oberon, but if he had passed, I think I might have heard.”

We had never been to Harpers Ferry and had done exactly zero research before leaving the house. Yet, somehow we found the perfect spot for lunch, Bistro 1840. Maybe it was the sign outside that advertised craft beers on draft. We dragged our wilted kids into the refreshingly cool air-conditioning and quickly ordered two IPAs and a pile of French fries and waaaay to much food. We languished over lunch, not eager to return to the heat of the day. But eventually we did.

We climbed to Jefferson Rock, so called because it was the spot Thomas Jefferson stopped when he similarly surveyed the town. The walk coincided with a (very short) segment of the Appalachian Trail, and I briefly shared with Elise and the kids my dreams of a thru-hike:

“It’s supposed to be life-altering,” I told them.

“What’s that mean?” they asked.

“It means it’s supposed to change your life forever.” Then I looked down at Clementine. “Well you’re four, so most anything might change your life forever.”

I then went on to briefly explain the trials and tribulations of being a thru-hiker. Sadly, I don’t think I sold anyone. They may have balked after sheltering in lightning storms.

After I very brief walk on the Appalachian Trail, we went down to the river. As I mentioned, we didn’t bring anything with us. No towels. No bathing suits. But the four us (Elise declined) stripped down to our underwear and waded into the cooling waters of the Shenandoah River.

Clementine was the first one in and she splashed in the ripples of a few mild rapids nearby. The boys soon followed. Lastly, I dove in in my boxers. After a quick swim, I joined Elise on the banks of the river where we watched our kids making fish traps in the mud and throwing rocks into the river and watching them splash. Occasionally a kayak or raft of river runners would float past. The warm sun eventually dried me and I started to warm again, and Elise pressed her body close to me and we took photos of one another with our phones until it became time to drive home.

We took the shuttle back to the parking lot and back to our car. On the drive home, we listened to podcats from “This American Life” on NPR. The kids, too. Stories from and about summer, just as we were writing our own. 

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