What I Did on my Summer Vacation
I wonder, has anyone actually ever written one of these essays? Or assigned them? I feel like “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” is the quintessential “first day of school” writing assignment, but I don’t remember actually ever putting pen to paper on this particular topic and I can’t help but wonder if it is more mythological than not.
But there’s a first time for everything. And, urban/suburban legend or not, I’ll take a stab at it.
Preface: Who Cares?
This writing exercise could be the biggest literary-selfie ever, but I feel a small amount of obligation to report on the month of my absence and, in some small detail, to let my constituency know how it is that I have used the generosity of time afforded a bishop on vacation. The last time that I had this much consecutive time off was 24 years ago when I was plunged from the 3rd grade classroom into full time motherhood (for the happy third time). I was lucky to be a “stay-at-home-mom” and spent some good months sunning in the backyard with kids playing in the inflatable kiddie pool, taking long walks in our neighborhood with a stroller or wagon in tow, and having the luxury of time to do things like bake bread and make stock. It is not a privilege that goes unnoticed or unappreciated, so let me begin there. Thank you. And so, for those who are interested, read on. For others, we’ll be back to ecclesiastical-related blogging in a week’s time.
I did not cover as impressive a geographical footprint as I had imagined on this vacation (see section on “why I didn’t go to California”) but I did manage to travel the length of New England in my car and the ridgeline of a few PA mountains on foot. I spent time on a tiny island in Maine (a scant mile in square mileage), walking the coastline of mid-coast Maine, visiting childhood clam-shack-haunts, making a detour to the RI coast, a couple of stop overs in CT and more than a few days in my hiking boots learning what it means when the Appalachian Trail hikers talk about “Rocksylvania.” My elevation went from 0 (that island!) to 1,543 ft. above sea level (ridge of Blue Mountain) which is not particularly impressive when you consider that Mt Katadhin in Maine steps up at 5,269 ft. above sea level and Clingman’s Dome, in the Great Smoky Mountains of TN is the highest point on the AT measuring 6,625 ft. in the sky. No records were achieved on this vacation for sure, but hiking in 90+ degree heat was just fine. No records needed.
Icy blue green water and black rocks.
The echoey screeching of gulls and slamming surf
Thick maple syrup over blueberry pancakes the size of dinner plates
Soft pine needle carpets and dappled sunlight in cool, deep forests
Clear, clean air
Bayberry warmed by the sun
The tangle of pricker bushes pulling at delicate shins; tiny spots of red, red blood
A late summer field filled with milkweed and monarchs
Rows and rows and rows of corn (as high as a elephant’s eye)
Hawks playing on drafts of air in lazy circles
The tug of a fish on the line
The crack of a baseball bat hitting a double
Wildfires kept me from going to the Writer’s Conference that I had hoped to attend in Carmel by the Sea. The Soberanes fire was within 10 miles of the conference center and we were warned that there could be a possible evacuation. It wasn’t worth the risk to spend the money to go. It wasn’t worth the risk to be trapped with wildfires on one side and the cliffs of the Pacific on the other. I stayed home and wrote on my porch.
How well do you do at filling idle time? It is an art, I think, for those of us who live connected to our i-phones and calendars and agendas to feel at ease with a certain amount of leisure time. It is a trick to go from 100 mph to 0 mph without some sort of psychic collision. I found myself returning to old practices and patterns of things that have fed me, spiritually, in the past: Cooking. Playing my ‘cello. Reading.
The escape into a novel is luxury. I had forgotten. I love when a good books turns a day into minutes. When one moves from sofa to chair to chaise with book until the last page is turned.
The study of one page of music over and over and over again until some small amount of mastery is achieved is, in some ways, crazy-making ( who spends hours on one page of music?) and, in the end, if you can let go of total sum gains, entirely satisfying. (I’m not sure that JS Bach would give me a pass on his Allemande in GM, but I’m taking it.)
The joy of creativity in the kitchen. Roasted beets with cantaloupe, chunked garden tomatoes, feta and a honey dijon dressing. Pesto. Corn chowder. Carnitas. Tamales. Sesame Noodles. Chimichurri. Key Lime pie. Dal. Peaches over yogurt with homemade granola. A delight to cook in bare feet at the counter watching the birds at the feeder while the radio sings Dvorak.
Prayer is layered in all of this. In the glory of God’s creation leaning into the wind on a mountain cliff, in the sunrise that emerges incrementally from the ocean in hints of pink, orange and scarlet; in the sharing of table and time with family, children, dear friends, college classmates; in rejoicing in good health; in grieving those lost; holding in the heart those who are ill or lonely, lost, searching, struggling. Prayer is never far. Never far. And God is as close as one’s own heartbeat and tender as the grass and as powerful as the tectonic forces that pushed mountains into the sky. Worship and Intercession do not go on vacation. But they take a different form.
There’s a snap in the air today, praise God. It is the snap that I’ve been waiting for and it arrives just as my Vacation slides into Home Plate.
The snap of chilliness on my legs as I pad down to the kitchen to press the “on” button on the coffee machine tells me that it is time to put on long pants, lace up shoes and go back to work.
It is time to go back to the gym.
It is time to plan menus again a week at a time with my calendar in one hand.
It is time to think: Power Point. Convention. Confirmation. Clergy. Budget and Finance.
It is time to re-engage the rhythm of study-prayer-writing-preaching
Meetings. Which mean Relationships. Which are good.
Meetings. Which means Information. That leads to Mission. That is Good.
Leadership and Liturgy and the Work of Building the Kingdom.
Now. Now. Now.