I know I’ve got to write about our anniversary weekend . . . but I’ve just been transported to another moment in time . . . and I have to share it.
Sweet Thing by Van Morrison was our song. We played it every morning when we woke up together, so we’d never forget our time together, those 8 magical weeks in the summer of 2004. I was already dating the Professor at this point, but he was very supportive about the plans I’d already made to leave him behind for this short time and head out to California, where my summer was waiting for me.
In June of 2004, I flew to San Francisco and got picked up in a van by a guy named Zephyr. For really real that was his name, and he was a nice enough guy, but he looked more like a Norm or Stuart. I hear the name Zephyr, I have certain expectations. Anyway, I remember it was a late arrival, and I had to take a bus to some remote stop under the highway. I got off the bus in the dark, heavily laden with my packs, and looked around for a goofy, lanky hippy kind of guy with a cigarette perched on fuzzily bearded lips. Instead, Zephyr was about 5’6” and wore Patagonia (aka, expensive outdoor wear). His hair was short, his face clean shaven. He looked like a middle school violin player.
But enough about Zephyr, because he barely enters my story, besides being my ride that night.
The next day, I began the first of many complicated meal negotiations with the various vegetarians, vegans, fruitarians, and other weirdly dieted people who were in my group – that’s what you get with a bunch of naturalists. Once we settled on some bulk food that we could cook over a campfire and all happily eat, we bustled around making breakfast. By 8am we had launched into staff orientation and training, which we did as a large group for the first three days. Then, the luckier half of us all headed to the airport to fly to Hawaii to complete training and begin their trips. The rest of us, me included, piled into vans and began to drive all over Northern California, learning what we would have to begin teaching to others in just a few days. I’ve never slept so little in my life.
We went the entire 2 weeks without taking a shower. It’s fairly liberating, I have to tell you, to be released from certain social norms, cleanliness included. I really don’t mind it, as long as I’m in stinky company. Living in primitive campsites; wearing only what you can carry on your back; having one bowl, one spork, and one mug to serve all of your eating needs; sleeping under the stars, sans tent, sans cover, sans anything but sleeping bag – it’s amazing how you can pare down your life to absolute necessities, and how quickly you become accustomed. I did not have a pillow that entire trip, nor did we have any type of furniture to sit on – not even a picnic table. Once the trip was over and I returned to normalcy, it took a while for me to stop sitting on the floor, stop sleeping on my own arms instead of a pillow, stop trying to cram all my food into one tiny bowl (or eat one side dish at a time).
After training was over, and we all fed quarters into blessed campsite showers to get ourselves clean for our new arrivals, then we split into small groups of 3 and were assigned our kids for the summer. My teammates Emily, Adam, Lesli and I got our first group from Charlotte, NC, and after 2 weeks with them and 2 days off, we got our second group from St. Louis, MO. And each morning with each group, as I roused my kids from their sleeping bags (we got all of them to sleep out under the stars, too, and left the tents standing empty), we’d all climb into our van and put on our “day song.” Sweet Thing would wash over our sleepy ears, and we’d all either sit quietly or sing along, thinking about the adventures we were about to take, the ones we’d already experienced, and how nothing in life would ever be like this again.
There’s more. There’s hours more, about Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite, and Mono Lake, and Bodie Ghost town, and Muir woods, and the Redwoods – about Josh the BAAADD kid, and Marybeth the sweet one, and Dylan the awesome, and Victoria the bully – dinners, and sleepless nights, and boat trips and laundry fiascos and missing socks and stolen sweaters and long long drives. The bears, oh the bears, remind me to tell you the bear getting in the tent story – the trees – the dawns and sunsets and occasional nights off with pool and beer and just adults. It was just wonderful.
And every time I hear Sweet Thing, I think of the kids. Adam and Emily and Lesli. Marybeth and Dylan. My van. My pack. My summer.