I live in Maine, where no matter the season, people complain about the weather. In winter, it’s always too cold and the price of heating oil is too high. In spring, there’s too much rain and too much mud. In summer, it’s too hot and will never be bikini season. To my mind, complaining about the weather is like arguing balls and strikes. In all my years watching baseball, no umpire has ever reversed his call because an irate manager stormed from the dugout, threw his hat on the ground, and kicked dirt. In much the same way, our celestial umpire won’t change his or her mind once the course of the seasons are set, no matter how much bellyaching we do. The weather is what it is. This complaining reminds me of a joke they tell up here: “Do you think it will ever stop raining?” a tourist asks. “Always has,” the Mainer replies. I grew up in Syracuse and lived in Rochester and Buffalo for many years. Live in Buffalo for a few winters and believe me: you’ll be cured of bitching about the weather anywhere else.
Tomorrow is June 1st, and no matter what the calendar says, in my world it’s the first day of summer. On my personal Maine Mayan calendar, summer lasts exactly ninety days, from June 1st to August 31st. Ninety days, or to put it even more bluntly, twelve weekends. That’s what we got, friends We decided to live in Maine and not Miami Beach and that’s what we got. So take advantage of every single solitary ray of sunshine or drop of rain. If you’re cold, shiver like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re wet, be as wet as the bottom of the sea. If you’re hot, feel the sweat pouring off your body and know that you are alive. We’ve got the ocean for cooling breezes and bodysurfing. We’ve got lakes and ponds for swimming. We’ve got forests to go hiking in, mountains to climb. Savor your ninety days, your twelve weekends, in all their hot, sweaty, rainy, muggy, foggy glory.
During a semester break in college, I was driving home with a friend down Route 17 in New York State. Right around Roscoe, NY, we stopped by the side of the road to visit an old cemetery. I don’t know why we did it. I remember looking at all the old gravestones of the people who had been born and died, as far back as the 1800’s. Some of the names and dates you couldn’t even read anymore, such were the effects of time. But one image from one of the markers has always stayed with me; that of an hourglass with wings. Maybe this was a popular image around the time these folks were buried. I don’t know. But since that visit to that graveyard in Roscoe almost thirty years ago, I’ve been in more cemeteries than I care to count, and I’ve never seen the symbol of the winged hourglass again. A Zen master once said to go to sleep at night like it’s your final rest, and to get up in the morning as if your bed is on fire. That is; do everything fully, giving your all, all the time. There is only this present moment, no other. If not now, when? If not the beach today, then when? You’ve got ninety days, my friends. Twelve weekends. Stop arguing balls and strikes and play the game.
When Henry started this blog five years ago, it was an attempt to record the simple, everyday joys of life. A virtual cabin in the woods, as my subtitle says. As blogs go, it was all over the map. It could be about anything, which in the blogging world really means it could be, Seinfeld-like, about nothing. Successful, syndicated blogs usually do one thing very well. They become time-tested, predictable products that readers can rely on day after day to give them exactly what they want and expect. It could be cooking, music, politics, sports, etc. You know exactly what you’re going to get that when you go to Politico, Deadspin, Daily Beast or HuffPo. Here, Henry tried (and tries) to do something different. Like the Ming Dynasty text called the Caigentan, or “Root Vegetable Discourse“, I’ve tried to offer up varied bits of wisdom based on my experiences enjoying the simple pleasures of life. The title of this text comes from the Chinese proverb that “One who has eaten vegetable roots for lack of anything better can accomplish anything,” or perhaps more succinctly “One who has gone through hardships can do anything.” The way I’ve understood this text is “You will be unable to find joy in this lifetime unless you can find joy in the simple pleasures of living.” I’ve written about decaying Pocono resorts, creepy naked guys, shoegaze bands, snakes falling from the sky, Bruce, and Buddha. One of the easiest ways we can enjoy the simple things in life is to take a trip to the beach. No person can stand before the ocean and not feel reborn. Now that summer is here in Maine where Henry lives, he would like to give his advice for a perfect day at the beach. There are only a few rules you need to follow. 1. Buy a State of Maine park pass. If you can afford it. This year it costs $70 and lasts all the way until December 2012. Considering the fact that it costs about $10-15 every time Henry takes his family of four to the beach, you only have to use it about five times before it virtually pays for itself. 2. Eat a big breakfast. And drink plenty of water. That way, you start the day fully nourished and hydrated and you won’t have to schlep the entire contents of your fridge to the ocean’s edge. 3. Pack light. This is ancillary to #2 above. The bigger your breakfast, the less food you’ll need to bring. Henry knows this might be tough when you have kids, but parents don’t need to give their kids snacks every fifteen minutes. It’s OK to be hungry. Additionally, if kids don’t ask for food, don’t offer it to them. Pack only what you need. In my case that would be water, an apple, sunscreen, and a towel. Maybe a book, although strangely enough, I usually don’t read at the beach. Under perfect conditions, everything you bring should fit in one medium-sized backpack. 4. Pick an old favorite… You know where your favorite beaches are. Going back over and over to the same spot is not necessarily a bad thing. Shifting ocean currents can remake a sandy shoreline overnight. Temperature, wind, humidity, and the quality of sunlight can make two different visits to the same beach radically different experiences. 5…or try something new. Take a chance. Branch out. Hike to a deserted beach and take your clothes off. It doesn’t even have to be a beach. Tap into local folklore. Don’t be afraid to ask the guy at the general store about the secret swimming hole. Go skinny-dipping in the rain. Cultivate peak experiences. Thoreau moved into a cabin and went swimming in Walden Pond in order to live deliberately. You can too. But watch out for the snapping turtles.
I have been on a quest lately to find a swimming hole within biking distance of my house. Living in Maine, and with the multitudinous rivers, streams and ocean inlets in my general vicinity, this would seem to be an easy task. But not so. Of course there are various places to swim, but I’m looking for a place a little more secluded, if you know what I mean. Thoreau and Ben Franklin are on my side in this quest for a place where I can indulge in an “open-air bath.” But there’s always the chance that I might get caught and viewed as some kind of freak. I had an experience last summer where I drove out to a secluded pond near my home. I hiked about a mile into the woods, and jumped into the water. Not seeing anyone around, I took off my bathing suit and threw it onto the rocks onshore. It was dusk, and the chances of anyone happening along were slim. And yet, who should appear out of the woods but four women. I was floating about twenty yards offshore and they called out to me, asking if I would mind if they joined me. Of course I agreed. What else could I do? They didn’t notice my state of undress, and, clad in their various swim attire, they jumped in as well. So here we have a great moral dilemma. Does a man, floating naked in the middle of a pond, admit to his newly manifested female companions that he is in fact naked and that perhaps they would like to take their leisure elsewhere? Or does he pretend that everything’s fine, just fine, nothing to see here? Well, I opted for the latter choice. But when the sun started to go down and the water got chillier, I had to make a decision. I slowly paddled towards shore, and gingerly retrieved my suit from the rocks at the water’s edge. You probably don’t know how difficult it is to put on a swimsuit while you are trying to tread water, but let me tell you, it’s not easy. As I climbed out of the water, clothed, I heard giggles behind me. They knew what had happened. I distinctly heard one of them say, “That must have been a thrill for him.” As if I was some kind of pervert. As if it was my plan to go skinny-dipping in a remote pond and hope that some women came along. Please. And yet, they had come out of nowhere, intruded on my privacy, and here I was, feeling like the creep. I remember swearing to myself that I would never let this happen again. But here I am, one summer later, looking for some kind of swimming hole utopia. I’m a married father of two, not some weirdo hiding in the bushes. All I want is someplace where I can be alone and feel close to nature. People can legally go off into the woods, drink a few Buds, and fire shotguns at innocent animals, or tear across frozen lakes on loud, belching snowmobiles, or plow through the woods on ugly, dangerous ATV’s, and all this is legal. And yet I, with my low carbon footprint, am some kind of freak. A man who goes into the woods with a gun to kill animals is called a sportsman. But a man who goes into the woods to swim unencumbered in a secluded pond is just a creepy naked guy, apparently.