standing in the shade of the family tree.

"...as I have at last grasped that the task of understanding where one came from and how one came from it are not as simple as I would have supposed it to be when I was younger."
- Larry McMurtry from Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

Just past 9:00 on Friday, October 8th I, along with my mother, stepfather, aunt and grandmother, safety-belted Lily Harper and Piper Bea into the car seats perched high in the rented van waiting to escort us all to a lovely little cabin near Denmark, Maine.

Lindsay waved good-soldierly from the porch, bound to home by classes meant to push forward her career but that, at that moment, could only have felt like obstacles to a getaway with her husband and children. My heart ached at the idea of leaving her behind and swelled with pride and love for her determination to foresee the long-ranging benefits of her sacrifice.

Already an hour beyond their normal bedtimes, Lil and Pipe were both wide-eyed-awake with an expectancy that they couldn't possibly have understood but that would sustain them for most of an 11-hour traversal of seven states.

My stepfather and I swapped driving duties throughout the nighttime hours and the rising sun found us making quick work of the small sliver of New Hampshire that wedged itself between the northeast corner of Massachusetts and the welcoming arms of southeastern Maine.  Breakfast was sought, pinpointed and devoured.  After a brief visit to the stately Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth, we circumnavigated sprawling Sebago Lake and reached the quieter confines of the woods surrounding Hancock Pond.

The crisp air, dazzling fall foliage and straight-from-my-daydreams cabin on the lake beckoned for us to step out of the van and officially get our vacationing under way. The next 9 days were to be filled with stunning examples of natural beauty, robust shared laughter, first time adventures and the collective embrace of nothing NEEDING to be done.

And the days would be spent together, doing only those things that we WANTED to do.  We gazed out on an endless ocean and a lake that had a visible end but no shortage of loveliness.  We were serenaded, hauntingly, by the loons and scolded and bullied by the neighborhood kingfisher.  A visit to a county fair that toed the New Hampshire border brought close encounters with cows, goats, carousels, bouncy-castles, carved bears and hearty chowders in heartier bread bowls.  Lily and Piper had their first official train ride and donned life vests for their first time in a canoe.  We drove through and hiked within the White Mountains and scaled the steps of the iconic Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.  We cooked and ate meals together.  Climbed in and out of the van together.  We woke in unison each morning to see what new adventure lay in store and, on a few occasions, decided together that it was a great day to do absolutely nothing...together.

Even in solitary moments, I reflected mostly on the joy of watching my daughters build and store memories of time spent with their father, grandparents, great-aunt and great-grandmother.  Sitting on our cabin-side dock and gazing out on a misty, nearly mystical foggy sunrise, I knew that even if the girls couldn't later recall all of the details of this trip, they should at least be able to piece my rememberings with the feelings of warmth and love being bestowed on them from each doting family member.

I managed a few runs (perhaps even a separate post's-worth) but I didn't find myself craving them the way that I often do at home.  Mortgage payments, work deadlines, home maintenance and the like amplify my need to run and those nuisances were nowhere to be found in New England.  Despite my sometimes short attention span, my appreciation of solitude and my not normally serving as a member of a constant party of 7, I couldn't come up with a good reason to strike off on my own and didn't want to.

I spent the first 10 or 11 years of my life living in a house that stood right next door to the home of my grandmother, aunt and uncle.  In fact, in my youngest years and before my uncle married and brought his bride home to live with him, that residence also housed my grandfather and the ancestors who raised him when his birth mother proved unready for the responsibility, my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.  In other words, I'd been privy to the inter-mingling of multiple generations, the protective comfort of the overhead branches of a tall and healthy family tree.

Looking back, I suppose I'd taken it for granted.  I too was certainly exposed to my fair share, perhaps more than my fair share, of doting.  That said, even though I wouldn't have known it then, mortgages were being paid (somehow), work AT work needed to be done and, at home, lawns begged to be mowed, leaking roofs cried out for new shingles and windows clamored for caulking.  Real life kept on making demands and casting long, dark shadows over the luxury, the treasure of having family all around.

But, for that one week in Maine, we'd escaped real life.  Unlike some of the vacations of my childhood, we didn't arrive at a less-than-advertised hotel, the van was more than up to its task and the weather didn't pummel us into a hasty and grumpy retreat.  The luxury, the treasure of having family all around refused to be banished to the shadows, was instead on full display.


  1. That house looks like the place I used to stay at in Maine. Does it belong to a family in Lititz?

    I miss Maine. I haven't vacationed there since 08, which is way too long ago!

    I know the feeling of complete bliss - you get it in Maine.

  2. It is definitely owned by someone locally, though I'm not sure exactly where the owner lives...supposedly he used to rent it out, stopped renting it out and is now renting it out again. All I know is it was beautiful and it sounds like it's time for you to get back up there!