It is finally here. Benevolent sunshine. A few tentative blooms. Newborn lambs. Jubilant spring peepers. Dancing children.
Okay, I will try not to rhapsodize to the point of boring you. It’s the season I wait for all year, so it’s a pretty big deal to me. This year it has been taking it’s sweet time in showing up. There came a point where the best I could do when it snowed again was to avoid looking out the windows and just light all the candles. My soul felt chilled into lethargy that had forgotten how to rejoice, plodding through the daily activities with as much grace as plodding normally brings to mind. Not so pretty, but useful for staying alive. Barely.
A friend asked me, “Are you just being dramatic, or do you really feel that way about winter/spring?” (What? Me, dramatic? I am enjoying a moment of private amusement here. But I do not exaggerate my feelings. They are quite real, as they say, and this winter was a humdinger.)
Toward the end of March, we had the opportunity to travel south to sunshine and white sands beaches. We had just gotten the biggest snowfall of the winter, and seemed locked in endless days of grey. It was wonderful to pack up and leave the dirty snow piles behind. Of course, before we could actually leave, we had to make arrangements for the animals. The dog went to a friend, the lamb went to a sheep-raising friend, the goldfish went to Grandma’s house, and all the rabbits and pigs and goats and chickens and cats stayed in the barn to be tended by a friend.
We knew it was a lot of traveling, something we don’t do much when Gabe is in school. Our children are not used to hours in the car, so to ease the pain, I let each one pack a backpack with books and things to amuse them. The boys took survival gear in anticipation for a weekend with cousins. One of them took two inflatable pillows, in addition to a normal one, just in case he needed to pad himself somewhere. The girls, whose packs were small, crammed an astounding array of goodies into them, One took a doll and accessories to keep it happy, as well as books and a crochet project. Another took a menagerie of little stuffed animals, a sewing kit, and her most special mini figures to play with. The third took coloring supplies, loads of picture books, an extra pillow, a portable DVD player and some DVDs. You know what happens when you overstuff a backpack, every time you try to pull something out? Yeah, a lot of the treasures ended up on the floor, temporarily lost, the cause of weeping. So… now we know what doesn’t work to pass the time. More mom-involvement in the packs would have been helpful. Shew. More than once I thought of discreetly dropping some treasures into a service station garbage can.
The first leg of the trip was to Savannah, Georgia, a city I have long had a fascinated desire to see. The city was designed with broad streets and garden squares up on a bluff above the riverfront. When Sherman marched through the South on his destructive rampage, he was so impressed by the charm of Savannah that he couldn’t destroy it. Instead he telegrammed Abraham Lincoln, offering the city to him as a Christmas present. It really is that beautiful. We only scratched the surface with a chilly walking tour. The azaleas were blooming, the Spanish moss was doing it’s lovely drooping thing, the birds were singing. Of course, there was a reluctant walker with a sore foot who loitered behind, sighing. But I saw enough to make me want to go back for a week.
(Photo credits to my husband and his cell phone. The steps are one flight of many leading from the riverfront up to the residential area. And can you guess whose feet were hurting? )
Our first sight of the ocean was on Jekyll Island, where we enjoyed the astounding scenery of Driftwood Beach. The island is eroding from the north end, where the trees die and become nature’s sculptures. It was relatively cold and windy; I saw people in wool coats and caps, and there were our kids, scampering barefooted on the beach, wading delightedly.
The shell collection started. Addy’s pockets were sagging low with her loot when we left the beach to resume our drive south to Florida. We had a few minutes of hilarity, trying to wash the sand off the bare feet with water bottles. A few people had to be changed entirely due to wading with more abandon than wisdom. There were no public hydrants or changing rooms where we were parked, so that was interesting.
My parents have a trailer in Sarasota which they kindly offered to us for lodging. They weren’t there anymore, but it was a great landing strip for us. With the exception of ice cream at Big Olaf’s and some shuffleboard games while Gabe worked on an assignment, we did none of the other typical Pinecraft activities. Actually, I did get in a visit with my Uncle Leroy and Aunt Betty. There were not a lot of people around. We spent our time out on the barrier islands.
The first day we woke to brilliant sunshine, a cool breeze blowing off the water, just a bit chilly. We were pale as potato sprouts, and promptly burned ourselves crisp. Gabe had made sure to stock up on some really good sunscreen and he told the children, “Don’t forget to put some on the tops of your feet and on the back of your neck.” Whereupon they all diligently applied sunscreen in those places and not a lot else. I wasn’t watching closely. It was a little like the backpacks, I thought they are big enough to take care of themselves. Alex thought he would tough it out, keep a shirt on and apply it later if he started feeling a burn. Gregory did a pretty good slathering job on his exposed skin, then he took off his shirt and swam for 3 hours. He had a perfectly inverted farmer’s sunburn. Olivia didn’t want to get sunscreen in her eyes or mouth, so her burn was confined to a circle around her face and on her knees. Rita somehow skipped her entire face and her fair skin is the most prone to burning of all of us. She swelled up with blisters, poor child. I did take care of Addy’s skin myself, but even she got a dose of burn. We just plumb weren’t prepared for those direct rays, but oh, it was heavenly. And our necks and the tops of our feet were in great shape, whatever the rest of our assorted sore places were screaming.
This (above) was our favorite beach, on Longboat Key. We had to drive the entire length of the island before we found a very small public parking lot with beach access down a slender trail. There was no life guard and very few people on it, but the shells! The big ones were all in pieces, which did not deter the girls in the least. And then there was the sunset over the Gulf, with a sailboat on the horizon and my son gazing out at the birds swooping and diving for fish. This is my favorite picture of our time in Florida.
That was our first day, and when we got back to our spot for the night, we were all exhausted and touchy. You couldn’t even brush against another person without them yelping at the pain you probably intentionally caused them by accident. We went through copious amounts of aloe vera after-sun and took ibuprofen. Our sun-fest cost us. There was no way the boys were going to be able to paddleboard or kayak in the mangroves when every movement that caused their skin to wrinkle was agonizing. We drove around Anna Maria Island the next day, looking for a fishing pier that would rent gear. No joy. We had some of those anti-climactic vacation moments, “What happened to feeling close and loving while happily exploring a new place together? This was supposed to be fun.”
On the upside, the weather was made to order, perfection for our hibernation-starved senses. It was worth all the digging through the attic in March to find our swimming clothes, snorkels, flip-flops, and short-sleeved shirts. And it was worth the aloe vera gel and broad brimmed hats we bought too late. It was worth the sand in the vehicle and the snack papers littered throughout and way too many pillows for the amount of bodies.
On our way north again we spent time with old friends and our siblings in North Carolina. It was cousin city for the children. There is never enough time to spend satisfactorily with everyone so we condense and cram in as much as we can in the time we have. We decided to drive the last stretch home in the night. At 1 AM, after a few hours of sleep, Gabe and I roused the kids and packed them in with their zillions of pillows. We spelled each other with driving, switching every 2 hours. It was a much more efficient way to go places. No snacks necessary for the conked out tribe in the back seats. One potty stop where we forced people to go whether they had to or not. We actually made it home in the time Google Maps had predicted.
I thought up a blog post titled “An Irreverent Look at a Sacred Idea: the Family Vacation.” But I didn’t write it, because if I had to choose six people to be stuck with me in a tiny trailer and then again in a vehicle for hours and hours, I would choose the ones I was with. When you have teenagers who are advanced beyond little kid interests, it becomes more challenging “when we all play together, how happy we’ll be…” Oh, the things we learn from living in close proximity with the fallible humans we call family.
It was raining hard, cold, sleety stuff that day we came home. This was a test especially made for me because of how annoyed I have been in the past when someone posts tons of tropical vacation pictures on Instagram in the dead of winter, then they come home and belly ache about wishing to go back. And then we had three weeks of mostly frigid temperatures and snow bits and flurries and just plain old winter. There were a few balmy days in the mix, enough to give our faith glimpses of sight. Mostly it was walking by faith for me, and living what I believe… that it is displeasing to God when I whine.
I think it is over now, for real. The forsythia hedge is doing this:
Three years ago it looked like this:
I would like to point out a thing that causes me pain. Road maintenance crews responsible for trimming trees and hedges in this area are brutally going about murdering beauty with their ridiculous long-necked bush hogs. First they sprayed the bottom half of the forsythias across the road, the entire length of them, not just the corner by the intersection. Then this winter they came and spent at least an hour going back and forth with their machine that chaws trees and branches. I could have done a much better job with a chain saw. This is now all that is left from a once glorious forsythia hedge. I know it’s not so much in the whole scheme of tragedies, but I mourn the hedge that was so ineptly and ignorantly shorn of its glory.
Still it blooms! The cardinals flit in and out of it on nest building errands as though nothing happened. That is the marvel of spring. It’s all new and hopeful around here! Gabe and I have been sagging with the weight of the last year. He is working on his last class for his bachelor’s degree, more specifically on the fourth to last assignment. There were about 40 assignments total in these 18 months, which will give you an idea of how tantalizingly close we are to that degree. I say “we” because I have been travailing with him and we are equally weary. Some days he looks at me and says, “Do you have any idea how little I feel like studying all day?” and I say, “But you are so close. Please, just quickly get it done!” This is not the most empathic thing to say, but I hope if I accompany it with a nice latte and some chocolate, it is an okay form of encouragement. The thought of free time makes us giddy.
We made it through the long dark! We are alive and well! Oh joy!