Postcard from Hardwick
The summer my daughter learned the names of wildflowers, she wanted to find a butter-and-eggs blossom — a flower we finally discovered in an abandoned lot in Portland, Maine. My family was walking through an untended piece of land — a way to get from here to there — and nearly missed that creamy beauty in a parched field of straggly weeds interspersed with shattered bottles and crushed Bud Light cans.
A hater of crowds, I often find myself slipping around to the edges of places — which sometimes yields discoveries and sometimes gets me lost.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that, on a late June Sunday afternoon, I suggest to my daughters we visit a pond where we haven’t been in years. We push kayaks into Little Eligo, a bit of water between the glacial dig of Lake Eligo — rumored to be crazy deep at one end — and Hardwick Lake, or the reservoir, on the other. Just off Route 14, Little Eligo is overlooked terrain. We’re in and across the lake in not much time at all. As we number three, and we have only two kayaks with us, the math works out that we stuff my younger daughter’s inflatable raft in the back of my Toyota, too — a giant triangle of sun-faded plastic pizza decorated with sliced green peppers and mushrooms — a little ridiculous, but that’s part of the pleasure, too. With scant fear of drowning on this sunny day in this small pond, I lie on my back while my older daughter paddles. She stops frequently to photograph the golden knots of pond lilies. At the far end, we drift near the remnants of a beaver dam. Sleepy in the sun, I spread out on the warm raft. Horsetails tickle my bare feet in the cool water.
It’s a Huck Finn kind of a Sunday afternoon. Water spills through the dam, flowing to other hidden places; redwing blackbirds serenade beneath the unsullied white of cumulus clouds chuffing across the sky. Horizontal on the water, I’m spread between those two vast unknowns — the unbounded sky beyond these flanking treetops and singing birds, the much higher-up aircraft ferrying travelers over the globe, and even beyond — to the moon, the distant planets and outer-worldly terrain where Saturn spins silently with her enormous ethereal rings. Beneath my toes, the pond life teems with minnows and swaying fronds, down to the murky mud.
We’re mostly quiet, the three of us, save for paddles dipping into water. We’re barely off frost-heave-plagued Route 14, not far from the town, but we’re concealed in this somewhat secret place. For this piece of the afternoon, I’ve stepped away from the garden, our house with the north-facing clapboards that really must be painted this summer, my eternal lists and laptop, and the ongoingness of our lives. We’ve traveled precisely eight minutes from our house, but the time isn’t measurable: we’re elsewhere.
Suspended on the water, I’m neither adult or child, simply summering for this moment.
Then, at last, we head home to pull radishes from the garden for dinner, and gather a handful of eggs to fry an omelet.