Friday, March 6, 2009

Adirondack Camping With Maya

Adirondacks August 2008

This was Maya’s first year camping with us. She seemed not to understand why we loaded up the back of the station wagon with canoe paddles and orange life jackets. Nothing seemed unusual to her about the cooler in the back of the car – we had often filled up the cooler for the two and a half hour drives to our farm house. Perhaps she didn’t see the trailer riding along behind the car either.

Maya is a good traveler in the car. Many times she withstood the more than two hour drive to Allentown, PA (where Catholic Charities and her foster mother are located). She had even made the five hour car ride to Washington D.C. with us recently in her usual go-with-the-flow attitude. So, the six hour drive up to Brown Tract Pond near Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks passed uneventfully for everyone. Certainly Maya had no cause to believe that this trip would end much differently than the others had.

Maybe it was when we parked the car and trailer in a remote wooded location that she began to suspect that this trip was different than the rest. By the time the tent was set up and she wandered inside, she knew something unusual was afoot. She began to exclaim “Wowee!” and “Oh!” as she saw new things – her cot and sleeping bag in the tent, the campfire, the canoe in the water.

It will be several years until Maya understands the Gardner family tradition of tent camping that she has inherited. One day she will come to learn how her grandfather painstakingly built our trailer from the front end of a ’48 Dodge he salvaged from the junk yard. (And how her Ima waited several days past the time they were supposed to depart for him to finish it.) She will learn how the tent is the same one that her Daddy camped in when he was a little boy – with his two brothers and two sisters and parents. (I hope that, like me, she will be delighted that we are not so tight in the tent as to require bunk cots or – heaven forbid – a triple bunk cot!) In fact, Trent has begun to strike out on his own this year now that he is 12. He pitches his own sleek single-man tent he bought for Boy Scouts next to our Victorian canvas family tent. In the large tent, we have the girls – Maya, Michela and myself – and their father and my husband, Tim.

I think the family Maya was born into would be proud of Maya’s camping activities with us. Her great grandmother is a native American from the Delaware or Lenni Lenape tribe (later subsumed into the Cherokee Nation). In fact, Maya’s biological mother Nikki chose a natural outdoor park setting along a canal for one of our early visits together. She told us it was one of her favorite places that her parents used to take her when she was little.

If Maya has the great outdoors in her blood, she didn’t let on that first night in the tent. She cried much of the night, frightened by the loons calling out on the lake and the sound of her sleeping bag rustling in the quiet night air.

Having tended to Maya all night, I slept through her first canoe trip in the morning. Tim, Trent and Michela all reported that she didn’t fight having to wear the life jacket – not too much anyway. Michela paddled in the front of our Grumman Aircraft aluminum canoe. Tim steered and paddled from the back while Trent held one of the straps on Maya’s life vest, keeping her from diving over the edge of the canoe while allowing her to walk around a bit. Maya thoroughly enjoyed dragging her hands through the water and splashing as my family made its way around Brown Tract Pond.

Since that first trip, Tim has taken Maya out paddling alone early in the morning or at sunset. She has enjoyed these trips with her Daddy. She even convinced him to let her paddle – showing her resolve about having had enough by throwing the paddle overboard. Tim describes watching the paddle drift first five, ten and fifteen feet away in the current before deciding to lay his body over the front of the canoe and doggy paddling with his hands to chase after the floating canoe paddle. Truly experiencing the adage “up a creek without a paddle,” he managed to reach out and grasp the paddle, pulling it back into the boat. I noted without saying a word that he took two paddles with him on each of his subsequent canoe trips with Maya.

As active as she was in those trips with her Daddy, we were all thankful that it was Maya’s naptime when we decided on a whim to paddle the “Crick” between Brown Tract Pond and Raquette Lake just as the storm hit. Our neighbor at the camp, an avid camper whose license plates on his truck declared ADK CMPR, had told us that the small “crick” near where we were camped would take us to the larger Raquette Lake. On a morning when the clouds threatened, we decided to venture up the creek. We figured that we would turn around if it began to rain. Trent took the front seat, paddling, while Tim steered and paddled from the back. Michela sat second position and I sat third, with Maya on my lap. I decided to leave my running shoes on the bank of the pond near the camp to keep them dry in case we tipped. Michela had her flip flops on. The boys had on socks and shoes. Only Michela and I had sweatshirts, which we quickly put in the clear “dry bag” when the drizzle started. Because it was only a light drizzle, we decided to keep going and try to make it to Raquette Lake as it seemed we must be surely half way. The drizzle stopped for awhile, but continued to threaten in the distance. Maya fell asleep in my arms just before the downpour. I kept my arms wrapped around her, her soft, curly hair just below my chin. Michela kept my feet warm by sitting on them and tucked her arms in her shirt. We decided that Tim could walk the two miles back to the campsite for dry clothing and our car while we waited at the General Store on Raquette Lake. When we got there. . . .

We were very discouraged when we saw no sign of the lake around every corner. Two roads required us to portage the canoe and re-launch on the other side. One fallen log forced us to climb out and stand on the log, pulling the canoe over it by hand. Several times we had to duck down or lay very low in the boat in order to pass under fallen trees or branches. As Maya slept, the four of us talked about how families had to pull together to make it through hard times. So, Michela and I encouraged Tim and Trent in their paddling and told them how thankful we were to have such strong men in our family. Though we were shivering, we determined not to complain but to dream about what it would be like to be warm. Neither Tim nor Trent complained about the hard work of paddling fast to get us their, either. We all determined we could withstand another hour if that is what it took. (We had already been out on the creek over an hour and a half.)

Seeing several Great Heron up close in the tall grasses and among the beautiful lillypads made the trip special. Finally, seeing a kayak coming towards us gave us hope. At least we knew there was a way out. The kayakers told us that it would be about another hour until we hit the Lake. We soon saw two more canoes and our spirits were lifted. (We were envious that they had ponchos and we had forgotten to take ours. That is all it would have taken to make the trip so much more enjoyable.) Michela wanted a second opinion. She asked them how much longer until we hit the Lake. They said a half hour to forty five minutes. As the rain lightened up (and Maya remained asleep and warm in my arms), we knew we would make it.

Under the bridge in just over forty minutes, we paddled into the sun – now shining – triumphantly onto Raquette Lake. Our success was made all the sweeter when the owner of the General Store graciously offered to drive Tim back to the camp to get our car. That meant that Trent, Michela, Maya and I would not have to wait too long until Tim returned with warm, dry clothes and money to buy hot cocoa and treats for having endured the trip. We jokingly decided we would question Mr. Adirondack Camper on his definition of a “crick” upon our return to camp.

That canoe trip baptized Maya into the Gardner camping rituals. Thereafter, she became a veteran camper, crying out “ga-noo!” whenever she wanted her Daddy to take her paddling. She also learned the joys of Graham crackers (“crackey”), marshmallows (“mashalow”), and chocolate (“chockey”). She learned to chew on tooth picks, call to passing ducks, and admire the sunset. Maya delighted in picking raspberries (only the red ones) and blackberries (only the black ones). After a couple of nights, she insisted on sleeping in “Maya’s cot” during the night, scooching far down into her sleeping bag to stay warm. She learned to paddle, well almost. And even attempted to light the Coleman lantern and stove. (We think we will hold off on teaching her that until she is 5.)

Next year we hope that Maya learns to pull her weight hiking. (Daddy wasn’t feeling up to hiking with her in the back pack this year.) We also hope that she’s out of diapers and not as messy when she eats next year. We hope she will abandon her habit of pulling on the tent stakes and tossing the paddles overboard. But this year, despite her novice status – or maybe because of it – we thoroughly enjoyed camping with her. Maya reminded each of us of the first time we watched the pink sunset over a lake. Goodnight Sun!

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