Campy Summer Camp, Part II

Today’s post comes from Clyde of Mankato

The Fusing of Two Memories

When I worked at Camp House, my room was right on the shore of Lake George. Many mornings when I got up very early for work, a mist hung over the water. I fell in love with the mist and often rowed a boat out into it to lie back and drift in a slow circle in the calm air.

Once when I was very young, our family on occasion went fishing on Lake McDougal near Isabella. The boat ramp was beside a resort. One early wet foggy morning a little girl in a nightgown spun slowly in the wet grass with her arms outstretched.

When I wrote my collection of stories about Northeastern Minnesota, the two memories fused into this sketch.

Called by the Mist 1928, August

Prudence Patience, never called Patty as she wishes, is summoned awake before the dawn. It is not her mother who summons, nor her father, nor her three older brothers. Nor a human voice at all, a summons only she can hear, even in her sleep.

She pulls a long gingham dress over long blond hair and over her night dress. Next are wool mittens, knit by her other grandmother, not the grandmother who owns this lake resort managed by her parents. Next is her hat, her hat, with a big flower on the side but which she wears to the front, given to her by a guest in June. But no shoes—Prudence Patience is not a willing wearer of shoes in the summer.

In her bare feet she steps in silence down the stairs of the main lodge to the side door, the hinges of which creak when opened. Prudence Patience, a small nine-year-old, a “mere lady slipper of a girl” her father calls her, can ease through the door before the hinges reach their point of protest. “Mere lady slipper of a girl” is her father’s tease about her wildness as much as her slim body. Next, before she steps out into the cold northern air which attracts their guests, she has to slink through the screen door, which is below her parents’ bedroom. She knows how to grasp the spring to stop its elastic screech and how to ease the screen door back into its frame. On the lawn, she turns and walks backwards to see the tracks her dragging feet channel in the heavy dew. She knows her route so well she can do it backwards without turning her head. When she reaches the dock, her skirts are soaked, for which she has been often chided this summer and will be again before the mother and children move back into town for school—the school, where the mist will not abide.

It is the mist suspended between lake and clouded night sky which called her awake and invited her into its otherworld of no dimension.

Prudence Patience chooses the smallest rowboat, as she always does, for which she has been often chided and will be again, not for choosing the smallest rowboat but for using a rowboat alone. With short strokes of the oars she rows out far enough to be lost from the shore. She lifts the right oar into the boat and uses both arms to give several hard pulls on the left oar. The boat spins counterclockwise. She lifts the second oar into the boat and moves to the front seat to lie down in the dew with her head below one gunwale and her bare feet hanging over the other. In silence the boat drifts its slow rotation in the sodden air and mirror water.

Creatures of water live in the mist, she imagines, but she does not imagine their shape. The creatures of the mist are indistinguishable from the mist. Creatures of water live in the lake and are indistinguishable from the water. She wants the boat to ever spin, the mist to ever hover, the wind to never breathe, sounds to never speak. She wants to never leave here, to ever be here with dew and mist and lake and fog and rain.

The mist enshrouds her by condensing on on her clothes and hair. The mist condenses in her eyebrows and runs down her temples into her ears. O, let it fill her ears and melt into her mind! She will not move and break the spell! Her hands loll down beside the seat touching nothing. The mist condenses in her long pale eyelashes. O, let it run into her eyes like tears! She will not move and break the spell! She will dissolve into water. She will join the creatures of the mist and be unseen. She commands silence upon the lake, no sound of screen door or human voice or creature which will reveal east from west or south from north.

As she blends into the mist, she forgets to hold her spell to hold the silence. A loon vibrates its plaint from their nesting ground in the reeds near her dock. She exhales. She forgets to breathe in! Another loon calls from a different direction. The spell is saved! She is lost again!

She breathes in and surrenders to the empty moment. A fish jumps by her head, telling her nothing, nothing at all.

She drifts on in her circle. Or does not. It no longer matters. Time tendrils into the mist. Time condenses on her skin. Time drips from her feet. Mist and time condense in her eyes blurring form. From the stern of the boat a blue heron clatters its beak. She is indistinguishable from the mist! Being of the mist, she feels not cold, she feels not wet.

The mist and time condensing in her eyes cannot shield her from the increasing light. The screen door slams! Her father calls, “Little Lady Slipper, come back off the lake.”

It has ended. He can see her. The mist has arisen and will return as rain.

In the lodge her mother tells her to get out of her wet clothes and hurry back to eat. As punishment, she will help with the laundry. She always helps with the laundry. At breakfast Prudence Patience sits in silence, regretting her return to solid form, coddled and teased by her family, who will again laugh at her if she again tells them she became water and chose to live with the creatures of the mist and not the creatures of the lake.

©2016 Clyde Birkholz

Is the summer you a creature of sunshine or of the fog, dew, mist, and rain?

 

 

25 thoughts on “Campy Summer Camp, Part II”

  1. Wow. Clyde that is beautiful. I’m not sure I want to leave another comment…

    (Though I shall and will say that summer is a creature of the sun, but sun mixed with the edges of damp and humidity – sometimes thick enough that you could cut the air with the right blade.)

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  2. Lovely, Clyde, just lovely. Such evocative prose. Love it.

    Depending on the humidity and temperature, the summer me is either limp as a wet dishrag, or reveling in the glory of the moment. I do best in temperatures below 80º F. I relish memories of many a perfect summer morning, day, and evening, often on the shores of a lake in northern Minnesota. Now, if only I could summon those memories without the intrusion of mosquitoes, I’d be in heaven.

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    1. I was given the formula for the summer heat index that kind of matches the winter wind chill index

      if you take the temperature and humidity and had them together 145 is where it starts to get uncomfortable so on and 80° day to humidity is below 65% that fits this equation it’s the humidity is at 80% it’s miserable and you need to have the temperature be at 7D actually at 65 in order to make the day comfortable

      this is all part of my 10 perfect days per year theory that I have studied over the years mosquitoes new Andrion has does humidity I was told and have observed that April and May are the ideal months to look for a 10 perfect days because of lower temperature and humidity and absence of mosquitoes

      there are exceptions last year being the most pronounced ever where we had over 100 perfect days I do take the liberty of pronouncing a day a perfect day myself without checking with other criteria but last year was exceptional
      mosquitoes and insects only out during that 15 minutes before and after sunset even though temperatures were high humidity’s or not and the 145 combined factor equation gave way to a little bit more flexibility and the perfect date quota went up dramatically
      this morning is a perfect morning here in Minnesota and it sounds like we’re going to have a nice week here’s wishing a beautiful spring and summer in 2016 to the far reaches of the baboon Congress in Ohio North Dakota southern Minnesota and even to Donna in South Dakota if he’s still around enjoy the day baboons enjoy the season thanks once again Clyde for the beautiful start to the day

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  3. thank you clyde
    milkweed is accepting submissions begining in july
    i encourage you to submit your stories and your novel.
    i love your voice

    my summers are there for me to observe in the moment. one of my favorite memories is of a morning in wyoming waking before my family and going for a drive in the mist
    the air and the light and the sounds were in perfect harmony with the mist forming a cover for the world 100 feet away and an aura for the one i was entering and departing on my journey
    buffalo in number elk stading guard a coyote scurrying along all in a perfect blanket the morning provided
    i recorded it on my phone or camera or whatever but the finest cinema can come close to matching the reality of the moment. thanks for allowing its return

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  4. The summer me is a Camelot me. In the daytime, give me sun. Plenty of it. Gardening, reading in my swing, drinks with neighbors in the deck, grilling with friends – I love it all. But a cool quiet rain (that comes down gently so I don’t have to close the windows) is also calming and soothing.

    Thanks for such a nice piece, Clyde.

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  5. The summer me definitely wants a mosaic mix of sun and the cooling mists and rains. Minnesotans don’t get much mist and fog here unless we go up to the lake. Ooh, I just realized – I’ll have to try and get over to Winona’s lake in the early morning once we get there.

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  6. Your writing is such an inspiration, Clyde – keep it coming!!
    OT: news just came through that Prince had called a CA addiction specialist about kicking his pain killer addiction the day before he died. The doctor couldn’t arrange to meet right away, so he sent his son who’s also an addiction specialist. It was this man who called 911. From my experience, people who finally decide to withdraw often binge just before quitting. Not a whole lot different than that last cigarette really.

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  7. I will add my kudos for a well written piece, Clyde. I am mostly a creature of the sun. But like PJ, I wilt if the humidity gets too high. I do like fog (as long as I don’t have to drive in it) – especially along the shores of Lake Superior when I visit friends who have a cabin north of Grand Marais.

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  8. Driving Sandy up to the Cities today.
    I knew this was not going to be very stimulating. Just could not think of a good question.

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    1. it is very stimulating and the question sometimes stands in the way of the reaction.

      i was always a sunshine perosn and had little thought r reaction to the gray.
      in the summer of 1973 i was the rookie construction worker who worked outside and found out that if the foreman let you work for even 5 minutes you got paid 1/2 a day or something like that. the first day on the job was 90 degrees and the sun baked the enery out but the job was new and the whole thing was a fresh experience. as the summer progressed we had rain days pop up every so often. stan the forman n his first formans assignment would have us go out into the rain for the shorest time after the morning prework coffee and then proclaim a rain day. at 715 45 minutes from home as the rest of the world is coming into work in the rain it is interesting to consider the options available to an 18 year old whose interests were all fresh and alive. i learned that summer to love the rain days when the world acts very differently than t does on the sunny days. there is a commardarie among celebrating hte rain that is different and more subdued than the celebration of the sun.
      people who can celebrate the rain are special

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      1. On a two week tour of Ireland in 1984, I was so disappointed that they were having a drought and every day was sunny but the last when we had to leave…

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  9. Elegant and evocative prose, Clyde. I like it very much. I have to wonder, though, why 1928? The specificity implies there is something significant about that year but I can’t guess what that would be. Nothing in the story is necessarily fixed to that time.
    Regarding the question, I can’t make that binary choice. It begs context, circumstance, nuance. Nothing I could answer would be sufficient.

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  10. Thank you for the compliment.

    Why the date: it is one of a collection of 33 stories in a set called “Everything is South of Here” all set in NE MN. I made the stories cover a span of time from prehistory to 2016, covering the 1900’s especially with the date at the start of each story like that. I woke up dreaming this story remembering when I had seen that girl dancing in about 1952. I wanted this story set in the era before kids have media. I set it in 1928, before the 29 crash. I knew an man whose family had a resort in the 1920’s and then lost in in the crash. He talked about going back to Ely for school while his parents ran the resort into the fall. So all that fell into place. It never occurred to me pull the date on here, although I guess kids before media has some impact on the story in any case.

    An odd piece of luck happened last week. I wrote a story about a boy on the cusp of puberty. His family goes to town on warm summer evening to buy ice cream and the Saturday evening Post, where he sees poor male adult behavior on the street. So I decided I would make it a particular week to make it feel concrete, choosing the middle of July, 1951, a year I think of as a cusp on the of loss of innocence. Then I decided I would see what the cover of the Post was that week. So help me, it was a Rockwell cover called “The Facts of Life” of a father talking to a very discomforted son.

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