When I was still in school and under the responsibility of my parents, ever Spring Break we took the same trip – to Brown County, Indiana, to the state park there. I’m not sure exactly when we started doing it, or why. I know that when I was very young, my parents and my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Herb shared a smaller cabin with them there once.
Regardless of how it originally came about, it was the pattern of our time as a family for many years. I would go out into the coldness of spring with my sisters or alone, and rush down to the stream below our cabin in an attempt to warm myself. Once there, we would explore the various tiny ravines and streams, and the viny brambles of various swampy and flat-spreading waters. There were various projects to complete – the inevitable lean-tos of rotting limbs, the faulty attempts to dam the stream, and at least one game of Pooh Sticks over a bridge somewhere. My youngest sister and I would build little rooms and platforms for the fairies. Whatever the project, our noses would run and our fingers go stiff and numb with the chill of the stream water.
Back inside, or at evening when the sky became too unbearably cold, we would light a fire in the pot-bellied stove and play games or watch movies we’d brought. The warmth we created there was something physical, but also an opposition to everything else – to the cold outside, and to the world outside of the family. It is part of what makes me very, very close to my sisters and parents still. I value it, but at times it can also be dangerous, if it hinders me from extending that same warmth to those outside that well-nestled community.
Another piece of time at Brown County was the puzzles. There was always at least one going on a corner table, 1000 pieces or more. Not that we as a family are puzzle fanatics – we enjoy a challenge, or a good question, but are not always searching for them. But Brown County seemed to encourage a different way of seeing. We could go about our daily activities, and then look over to find a key piece once and awhile. Our eyes, rested and perhaps a little blurred in the relaxed atmosphere, tended to see general colors in place of the rigidity of edges. It is through this hazy vision, the soft focus of the yogis, that I think we saw each other a little more clearly as well. Without the distractions of work, school, friends, and outside experiences, we grated on each other’s nerves in those small cabins. But it was an honest grating, a roughness about all of our edges that needed to be sanded down a little.
Today I visited a similar, though much smaller, reserve not far from my apartment, called Beaver Brook. Though Mike and I did not stop to build anything or attempt to dam the stream, it was a relief to walk there. It was a relief to hop across little streams in the chill, to pick out rocks and bits of wood that might be good for the fish tank, to take delicate pictures of nothing that are some of the natural games of adults. We may not have been hidden away from the world in an isolation that would help to crystallize our relationship, but it was a start. I can still smell that damp winy richness of the black earth below rotting leaves. I hope it will sustain me through the coming week, through the tensions of job and everyday life, until I can go back for another breath.