“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”
-Frodo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring
I’m so sorry I didn’t get to see you this year. I got married and some of my family and dear friends flew all the way to Scotland to see us tie the knot. I wanted to share it with you, but we just didn’t have the means. But we had perfect weather and a day I’ll never forget, followed by a week in Corfu. It was the best time of my life.
But I’ve had lots of “best times”. Last year, the best time I’d ever had was the week I spent with you. My husband-to-be and I rented one of the same cabins that my family and I always rented when visiting you on the Ryan Trail. Every summer from when I was a baby, we rented a cabin on that trail or sometimes others, and stayed a week or more. Playing in the creek, at the beach, on the playgrounds, visiting the A-building museum and gift shop, hiking the trails, fishing at Red House or Science Lake, exploring woods, spotting animals, roasting marshmallows, playing board games on the screened porch with the glorious scent of the falling rains, smelling of campfire, looking for salamanders post-rain, climbing Thunder Rocks. The list is endless and some of the best memories of my thirty-four years are with you.
As I got older, my sisters and I would bring a tent and camp. Then it got to be short visits, a day here or there, when I lived away from home, but I’ve only missed a very small handful of summers with you. In recent years I’ve made sure I came back. Last year topped them all: the first time I’d stayed in one of your ash-scented green cabins since childhood. Opening that creaking, battered screen door, the smell I hadn’t thought of since I was ten hit me like a nostalgic tidal wave, washing memory after memory over me.
My parents came down with us to help us set up. I’d never stayed in a cabin there as an adult, so Mom had a long list of everything she remembered she always packed. An axe, matches, antibacterial gel, buckets, dish soap and pan, tons and tons of newspaper, citronella candles, Trivial Pursuit, a mirror, a nightlight, a lantern, a kitchen full of food . . . a car’s worth of supplies.
It was a beautiful week. Every evening, we walked around Red House Lake with the setting sun, looking for the animals that came out at dusk. I showed my future husband the place most important to me that feels like part of why I am who I am. One of my sisters and her family came to visit for a day. I loved seeing the kids’ faces enjoying everything the way I enjoyed it, hopefully making memories like the ones I’ll always cherish.
You’ve always been my favorite place on Earth. You remind me of all that was good and fun and exciting in my childhood, and when I go back, it’s like I’m 6 years old again, without a care in the world.
This year, I missed you. After our amazing week last year, I swore I’d never miss you again, even if we were reunited for only one day in a summer’s visit home. Life has other plans sometimes. My passport has been in the hands of the UK Border Agency for several months now, stuck in their backlog of visa applications, and I missed seeing you this summer. And as the summers disappear quicker than a blink, I realize how precious my time is, and what I do with it counts more than ever.
Next year, we’ll be back. We’ll rent a cabin and I won’t spend a second of my time with you thinking about anything else. But knowing that you’re there, even when I can’t be, that other people are enjoying you— that makes my heart happy.
Thank you for a lifetime of memories, and the rest of my lifetime for even more. I can’t put a value on the amount you ignited my imagination as a child, and how much joy you always bring me. Maybe someday I’ll introduce my own kids to you. Please don’t let anyone change you, and I’ll see you next summer.
P.S. I could do without the hanging caterpillars, though.