When I was a pre-teen, I went to sailing camp. We had several within an hour’s drive of New Bern, and I had asked if I could go away to sleep-away camp since so many of my friends did something similar each summer. So I went to Camp Don Lee, the more affordable of the two camps near my house. The fact that it was a sailing camp was by no means the draw. I just wanted to experience that archetypal adventure of so many people my age.
What followed was a testament to my awkward adolescence. I didn’t mesh with the cool kids because, well, I usually don’t. I spent many hours dreading the high dive (I did eventually overcome this fear). I tipped over a canoe, partly because of my own ineptness and partly because I hated the girl who was in the boat with me. And, finally, I rammed my little sail boat into a local yacht and ripped my sail. I was Camp Don Lee’s worst nightmare.
So today I came full circle when I accompanied an experienced sailor and Robin on a trip around Lake Windermere in Ambleside, England. Robin really wanted to do it because she is presenting on Swallows and Amazons later this week and thought it would be good research (most of the sailing terms in the book went over all our heads). I just wanted to get in a boat since we have a lake so conveniently close.
I actually had a lot of fun. Our instructor, Gary, was one of those philosopher boat men that you think only exist in Hemingway stories. He called me “Michele, ma belle” after the Beatles song and described me as “practical” (he nailed that one, for sure). He was extremely sarcastic and occasionally broke off into random tangents about life and finding one’s passion. I feel privileged to have met him because I definitely think there was a little of my dad in him.
The sailing itself went well too. I took to the tiller pretty well and was starting to anticipate the wind by the time we neared the dock. We also visited the boat house of an old castle along the shore that a rich doctor had built for himself and his new wife in the late 1800s. According to Gary, the man’s new wife decided (on their wedding night when she got her “present”) that she didn’t like it, so they never lived in it. The English call such projects “folly.” That is not an unfamiliar word to Americans, but the English use it quite often to describe frivolous and expensive projects that the rich do for impractical reasons.
I loved being on the water in a non-motorized boat. There were no sounds in our direct vicinity except for the murmur of the wind against the sail and the occasional splash as our boat glided across the water. I’m not going to run out and get my captain’s license tomorrow but I can add sailing to the list of outdoor activities that I enjoy.
I know I’m a different person than I was at Camp Don Lee so many years ago. I have the benefits of experience, the scars from various tragedies, the laugh lines from happy times, and the increased brain function that comes from trying to decipher Chip Sullivan’s feelings toward your written work. I have, in short, grown up. Not so much that I can’t discuss the merits of the Disney film Emperor’s New Groove with a favorite student, but I am certainly an adult. There are times, like today, when I am completely content with the adult that I have become.