We’d been trying to stay at home, stay away from crowds as much as we could, stay alert, stay safe, just stay — but the calendar didn’t stay, and the
We’d been trying to stay at home, stay away from crowds as much as we could, stay alert, stay safe, just stay — but the calendar didn’t stay, and the weather turned hot. At first, we improvised: We made a Slip ’N Slide with the leaf tarp in the front yard. We went for walks in post-thunderstorm rains. We filled laundry tubs with water from the hose, even, and set them in front of beach chairs in the driveway so we could dangle our feet in. It all worked for a while.
The boys, though, grew restless. They’re 7 and 10, suddenly lanky, with only two settings: full-out and asleep. They were seeing the same front yard, the same driveway, day after day. Their parents grew restless, too, for the same reasons. Cue, then, a happy accident: On his June birthday, we gave our older son a camping hammock for the backyard. For peacekeeping reasons, we bought his brother one, too, and when I got in the first one to make sure I’d hung it right, I fell in something like love with the whole idea. Ten minutes later, I ordered two more, one for my wife and one for me. Suddenly, we felt hope and possibility. We felt mobile. Soon enough, many of our summer days found us tossing the hammocks and our sandals in the van, passing a paper map into the back seat for the boys, and setting off to look for shade and moving water.
Secret creeks, the boys called them. We were looking for places not so far off the beaten path that we couldn’t hike in relatively easily, but not so public that there might be a parking lot full of people. Sometimes, we ranged far, making full day trips of it: the ankle-deep Swannanoa River on a footpath at Warren Wilson College; the gorgeous, perfect Little Fishing Creek in Medoc Mountain State Park well east of us, near Hollister. Sometimes, we stayed closer to home and aimed in the general vicinity of the Haw River, or we drove 45 minutes north to the Fall Creek waterfall, right on the Virginia border. We hung our hammocks and broke out picnic lunches and the boys built lean-tos out of sticks or made dams out of rocks and the whole thing quickly became very, very 1985. No phones. No screens. Just breeze, if we were lucky, and books and snacks and ripstop nylon and occasional Lord of the Flies-type altercations — though, to be honest, the boys were mainly great with all that space, chasing dragonflies and fish and what we hope were imaginary snakes.
A game sprang up between the boys in the car, one my older son borrowed from a summer camp carpool in years past. If we passed a lake, the boys had to say “laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake” until it was in the rearview. Same with corn, and then also hay, tobacco, rivers (those went mercifully quickly, for the most part), and kudzu. In this way, the ride itself was very much part of the trip, and the two of them running out of breath while trying to hold on to “cooooooooooorrrrrrrrrn” became the anthem of this long, strange summer.
We hung our hammocks and broke out picnic lunches and the whole thing quickly became very, very 1985.
We found a local secret creek, too, almost in our own neighborhood in Greensboro. I noticed it by accident, while out for a long run, and took the boys back one afternoon just after we got the hammocks. It became our home base, a place we visited two or three times a week, a spot with what you might call a waterfall if you were feeling generous, and places where, if you waded far enough up or down from that waterfall, you might imagine that you were in the Swannanoa instead of in the city. We could achieve this place on the spur of the moment, even half an hour before dinner. Even on a day when we didn’t, for whatever reason, have time to drive back to the past, we could pretend like we did.
It was our longer trips that I often found myself thinking of, though, while down in our nearby creek — of the boys in the van, tracing highways on the map with their fingers, giggling about what was or wasn’t secret. As the summer wore on, our little one could crack himself up running the litany of where we were heading: A creek with a name in a park with a name near a city with a name can’t be secret, he decided. Sure it can, his brother would say, but then up ahead, a cornfield would round into view. They’d laugh about that, too, and the water over the rocks in our local secret creek sounded like their laughter on our way to some new place. In that way, our whole summer became a song that sang itself, over and over, a song of hammocks and hope and knowing that even if we can’t be sure of much of anything these days, we can yet drive somewhere secret, near or far, to put our feet in the water and be still.