Everyone needs a place to which he can escape the concerns of the everyday world and just unwind. My parents graced our family with such a place - the cottage. When my parents divorced (i was 8) this abode of serenity stayed with my father.
I know that my father often looks with regret on his divorce, blaming himself for the struggles his children faced as they grew. I have told him, and I now tell you reader, that because of the divorce I was given a gift that many children of my generation never experienced. The gift of my father's full attention. Each weekend my dad would drive to our house, pick-up my brother, sister, and me; away we would go. Sometimes the oldest 3 siblings would join us, sometimes not. Regardless of who was there, at the cottage dad would be in charge of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and caring for us kids. There was no mom to take over the daily duties or clean our scraped knees. It was all dad.
I learned to drive a golf cart, caddy when he wanted to play a "quick 9 holes," shoot a BB gun, and fix a minibike (ok that didn't stick but you get the idea). I learned all about Paul Bunyan and how to roast a perfect marshmallow at our regular fires. That only sissies don't bait their own hooks and how to take a fish off a line without getting poked by gills and scales. I had to prove that I would not drown by swimming across the lake as dad rowed beside me, before I could venture to the raft without a lifejacket. In addition to these, there were innumerable more lessons that I take with me. But above all, I learned the gift of tranquility that can be found in a quiet wood.
Dad would grab the bug spray and we would head-out. Walking new or old paths, we would look for signs from nature. Dad would talk about sassafras and gum trees. (He knew an awful lot for a city kid from Detroit and businessman from Chicago.) We would find and eat wild raspberries. My brother and I would play explorer and pretend we were lost in jungles. We would find old stone house foundations and Dad would talk about the Underground Railroad. He created a vision in my head of a world filled with opportunity, mystery, and safety. In short, he gave us his time. A precious commodity in the life of any adult. In the woods there were no trees to trim or boats to tinker with. There was the adventure the conversation and us. That was it.
It is no wonder that last summer as we visited the cottage my sister and I were hit by the need to bring our children back each year. Sadly, I will not be making the trip this year. It weighs heavily on my mind. My father is getting older and my children love the freedom the small lake with small local woods have to offer. Hubby and I will pack-up our family and head to the woods, but they will not be northern woods. They will be woods that pose real dangers in the guise of alligators and snakes. But as my father taught me in my childhood, woods of any kind are filled with mystery, opportunity, tranquility, and above all are a symbol of the love and time a parent is willing to share with his children.