Just back from our end of the year camping trip and feeling wiped out, worn down, aimless and excited. In years past we've camped at Lake Mendocino in a forested beach-side group camp-site that spills down into the water. The time floated dreamily by on a sea of talent show goofiness, soccer on thick green grass, and hours of splashing, canoeing, and, my favorite, swimming across the lake. I'd stay up late with the kids, playing word games around the fire-pit, warmed inside and out.
The end of the year trip was always as light and buoyant as the banana boat the kids clamored to ride over and over again, even if it meant getting thrown off in a menacing amble of sharp elbows and knees. On the third and final day I'd linger long as I could, one last swim, one last sun bath, one final dip to get cooled.... it was a wonder I'd ever leave, with a car full of girls who insisted on shouting the lyrics along to the Grease sound-track as we soared hot down highway 101. We'd stop for ice cream in Hopland; once we even pulled off the highway for a decadent float down the Russian River where it gushes green through Squaw Rock. Those were the days---when the end always came too fast, when my yearbook overflowed with long letters from dozens of students.
This year was different. The Lake Mendo group site is closed due to budget cuts, so we camped at Benbow on the Eel River, which was rocky, frigid, and definitely too shallow to tug a banana boat. Drastically fewer kids, quieter, so mellow I actually felt restless, burned by a hazy sun, swept down river by a fierce current. Too many blank pages in my yearbook, too much leftover cake from graduation. Just after the talent show, which was still goofy, still great, I felt water graze my face. We stood around the roaring bonfire and flashed stunned smiles, hastily saving the wilting books and edibles from this unexpected rainfall. I was in the tent earlier than usual, listening to the sky cry above me as kids, determined to stay up all night, murmured and chewed on candy. In the morning the gray sky warned against a swim. On the drive home, in the shade of a thick redwood grove, I listened to David Byrne sing “it was a shopping mall, now it’s all covered in daisies...” and I thought, there is no stopping time. “You got it, you got it.”
We took the two students who also live in Santa Rosa, so this year, for the first time, we didn't have to return to the community center in Sebastopol and wait for the parents to pick up their tired and dirty children. Cami and Marisa lingered at our house for over an hour after we got home. I fixed them a snack of cheese and bread and we looked at old yearbooks, marveling at the baby faces of those now grown. We all seemed too tired to say good-bye. They tinkered on the piano and surveyed my book shelves. We talked lazily about nothing in particular.
We held on tight, but inevitably the banana boat always flips. When they finally left, Cami with an old Nonesuch student who came to pick her up, Marisa on foot to catch the bus, I left the front door open, half expecting them to come right back.