Before Dave and I had kids, our vacations were private and romantic, sort of like this Wilco/Woody Guthrie song. Specifically, we chose places where we could hide from people. We would put a backpack on and hike for miles into the woods, or drive around to the less-popular national parks with no big tourist attractions.
These hidden places are free of people who drive through the park loop with their camera hanging out the car window to take pictures (if you’ve been to a national park you know I’m not exaggerating).
But then you become a parent and quickly learn that when you take the kids on vacation, it is unwise to venture too far from running water. Our vacations are still creative and fun, but we have to maintain more of a home base: Beds. Food. Washing machines. So we end up in places that, while they still fit our style, are riddled with other people.
This is usually tolerable for the first couple of days, and at some point Dave and the boys turned it into a joke. They invented a Tourist Identification Guide (“There’s the round-bellied chocolate eater. Here we have a neo-hippie suburban mother. Note the markings: L.L. Bean”). But eventually you get to the point where you can’t stand to hear one more person yelling at their kids or somebody misidentify another plant.
While I’m on that topic, what is it about being in a national park that makes everyone think they’re a naturalist? “Oh these are rosa rugosa.” Really? Are you a park ranger? Do you identify plants while you’re back home, walking into the mall? “No that’s a Japanese cherry, not a linden.” Suddenly everyone has to comment on the flora around them (and clearly, it gets on my nerves). Maybe it’s just that for once they’re not too distracted by schedules, ipods, and cell phones to look at their surroundings.
Anyway, we’d spent the afternoon fighting our way through pushy people in Bar Harbor (and I’d worked myself up into a similar tizzy) when we came upon this:
A bunch of people — tourists, no less — spontaneously did this! It was amazing. We’ve been doing this hike for three years now and it was never there before. Somebody decided to add to the trail-marking cairns, and then it just grew. It’s a very rocky beach and there were literally hundreds of them all up and down the high water mark.
Everyone who saw them got excited – a teenage girl yelled to her brother, “Look how cool!” My boys of course were all over it and soon had dad involved. People who didn’t know each other chatted while their kids built. A middle-aged couple was building their own farther down the beach, which got to be almost four feet high, and when they finished they were high-fiving and hugging each other and taking pictures.
It was like spontaneous happiness. A place for everybody to play. And of course there’s nothing zen-ner than piling up rocks into a neat little pile. Isn’t that what all the ads and screensavers tell us?
Well it worked. I have to say, my faith in humanity was restored for another day.