We’re packing up for a canoe ride on the Eno River, my wife and I. It’s her birthday. We have waters, sandwiches, hats, a change of clothes and sunscreen. We’re good at packing together; we’ve done it a hundred times. We have a checklist, we know the drill.
“We’re going on a bear hunt,” she laughs and calls to me from upstairs. Our kids used to love the book by that name, about a family that sets off on an adventure into the unknown across a field holding hands with smiles on their faces.
My wife is full of energy and anticipation. The water will be clear and still, the sky will be bright blue with slow clouds. We’ll see a turtle sunning herself on a log, old beaver lodges on the shore line, and duck together under fallen trees, branches full of many shades of green.
We will see cascading blankets of mountain laurel, hugging the steep hillside bordering the river. We’ll join our dozen other trip companions in their sleek, rainbow-colored kayaks, sharing the awe of the peacefulness of a spring morning on a river.
There was no master plan when we moved into our house in the middle of woods, crisscrossed by fire paths, stands of pine growing in old corn fields and natural surprises around every turn. Our bear hunts were just beginning. We wanted to be closer to nature, in with the seasons’ turns, not just watching the scenes out the car window.
My wife joked that I saw the world through my own four seasons: the wood pile and wood stove, our egg-a-day-miracle chickens, ripe blueberries and tomatoes, and the wonders of the night sky, full moons and shooting stars. Each new season was celebrated for its truths, its new, yet familiar sounds and smells: the happy, exclaiming birds, the tree frogs and spring peepers, the howls of the coyotes and the high, happy voices of children playing through the woods.
Of course it’s been an adventure raising a family in these woods. We embraced the rain that provided racing creeks always needing bridge repair, the trees that framed tree houses and doll houses, and the driveway that ate wheelbarrows of gravel each spring. We enjoyed the community of our neighbors down the paths, trading fresh eggs for bread and kale and reaping a generous honey harvest each summer.
While our daughters loved the dogs, the Christmas tree bonfires and marshmallows, the living room camp-outs and discovering fresh garlic, dill and basil right out their backdoor, they were always fascinated by “going to town.” They were curious about what else was out there.
When they became teenagers, they mused about what it would be like to live beyond the moat, as they called their imagined cloistered life. “I just want to live somewhere where I can see the road from our front porch,” exclaimed one girl. Her sister proclaimed, “I just want to be able to walk to a corner store.”
With Orange County clay in their souls and James Taylor’s rhymes in their hearts, it’s no wonder they ended up in the churning, urban youth meccas of Oakland, Calif. and Washington, D.C. They love coming home, putting on their mud boots and tromping through the forest looking at our latest projects or discoveries. Nothing tops a new atamasco lily or the kerplick, kerplunk of a blueberry bucket.
Here’s a local news update. A family of owls has moved in next door, raising babies in a tall, bare, rotten pine tree. Their random hoots liven up the day as they watch us from 30 feet in the air. Either a lucky deer or a big rabbit has found a way into our garden – the first nibbles at tomato plants were spotted over the weekend. The strawberry farm down the road is having a box-office year. We’re buying them by the bucket and filling the freezer.
I’ve written about many bear hunts, sharing these Our Lives columns. This is my last. It has been so much fun, now it’s time to step off the carousel. Thanks for the words, the inches, the commas, the deadlines, the focus, the mirror and the realness. Thanks for reading my stories.
I’m thankful for all I’ve had, thankful to be noticing the joy in simpler things. I’m grateful for all the years I had with my parents, grateful to have shared so much with them over the years, grateful to have shared all that was passed on. I’ll be seeing you down the trail and on the street. All the best.
John Valentine firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This month, we’ll be introducing two new Our Lives columnists.