Reblog: The Unofficial Start of Summer

So, after my first post on the Times Union Book Blog – which garnered a read and twitter mention from Sarah freaking Dessen – I was a little worried about what I would write for them next. How do I top that? Did I really peak at post ONE?! While it’s still possible I peaked at post one, I think my second post, put up last Friday, was a pretty good one. I haven’t been able to figure out how to actually reblog it on here for you all to see, so I’m going to post it below. To view it on the actual Times Union blog site, go here: 🙂

So now, my Times Union blog post, The unofficial start of summer:

It’s finally Memorial Day Weekend, the first weekend of the year most people get out their grills, invite a bunch of people over, and have a barbecue.

Or, if you’re like my family, you go camping. My parents, and a group of their friends, started going camping Memorial Day Weekend literally 30 years ago in 1985, before any of them had kids. Only some were married. Flash forward, and you’ll see 13 families who are forever connected – even if some don’t go on the annual trip anymore. I have never missed a full weekend. My sister went on her first trip at 5 days old. This weekend is something that, beyond “starting” summer, is incredibly important to me and my family. We have 21st century amenities – and I’m not ashamed to report that! We go camping in forests, usually, always near water.

Memorial Day camping in 1996-ish. I'm in the center, on my dad's shoulders.
Memorial Day camping in 1996-ish. I’m in the center, on my dad’s shoulders.

Do you see the trees in that picture? I can still smell them when I think back to those times. Honestly, any time I’m in a densely wooded area, I think of camping during Memorial Day Weekends throughout my life.

Has there ever been a book where the description has brought you back to one of those moments? To a place and time where you were surrounded by nature, by your loved ones, and that was all that mattered? I found a novella like that recently, where the narration brought me back so quickly to the places I’ve been over the years with my camping family, and what they mean to me.

Memorial Day Weekend camping in 1996-ish. I'm in the center on my dad's shoulders.
Memorial Day Weekend camping in 1996-ish. I’m in the center on my dad’s shoulders.

That novella,  by Norman Maclean, is called “A River Runs Through It.” The title story in a semi-autobiographical book of novellas, it focuses on two brothers who learn to fly fish at a young age from their father, a Presbyterian minister, in Montana.

It’s a heavy story – one that doesn’t remind me of my camping excursions necessarily in its plot. But as I read it, I continuously felt drawn back to those moments I can most remember about Memorial Day Weekends and what they’ve meant to me over the years.

At one point, the narrator (while we can assume it’s Norman, he is never named and therefore I’ll call him the narrator) is discussing the Big Blackfoot, a river the narrator and his brother, Paul, have fished on since they were children. As he discusses the way the river formed – from a glacier, so it runs completely straight – and how that affects the fishing – the trout are super large! – he has a small quip on why it’s so important to him:

“Besides, it is the river we knew best. My brother and I had fished the Big Blackfoot since nearly the beginning of the century–my father before then. We regarded it as a family river, a part of us…”

When my family and I are camping, what we love most is being on the water. For a while now, our group has spent Memorial Day Weekend at a campground on the Walkill River in Upstate-ish NY. It’s a calm, mostly slow moving river. Over the years I’ve swam and walked through it, but my favorite thing is to kayak down it. Each year, we take a 2-3 mile kayak ride back to our campsite. The incredible thing is, despite the same route, it’s never the same trip. Each year, even each day, the river’s level changes, new rocks show up, others are buried. The small section of “rapids” – always a laughing moment – varies in difficulty each time.

That river, like the Big Blackfoot for the brothers, is our family river.

At the Big Blackfoot, the narrator takes the time to watch Paul fly fish, describing his cast in incredible detail:

“I had a fish, so I sat down to watch a fisherman… Then he steadied himself and began to cast and the whole world turned to water…he would cast hard and low upstream, skimming the water with his fly but never letting it touch. Then he would pivot, reverse his line in a great oval above his head, and drive his line low and hard downstream, again skimming the water with his fly. He would complete this grand circle four or five times, creating an immensity of motion which culminated in nothing if you did not know, even if you could not see, that now somewhere out there a small fly was washing itself on a wave…He called this ‘shadow casting’…”

Despite a description of Paul earlier in the story, I read this and viewed my dad, standing on the side of the river, casting a normal fishing rod into the water. I know, it doesn’t make much sense – but that’s what good stories do to you. This truly remarkable description of a clearly remarkable fly fisherman brings back the memories of watching my dad fish, whether in his kayak or on the shore, in our family river during Memorial Day Weekend. I know I’m biased, but my dad is the best fisherman, particularly the best caster he’s always reminding me, that I’ve ever known. I understand and deeply comprehend the narrator’s reverence for his brother in that moment, which is probably why it was so easy to be carried back to thoughts of my dad.

It’s always the best books and stories that can bring us back to a specific place or moment of time. A River Runs Through It, regardless of plot or setting, was a story that brought me back to the unofficial start of summer.

Where have books taken you?

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