Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Marooned explorers

Since June, we have been reading a lot here about Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, 7 books so far. The one currently on the bedside table is Secret Waters, a tale in which the Swallows are left well provisioned and marooned, by their cheerfully supportive and adventurous parents, on an island in an archipelago which they plan to map.

pymatuning state park - view from the dam

Last weekend, we took this book for car reading en route to Pymatuning, for Brian's departmental retreat. There, we stay in cabins, enjoy campfire and volleyball, and canoe, depending on the wind, either simply out and back or all the way to the islands distant but visible through the waterlilies at the shore. Sunday morning, while Brian was at talks, we joined another canoe-load of explorers and paddled to distant shores.

I kept wishing I had my camera, though later I was glad I did not. First, the other mom and I filled a bag with pirate gold (remarkably resembling U.S. coinage) and a provisions (granola bars). Then, the kids drew an outline of the island in the sand while I buried the treasure, and then upon my return marked it on their sand-map with an X. They went on an expedition, found the treasure, divided it up, and played a while.

Then, the other explorers had to begin their trek back to pack their belongings, while the girls and I stayed a few minutes more. Bored of just watching them, I told them they were marooned and I paddled around the island a few times, and each time round I pretended to attack, and Emily pushed me back out to sea. Finally, I told them it was the last round.

I don't canoe as much as I'd like. I've so rarely had a chance to do it alone I'd forgotten how canoes don't like solo paddlers in their sterns. Three-quarters of the last loop around, I found myself turning in a breezelet, and suddenly blown over, capsized. Let hurt than embarrassed, I lacked the grace and good humor to laugh with Emily at myself but instead put much of my remaining energy into bailing water using the oar and my hands before it was light enough to tip out on shore. I was *so done* with the adventure, which had finally stopped being a play adventure and become a bit more real than I'd wished (a theme common to the Swallow's stories as well).

I didn't, like the Swallows, become heroic in any fashion, unless you count me becoming a peg-legged, hook-handed Blackbeard telling the other pirates grumpily to bail with me and climb aboard. We did get back, though, and the treasure was saved, and the camera, safe in the cabin, wasn't missed after all - it would have been destroyed in the wreck.

The next day, my arms were still shaky with fatigue as I was writing on the chalkboard during my classes. My knee has a bump on it still from the gunwale of the canoe, a reminder of our adventure at sea. I only hope that what the girls remember is that I got them there, that the adventure was rather realistic and still fun, and not that mommy turned into the ugly side of Captain Hook for a moment. Fiction and real life met briefly, and the real kids and the fictional kids won, while the friendly native, as the Swallows and Amazons call their mothers, may have proved herself to be an enemy after all. I would like to think that Ransome would be pleased anyway.

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