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I share my kids with their Mom. One feature of our fifty/fifty split is that I get chunks of time to myself that seemed impossible when the family was intact. I wonder about other people’s partnerships. Are they able to figure this out without splitting up?
On a kidless weekend, I head up to my camp in Maine on a Thursday night. Waking up in Maine on a Fall Friday feels like stolen time. I caught a chunk of five or six hours of sleep before slipping out of bed on a chilly morning. As I get older, all I can hope for is a decent six hours before the worrying starts.
I get a fire going in the stove, make some strong coffee, and write for a few hours before slipping off to work on miscellaneous projects. A glance out the window shows promising weather. Low of 41 but potential to crack 60 at 2pm. You bundle up in the morning to ward off the chill and get to experience the joy of peeling layers off all day. I’ll duck into the barn at lunchtime to lift weights and stretch.
The crunch of tires on dirt and gravel brings me out of the delightful fog of checking things off my task list. I look out the window and see a silver Toyota with a short stack of surfboards strapped to the roof. I see Roger and Kenneth unbuckle their seat belts and dump themselves out into the driveway. They are smiling. Looking around. They hit a few post drive old guy yoga moves as I step through the screen door to greet my old friends. I feel a stab of nostalgia.
This has become so rare for us. Its become herculean to get a small crew of friends together for the sake of adventure and bonding. But here we are. The boys take a few lungfuls of the salty Maine air and I watch as their shoulders drop away from their ears. I deliver a couple of bear hugs to the boys. I always squeeze hard and for one beat longer than most. Especially because it makes Roger a little squirmy. I help the guys get their gear inside. They hit the loo and start getting settled. I pack a small cooler with six cold beers buried in crushed ice.
“So, boys, we can hang around here and start prepping a little dinner or we can go check the surf and postpone dinner for an hour or so,” I said.
Before I can finish the sentence, Rog and Ken respond. “Surf check,” they say in unison.
“I thought you might say that. Grab some warm gear. It’s nice out there, but it’ll be a chilly cruise back. We don’t need to bring boards or rubber because the wind will be wrong tonight.”
We bundle up and head down to the little dock out back. The motor turns over instantly. The boat is an old work skiff that my buddy Ryan was getting rid of. He needed a bigger setup to be able to haul and check his oyster pots, so he let me have this one for a song. I found a 90 horse Yamaha with low hours that makes it skip like a smooth flat stone. I get rid of the two lines and soon we are cruising down the river at golden hour. While we are idling along, I shove three beers into tight fitting koozies (sp?). They’ve gotten so cold that they hurt my hand. There are little shards of ice slipping down the side. I pass out the beers and gun the engine. After we plane off, I watch as my friends try to sip beer on a fast moving boat.
We leave the tidal river and make the turn north. In another twelve minutes we’ll be at the secret spot. There’s an uncrowded rock pile that looks like a Costa Rican A frame on a good day, only colder. As we get closer, I pull the throttle back so we can have a look and sip beer. We do a bunch of the incoherent muttering of sentence fragments that happens when three pals check the surf. The wind and tide are wrong but there is swell in the water. We drift for a few minutes so the boys can get a look. I point the skiff back towards home and we race the sun back to the dock. The sky looks like melting rainbow sherbet as we bump gently into the dock back at the house.
The guys slip off into the house to start prepping things for the early morning go out. Wetsuits to be laid out, boards to be waxed, nose sticks to remember. I head off to the kitchen to start prepping dinner.
I’ve got a couple of slabs of venison that have been defrosting in the sink. My neighbor Charlie dropped them for me this morning when he saw my truck in town. I helped him rehang the door on his barn last summer and this is his way of saying thanks. The tight knit community is one of my favorite things about spending more time up here.
I reverse sear the thick cuts of deer after rubbing them in oil and a generous dusting of a rub that I store in big shaker bottles. I pull together a quick salad to go alongside the protein. For the salad, I’ll combine chopped greens, thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden and add a couple rings of red onion and a few salty sunflower seeds for crunch. I toss the whole thing in a mixture of good olive oil, lots of fresh lemon, a blob of honey, and plenty of salt and pepper.
I make up the center island with plates and glasses and silverware. I roughly fold some plaid table napkins. I fill water glasses and crack a nice bottle of wine. The guys have finished their own work and are out on the deck with their forearms on the railing catching the last light of this Friday evening.
Dinner came out great. We ate until our bellies were full. I put out a little stack of cookies that I’d baked a few days ago. Oatmeal cookies with bittersweet chocolate and sea salt. Lots of texture. We nibble cookies and sit around and catch up until it’s time to head off to bed.
In the morning, I’m up before the sun, no alarm needed. I pull on some pants and a tarp and slip into my house shoes. At this time of day, I always stomp on the back of my shoes for easy entry. The task list is short this morning. Light a fire, make coffee, prep the gear, and head out.
I slip outside quietly and carry a gas can down to the dock.
On the walk back up to the house, I see two silhouettes moving about the kitchen. As we’ve gotten older we look much shittier in the morning. Our hair is all fucked up, our bodies are more rickety, and our skin looks paper thin under the eyes. Give us a few hours of sipping coffee and water and lubing ourselves up with creams and potions and we won’t look a day older than 38.
I fix us a few shots of espresso from the chrome machine sitting in a little nook on the counter. The grinding and dripping sounds of the machine mix with the smell of strong coffee. I add the mud to some mismatched mini cups and we sit on stools to make a plan.
“How are you feeling, lads?” I ask.
“Solid. Got six peaceful hours,” Ken answers.
Roger nods along in agreement.
I can see both guys looking over my shoulder out the bay window. They’re both eyeing the flag and looking to me for an initial assessment of conditions. I’m the sherpa for this trip.
“Here’s the scoop, boys. The flag is barely moving out there but when it does the direction is just right. I checked the bouys. It could be something today.”
No response. Just smirks.
We do another round of caffeine and the guys disappear into the house. We reconvene by the crackling stove. We’ve got our wetsuits halfway pulled up, showing off some graying chest hair and bellies larger than we’d like. We sit by the stove and pull on the rest of our rubber suits. On the way out the door, we pull on puffy coats and mittens.
The guys pad outside to fetch boards from the car to load onto the skiff. I quickly rinse our glasses. I scamper over to the barn and shoulder the door open. I go to the rack and select a favorite Jon Wegener board with lots of volume.
Minutes later, we shove off from the dock and are are flying across the glassy, blue black water. The sun hasn’t broken the surface of the horizon just yet. There are birds working the surface for bait fish and a couple of seals parked on big rocks that rise out of the channel. There are familiar stubbled faces in orange rubber working in the back of oyster boats. I’m stealing glances at flagpoles, keeping an eye on the wind. There isn’t much. The river widens and I hug the coast line for a few minutes before making the move towards the spot. The sun cracks the horizon and casts a low angle orange floodlight across the water.
I’m temporarily struck by a sense of gratitude. I can’t believe the good fortune that’s carried us to this moment in time. With all of the shitty stuff that life can dish out, there’s still space for pure joy.
As we close in on the rocky section, I can see light spray being dusted off the top of set waves that are peeling left and right. We exchange a couple of understated smirks. I slowly motor close to the lineup and send the boys over the gunwale after their boards. I’ll find a protected nook to anchor and give myself the longer paddle. It’s cold. As I’m paddling to meet up with the guys and squinting against the rising sun, I see Roger and Ken take off together and split an overhead glassy peak. Roger’s racing on his backhand and Ken is screaming down his line dragging his fingers in the face.
We trade head high silky waves for two hours before making the soggy dash home. We take turns peeling off our wetsuits in a screaming hot outdoor shower. We’re back in front of the stove chatting about favorite waves and dicey wipeouts. The boys slip into a peaceful catnap in front of the stove. I go upstairs with a book and slip into my own little trance. I’m not good at napping but sometimes I can slip into sleep’s waiting room for 20 minutes. Just enough rest to recharge the batteries for the afternoon session if conditions hold.
**If you like this piece, I did a couple more Mainedreaming pieces. You can find them here: