Every summer, my Mom and I take a trip. We were planning to drive around Lake Michigan, but a dear friend is graduating from LSU with a PhD in French. She is the daughter of the Irish friends that I just visited with in Ireland and when they spoke of their plans to travel to America with Granny, uncle and aunt in tow for the graduation, I realized that I needed to be there too. Mom doesn't mind the change; she's good with whatever ride we take (Mom is pictured above in front if the lodge).
Our first stop is Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois. I graduated from college nearby, but when I was in school, I really never made it to the park very often because no one I knew owned a car. Since then, I have always wanted to stay at one of the cabins in the woods and here I am. We are only here for the night because I have cooked up an itinerary for us to hop down to Louisiana. We mustn't dawdle.
Most of Southern Illinois is covered with the Shawnee National forest and is really quite spectacular. When I was a freshman in college, I was friendly with a boy who had a car. One rainy, cool Saturday, I convinced him to drive out to Giant City. We packed the car with girls that lived on my dorm floor (lucky him) and drove out. We found a shelter with picnic tables to hang out in with our cheap wine. It was pretty cold with the rain, so we decided that we needed to have a fire. We found wood alright, but nothing to light it with except a Bic lighter. Manuel had ether in his car and we used it. The fire roared! It was one of those afternoons that I will never forget for whatever reason. I love being in the woods during a rain, especially in autumn. The smell of the wood and burning wood is intoxicating still. I don't know where most of those Saturday afternoon fire starters anymore, but I will never forget the time that we spent there for the sites and sounds of it.
Once, I paid a guy one dollar to use his car to drive out. My dear friend Jeffrey and I wanted to go out to visit our house. Once when we only drove through, we saw a faded home right outside the park. It hadn't been inhabited for years, but there was a charm to it. We discovered that it was built nearly one hundred years before. We sat on the porch and imagined what it would be like to fix it up and live in. We left that day to never return. We remained friends until he died. There were other fantasies that we created for ourselves, but none quite as sweetly innocent as when we first knew each other.
I imagine that is the pull of this place for me. The remembrances are vague and unremarkable, I suppose. But tied into them is how I felt at that time: young, wildly naive, and hopeful for even the smallest moments. I am not quite so young, nor naive. But I still am looking for magic in small moments. As I told my niece and nephew this summer in our European adventure when everyone complained that we were slowpokes, the best part of new places or spending time together are the moments between the minutes. They are the sweetest strokes of time.