The summer after 5th grade during my father’s two-week plant shutdown we loaded up the VW bus with fishing gear and cooking stuff and a big tent and army surplus sleeping bags made out of olive-green wool. We put a canoe on top of the car and drove far north, to Quebec, up near Hudson Bay. Then we drove three hundred miles on a dirt road to a hydroelectric dam on the Peribonka River. Then Burt Bouget loaded us onto his boat and we went another 12 miles on Lac Peribonka. Then we carried our stuff, hopping from tree trunk to tree trunk because 50 feet of driftwood lined the lake, many feet deep, entire trees, tangled and jammed together, the result of all that land being flooded by the dam. And then we set up camp. (We all had compasses and whistles and topographical maps and we knew how to use them. The ground was covered with moss and lichen and tiny wild blueberries.) Then my brother Nick and I cut a trail for another mile to another lake and then we portaged our canoe and then we went fishing for Pike that were almost as tall as my brother George, who was seven at the time. We also found another fish that the Indians called “Wannanish”. These were smaller, “Wall-Eyed” Pike.
This was Dad’s idea of the best time, to have his little platoon, to have us all organized and zooming around. I loved it also. (He also loved it when we sang, which we often did when we were driving, which was much better from his point of view, than fighting, which is what six kids also love to do on a long ride. I sang for 1000 miles straight to keep my Dad awake while he drove all night to get home from this trip. He might have preferred the fighting. That’s a lot of “I’m Henry the 8th I Am.”)
But in any case, back at the lake, my mother threatened divorce when my sister Cathy, who was five at the time, developed a fever from so many mosquito bites. So we broke camp and went to an Indian Reservation where Dad had friends and we stayed at their house and then we went fishing again, for more Wannanish.
I say all of this so you’ll know I grew up liking the forest or water of any kind. This was where all the good stuff happened. Anything fun, anything interesting or exciting, it all happened there. Whenever I went to the big city, like for example, Danielson, CT. (pop. 4000), where we would go to Fisher’s Big Wheel, I would feel sorry for all the people because in such a big city they had nothing to do.
One time Nick and I decided to go exploring. We were still young children. He kept saying, “Follow me and you won’t get lost.” And we went happily though fields and forests through Moosup and Wauregan and winding up actually, in Danielson, where we found Mr. Gebo’s house and he called our parents.
And on the eve of the Gulf War when my brother George was in the third tank to go in and face the “Republican Guard”, my father put on his flight suit and got out his coffee mug from the Korean War and parked himself in front of the TV. He watched CNN and never left his chair until the danger was over. Meantime, Nick and I went miles through the forest, walking through the night for many hours, walking and walking, burning through all our fears and worries about George.
Nick had a heart attack early this week. I came off to the mainland and we’ve been going to Hartford Hospital with our mother every day. We’re about an hour away. We’re living that hospital life… not at all like it was with my father because that went on for five years. But it made us remember the way it was back then, when we forgot how life could be without medical stuff going on. I’m not taking pictures right now, but I thought I would show you at least one good picture from a forest. This is where I go in need. I go to the woods or to the water.
My brother was scheduled for triple by-pass surgery today but it’s been put off until Monday. My 85-year old mom is tired, so I’ll go alone to see him tomorrow and again on Saturday and then my sister Amy will take Sunday. And Amy and Mom will take Monday and Tuesday while I go back to the Island and then I’ll come back on Wednesday and maybe he’ll come home on Thursday or Friday.
Everybody says Hartford Hospital has a great cardiac unit and I believe it. I love the way they’ve been treating my brother. I love it that they all know everything about him and are doing all the right things in a coordinated way. I love it that they are explaining everything, first to my brother and then to us. I love it that they apologized when they had to change the day of the surgery because my brother’s blood was still too thin from other procedures. I love it that a beautiful nurse comes in and says, “How’s my man?”
They say that people are like islands, connected underneath. And this exactly how I feel about my brother. So many people are thinking about us, praying and wishing for good things. I feel that this is a major point in everything, to find out we are not alone, to be human beings together, caring about what happens.
My brother will be well.