The Lost Art of Summer

Off the Eaten Path
Game On!
Because It Tests Us... Why We Love Lake at Winter
Party Perfect
The Lost Art of Summer
Magnificently Terrified
Growing Pains
Less Is... Impossible: One Man's Quest to be like Mies

"They're here!"

I sprint out of my cottage, the screen door banging my exit, to greet some of my best friends who have come to stay with us in Michigan for the very first time. When their kids step out of the SUV, I begin pelting them with the following dorky, pre-calculated greetings. I want them to feel the excitement of summer at the lake.

"Welcome to the mitten!"

Nothing.

"These are Wade's Woods!"

Nada.

My greetings fall, to pardon the obvious analogy, on deaf ears. More accurately, they fall silently onto ears that are already filled with Fergie from attached I-Pods.

The sun is shining, the sky a brilliant blue, the smell of pine in the air, the sugar maples so heavy with leaves they look as if they might just reach down and give you a hug. And yet these kids don't see this. Their ears are still filled with words and not birds, their eyes are still riveted to their cell phones, their fingers flying, delivering a text message to a friend in the city.

"Do you, like, have wireless and cable way out here?"

This is the little girl's first question.

I point at the two dishes sitting on the edge of the woods.

Her brother thumps his hand on his thigh to the beat of the music and gives me a thumps up.

"But no indoor plumbing," I say.

They look at me as though Fergie has just begun singing Rosemary Clooney tunes.

"Just joking," I answer.

Fears calmed, they sprint inside the cottage, take a seat on the couch and continue their routine, before I can even say, "Who wants to go to the beach?"

I had planned their visit with as much precision as a Cirque de Soleil show, down to my scripted introductory remarks. I had wanted these city kids to experience the wonderment of summer like I had when I was a child at my grandparents' log cabin. I wanted this modern-day, ultra-urban Hannah Montana and pocket-sized Justin Timberlake to have a Mayberry-esque experience.

But I go to bed defeated. Without even making S'Mores, which I had planned for 9:00 p.m.

The next day brings a summer morning that is a pure Michigan stunner: A cloudless, cool start that quickly morphs into sunny, humidity-free warmth, T-shirts replacing sweatshirts. We make blueberry pancakes for the crew. I say, sleepily, innocently, before caffeine has even taken hold of my synapses, that the blueberries in the pancakes were picked fresh from our neighbors' farm, just beyond our woods.

Two pair of blue-stained lips purse with a question. "Can we, like, go see that?"

Ten minutes later, we are all out the door, veering along the trails my partner Gary has made in our woods. Each bend in the path past a mushroom patch, along a grove of still upright May apples, through a grove of baby pines, across a field of ferns elicits "Ooohhhs" and "Aaahhs," a closer inspection.

Even from me. The things I have begun to take for granted have taken on new beauty when viewed through younger lenses.

When we emerge from the woods into our neighbors' blueberry field, the kids sprint to the bushes, immediately drop their buckets, and begin cramming the sweet warm berries into their mouths. They gobble until full, until they look like Oompa-Loompas, and then they begin to fill their pails, until they, too, are full.

"Can we walk the long way through the woods?" the kids then ask me.

Along with their blueberry fields, our neighbors own a mini-National Park of acreage, land that is also marked by beautifully meandering trails.

We walk alongside their creek, the kids launching leaves and pine needles as their boats, when we hear a rustling. Lying in a nest of leaves is a baby deer, shaking, coughing.

"Is it OK?" the girl cries.

"I think so. She's just clearing her lungs," Gary answers, "like all babies do."

We hide behind an overgrown brush pile for an hour, watching the baby cough and wheeze, feed from the mother, quiver and whine as she licks it dry, and then ever so wobbly make its way onto its feet and then off into the woods with mom.

When we return, it is well past lunchtime, and the kids excitedly relay their stories to their parents and then to their friends via text message.

As I hand the little boy a sandwich, he suddenly holds up a list he has found on the kitchen counter. "What's this?"

"Oh, it's nothing," I say.

But it's too late. My calendar and itemized list of activities for them to do actually broken down into hour and half-hour intervals has been discovered.

He begins to recite from the list: "Things to do at the beach find driftwood that looks like a seal; a dog; a snake ; collect lake rocks; build a sand fort "

"OK, OK, that's enough," I reply.

And then, as the little girl texts another friend about her morning, she says to me without looking up in this somewhat distracted and yet completely focused way "You know it's cool to, like, chill once in a while."

I stare into her freckled face, as she continues to text, and I realize: She's, like, right.

It isn't them that needs a heavy-handed reminder about letting go and having fun this summer, it's me, the Neurotic, Manic Bionic Man who doesn't feel like he's had a highly productive summer's day unless he's written 10 book-ready pages, run seven miles, power-walked the beach, helped weed the garden, collected lake rocks for a lamp base, and then prepared a gourmet dinner.

I toss my list, and the three of us spend the afternoon rocking in a single hammock looking up at a sky so perfectly blue it makes your heart ache, and then falling asleep.

I hadn't really accomplished anything on my list today, except to have one of the best summer days of my life.