Tolkien on my lap and, I lie barefoot in the big fisherman’s hammock, watching the morning light trickle, loving the way the ripples in the pond play underneath the ash and weeping willow, listening to the wind in the trees. Instead of my book, I read the reflecting leaves that vary in color from the shade to the sun, ponder the years ahead, and think how lucky we are to be back in my mother’s home state so many miles from Chicago. If I cast my eyes far enough, I can just about see dragonflies shimmering above the pink and white lily pads, their fragile wings brightly, steadily beating at speeds that defy the glorious leisure of a Maine summer and sudden passing of my young father.
It’s the beginning of August and school seems as far away as the midnight moon. My three brothers and I hook catfish for breakfast, race bullfrogs at the shore, swing like Tarzan into the leech-y watery deep, cannonball from the dock, skyrocket from construction sand, collect little bundles of pine needles to sew sachets for our clothing drawers. Mom sports a tight rubber cap and Timex in the shiny aluminum rowboat, as she commandeers the Great Race, a three-quarter mile swim across Fairbanks. It becomes an annual event, eagerly anticipated, with the watch keeper always delivering good on her promise afterwards of homemade ice cream in Waterville.
Our biggest project is naturally the Tree Fort. After surveying the terrain down the graveled road from our chipmunk-friendly cabin, we identify the perfect spot -- in amongst the wild strawberries, with a golden crown kinglet’s view of the water. We put our minds to task and master the woodlands, finding and collecting an ample stock of branches and even spare lumber in the slippery rain, busy as carpenter ants building a nest. But this is something more. Equipped with saws, hammers, and nails, we form a human chain that measures about fifteen feet up from the base of the towering Eastern white pine. We create a lovely open space in the tree, carefully pass up supplies, take turns at various stations – intent to build together, away from it all, but also to avoid the occasional, falling cone. There’s slight polarity as to the shape, but we settle in the end for a suitably sized triangle with an opening at the front, large enough for any of us, including my youngest neighbor who’s just five, to crawl through. On the third day, my finely freckled older brother drives home the last spike, joining the beam to the cheers of the team – and opening yet a new doorway, unwittingly just as the ancient Greeks intended; the weather has cleared, and we are once again freed for a smart new adventure…. It turns out to be a gray shingled lean-to in the opposite direction that Kim, my Kentuckian friend, and I decorate wall-to-wall with interesting pages from nature and fashion magazines – a cozy girls’ place smelling of wet wood and sweet coffee on the sly.
Jennifer Govan is Library Director and Senior Librarian at Teachers College, Columbia University. She holds a BA Combined Honours in English and French from The University of Exeter, England, and a Masters of Librarianship from The College of Librarianship Wales, The University of Wales. An enthusiastic member of the Library Services team, she specializes in the provision of research and information by providing library information sessions, research consultations, archives assistance, and in-person/online reference service. She runs the Gottesman Libraries Education Program of collaborative events and offerings whose goal is to inform students, faculty and staff about the latest thinking in education, in ways that engage members of the community with one another and with a broad range of educational experts. She brings wide experience in library collection management, K-12 collections and services, archives, access services, and outreach through her dedicated work at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Image: Girl in a Hammock, 1873, by Winslow Homer (The Lunder Collection, Colby Museum of Art), Wikimedia Commons.