The summer soundtrack was always Eric Clapton’s unplugged on side A and Shawn Colvin on side B. We would play the taped disc while winding our way through the back highways running parallel to 95 northward. Non-stop flipping of that cassette. I still know every nuance of those albums, right down to the song where Eric messes up in the intro and mumbles “ranaranarana” to laughter and applause.
That and NPR will always be my memories of summer. My dad shushing everyone in the car and turning up the droning monotone of those familiar NPR voices. Almost mumbling in a chant about the most obscure topics.
My family used to take these long hikes each summer. I suppose looking back they weren’t that long, maybe 1,000 feet or so up some mountains in Maine. They used to put me and my sister into the car and take us out into the woods just to hike.
To sweat, to feel the bite of the mosquitos, to have to wait until we got home to poop.
Every summer consisted of these hikes. Both my mom and dad are teachers, so our Junes, Julys and Augusts were spent up in the woods in Maine. On a lake in a small cabin. No electricity, no plumbing.
My sister especially hated these hikes. She would drag her feet and pout and complain; to a comedic level. Over the top. She would sigh and sit on rocks. She would kick things and refuse to go on. Even the summers of her back surgery, there we were trooping up the mountain, Amy grumbling in her full body brace.
I remember in those young years it was like a chore. Sure the view was nice, but everything else really sucked. The sweating, Amy’s incessant and melodramatic complaining. It took us forever. By the time we were actually ascending the mountain we were usually spaced out considerably. Like we didn’t even come to the mountain together.
I would usually go fast up ahead, as if by running the mountain as fast as I could, I would lessen the pain of the journey. I would just blink through the hard part. I was also very self-conscious about some weight in those years that seemed to spring suddenly upon me in fourth grade. Hiking the mountain was torture, but it would also make me formidable for all the ladies back in Rhode Island. I knew it was necessary, so I would keep a steady place, rest while everyone was behind and not able to see me, before continuing on.
Amy would be in the back. Grumbling, body cast keeping her erect. She would have my parents fighting over who would stay behind with her and push her up the hill. Who would listen to Amy. Who would push her like a boulder up the mountain like Sisyphus, knowing she would come back down before the end of the day.
By the time we neared the crest of the mountains, we were always just breathing and spaced out; my parents tired of pushing Amy, Amy livid with the seemingly pointless and ludicrous task of hiking a mountain and being outside and myself, hoping that I would emerge from the hike flab-less.
But then we would be on the top and it would all be worth it. Everytime, never fail. The accomplishment was always instantly worth it. Except maybe for Amy. Our family would convene at the top. Still not saying much, but there was never a need to talk too much on a mountain. We would just look and now and again point out landmarks we knew.
"There’s the road."
"Our camps just behind that hill."
Orientation never gets old and since man started to map his surroundings we always have wanted to know where we are. Maybe its the conquistador in all of us. Indeed, I would often have imaginary games with myself, that I was a union army scout (I was obsessed with the Civil War) picking off confederates and natives who were threatening the advance of Lincoln’s army.
As a Korean friend once noted to me while hiking in Korea, “Americans always want to know where north is, why?”
So there we were, each summer, on top of the world.
Over the years, hiking became a favorite past-time of mine and not surprisingly, one of my sister’s least favorite activities. Now when I visit the camp we’ll hike and Amy always declines the invitation. I suppose we pushed her to hate it.
She’s done her time.
Sometimes when I am driving in the warm weather with the windows down, I hear Eric Clapton tuning his acoustic guitar. Reminding me of those perfect days of summer. Just me and my family, unplugged from the world. Eccentric and determined to reach the top of the world, even if it’s just for the afternoon.