Sunday, September 15, 2013


An osprey nest platform
outside the nature center
I live a half mile from a nice beach, so I'd never been to Hammonasset.

This is a shame, I was told when I finally went this year, because the boardwalk was wiped out during Hurricane Sandy last year, along with a huge bathhouse for showering and changing. Those who have been camping at this beach for years (even decades) were very nostalgic about the beach before the destruction and erosion.

I wanted to tell them it's still pretty damn gorgeous. The waves are minimal compared to any ocean beach. Connecticut's unique as an
The view from our campsite at dawn
East Coast state for having almost all of its ocean water channeled through a narrow bay, Long Island sound, which warms and calms it like a bathtub except during storms, when it traps the water and floods the shores for tide after tide. It's been an uneventful hurricane season and the week we went camping was sunny and dry so the waves were mostly blips against the shore. I'm used to that so it didn't bother me. And I thought the land was beautiful.

Going was a random, impulsive decision. The night before Mark and I
Ava and Liz at the beach
helped move our oldest son from our home to Richmond for a pre-med graduate program, I was falling apart. It wasn't just the shopping and packing, the UHaul rental and the driving, but it was also what I faced when we returned home: a week without any summer camp, school or work to shuttle kids to and from. Funny, because I'm pretty sure I complained a whole lot about the shuttling, but without it, the week yawned hot and needy with the promise of "What are we doing today?" being played on repeat.

So the night before we went to Richmond I was keeping Mark from sleeping after another of his 13-hour work days with my laptop open, sticky notes out, Red Sox game on. I was trying to confirm our hotel reservation (which I had cancelled by mistake, so I guess I was making a new one) but the reservation site kept crashing, and their 1-800 number wasn't answering. I clicked on the state park website for refuge, thinking of Labor Day weekend. Ten minutes later I had reserved the last of more than 500 Hammonasset camping sites for the following week.

I made the hotel reservation from the road.

Shey and Ava playing near the dunes
Our trip to Virginia was rushed and soul-depleting, 22 of the 44 hours of the trip spent in or close to traffic on the I-95 crucible. We arrived home at 3am thinking the camping idea was a horrible one because we were so exhausted we were fighting, and couldn't face another pack/unpack/assemble gauntlet. Mark had about 3 hours later that day to set up the site before he started another 5 8am-8pm work days. We didn't have groceries in the house for those who weren't coming camping, I hadn't done my usual two days of camping packing because I'd been focused on Ryan. Chores and errands had piled up while we were away.

But camping is escape, we knew that, so we got through it. When our site turned out to be a few feet from a very loud generator that ran 15 hours a day (most sites at Hammonnasset don't have electric or water hook-ups), the staff found us a quieter spot so I could stay. And once we settled in, I was suddenly the happiest I'd been in a long time. I like mountains and woods and hiking, but I like the sound and sight of water even more so camping at Hammonasset was special.

Lizzy touched the snakes.
I took the pictures. 
The campground is mostly circles of grassy, sunny sites. Not my thing, I like shade, but there's enough of that too. It's very social, with lots of groups of people who camp and cook together. There's clam shacks and crabbing rocks and reeds and marsh and the most beautiful sunsets. A nature center full of snakes and fish and a woodchuck that's remained nameless for a year despite daily hand-feeding. Movies or bingo at night, a big playground, and an ice cream truck that delivers ice and wood, long after dark. Kids writing in chalk on all the roads outside their campsites, making outlines of each other like they were dead, then burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Reading and writing inside my tent on a rainy day.
Lizzy did almost all her summer reading this week.
Without complaint.
More people than you'd expect go into the water at Hammonasset in
their clothes. Some girls from a residential group home did, followed the next day by bunches of Bangladeshi families attending a religious (and cricket, as far as I could tell) festival. Their gauzy clothes floated in the water and the girls and boys both shrieked at the same pitch. Old ladies waded in wearing clothes from head to toe, and sandals, and laughing.

Our first-ever trip to Lenny and Joe's Fish Tale
Mostly it was Lizzy and I, hanging out and reading. We left the park only once, on a rainy day to get lunch. My muscles unbunched in degrees, like in yoga, as we relaxed into the week. Mark commuted and was so run down he got bronchitis but said sleeping outdoors helped him cope with pre-inventory madness at work. He also said his coming "home" each night to a campfire and a game of GUBS--and peace--was the best part of the summer for him.

For me too.

Lizzy is the youngest of our eight kids and we have rarely spent a day alone with her so this was a gift. She's hilarious, and very, very sweet. She was also bored without siblings, and begged her sisters to keep her company. Sheyanne came for two nights with her cute pixie Ava and that was great. And
Caitlin visited twice, once with her boyfriend, and the second time, with her fiance.

That's a story for another time :) Love, Lisa

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