Jul 8, 2014

Bonfires and things

The mop-topped little boy looked like he was about 5 years old. He stood quite still just outside their Yurt, a few hundred yards from our campsite.

   "Are you going to the beach?" he called to Oyon, who was the obvious focus of his attention.
 "Nope. We're going kayaking. Maybe later." Oyon replied casually, from halfway up a tree by our campsite. He appeared to be engrossed in climbing but stolen glances gave him away.

The little boy, Noah, took this as encouragement and advanced a few yards towards us. He said something about finding sea glass. Oyon hopped down from the tree trunk on the side towards the yurt, thus advancing towards this interesting little person without seeming to. He said something about flying a kite.

I ceased unpacking supplies (the tents were already up) to observe this subtle little dance. It constantly amazes me, this easy ability of kids to make friends with their kind. But the phased nature of these older relationships was still new (to me). Unlike their toddler selves who would hug each other on first meetings or squat down to play seamlessly, these little humans need a courtship first. The obvious draw of another boy must be countered with a little ice-breaking, half-glances and demonstrations of skill. It hadn't escaped me that Oyon had not climbed that tree before gaining his key audience. Noah was similarly demonstrating impressive karate kicks on the post with our site number on it.

Their paths didn't cross again until the next day on the beach, after our friend and his 11 year old had returned home. The boys' families met and shared blankets and snacks under the sizzling sun. Paddling, stone-skipping and sea-glass collecting punctuated the kind of lazy afternoon that only a beach can bring, especially one on a sparsely populated island. As we pulled away in our kayak, heading back to camp, the kids called out to remind each other of the date the families had just made. A night bonfire on the beach, smores, popcorn and ghost stories.

The sunset point a few hours later was over-rated and drew sighs and groans from Oyon until the proximity to Logan registered. A large proportion of departing flights followed paths right over Peddocks Island. We gazed in peace at the changing light and whitecap patterns as the sun gradually sank. Oyon thrilled at every airline logo he recognized on the low flying (and loud) aircraft that flew over us. His joy at each one spotted was of the hopping, skipping and hollering kind. That old sobering thought visited me again: our sources of delight are as varied as they are rich so let no person tell another just how to be happy.

Our walk to the beach at dusk took us by the WWII POW camp ruins with its boarded up windows and rusting iron doors. Oyon skipped along the path ahead of us and wondered if he could knock on one of the doors. Ghosts stories loomed ahead in the twilight so Sho asked "Sure. But what if someone answers?" Oyons skipping ceased and scuttled towards us to walk very, very close. I'll admit, I clutched Sho's arm a bit harder than necessary too. Interpretive signs informed us that the Italian POWs housed there were treated very well and lead fairly happy lives, but the abandoned buildings cast a haunted note of historic drama as night fell and shadows grew longer.

At our beach rendezvous a large fire quickly materialized from the dead branches and driftwood we collected. Large orange tongues roared skywards as a purple twilight descended. The boys ran heedless, along the shore, skipping stones, playing tag, practicing karate, stick-fighting, collecting sea glass. 
The blaze fed greedily off the sea breeze and grew fierce enough that our Smores needed extension sticks if we wanted to retain our eyebrows and still toast our treats. After the last sticky finger had been licked clean, came the popcorn. Just plain old butter is just never going to do it for me again after tasting the smoky, campfire treat Noah's dad prepared.

 Tummies full and bodies tired, the kids finally deigned to sit down in our circle and start on a chain Ghost story.

Oyon started so of course it was Star Wars-centric. It seems Luke was trapped in a deep, dark, spooky cave with boa constrictors and bats. Something garbled happened with Clones and troops and explosions I think. He spoke too excitedly, dramatically and quickly for anyone to grasp anything beyond the fact that there was a lot of action at a furious pace involving many characters.

Over to Noah who added Darth Vader to the scene and super heroes who continued to do heroic and dastardly deeds in turn. All delivered with much wriggling and shouting and posturing and the occasional dropping of his voice for dramatic effect. The grown-ups took turns then to shepherd the story to slightly more comprehensible but not more plausible ends. With chain stories, the goal never is plot or plausibility anyway: it's the energy of creating something in the moment and handing it over to someone else. An act of caring and sharing essentially because the story is evanescent, destined to change shape as soon as it falls in another persons hands and head.

The parents spun a spookier tale was equally improbable but atmospheric enough to quiet the boys and keep them in their seat for the first time that over excited evening. It involved screams in the night, a vengeful Marshmallow monster, screaming lights and a UFO from the Planet Jelly B Two. It wasn't coherent enough to try and write out here but the boys were taken by it enough to huddle up close as things got eerie. It took a less sinister course when to complete the chain, it passed back into their own hands. They conjured up Batman and Ninjas and other characters to dispel the gloom. Who knows how it really ended: we were too busy star gazing while Noah and Oyon excitedly told each other nonsensical tales that only they got.

A wheelbarrow full of sea water doused out the fire as night advanced. The huge cloud of steam that had billowed into the night sky, was still sending up wisps as we trudged happily back to camp.

The next morning brought Oyon a game of UNO with Noah and his Dad as we packed up. A lot of head hanging and sorrow as we pulled away in our kayak from little Noah on the shore. I gave him Oyon's kite as a memento and asked him to tell an extra story for us at their bonfire that night. He looked down at the ground and mumbled "Not without Oyon". Whereas a few moments ago they were play wrestling on the ground, now they wouldn't even look at each other as we pulled away. Sho and I commented on the large swells we were riding, Oyon's favorite kind, but he would only mumble "I miss Noah already", chin to chest. Nothing an ice cream on Nanstasket Beach wouldn't fix shortly thereafter. I imagine flying Oyon's skull and crossbones printed kite effected a similar cure on his little friend back on the island.

Yet it wasn't as passing a thing as it seemed either. The next night at home, Oyon was playing with his LEGO minifigures when he suddenly looked up and asked "Do you think Noah is roasting his first smore right now?"

I'm going to email this blog link to Noah's parents, back in New Jersey. I hope the boys keep in touch. Sharing a day and a night on an island vacation would be a terrific start to a long friendship.

As we are exploring the crumbling old ruins of a gunnery by our camp on Peddocks Island:
Me: Do you think those soldiers had imagined that one day there would be families camping at the place where they shot guns and looked for enemy submarines in the harbor?
Oyon: Yeah, it's weird. I mean, there could have been an Asian restaurant here instead and people eating noodles.
Me: This is a mostly deserted island. A restaurant, really ?
Oyon: There might have been! People want to eat noodles everywhere.

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