It’s the longest day of the year, and I find myself in the Shenandoah National Park watching the solstice sunset. When the city is getting hot and the house is feeling full, there’s no reason not to take a day or two and get away, especially when my office is literally my laptop –it can go anywhere. It’s mid week and unplanned, and my intention is to spend most of the time writing. So I’m traveling alone, an experience that has it’s own unique quality, a curious mix of of freedom, nostalgia,and melancholy. Decisions are mine alone to make– what to do, when to eat, sleep, write, linger, walk or watch. It’s like a journey into my own head, seeing a lot and interacting very little with others. But the lack of conversation makes space for remembrance. I traveled Skyline Drive with my family as a child. My memories are of roadside motels and piles of blueberry pancakes for breakfast, riding for miles and miles along the parkway, tailgate picnics of fried chicken,
potato salad, Fritos, tomato sandwiches on white bread with lots of mayonnaise, getting restless with my brothers in the backseat of the Mercury Marquis while my mother extolled the view. She would insist that we pull over to one overlook after another, while the three of us groaned that all we wanted was to go to swimming in the motel pool. Being around all the vacationing families of course takes me back to national park trips with our own three children, not so long ago at all. Those days when we were all together in one place–sightseeing, hiking, horseback riding, rafting–were all too fleeting. I want to tap each parent on the shoulder and whisper in their ear–Don’t wish a second away. Seeing others together- friends, families, couples–intensifies the experience of being alone. I sit at my table for one and find myself watching others’ interactions probably more than I should, putting their stories together in my mind. As different as it is, however, I feel so fortunate to have the freedom to do things like this, and I feel such gratitude for the rich life awaiting me on my return. There’s so much I want to do while the days are long, but now there’s the awareness that comes with the summer solstice–from here on out, the days are getting shorter. There are so many things that don’t matter, that take our joy away if we allow it. What does matter is every moment.