Summer season ripe for simple, tech-free days with families

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As the long, hot summer rolls on, I keep having a problem.

Increasingly I find my mind wandering, imagining I'm off by myself in a little rowboat floating on a glistening lake.

And I don't really like boats.

I do like other people's boats, and my wife and I love cruises.  But I wouldn't want to actually own a boat after hearing too many people who subscribe to the old warning: A boat is a hole into which you throw money.

I'm sure that part of this need for frequent mental vacations comes from this season—the "dog days" of summer. The weather adjusts the mood. And time spent in any sort of boat does help clear out the mind. No cares, no worries, just some room to think and a chance to immerse myself in a good book, with occasional talks with God.

Every August our family takes a few days to visit Big Bear Lake, and I am always in charge of renting the biggest pontoon barge we can find, with enough room for our growing extended family. That's a long way from the old rowboats we used back in the old days.

As a kid growing up in the 1960s Midwest, summer meant the annual trek to Northern Wisconsin. With my paternal grandparents, we'd haul along a motor for the dingy. It was so large it took up most of Grandpa's trunk. I can still smell the exhaust when that baby would be revved up for the first time on Long Lake. We'd speed off to the best fishing spots where my Grandma would put us all to shame, bringing in the largest fish without any effort. All while complaining how much she hated fishing.

With my Mother's side of the family, our whole clan had an annual getaway at Eagle River, Wis. Friends had a couple of cabins we rented on Scattering Rice Lake, a small body of water that was connected to a chain of other lakes. So many memories from there, and we had to "rough it" when it came to boats. No motors, just oars. Rowing and sweating was all you needed, in the ancient Viking tradition… something that must have appealed to Mormor and Morfar— (Swedish for "Mother's Mother" and "Mother's Father").  A little work, or a lot, never hurt anyone.

Fishing in that lake was pointless, unless we'd had discovered a way to dynamite for trout. Decades later I don't think anything of substance has ever been caught there. But we did drag up little crayfish from the pier using string, raw bacon and a rock on the end to weigh it all down. The little critters would just claw on for the ride, unaware that their ultimate purpose in life would soon be realized in a pot of boiling water in our kitchen. The EPA probably restricts such things these days.


Ahh, the boat races
Then there were the boat races. Cliff, my stalwart stepdad, and Uncle Ken would each command a rowboat or canoe while my brother and I chose sides. Off we would go for some idyllic bonding and chat time on the "high seas" (surf on the lake was barely measurable). We would be paddling our way to the creeks that connected with other lakes, ready for our adventures, when my brother Jeff would yell from his boat: "Hey, it's not a race!"

Keep in mind this only would happen if my boat was suddenly ahead.  When he was back in the lead, he'd holler: "It's a RACE!!!" On we would go, exploring exotic nooks and crannies, trying to recall if we were up to date on our tetanus shots. How we made it back alive from those journeys is still something known only to God.

Thankfulness is probably the key here, realizing how such events and memories are truly gifts. As my thoughts drift back to actual drifting on the lake, I cannot help remembering all that the Lord has done in our lives. It's about pressing toward goals, persistence and going where God has inspired us to go, staying afloat in life with His grace.


Promising future
As a kid at Eagle River, the future was so promising, so exciting, so far away. All seemed to swirl around where we were in each vacation moment, hoping summer would last forever and that back-to-school could wait. Life could be savored. And there was no WiFi and Facebook, Twitter and texting to take away from those special moments.

I cherished talking walks with Mormor on those tiny Northwoods roads, hearing stories about her childhood in Sweden and her love for all of us. Oh, and did she love Jesus, wanting to make sure we all did, too. Then suddenly she'd be off into the woods for a quick harvest of berries and mushrooms.

She was amazing, and knew what to eat and what could kill you. We never questioned that the mushrooms she picked were anything but safe.  Now that is trust.


Crisp, fresh skies
At night the sky was so clear we felt like our eyes became high-powered telescopes. The air was so fresh, and our spirits so energized from the rest and relaxation.

Such were the summers of days gone by. Times filled with moments that can never be taken away. Solitude in nature that whispers…yet nearly screams: BE STILL. I AM GOD. I MADE THIS FOR YOU!  SAVOR THE MOMENT…DON'T MISS IT! THEN, REMEMBER…

I never want to lose that. My mind wanders again, down to the boat…


Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 6 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: mark@marklarson.com.


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Published, August 2011