Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Behind the Books: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

When I was in elementary school, we had to write a “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay at the beginning of each school year. And I hated it.
Summer was my secret time away from the hustle and bustle of school year activities. I spent hours wandering in the woods, making clothes for my Barbie dolls, and reading Encyclopedia Brown mysteries on the tiny porch attached to my bedroom.

Summer still a special time for me. I spend July refueling from a school year filled with author visits and conference speaking. I do lots of writing. And I read and read.

For the last few years, I’ve spent the first week of August at the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angles. Then I head for a tiny cottage on a tiny island in the middle of Maine’s Penobscot Bay. My husband’s family has owned it for nearly a century.

It’s an off-the-grid retreat where I marvel at a swampy forest full of frogs and purple mushrooms. Some days I chase butterflies through big, open fields just to see where they’re going. This year my brother-in-law, Peter Fairley, had a fantastic new camera and he snapped this wonderful photo of an American copper butterfly alighting on a purple aster. Lovely, isn’t it?

Each year I discover something new. This year as I headed to the outhouse early on a foggy morning, it suddenly started to rain as I passed under a small grove of silver birches in the midst of all the conifers. Just as I reached the far side of the grove, it stopped raining.

Or did it?

I was dry, but I could still hear the pitter patter of rain beneath the birches. The ground under my feet was dry. But the ground below the birches was soaked.

I was amazed. I was witnessing a very, very localized rainstorm—about 6 square feet. Something about the shape or size or texture of the birch leaves was causing water droplets in the air to condense and fall. But the surrounding conifer needles didn’t affect the foggy air one bit. Cool!

I was so excited that I woke my husband and my nephew and dragged them out to experience my discovery. But it was early, and they were unimpressed.

I guess some people need a cup of coffee or a hearty blueberry pancake breakfast to appreciate the marvels of nature. But not me. I’ll take them whenever and wherever I can find them.

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