My First Travel Essay
A Kind of Daydream
Lady Day’s voice dips and drones and flattens the back of my throat as we open the summer together. I’ve waited a whole year for this. My car coasts so easily on the black road that climbs up and swoops down green hills, as if I’m not even driving but simply along for the ride. The heat comes in from all directions; it radiates through the glass and wilts the lilacs on the dashboard; it blows in the front windows and weaves out the back. I’m sweating but I welcome it as much as I welcome this annual tradition. Somewhere deep within the miles of trees, our cabins await us (along with about two dozen other family members) on clean, clear lakes just beyond Delta in Bayfield County.
White clouds and treetops scroll across the silver hood and up the window. Shadows dance across my arm as I steer the wheel. Through muffled static, the notes from the piano lightly dance up and down scales, and the trumpet sounds miles away –backdrop rhythm. The bass clarinet’s riff sways and blunts my spine, taps my sandal on the pedal.
…like a summer with a thousand Julys…you intoxicate my soul with your eyes…
Her voice is the long, velvety cord that laces all the different sounds together in a lovely, melancholy song. I reach to turn her up.
County E slopes into County H and disappears behind a wall of oaks around a bend. This is where the road begins to wind and zigzag throughout the countryside, taking its sweet time to reach Delta. A series of sharp angles skims us past Benson’s Horse Ranch, where horses graze fearlessly close to the fence, barely looking up at the flash of chrome and blaring trumpets. Another turn and we ease parallel with a grove of maples and pines behind the familiar old fence that is becoming less and less visible in the overgrowth of bramble and daisies. I wonder if it all looked the same sixty years ago. I wonder if someone drove through here in a shiny black 1940s Coupe –my dream car –listening to Billie Holiday crooning out of the radio. I imagine the reflection of leaves rolling over its rounded surfaces, the quiet whir of the white-walled tires, my fingers curled around the slender wheel.
…all of me…
Everything is alive and bursting green. I drive well below the speed limit; I am in no rush to get there. I have carried the same thought every year since childhood –the faster we get there, the faster the long-awaited week of camping will be over. But now that I’m older, the drive has become one of my favorite parts.
Pavement gives way to fine rocks and ruts, and we are swallowed up by the national forest, hidden from the sun beneath the canopy. I look in the rear-view mirror and see my toddler sound asleep. Her plump cheeks are pink from the sun, and the gentle breeze that floats through the open windows cools her skin. Strands of golden hair wisp this way and that around her face, which has lolled to the side of her car seat. Life is good. If I could choose my heaven, it would be this drive, unending through this country on a bright summer day, just Emma and me.
…I see your face in every flower…
We reach the sun-bleached “Fresh Farm Eggs 4 Sale” sign, and I know we are almost there. The car rambles across the rickety bridge over a shallow creek and into cylindrical beams of sunlight pouring through the leafy ceiling. Burning campfires waft in through the windows, and there is a blinding flicker through the leaves –sun on the open water. The road again bridges a small river and then skirts the very edge of Delta Lake. I gently brake and look around: everything is just as I remember it. The few cabins here have been dusted out and families are unpacking coolers or resting in their lawn chairs. Pink flamingos and windmills line their private lanes and encircle their summer homes. We nod and smile at each other as I roll by. On the other side of us, the lake gradually opens wide to the sky. Just a few yards out, a boat sits still on the glaring ripples with two men, black against the sun, puffy in their fishing vests. It’s time to turn off my music.
We drive on, and the music comes from outside now. There are birds singing high above us somewhere, and gravel spits from beneath the dusty tires. I hear the echoes of branches breaking and laughter from hidden campsites. I suddenly remember the frogs and become more cautious of the little bodies that love to hurl themselves across the road. The water ends and we are bordered by Birch trees that hide yet another campsite–Scenic Drive Resort. I take us further in, left up the hill, where the pines grow thickly. The welcoming sign to Flying Eagle Resort comes into view. I’m almost reluctant to turn, but I take us down the bumpy drive that will wind its way around the wooded resort and bring us to our cabin.
“‘…It’s just the thought of you…the very thought of you, my love…’” –I look back to see her cheeks jiggling with the bumps. She stirs.
“Emma, we’re here!”