Mountain Mama: Lake Jocassee

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I studied the divided sky. To the right were the uninterrupted cobalt blue I had imagined when reserving the primitive-boat-in-only campsite across Lake Jocassee. To the left, grey clouds boiled.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I wedged sleeping bags into waterproof bags. By then it was mid-afternoon and what seemed like a series of small miracles had gotten us that far, to the ramp at Devil’s Fork State Park, but two miles of lake remained between us and our campsite.

The clouds overhead thickened, casting us in its ominous shadow. Drumrolls of thunder belted, sending our four kids running for shelter. Outfitted in lifejackets and slathered in sunscreen, they huddled under the overhang that covered the bathroom.

The rain came in sets – hard and harder. The cars parked in a distant lot and the kids claiming the little available shelter, I stood with my brother and sister-in-law letting the rain soak us.

We conferred about what to do. As much as we all looked forward to this trip, camping on an island in the rain with four children wasn’t our idea of fun. Still, we had made it this far, two whitewater kayaks loaded with all our camping gear and food plus our fleet for the weekend consisting of two double and one single sit-on-top kayak along with a paddleboard.

My brother suggested we wait out the storm. Patience has never been my strong suit, but the other prospects – packing up four disappointed kids into cars or paddling with scared children – seemed even less appealing.

I watched as the wind whipped the lake into peaks of white. I waited with chicken-skinned arms, as the rain washed away the sweat that dripped down as I had unloaded the boats.

Ten minutes later the storm passed. Eager to start our adventure, we loaded into boats and rigged the cargo kayaks behind us on tow. About a mile out we were treated to views of the mountains. Steam rose from their peaks, as if the rocks themselves were releasing any vestige of the storm.

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By the time we reached our campsite, the sun had once again claimed center stage. The kids climbed out on the rocky ledge and decided it made the perfect cannonball platform. My three-year-old imitated his older cousins and pulled his knees into his chest as he jumped off the rock.

I nestled into a crevice of the rock meant for sunning and watching, letting my mind wander as the kids launched their bodies into the clear green lake. My mind wandered, settling on my upcoming move. Out of a desire to focus more of my life energy on raising my son and writing, I had decided to move out of our cherished bungalow and into a glorified one-bedroom apartment. I’d been so busy between packing and logistics that I hadn’t really mourned the home I was leaving behind. There on that rock, no tasks distracted me from my feelings and tears flowed down my cheeks. In that house we had celebrated every one of my son’s three birthdays. Friends and family had visited us from Europe, California, and Maryland. My son had learned to talk and ride his bike. The walls of that bungalow held the memories of our little family.

There on that rock I grieved leaving the physical space behind, of moving into a smaller area. I reminded myself that Tobin and I didn’t need a lot of room, which only made me cry harder. Living in the bungalow, a space large enough for a partner, left open the possibility of one day meeting a man who would come along and round out our family.

I cried until I started hiccupping. The kids squeals of glee made me smile. The sun’s rays warmed me, softening my feelings about moving into the apartment until they changed. The apartment didn’t have to be a sad reminder of the family life I didn’t have, but an acceptance of the family I did have. It had always been just Tobin and I living together, but that didn’t limit who we considered to be family. Like the storm, when I let myself experience my emotions, those negative feelings passed, making room for something more like joy.

My son and his cousin called out, asking me to take them for a ride on the paddleboard. We sat one behind the other, and I paddled through the light emerald sequins of light, enjoying time with my family.

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