Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Floating Campfire

I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about a pontoon boat, but now that we have one, my ideas are changing. At first I thought they were just too awkward and clumsy to be much of a boat. Sort of like a floating barn door. Definitely not my idea of a vessel suitable for off shore adventures. But she persisted and I found a used one we could afford. Its twenty feet long and the first comments from the kids was why hadn’t we bought one sooner? I decided what appeals is the sociable aspect of the thing, what I have come to call the floating campfire. The outdoor campfire at our cabin is a gathering place. As the evening draws on someone kindles a fire and as it grows darker and perhaps a little cooler people begin to assemble. They automatically form a circle around the burning fire, being carful to stay out of the drifting woodsmoke. We pull up beach chairs and stumps for seats and people poke at the coals. They stir the burning ashes and throw on more limbs and the fire flares up. Then the talk begins. About the day and what we’ve done and who was where and the swimming and the fishing and the mountain biking. The kids tell stories and ask questions and before we know it old family legends and fables are being told. Someone brings his guitar and plucks a few chords. Maybe it’s a tune we know and people hum along. We draw closer to the fire and shake up the ashes and watch the sparks soar upward amongst the tree branches to take their place in the star -studded night sky. Everyone feels cozy in the circle of firelight. Well at least that’s how I see it, and now we have a similar experience with the pontoon boat. We find it brings people together. In some instances they may all be following their own interests, but for the duration of the cruise, they’re all here and part of the crowd. The floating dance floor allows everyone to come. The young wives sit in the back and read their romance novels. The teenagers sit at the table and eat their snacks and drinks. The two year old sits on the deck and plays with his toys. Three young men on the bow cast lures against the shore looking for the first fish of the day. The oldsters can sit comfortably without being scrunched up. They can get up and walk around and stretch. The engine is not overly loud so people talk and can be heard. Nor do we go fast but merely idle along the shore. The water slaps playfully against the aluminum tubes that are the pontoons. We take turns passing the mixed nuts and the drinks, netting a fish and steering. Now it becomes clear why she wanted the boat. It’s social. Like the campfire it makes a gathering place and encourages people to interact. The teens debate the merits of their favorite singers and song groups. The men laugh together when one cast his lure over the other’s line. The toddler walks back and forth between the mothers in the stern and his father on the bow. Everyone sees the eagle drop from his perch high in the top of a giant pine and fly low over the surface of the pond. We all hear loons when they take up their chorus for the evening. It takes maybe two hours to circle the lake at our rate of speed but no one complains. The girls pull on their hoodies as the evening chill descends. When we get back to the dock there’s just light enough to see the path up to the cabin. His father has to carry the toddler who is now mostly asleep. People speak in whispers as if they don’t want to disrupt the quiet of the evening and the woods. The floating campfire has done its job bringing people all together at the end of the day. Forcing interaction and conversation and togetherness. In a few minutes someone will kindle the other kind of campfire and people will gather round the fireplace. I have to admit she was right. The pontoon boat has been a good buy. It’s brought a whole new dimension to our days at the cabin and the time we are able to spend with our family. Slowly I’m growing somewhat fond of the boat. I never thought I’d like such an awkward craft, but it just proves there’s a place and time for most everything. And right now this pontoon boat is pretty neat.

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