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The Thing I Had No Idea I Needed



I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
-Henry David Thoreau


So, here’s the thing. In my mind, I’ve started this post, I don’t know, maybe five, six times. I’ve ruminated on it, and mulled over it, and otherwise thought it through. What I keep returning to, though, is that words really fail to convey just what it is that happened up on that glorious lake. I wasn’t planning on having profound, epiphanic experiences. I wasn’t at all intending to come away completely renewed, and restored, and invigorated. I had no clue I’d develop deep, meaningful new friendships the likes of which I hadn’t encountered in some time. No, none of that. I just thought I’d go to the woods, enjoy the setting, teach classes on how to can foods and make dairy products, and return home. Little did I know.

We began our foray to the woods of New Hampshire last Tuesday, September 10th. Glenn, Huxley, and I stayed overnight in Manchester and enjoyed a phenomenal meal at Republic (if you’re in the area, go, and tell them I sent you). In retrospect, I should’ve sensed that meal was a prelude of the wonder to come. At the time, it simply felt like an expertly executed feast, and a fun, celebratory one, at that.

The next day, after driving an hour north and entering the grounds of Rockywold Deephaven Camp, Glenn and Huxley departed around 8:30 in the evening, heading to Maine with Steve Soule, more commonly known as “Soule Papa” on Amanda’s blog. They planned to stay as long as Huxley seemed cool with doing so while I stayed at the camp and taught. It was our first time apart since his birth, and only the third time Glenn and I have been apart since we met, almost 7 years ago. In short, it was kind of a big deal. A huge one, really.

As soon as they drove away, I was plunged into total darkness, at least temporarily, as the sky continued to fill again and again with the distant glow of lightning. Realizing I had no flashlight, and that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the camp’s Playhouse for the event’s opening ceremony, I fumbled my way back to my cabin, took a shower, put on my p.j.’s, and listened to the rain begin to fall.

Suddenly, thunder quite literally shook the cabin, and the sky outside, and the lake beneath it, flooded with violent, tremulous lightning. The storm of all storms then proceeded to work its way through those woods. A lover of thunderstorms when I’m safely tucked at home, my family beside me, I kind of started freaking out. I was alone, without my babe for the first time ever, knowing he and his Papa were driving through this torrential storm. I thanked my lucky stars I’d had the foresight to purchase a bottle of wine en route to the camp and cracked it open. Thankfully, after a few sips, I received a text from Amanda, asking me to join her across the street at her cabin. Mama to mama, she knew just what I was going through. And then things just got better from there.

Apprehensions I’d had about teaching in a foreign space, using equipment purchased for me, with potentially fickle ingredients, slowly crept away over those next two days. In the company of glorious men and woman, accompanied by meals the likes of which you don’t expect to receive at, well, camp (my buddy Jess‘s brother Josh and his wife and crew, including their other brother, presented fare that was absolutely stellar, courtesy of their Bread & Butter Catering), with a first ever face-to-face meeting with Jennifer Urban-Brown, my editor at Roost, and Sara Bercholz, Roost’s Executive Vice-President, I found myself again.

Since becoming Huxley’s mom, I’ve hit the ground running, and haven’t really looked back. Sure, there’s the occasional hot bath I get once he’s gone to bed at night, and there’s the three real “just us” dates Glenn and I have had since then, and the four “lady dates” I’ve gone on, but I haven’t really just sat alone, with myself, with nothing to do (after finishing up my classes Friday afternoon), and thought/felt/lived. I afforded myself that luxury, and it proved to be just the thing I had no idea I needed so badly.

In that space, that amazing, magical space, as the wind rustled, and the lake glinted in the fading afternoon sun, and the gentlest hint of first fires in fireplaces begin wafting through the air, I came to my senses, quite literally. I felt, in that small, humble cabin by the lake, what I like to refer to as “the divine.” Some call it God, others have different names for it. For me, it’s accompanied by a profound sense of awe, of deep, unknowable knowing, of reverence, and appreciation, and, well, overwhelming love. Yes, all that. All of that happened, up in the woods of New Hampshire, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I truly hope there’s another Taproot at Squam next year. Or something akin to it at other beautiful, enchanted settings. I’ll never forget it. I gained a renewed sense of self, a confidence in my ability to take whatever life throws at me, an emerging friendship I’m quite excited about, and an abiding knowledge that, eventually, we three Englishes really, truly need to live on a lake.

8 Responses to The Thing I Had No Idea I Needed

  • dixie says:

    Ashley, how your words captured the magic in those woods. And I can’t tell you how lovely it was to meet you at the airport and have another mama understand what it felt like to venture away from her babies for the first time. Thank you for such kindness. xo.

  • KC says:

    Wow! That’s all I’ve got. Sqwam seems to be a very important place. I must get there one day. Even if it means fundraising somehow!

  • Eliza Twist says:

    Thanks for sharing your Squam story Ashley. It was a true pleasure to meet you and your family while we were there. I too am looking forward to the next time that I get to Squam. It is indeed a very special place, the kind that stays with you.

  • Julie says:

    It sounds like you have been a busy lady lately. So happy that you were able to re-charge.

  • CINDY says:

    Thanks for sharing your most intimate feelings, Ashley, common to all of us when we give ourselves a moment to reflect. I agree about living near water! I do and thank my lucky stars that seven years ago I chose to live with migrating tundra swans, hooping cranes, kingfishers, golden & bald eagles, great blue herons, geese, sandhill cranes, and ducks of many stripes! The distant mountains are covered with snow this morning! I hope you find your lake!

  • Dawn says:

    Thanks for sharing your impressions of the Squam event. I, too, have never left my two boys (ages 2 and 16 months) and the thought makes my heart hurt. I appreciate your realization that you benefitted from some moments to just be you. Going to the woods does that to a person, I think. By the way, I have that Thoreau quote written on the chalkboard wall just outside my boys room off the kitchen. It serves me as a wonderful mantra to think about in my passing throughout the day and I like to think the boys are absorbing some of the good vibes that phrase carries, too. You live in some pretty amazing woods yourself (we live in central NC and my husband proposed to me at the Biltmore down by the Bass Pond) so I bet you find similar inspiration there. Would love it if there could be a Taproot/Squam-esque kind of event down here our way, Any thoughts? Peace to you and your family!

  • What a great post! I was thrilled with the pictures, then loved the rest. I totally hear you about living near the lake; for me it is the ocean, being about 90 miles away from Oregon’s coast I go as often as I can and somehow, I will move to the coast. (: have a great weekend!

  • Jenn says:

    I love that two of my favorite blog Mamas hang out together! I got to meet Amanda this weekend at Common Ground and I was nervous! I quietly mentioned I was a blog reader and she smiled and warmly extended her hand for a handshake. I felt like I could have pulled up a chair and a cup of tea for a chat. Maybe next year if the stars align and there is another Taproot gathering I could meet you! 😉 Bless those chances to recharge those Mama batteries!