There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister

Who hosts a big ol’ summer sale in her shop during the busiest season of the year the week before going out of town? This girl! (pictured with her children)

Getting out the door is my nemesis but also my gift. Meaning, it takes me hours longer than I ever think it will and I am a crazed, unorganized, last-minute packer. But! I always succeed at getting out the door. Just like I can always carry one more thing, I can always squeeze one more task in an hour. I can always accommodate one more dinner guest. I can always get shit done when prize of Leaving Town glistens on the horizon.

The day we left I woke at 5am. I went for a run, did all of our laundry, worked for a few hours, packed everything for a week of camping, planned meals and went grocery shopping and, by 3pm, my daughters and I were on the highway getting outta town. The house was unbelievably messy but I assured myself Andy would be bored and in need something to do while we were away. Or at the very least, proud of us for leaving at a reasonable hour and not forgetting anything.

We usually go to Lake Mary Ronan for a week with my family but this year my parents couldn’t make it and my husband couldn’t make it so I changed things up a bit. Margot, Ruby and I camped for a few days on our way. We chose a little lake up the Swan Valley. I think this will be a new tradition every year before Lake Mary Ronan because oh, we loved this lake and campground.

On the first night, I prepared tofu curry and rice on our little cook stove. Something smelled funny, sounded funny. I went to turn the flame off and investigate and the dial just spun and spun, the flame burned. And then is morphed like a Dali painting. It was around this time that I screamed at the girls to run far away because I discovered the underneath of the stove was on fire and the knobs had melted to the casing. I was surprisingly calm as the flame shot out toward the propane canister. I decided to try blowing the fire out through a small opening on the side. It worked. We cooked dinner over fire instead.

I started a fire on my first try with one match. It was a very proud moment as I am not the fire starter in our family. My girls shared my enthusiasm remembering my failed attempts of summers yore. You’re as good as dada now! Ruby squealed. True. In fact I did it several more times by that lake, even with wet twigs and moss one morning. The desire for coffee is a powerful igniter of most things.

I woke to shouting loons the first night. It was so silent, so calm and those loons SO loud. I told myself it couldn’t be loons. I have never seen loons in Montana. I lie there and listened in the dark dark darkness. Indeed, the next morning we saw those big black and white birds sailing around the lake like a dream. A group of biologists arrived to catch and tag the birds in this space, one of the only natural loon habitats in all of Montana. We got to watch, sitting in the shrubs like bears, as they set nets, decoys and played audio. Those loons thought the decoy was loony and stayed far away from the net.

We walked the perimeter of the lake and I asked the girls what they like about camping. Margot said, We get to explore in the woods. And there are always surprises. Like, I had no idea I’d LOVE this lake so much! Ruby said, And butterflies everywhere! I really love butterflies.

The first night was brilliantly blue and hot. I walked in the water from the beach and dove in, losing my breath to its chill. I treaded water looking at the shore where my daughters stood, motionless, their their long, tan legs steady. From my vantage — my eyeballs at their feet — I admired their height, their united stance, their big kidness. My girls, I thought as I peered over the glassy liquid.

They were weighing options, staring into my eyes. Mama? It’s cold but feels so good? Margot asked.

Ruby said she felt afraid and Margot began chanting

There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister
There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister
There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister

Margot began walking while chanting, holding Ruby’s hand. Ruby joined in the chanting and together they walked into a sisterly baptism.

They both went under and popped up wide-eyed with the thankful, inevitable surprise of mountain lake water. They swam toward me, full of trust and love and thrill. And then we laughed and did it again and again until the sun set. Bottom three photos by Margot, Ruby, Margot:

The next day we borrowed our kind camp neighbors’ canoe.

We ate burritos and s’mores, swam and swam, played Go Fish and read The Tale of Despereaux in the tent, by the fire, lakeside. We decided to stay one more day.

On the last morning, we made our pilgrimage to the lone outhouse. In my motherly assisting of my kids, my sunglasses fell from my head into the depths below. I said a really foul swear that sounds like Brother Ducker and we all stared at the shades in the shit. I thought about it for a minute. I had no other sunglasses with me. These were really nice, expensive sunglasses. They weren’t submerged but sitting on top. I’m going for it, I said.

We scavenged the woods and found a long stick with twigs. With a steady hand, I held my breath, lowered the stick, snagged the shades and raised them from the depths. It was so gross and took me many washes and a day to put them back on. But I did put them back on. And my kids took every opportunity to share the story with every person they saw for the rest of the week.

We packed up and drove north to aunts, uncles and cousins waiting for us on a different lake. I missed my husband and parents while there. There’s a hollow spot when I visit a place over and over and over with someone and then visit without them. I really noticed their absence.

This little place we stay on Lake Mary Ronan is frozen in time. It’s a cluster of 100 year-old log cabins that shine light on how little humans need to be happy and cozy. My mom has been going since she was a child and marvels at the sameness. Everyone does. It’s slow and breezy. It’s about togetherness, swimming, fishing, cheersing, eating, game playing. Always has been.

^ photo compilation by my Aunt Lorie ^

Our friends came up this year, adding to the richness of that shared space. Colder than usual, we spent more time by the fire pit, less time in the water.

Margot caught a salmon. She made up cheers with my cousin’s daughter, just like my cousin and I used to do right there on the same front porch of the same cabin. She swam in the lake without a life jacket. Mama! Check out my crawl stroke!

Time – including bedtime – is obsolete. Ruby slept in until 10am one morning, two hours later than ever before in her nearly-five years on this planet. She ran fast down the trail fast this year, able to keep up with Charlotte and Margot, able to remember last year with the fuzzy clarity of those first glorious childhood memories.

Sunscreen, marshmallows, soot, dirt, bee stings, dock splinters, smoke. Every day, every year the water in that lake laps onto the shore of time, age, family, history, memory. Every year, it is there for us again.

trip details:

* Biodegradable Camp Soap
* Camp Tuffit on Lake Mary Ronan
* Our Ready-to-Go Camp Bin
* Megan Young Music (she is a wonderful pianist, playing piano in photo up there)
* GEO hats

26 Responses to There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister

  1. Trbholt says:

    Thank you for letting me “vacation vicariously” with you, Margot &Ruby! WE missed not being there too with you….we will again, I PROMISE!

    See you in 14 days….can hardly wait…LOVE you so much Burb.

    xoxo, Mom

  2. CMB says:

    GORGEOUS photos!!!

  3. Susan:) says:

    Gorgeous photos. Love the campsites, all those beautiful old trees! You made me want to be there too!

  4. Tammi says:

    What a luscious post! Your paragraph framing Andy’s supposed reception of the way you left your home made me smile. A very positive spin and I hope it happened exactly that way, too. Also, your line :: “The desire for coffee is a powerful igniter of most things.” Agreed, friend.

    As always, beautiful images and I’m glad to see you in them with your girls on your camping trip. This is my most favorite line(s) from your post :: “There’s a hollow spot when I visit a place over and over and over with someone and then visit without them. I really noticed their absence.” Brilliantly put.

    Enjoy the rest of your summer. xoxo

    • dig dig says:

      Tammi, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. And now that I KNOW you, I can read them in your voice which is so fun. xoxo

  5. Jenny says:

    I’m so similar to you when it comes to getting out the door for vacation. While I don’t have to pack for kids yet, I leave everything to the last minute. In fact we leave for a two week trip to Canada, Michigan and Maine TONIGHT and I’m sitting at work and haven’t packed a single thing yet. Haven’t even booked our hotel for Niagara Falls tonight either. But I’m not worried- it will get done and it will be great.
    The cry of the loon is something isn’t it? We see/hear them often in Maine and it’s exciting every time.


  6. Andrea says:

    I loved this post…and though we live on the Maine coast, I am now itching for a camping trip out west! I would love to hear more about your meal planning- it always PARALYZES me when we head out sailing for multiple nights!

  7. Mara says:

    Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the photos, it’s the little things that struck a chord. The Corelle coffee cup reminded me of my Mom having her morning cup in our kitchen. And that awesome kitchen table, like yours, we had in our old brownstone in Brooklyn. I miss it & the family that used to congregate around it. So many are gone now. Nothing like making memories for your kids with a big, beautiful, extended family. love, Love, LOVE!!

  8. Martha says:

    Perfect post for me to read as I make a mental list for our trip to MT next week. Can’t wait to visit our fave places and a new spot, too. Always love your pics so much!!!

  9. Nici, a big fat, pine-scented, lake-cooled YES to it all. I admire you.

  10. Megan C says:

    You really are such a beautiful writer. You capture the beauty of family and passion for the outdoors so well. Thanks for sharing your life with us!

  11. Kelli says:

    I swear I find myself leaving this comment on every post: but if I hadn’t met you, I’d think this was a fairy tale. So perfect. So beautiful. and every single bit so full of love!

  12. Melissa says:

    Nici, what a gorgeous time with your girls–talk about quality, unplugged time they (and you) will cherish.

    Also, I printed your camping prep list for upcoming road trip to Portland in a few weeks as we plan to camp along the way . . . wish us luck! xo

  13. Nicolette says:

    well, I’m just impressed.

    especially with the mother ducking outhouse glasses. hahahahaha.

    and i love margot’s photo of ruby air plaining. your solo trips with your daughters always spark the empowered mother in me to venture out alone with my two guys!

    ps- i love my new geo hat!!! it’s perfect :)

  14. Catherine says:

    This is my favorite time on your blog–I love seeing your adventures with just you and the girls in the woods. I am sorry I will not get to meet you in October at Doe Bay, Nici, but am grateful you continue to share in this space. The mug picture made me smile too, my grandma still has that set!

    • dig dig says:

      I am also sorry to not meet you! I hope your experience there is full of love and inspiration. It is such a beautiful place.

  15. sian says:

    Damn you write so well. I loved this trip so much and the glasses incident made me chuckle esp the part when the girls told everyone you met afterwards. Kids!

    Thanks for all the beauty

    • dig dig says:

      Thanks so much Sian, for reading and taking the time to reply. Yeah, the glasses thing was wild. A story that will be told for years, I am certain!

  16. Jill Flockhart says:

    I haven’t visited your blog in a while. Last week while visiting family in Big Fork I came across some of your adorable clothing line in a cute little coffee shop there. I snagged a darling Montana jacket and it was a lovely reminder from the universe how much I love reading your blog. I love how that works. Gorgeous photos!

    • dig dig says:

      Hi Jill, awesome! I haven’t even seen that little shop yet but the owner I chat with is lovely and I imagine her business is wonderful. Thanks for your support!

  17. Michelle says:

    Oh, man…you are one cool brother ducker. 😉
    Nici, I loved this post so much that I didn’t want it to end. Your writing has such a warmth to it. I have to agree with Tammi that I also could totally relate to what you said about visiting a place with someone and then without and missing them. Yes.
    Gorgeous, friend. Photos and words.

  18. Kathleen says:

    This is a beautiful post and it has inspired me to take my girls camping and this can only be good right? I know that I can be as good as their “dada” at all those camping things he usually takes care of – especially if there is a desire for coffee driving me. Thank you for sharing.

    PS: I meant to respond to your IG about sunriver. We went to a family reunion last summer. There is a great kid flat water canoe starting at the marina. It takes a couple of hours and my girls loved it. The nature center also had a really fun education night about owls. We got to meet some birds of prey and go on a guided walk. It was really well done.

  19. elizabeth says:

    I made your “hippie” pancakes today. Delicious! I put yogurt, fresh peaches and my mom’s yellow plum jam on my pancakes. I did have to add more milk to the batter, as I like my pancakes thin and I used ground flax and some vanilla. Are you using whole flaxseed in your pancakes or ground?