Gear and the Measure of the Seasons

There’s no mistaking when summer ends in the high country: A storm sweeps through, pummels the leaves, drops the first snow, and it’s over. Here at elevation 220, latitude 33, longitude 117, the transition is more subtle. One day it dawns on you that it feels like someone left a window open, or a thin cloud went in front of the sun. It tiptoes in, fall does, gentle and sloping, a soft gift for a mind that enjoys savoring nuanced change.

Last week my son turned 17, and for the first time since March or April I needed a jacket to eat dinner outside. Wednesday evening was warm, a languid summer night, but Thursday everything was different. Had the earth in its journey passed some line of demarcation? Had I?

It’s funny how you pull one thread and all you get is an inch of thread, while another unravels an entire garment. A couple of weeks ago, after years of feeling guilty, I finally got tired enough of seeing my kayak and paddleboards baking in the sun that I launched an assault on the garage to find a way to squeeze a 15-foot boat and two 11-foot SUPs next to two cars, a passel of bikes, and enough camping gear for three REIs.

Thus began an odyssey. First I had to paint a wall, because the walls had nothing on them but the primer that was splattered on when the house was built 20 years ago and of course I could no longer live like this, like some unwashed heathen, and then because I liked the new color of the one wall it required me painting the other three, but this of course necessitated tubs of spackle, as well as the movement of huge cabinets and the eviction of dust bunnies that had been growing since 1994.

And all this couldn’t have been accomplished, nor could the watercraft find a place inside, if I didn’t eliminate massive piles of the flotsam and jetsam that accumulate in an adventurous life. Did I really need two pairs of telemark skis, when between the last time I tele’d and now I’d had 13 screws put in my leg? Or how about those pre-rocker Salomon Gun Labs, which I had long ago declared one of the best skis ever made but now seemed anachronistic? Why did I still have extra pads for V-brakes? Or a giant pinhole camera?

Hours went by, and the charity pile had grown bigger than the keeper pile when I came across my daughter’s rash guard, the one she used back in elementary school. Now almost 14, on the verge of womanhood and standing eye to eye with my wife, she wouldn’t be able to get it over her head, let alone use it for surfing. It was barely bigger than my hand with the fingers spread wide.

I bunched it up, brought it to my face, and inhaled deeply. I was hoping for some long-forgotten whiff of childhood, a sweet bubblegum girlie smell, but there was only dust, and a little must from storage. No matter. It still conjured up visions of pulling it over her wriggling little body, of sand stuck to perfect skin, of salted freckles and long afternoons at the beach below our house. It reminded me of her smallness, of the days when I could still carry her, and I did, and her bathing suit wet my clothes and cooled my skin while sweat trickled down my back from bringing her up the hill.

Nostalgia and fall go together like burning leaves and the smell of smoke. Perhaps this is just longing for the halcyon days of summer, or perhaps it’s something more existential, awareness of the metaphor for the fading of youth. As I puttered in the garage, trying not to lose momentum, transitions were all around me, and it seemed easy to fall into a sad golden glow. Rachel, a neighbor and friend whom I’d seen grow from an infant, was about to leave to start college 3,000 miles away. My son would be heading for university a year hence, destination as yet unknown. My daughter was entering high school, and she was no longer the little girl who wanted to be carried, or could be.

But I didn’t slump into melancholy. I tossed the rash guard into the charity pile, turned to the next heap, and kept going.

Our gear serves us well, whether we’re grownups or kids, but eventually the time will come to leave it behind. We outgrow things, that’s the way of it, and it’s nothing to be sad about. In exchange comes something impossible to predict, though usually better. My son rides my bikes now, he rides my surfboards. My daughter wears my wife’s wetsuits. The cute little puppies wriggling on our laps are gone, and yes, you can’t help but miss that, but what we have now, the relationships with these new people, is so much more complex and nuanced and sustaining, it makes you long for the future, not ache for the past.

It took all day Friday and the entire weekend, too many trips to Home Depot and enough visits to the Good Will dropoff that they came to greet me by name, but by Sunday night the last coat of paint had dried and the paddleboards were in their new home on the wall. On Monday morning, I wandered out to admire my work, because, you know, I worked really hard, but the boards were gone, and so was my car. My son, along with his girlfriend, had taken them down to the ocean for a little paddle. It was a warm morning, sunny with just a hint of cool, and whatever you want to call that feeling in the air, summer, fall, or something in between, it was just about perfect.



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