vacation matters

Shhh - do you hear that? That's right. Nothing.

WHEN I GO ON VACATION, my primary goal is not to go far away, it’s just to not be home, where work constantly oozes into my psyche. All I want is to escape the stresses of daily life that seem to multiply like the fruit flies in my kitchen compost.

The night before we left for a trip to Maine last month, my 18-year-old cat attempted to thwart our vacation plans by staging a dramatic panic attack as we clipped her nails, in classic Sanford and Sons “This is the big one!” style. In a state of utter terror, she sprang from my arms, staggered in a wobbly circle like a drunk person, then flattened herself to the floor, panting and limp, where she remained for an hour until she smelled chicken cooking. Typically the cat’s only activities are sleeping, eating, avoiding cleaning herself, and wandering outside for five minutes a day to eat grass so she has something good to throw up later. Her constant snoring sounds remarkably similar to a death rattle, but the little bugger always wakes up.

She’s one of the many good reasons to leave town.

Leah and I like to rent places on the water, whether a lake or the ocean. Because we don’t plan to get off our asses for a week, it’s nice to have something attractive to gaze upon besides each other and my screensaver, which is a vacation photo of Leah sitting by a lake. We discovered the joy of cushy accommodations when Leah once joined me at a social work conference at an all-inclusive resort on the ocean. They cleaned for us, served us our meals and left a treat on the dog’s pillow every night. We were hooked.

Now our only requirements for vacationing are that a place allows dogs, bans smoking, offers privacy, and is rentable after Labor Day so we don’t have to suffer the sounds of squealing children. The little thoughtful touches added by the landlord make us happy: Wine glasses. Curtains on the windows. Ice cube trays.

I’ll spend a half hour paddling in a cottage’s kayak, because it’s there and I feel the need to say I used it. We’ll take a daily walk because the dog makes us.  But when we arrive at a cottage, the first task we do is check the freezer and make ice cubes. If there’s one thing I learned from my parents, it’s that vacation is the time to drink. [Edit from Mom: What do you mean that’s the one thing you learned from your parents!?   How about:  Take enough clean underwear and a shopping bag full of books.]

Bourbon, beer, wine, gin and Grey Goose Orange are on my packing list alongside shampoo and novels. Since opening the Lounge six years ago, alcohol has come to symbolize success and relaxation. It’s how we make our living, how we find inspiration, and how we wind down at night, even while on vacation. Especially while on vacation. Leah’s latest creation is a cardamom syrup with lime, gloriously combined with gin – an escape in a glass.

On the bay in Maine, we met our neighbors Neil and Pam, who were renting the larger cottage next to our tiny one.  Things started to feel homey. I borrowed a pan from them to bake apple crisp. Pam and I chatted about yoga. Neil greeted me on the dock the next day as I returned from my perfunctory paddle. “How do you get out of the kayak without tipping over?” he asked, a surprising question from a man who sailed a 29 foot sailboat and seemed to know random facts about everything.

“See that island over there?” Neil pointed to a wooded island in Quahog Bay with a fancy house and a bunch of moored yachts. “Dodge Morgan has owned that island for 30 years.”

Dodge. What a great name. Get out of Dodge, that’s what we were trying to do. Dodge our lives.

“He’s a famous world-class sailor who has sailed around the world,” said Neil. I wondered silently what it would be like to live somewhere amazing like that year-round. Would it still feel like vacation, or would the pressures of daily life hunt me down and stalk me at an oceanfront cottage? Would an island escape soon turn into home as I found myself borrowing a pan from the neighbors, and clipping the drama cat’s nails? Was Dodge Morgan rich, retired, stress-free? Would I win the lottery someday so I could be the same?

“He died this week,” Neil said.

That night, colorful fireworks burst over the island. As the wind died down and the moon rose, we could hear the voices and laughter of those celebrating the life of Dodge. Leah and I sat outside on the deck and watched the display, slapping at mosquitoes that shimmied on our faces. The fireworks scared the dog, but at least his panic didn’t involve a faux heart attack like the cat’s. Over a Grey Goose Orange and tonic, we pondered how short life is.

“We can’t take it home,” Leah said. “Ever.”  She was talking about the vacation feeling that we desperately wished would continue after we returned to Trumansburg. “But we can enjoy every second of being away.”

Maybe vacation isn’t about being somewhere else after all, I thought. Maybe it’s about being exactly where you are at any given moment without being filled with the desire to be elsewhere.  Vacation, from the latin, vacare. To be empty.

As the fireworks faded, I thanked my lucky stars that I’m not Dodge Morgan, even if he had a cool name. I’ve got a lot of years left to live, and apparently so does my cat. Time to make the most of things.

-Amelia Sauter


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