Tale Tues: Birch Birds and Masticating Boats

We’re in New Hampshire. I packed for summer. You know, shorts, bathing suits…for hot weather.

It’s freezing. Gale winds. Whistling around the corners of this cute little cottage, a prelude to some freak summer nor’easter.

It’s August.

Poor Gramma can feel the cold even in a heat wave, so at least she’d packed her own fleece winter pants and turtlenecks. Still, as layered as she is, far more than the rest of us in skimpy shorts and cheap Target sweatshirts, she can rub her cold hands together. “It’s freezing.”

The boys whine that it’s too cold to go swimming.

I command that they go swimming anyway. Because that’s what you do at lake houses in summer. You swim.

Unless you have an internet connection. However spotty.

“I keep crashing,” whines techy Big Bro who suffers from withdrawal if he can’t connect daily, especially when it’s too cold to swim, for his daily dose of MineCraft, of building block pigs and block glass and wool houses (yes, wool, don’t ask).

“I can’t connect at all,” Little Bro complains, not nearly as whiningly, as he’s not nearly as interested in connection. He can resort to practicing his magic tricks in the tiny bathroom mirror. Taking on and off his thumb.

“You’re not supposed to connect,” I sermonize. “We’re in the country.”  I try not to sound whiny myself. I wish I’d packed my fuzzy winter slippers. My nose is cold. I resist pulling out my iPhone to play Bejewels.

“Well, it’s freezing in the ‘country’ and we can’t even go out in the boats,” rightly claimed Big Bro this morning, because of gale-like winds.

The boats. Lots of them! A paddle boat, canoe, rowboat, and kayak!

And there the boat menagerie sat – rather, swayed and rocked – tied up for the boys to gaze at ruminatively, as if at tied-up horses masticating hay. If only they at least could feed the boats carrots, something to do.

I had forbidden the boys to go out even in the rowboat, to crest the white-capped lake waves, their having little enough experience rowing on calmer waters.

And I cursed Daddy’s nasty boss for refusing him any more vacation days. Daddy’s back home, with high speed connection texting me about the sink hole that once again is sinking above the cesspool:


(Yes, Daddy’s foot sinking into front lawn). When he could be here. Complaining about the cold along with the rest of his beloved family. Intercepting the boys’ nasty picky battles when they beg us to send the other to “the adoption center.”

Back to the masticating boats: Luckily, it had rained, so they were all full of water. Something to do! And I proclaimed, “You can’t go out in those boats until they’re bailed, anyway.”

“What does bail mean?” One or the other asked.

Good god.

I pointed to a big plastic pitcher and pail under the house.

Their little brains churned as they looked back and forth from pails to boats until they got the idea.

Moms can come up with brilliant ideas to keep bored summer children occupied, and bailing boats is one of them. (I wish we had boats back home to bail.)

Sadly, like all good things, bailing must come to the end when all water is…bailed.

They gazed at the now bailed boats. “Can we at least just sit in them?”

Yes! You can sit in them! Something else to do.

Meanwhile, it was already actually the afternoon, and a patch of sun had emerged on the side of the house – where I’d settled Gramma in her comfy fold-up chair. And where I didn’t like to leave her alone for too long, as she is 94, and is on a hill and is sitting in a fold-up potentially collapsable chair.

And frankly, there is sun and I’m freezing….so I go back up the hill to bask in sun, one ear trained toward the boys down by the dock, as I can’t quite see them through the birch trees.

Until I do see them. Through the trees. In the canoe, adrift….

Mad-frantic-mom raced down hill tripping out of flip-flops, to the dock– the current was threatening to carry them around the bend and out of sight. Deja-vu moment, trust me.

They actually had paddles.

Sadly, no life preservers.

This is a lovely quiet lake where not even motorboats are allowed. But steeped in the quiet now was a high-pitched squealing mom, screaming out her sons’ first middle and last names.

“We didn’t know!! It just came loose!” cried out little Bro, and I believed him; Little Bro was afraid to ride any Disney rides. Little Bro is afraid to ride his brand new bike. Little Bro is afraid to be drifting off in a canoe he doesn’t know how to steer.

I yelled to them both to paddle hard on their right sides. To get them to turn the canoe back toward the dock.

I saw Little Bro thinking: “Hmm. Is this my right or is that my right?”

“You’re left-handed, stupid!”  Big Bro yelled. “The other side.”

And they got it. Together. Two little awestruck boys paddling hard against a stiff wind. As I contemplated stripping off my cheap Target layers to jump in for a rescue.

And they did it. They were able to turn around, back toward shore, in reach –  I waded in, reached out with relief, anger, and monstrous mommy love to pull in the canoe and my ducklings (yes, ducklings: mixed metaphor or irony here of water birds….)

This whole incident was just a matter of minutes. You know, minutes that can feel like hours.

Until the next moment when I heard my mother calling – from up on the hill. From her fold-up collapsable chair. For which all I know, had collapsed.

I ran up the hill, tripping back into my flip-flops. My little ducklings waddling close behind Mommy duck now, still a bit awestruck.

Gramma was safe in her chair, but leaning dangerously forward, pointing with great urgency at a tree.

“Look! Look at that bird!”

I was trying to catch my breath, to reclaim my nerves. “What bird?”

“That huge, bird right there! On that birch tree! Oh, I wish I had my bird book. Boys come see this bird!”

We all peered at the birch tree. At this:


…Which does indeed look like a giant (birch) bird pecking at a birch tree.

“I think it’s just part of the tree, Gramma,” Little Bro said. I could tell he was still feeling adrift. As adrift as he had at Disney, recovering from the Space Mountain ride.

“See the beak?” Gramma said, excitedly. I held onto the back of her chair so it wouldn’t tip over.  “And its head’s moving!”

“Gramma, you’re having a brain fart,” Big Bro said.

I slapped Big Bro on the back of his head; we don’t discuss brain farting in the presence of grandmothers.

But I was remembering how my mother had told her ophthalmologist about seeing double; like double cars in her rearview mirror. Just before her license was revoked.

So I diagnosed the brain-fart as her double-vision which quite possibly might make a beak-like branch appear to be moving its “head.”

I was weary. “It’s a stump on the tree, Mom.”

My mother can be as unswayed as she is politically when her political point of view might be challenged. “It’s not. It’s a bird.”

The day had been long and for a quiet long moment, we were all just staring at the stump.

Then Big Bro started down the hill toward the tree. “Well, let’s see if we can make it fly away then.”

“No, that’s mean, don’t startle it!” Gramma called.

But Big Bro is already trail-blazing through the bushes…


…to climb up the tree, and yell back, “See, Gramma? I’m petting the bird!”


Gramma was laughing now. “Ok. Well. I liked it better when it was a bird.”

We’re all laughing. What else to do when there’s nothing much else to do but laugh?

And then the real moment: Ryan climbed back up the hill to climb into Gramma’s lap. “I don’t want to break your bones, Gramma. Let me know if I’m breaking you.”

She laughed and laughed.


About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at thewoventalepress.net; mother; weaver
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14 Responses to Tale Tues: Birch Birds and Masticating Boats

  1. Susan Givens says:

    Sandra — what a hilarious tale. You are an excellent observer and have the gift of writing. I enjoyed this SO much and have lots of friends that will, too.

    Susan Givens

  2. Kathy says:

    Oh, that is funny about the “bird’! LOL I can’t believe how cold it is for August!!


  3. n brock says:

    Lovely family memories! Sometimes the best ones happen at the worst of times!

  4. I really enjoyed this! You have quite a talent. Great when fate plays into your hands and sends you great stuff to write about!

  5. Brenda says:

    Oh, I needed that. You’re a keen observer and a master story teller. The pictures are not so bad, either. I think that’s the case with families, we just never know when something wonderful is going to happen.

  6. Sandra, I love your way of telling a story! This is wonderful… though I do hope it warms up for you!

  7. ajwrites57 says:

    Oh Sandra, what a funny moment by moment description of an ordinary summer vacation day through the eyes of a mother and daughter with the most amazing sense of humor (replete with images from the Serial Texter)!

    “I slapped Big Bro on the back of his head; we don’t discuss brain farting in the presence of grandmothers.” Beautiful! :o)

    • Sandra says:

      lol, yes the serial tester:) Yes, my son trail blazing through god knows what (all I could think was ticks and poison ivy) was quite a shot.

    • Sandra says:

      This drives me nuts; when I hear from you, I try to go to your site and it gives me that big red Phishing site warning. I click anyway. And page is not found.

  8. Angel says:

    I LOVE THIS!! Yes, we are a lot alike. At first, I saw me in you trying desperately to find them something to do so that I didn’t hold them under the lakewater until the bubbles stopped. (j/k) Then I saw my boys doing all of the same things (especially the canoe) that yours did. Only difference is my youngest would have been trying to stand on the front or back of the boat and practice being Karate Kid. Thanks for the laugh! And thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in this world. 🙂

    • Sandra says:

      Oh, you’re not alone Dear. Only difference you may not be a sandwich mom as I am with a 94 year old mom to balance as well as the boys. Somehow the canoe hasn’t tipped over:)

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