It’s that time of year when we lie out under the sun and scorch both our bodies and our brains. After we’ve lathered ourselves with sunscreen, we often like to do some reading, perhaps a novel. Propped up on elbows, we hold a book or i-pad with one hand and shade our eyes from the sun’s glare with the other.
Those who own cottages or cabins are usually smarter. They get a good sun-tan, but they retire to a shaded spot or a corner of the cabin to read. Visit a friend at a summer spot and you’ll find books or a loaded i-pad lying around. In their spare summer moments, people like to read.
A number of years ago, I met a teaching-professor who told me about a holiday she and her husband took each year. As summer was approaching, she made the rounds of the library and the local bookstores gathering books. Each year she came up with a suitcase full of books.
Then in July she and her husband travelled into north-central B. C. to an isolated lake. For years they had been renting a cabin at the far end of the lake. There were only six cabins somewhat isolated from each other. To get to the cabin, they had to be taken by boat ten kilometres up the lake.
Each year, they spent three weeks there, catching whatever sun was available, swimming from the dock, and hiking into the nearby mountains. But mostly they got to know one another again and talked to each other as they hadn’t during the year. It seems they were too busy during the year to do anything more than communicate in passing.
At this isolated lake, they had no television and no telephone. They left their computers at their city home and refused to take a radio with them. They acknowledged their cabin-neighbours, but made no effort to socialize. All they had were the essentials and a suitcase full of books.
So when they weren’t picking huckleberries or wild strawberries to add to their breakfasts, they were devouring books. She said it was amazing how many books you could read in three weeks if you had no other diversions. Both she and her husband could barely wait to finish one book before starting another.
Sometimes she had two or three books on the go in various locations—under her favourite white pine, at the dock, at the kitchen table, or in the bedroom. Sometimes if rain didn’t seem likely, she left books in her special outdoor spots.
She might put a rock on top to keep the wind from blowing the book onto the ground, or sometimes she carried a plastic bag and cached the book on a stump or a notch in a tree. Sometimes she carried a book with her when they hiked, and if the trail were even, she would read a few pages as they walked.
Strange? Not really, not to a book lover. Her job at the university was so demanding that she only had time to read material related to her work. If she stopped to read the latest Alice Munro fiction, it cut into her marking and her preparation. For her, teaching was a 7-day a week job. When she wasn’t actually teaching or marking or preparing or meeting students, she was thinking about the work ahead.
What I remember most about her story was her comment about how therapeutic this book-reading sojourn was each year. She told me they came back totally unaware of what had happened in the world and completely relaxed.