The kids were geared up. They had on their road warrior hats and there wasn’t a single complaint to be found. No, “Are we almost there?” No, “I’m bored.” They knew our destination. Had been looking forward to it for a year. This annual pilgrimage to “The River.” The Eel River, to be exact. We had left behind the tightly packed Douglas firs. Almost brillo-like in the way they densely covered the sharp slopes flanking I-5. We had said good-bye to the rolling hills of Southern Oregon speckled with maples. And, we were currently snaking our way past the awe-inspiring and rather haunting California Redwoods. As we slowly made our way up the shady, narrow road, the 5-year old called out excitedly, “Mom?! Where’s the Endor Base?” “Mom? Mom? Is that where the speeders go?” While I looked out the window and saw…Majestic. Colossal. Beauty. He looked out the window and saw…Ewoks. Clone Troopers. Battle scenes from Star Wars VI. (The other two didn’t see anything. They were conked out thanks to the Dramamine. A must for all but the strongest stomachs on the winding stretch of highway through the Smith River Canyon.)
What is it about the summer road trip? The anticipation of sleeping in a tent that allows children, who can barely sit for half an hour to enjoy their dinner, to sit for 8 or 9 hours straight in a car without complaining? The only question on their lips being, “When can we go to the river? Can we go to the river right when we get there? When? When? When?” And sure enough, upon our arrival, there was no holding them back. No setting up camp. Just a flurry of bathing suits and sunscreens and they were off.
Maybe the answer lies in its simplicity. The way that the older ones ferry the younger ones in a small boat across the “deep end” over and over, all day long. Neither party growing tired of the trip. Back and forth. Back and forth. The way the older ones jump off the rock into the river, over and over, all day long. Never growing tired of scaling the rock up past the poison oak and jumping again. Scaling and jumping. Scaling and jumping. Or, maybe it’s the simple thrill of “night swimming.” The rush that comes from conquering something that you feared. Or, the way that the Moms, best friends, sisters, still exhausted from the school year, are allowed to simply sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. In the sun. Talking about this and that. Sipping our sparkling water. A bottle of Rosé. At one point, I inquired of my 10-year old in a private moment, “So, are you having fun?” He looked at me, a bit puzzled and replied, “Mom? Are you kidding me? This is my warcraft.” And he pushed off into the water, kicking his inner tube down the river. The same kind of black inner tube I played on in my grandparents creek during the summer.
Of course, one can’t think of tents and rivers and campfires without thinking of food. Food that’s been simplified. Paired down. No cookbooks. No recipes. A loaf of purchased pound cake, sliced and left on a table for children to grab as they walk by for breakfast. A cooler full of sandwiches…pb and j, salami and cheese, turkey with hummus and vegetables. A bag of Rainier cherries. Canteens full of water. And in the evening, salmon and halibut that have been grilled to perfection with only a brush of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic salt for seasoning. A pot of buttered noodles and a salad of greens tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. Salt and pepper. Easy. Uncomplicated. No pressure, food. And even though I rather loathe marshmallows, every year at this time, there’s nothing quite like the perfectly roasted S’more for dessert.
Then at night, cuddled up in a tent, after a day of water and sun, all one really needs is a pillow, a sleeping bag, an air mattress and some night air for a deep sleep. Well, actually, that is if you aren’t me with my genetic disposition toward light sleeping and dog hearing. Which, even though it does not render me a full night’s rest, does allow me to hear foiled attempts to teepee the teenage girls’ tent by a couple of teenage boys…and then, to lay there and do nothing but smile to myself. The following day, I hear myself explaining to my teenage daughter who was aghast upon learning about the attempted prank, “They do and say these things because they like you.” And her saying to me impatiently, “Mom, you always say that.” And I guess I do. Just like my parents said it to me. And I wonder, “Is it true?”
Back through the Redwoods. Past the rolling hills and up to the familiar Doug firs. The only sound to be heard is the occasional, “Mom, can we stay longer next year?” The kids each thinking about what type of water contraption they’re bringing next time. Me thinking about the food. Those sandwiches by the river. That bottle of Rosé. And sitting. Just sitting.
A Simple Satisfying Summer Sandwich
Let’s be honest, sometimes in our overcomplicated world, we overcomplicate food as well. Summer with all of its fresh produce provides us with an opportunity to simplify because summer produce doesn’t need much except slicing. We couldn’t get enough of these sandwiches on “The River.” Paired with a handful of Rainier cherries and a glass of sparkling water or chilled wine….it doesn’t get much better than this.
2 slices of your favorite whole grain bread.
(I prefer Dave’s Killer Bread or La Brea Whole Grain Bread)
2-3 slices of tomato
4-5 slices of cucumber
4-5 slices avocado (or in a pinch, leftover guacamole)
thinly sliced red onion
your favorite hummus
salt and pepper
optional: a couple slices of turkey
Slather both sides of your bread with the hummus. Place your sliced vegetables and your turkey on one side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then, pile on the greens. Grab your unencumbered slice and flip it over on top. Cut in half on the diagonal. Pack away in a cooler for later or grab a plate, put your sandwich on it, a handful of cherries and go outside to enjoy. Best eaten with fresh air.