I first became friends with Jim and Liz by dint of being friends with their daughter Sarah. I have written before of the delightful welcome they offered to me when I tipped up at their home in Saint John, New Brunswick, on the eve of Sarah's wedding in August, 2008. As a complete stranger to them, known of only via what Sarah had told them about me, they welcomed me into their home and startled my reserved, British little self with their easy going nature and generosity, though I like to think that I got into the swing of things before my brief stay with them ended. The following year they invited me back, this time for Canadian Thanksgiving, and I spent some time at their camp on the Musquash, near to Saint John. I have to say that, amongst other delights, I enjoyed the best nights of sleep I have known in adult life there, the most tranquil and peaceful place I have ever spent any reasonable amount of time. Have a look for yourself (this is a photo I took in 2009)...
Lee-Anne and I saw Jim in 2011, he stayed with us for a couple of days on his way back from the Bi-Annual Balloon Festival in Chambley - need I mention that amongst his many talents and surprises he is an accomplished hot air balloon pilot - and it was really great to renew our friendship, sit and talk about his recent adventures in France, and reminisce about times shared in New Brunswick.
Last year, when I was in New York for work in October I was invited to renew my acquaintance with the Musquash, once more for Thanksgiving, but it just seemed too difficult and too expensive to get there; I was offered a 14 hour flight, via Toronto, to Fredericton New Brunswick (about an hour from the camp by road), for $850, which seemed like a lot of money to be there for 12 hours all told. I looked into hiring a car and driving up to the camp through Connecticut and Maine, but there are strange rules about foreign nationals and taking rental cars over the border, so that idea got shelved too... (As it happened, Sarah came down to NY from Toronto and we raised a glass to all in the Musquash, so in a sense we were there).
Cut to yesterday, when after a bit of texting back and forth during the previous few days, my family and I pulled into the Citgo station in Calais, Maine and parked up our rental car next to Jims truck. After transplanting the car seats and then the kids into the back, we loaded up and headed over the border and thence to the Musquash to spend a delightful and peaceful evening with Liz, Jim and Libby (their dog) in a magical, wonderful place where there is no electricity, no TV, no plumbing even, and all of those things seem to make the place even more perfect. A combination of their lovely, easy-going and friendly way - and let's face it, with our two kids running around and making noise and generally breaking the place up they must be saints to have taken so much pleasure in it all, let alone putting up with us - and the glory of the woods and the lake and the quiet and the full moon... Once more I experienced a brief spell wherein I felt as though I had left the world behind and entered a more real one. I cannot describe it more plainly than that.
And so my contention is that I am blessed. Once more a fabulous, nay priceless, experience has been laid out for me all through the kindness of friends and I have no doubt that I will never forget it, nor ever be able to properly thank them for it. Not only that, but this time they welcomed my wife and children with the same generosity and friendship that they have always shown me and the impact that it had on them was so plain for me to see that I now want to thank my friends for giving this gift to those closest to me as well.
If nothing else, this last couple of days has reminded me not only how lucky I am for this one thing, but how lucky I am to have the other friendships that I have. It has reminded me of all the amazing things that other people have done for me out of fellowship, friendship and love that have kept me sane, alive and afforded me the chance to experience some amazing and wonderful places, things, emotions and times.
Friends are awesome, and I want anyone who knows me and knows that I call them my friend, that I not only value their presence in my life, but that I am truly thankful for it. Let's spend more time together when we can...
Right, must sleep - tomorrow there is more of Maine to explore!
Don't let anyone tell you that travelling by air with small children is easy; it ain't. Having said that, don't let anyone tell you that it's so hard it's not worth doing either, because it definitely is.
We had a very long day yesterday, getting up at 0400h (BST), taxi to Heathrow, flight to Newark (LIberty International) and then driving the hire car from the airport to Livingston, NJ. By the time I crashed at around 2130h (EDT) I had nearly been up for 24 hours, and doing that with two children under three is no picnic, but overall it was not only worth it, but it was also "not that bad".
Clearly, we were lucky that K slept for four out of the seven hours, and we were lucky that O is very keen on drawing and colouring, and that even she deigned to sleep a little. We were also lucky that the flight crew took pity on us and moved us to a set of bulkhead seats that had been vacated by a group who had been lucky enough to be upgraded to Business Class. Even then, we had our moments - there was the pencil situation, and the constant screaming all the way from the airport to our hosts' home to name but two issues - but the general feeling of utter relaxation that has come about from being on vacation would have made an ordeal a hundred times worse completely worth it.
Later this week we are going to drive off into New England to take in the sights and sounds of a part of America that my wife and I have long been keen to visit, and it is my sincere hope that we are allowed to enjoy it by the kids, but I am optimistic based on the idea that the flight was more than twice as long as any of the drives we are planning to do.
Pictures and more musings to follow...
Oh yeah, there were wild deer in the back garden when we got up this morning.