April Picnic on a Maine Hilltop

This is another “ghost post” from John Clark and Kate Flora’s late mother, the writer A. Carman Clark. For over 50 years, she lived on a hilltop in Union, Maine, closely observing the seasons on her farm. One of her family traditions was an April picnic for her birthday, no matter what the weather.)

A. Carman Clark. April 17, 1992.

For my 75th birthday I asked for a picnic, sunshine and the sight of a loon. Wind and weather conspired against me. My side of Sennebec Pond held the ice in against the shore until late in the afternoon of the 16th. Then, as the sun set, the honeycombed ice broke loose. Twisted floes drifted north, turning and shrinking, until the pond waters won.

Before we could enjoy the movement of the free water, an April snowstorm covered the hills and fields. My younger daughter, Sara, and her three-year-old daughter Kate flew in from Nantucket in time to build a snow horse on the lawn and slide down the snow-covered slopes. Before dinner on Saturday, though, the lawn was clear and ready for baseball.

I’ve always thought bonfire had a French origin–the good fire–and in my head, that word has associations of night fires. But we had our fire in daylight, and before we lit it at noon on Sunday, we’d learned that the word had come from Middle English, when hot, outdoor fires, some the center of village entertainments, were fueled with bones. Our fire, built for a holiday feeling and to dispel the gray atmosphere of the morning, was a good fire.  My children and their children, except four-weeks-old Robbie, who slept in the car, cleared the picnic area of winter-pruned limbs to keep the coals alive.

That good fire brought us together to catch up on family news, recall April picnics of former years, and rescue sticky, hot marshmallows from the flames. And before we finished eating, my other two wishes were granted. The sun broke though the clouds and a solitary loon glided past, watch us as we watched him.

Several unexpected gifts added to my birthday pleasure. My grandchildren discovered a bounty of small, over-ripe puffballs and call me forth to be the one to jump on them and raise the brown smoke. I’m going to transfer some of the squashed remains out to the edge of the back lawn where we like to watch this fungus grow, white balls in the green grass. If I bury the brown masses in a shallow grave and feed them rotting wood pulp, we may have a bumper crop of backyard puff balls next September.

The old elm stumps and trunks in the east field, when properly and soundly beaten by the children, yielded buckets of nice, damp, rotten wood pulp to mix with my compost and mulch the lilac bush.

During the day, friends stopped by with birthday greetings. We even had a visit from a large, pink-eared Easter Bunny. This apparition confused thee-year-old Kate, who remarked, “I didn’t know Easter Bunnies drove cars.” It was a wonderful, full, happy day–with a picnic and sunshine and a loon on the ice-free pond.

Maybe this was the psychological moment to decide to forgo birthday celebrations in the future, and instead have anniversaries of this perfect 75th.

Perfect? A slight exaggeration. I stepped on a hot marshmallow and had to keep scuffing my shoes on rocks to clear my sole so I wasn’t wearing oak leaves. Mice or squirrels had chewed holes in the picnic blankets. We found one favorite pond-side oak tree dying. In spite of having a picnic, the kitchen counter filled up with dirty dishes.

Still, a memorable day which I hope my grandchildren will remember around many bonfires of their own.


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5 Responses to April Picnic on a Maine Hilltop

  1. Deanna says:

    What lovely memories you have. Dee

  2. Deanna says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Agreed, Dee. And how wonderful that your mother recorded the memory of the day with such love.

  4. John Clark says:

    Mom gave us many gifts; the ability to listen, the ability to observe and the ability to write among them. She was a terrific sounding board for both Kate and I, something we both miss a lot.

  5. sandy gardner says:

    lovely post!

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