Another Precious Summer, Training for Life

Another Precious Summer, Training for LifeSixteen summers ago, in June, when peonies bowed their heavy heads, wispy clouds wafted over the still lake at Camp Scatico in Elizaville, New York. It was early morning a few weeks before camp would open, and that year’s new group of lifeguards was in training. Polar bear swim. To get a head start I ran into the lake first, breaking the calm surface into ripples. Two great blue herons suddenly soared up out of the mist. They flew over me, and before I could shout, “Look,” the other lifeguards, decades younger than I, splashed noisily by with great speed and strength. They swam all the way to some far marker and back again, twice leaving me in their wake. But that didn’t matter. Even then, I knew it was the beginning of a new journey. For me.

Two months before, I had turned fifty. Always afraid of drowning, I’d never dreamed of becoming a lifeguard. In order to afford to send my kids to camp though, I’d taken a job as a hiking counselor, and then the camp had me trained and certified. I spent the next four summers hiking and lifeguarding. And training. Every time the peonies bloomed I set off for camp for more lifeguarding instruction. It was good training for what was to come later, when my daughter got cancer.

Years after those lifeguarding summers, peonies were just starting to bloom when Marika was first diagnosed and I became her caregiver. Caregiving and lifeguarding were similar. Except with caregiving there was only one life to keep from drowning. And after the first summer with cancer Marika got her own lifeguard certification. Being a cancer survivor and a lifeguard, she knew something about the nature of life. A local camp hired her, but for the next two years, just when peonies perfumed the air, cancer came back. Marika and I were stuck in hospitals. Three whole precious summers lost. And after, there were summers when the peonies were lost; everything beautiful was lost on me. I was living in a downward wafting cloud.

The memoir I’ve been writing for the last six years was, at one point, to be titled Lifeguarding. A friend suggested that Guarding Life would be better. That got me thinking. Because guarding life is what I do now. Life and lives. And time. All bright, fresh, bursting with promise. Mysterious. Fragile. Elusive.

Whenever peonies bloom I get excited about summer, and I remember Camp Scatico where each June they train more lifeguards and leaders. I wish them a brilliant season, and hope these new leaders get to see the herons. My best wishes to all of us for a most magnificent summer.


Where will summer take you this year? Where will you allow yourself to go?



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6 thoughts on “Another Precious Summer, Training for Life

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Exquisite peonies, Robin, and a beautiful story. For me, it’s Lupines. I remember a little of your life-guarding experience. I think it was in a draft of your book? I’m doing more gardening and bird watching than usual. Tumultuous weather makes me struggle with vertigo so the body demands I calm down and get balanced. I’m also writing, but without a sense that I have to do anything. I write because I love it. The same reason I garden, follow butterflies (I saw 2 Monarchs yesterday and have been seeing them for a few weeks), take walks, and hang out with dogs.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Gardening, yes! I believe I’m beginning to understand what it is about gardening, Elaine. It is so much more than simply having a beautiful display of colors greeting you at the door each day. It’s the promise, the tending, and the physical moving of earth I think. Now. And maybe the ritual too, as I’m discovering over time. Sorry to hear that weather can trigger your vertigo. We aren’t in a gentle weather cycle these days. In fact, I’ve missed out on a lot of my dog walks lately with all these storms. But the birdsong this year is magnificent. May need to make a commitment to bird watching too. We seem to love a lot of the same things. Wishing you well.

  2. Annette Corth

    I could almost smell the heavy fragrance of the peonies when I first saw your magnificent image.

    I sense that this might be my last summer. I am winding down and am making preparations both to ease my slipping away and to help my stepdaughter sort out my finances and all of my stuff. It is so tempting to invite all my family and my friends to a farewell party, perhaps a potlatch. “Who would like to have this lamp?” “Who lusts after my ancient computer and TV?”

    I love your blogs and look forward to receiving them.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I like that idea of a farewell party, Annette. Happy to help out with that. Actually it gets me to thinking about my own wrapping-up. Makes it much more palatable to think in terms of a party. More about this soon, I think.

  3. Monica Sword

    This summer I’m returning to my ancestral home and my chosen hometown(s) from the 50+ years I lived in Wisconsin. Returning to my roots so I may start out again and again. Revisiting the haunts of mine and my late daughter, promoting the tender story she wrote, which is now an illustrated children’s story. I will allow myself to stand on familiar and new coasts and declare I’m ready for whatever comes next.

    Robin, your stories move me, every time and leave me looking forward to more.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      There’s something truly amazing and beautiful about returning to your roots. And also in being able to “declare I’m ready for whatever comes next.” Especially after a daughter dies. It’s like acknowledging the gifts our daughters gave us, and continuing on with a strength born of their deaths that is fierce enough to fuel us forward in their honor, but solid in the stance of our new selves. Lena and Marika, forever and always.


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