Opinion

Smoke on the water

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I’m usually out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. Moving quietly downstairs into the kitchen, if I have coffee from the night before in my insulated stainless steel LL Bean mug, I take a sip. But if there’s no day-old dark coffee to sip, I brew a fresh mug.

Moving to the guest room — formerly known as “my office” — I raise the blind and look almost due north across Bear Pond to Bear Mountain. The sun is still not visible, but sunlight is beginning to crest the western tree line, falling on the pond and the mountain. The pond surface is most often calm. Sometimes Loons are out eating fish for breakfast, or a Great Blue Heron creeps along the shoreline studying dead fry and freshwater mussels wondering, “Should I eat that?”

Raising the guest room blind always reveals a new day, a shift in the season. For a few weeks now, the sunlight on the new day includes “smoke” on the water, which, for me, means nature’s bittersweet race toward fall, then winter, has started. Overnight the cooling air temperatures convert the pond’s heat into “smoke” and steal it away. In the morning, if the sun stays out and the air temp rises, the pond reheats.

But the pond never reheats to its temperature the day before.

I notice the difference swimming and snorkeling. Five-year-old Grafton does too. There’s a time each year, with summer waning, when the water has noticeably cooled. Rather than simply focusing on swimming or surface diving for hidden treasures, cold is part of the equation. The same as the moment you can no longer sit outside in the evening — conversing with family and friends, reading a book, taking in the world around you — without wearing a hoodie or a sweater.

This summer Grafton improved his swimming by leaps and bounds. Watching him discovering he can dive and swim with fish around Bear Pond rock piles is pure joy. “Papa Fish,” Grafton says now, “let’s dance underwater.” He dips below the pond surface, mimicking several of the moves he’s learned from watching his mom’s Zumba class.

My kingdom for a GoPro underwater video camera.

My goal, from years ago when Grafton and I were first spending time in the water, was to help him learn to swim by being comfortable in the water, and by respecting the water. Also, I never acted in a way to make Grafton afraid of the water. This year we have a “buddy system.” Whenever Grafton swims and dives in deep water, I’m right there if he gets tired or spooked.

It’s not only the smoke on the water signaling an end to this year’s Camp Marlene Dive Team adventures. Next week Grafton starts kindergarten. No more, or substantially fewer, weekdays with Grafton at Bear Pond. I guess that had to happen sooner or later. I will miss our days together.

But one door closes and another opens. Kindergarten is bound to bring new solo adventures for Grafton. And he and I will simply take our adventures afternoons, weekends, and — who knows? — maybe I’ll be able to bust Grafton out of kindergarten now and then.

Recently, I told Grafton he was “a half a year old” when we first met. “And you showed me things, right, Papa Fish?” He caught me off-guard. “Yes,” I said, “and you showed me things too.”

“Like what, Papa Fish?”

“You showed me how to dance, to laugh, to think about life through your eyes. You taught me patience, to communicate, to listen. You showed me how blessed I am to have you in my life. You’re the best,” I said.

All true. Although what I told Grafton doesn’t begin to describe the moments-to-moments I’ve had with him. They seem to disappear now like — dare I say? — smoke on the water.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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