Ferry Boat Captaining

For years, I’ve taken my daughter and her friends camping for a few days on an island in Lake Champlain. We’ve been going so long now that the years and memories have interwoven — the July the raccoons ate most of our food, how I always cook pasta and clams and greens from my garden, the way we always explore every bit of the island.

What’s changed is that the girls themselves have grown from kids to teenagers. This year, less biking and more talking.

In the early night, I lie awake in the dark, listening to the lingering remains of a thunderstorm and the girls tracing through school and soccer, questioning and wondering and thinking their way through the world.

On the way home on the ferry, we admire a sweatshirt the ferry boat captain is wearing. The shirt must have been issued by the Vermont State Parks. The back reads, 2020 We Did It.

We sit on the ferry’s open top. In the cabin, the captain invites in all the little kids on the ferry, surrounding himself with five and six and seven year olds. On the loudspeaker, he says, Lots of future captains with us today. We’re so lucky. All the way back from the island to the mainland, the kids cluster around him. There’s one place between rocks, marked with buoys, so shallow we can see rocks gliding beneath the lake water. He guides us through effortlessly, and in the open water again offers his chair to the children, who take turns. The children are radiant. The captain places his hand on a boy’s head and smiles joyfully.

Burton Island, Vermont