...To live content with small means:
To seek elegance rather than luxury,...
-Wm. Henry Channing
The Hubbards were startled when peace was broken by the ringing of the cell phone. It was a new sound in Payne Hollow. All plans were agreed upon when the parents were able to speak with the Hubbards. It was arranged that by eleven the next morning, they would be waiting with the horse trailer at the top of the hill. The neighbor there had already been contacted.
After she talked with her parents, Emily went back to finishing her salad. She didn't eat many vegetables at home, but she found she wanted to please Anna. Her eyes found distraction in a cross-stitch sampler hanging on the wall directly across from her. It read: WHAT WE NEED IS AT HAND. She wondered at these words when Anna noticed her looking at the embroidery.
"A dear friend made that for us because it is our chosen motto for the life we live here in Payne Hollow. When Harlan and I came to this place so many years ago, it wasn't because we were poor and we had to live without electricity and many of the things people think of as necessary to live happily and well. No, we 'chose' this life. We enjoy it.
"Experience had already shown us how to make do." Harlan offered.
The girls were wide eyed. "Look," Anna said. "Daylight will soon be gone. I think we will have to leave the dishes so we can go down to the river to bathe now. It is at the perfect stage to use a clear and sandy pool next to the shore. And if you'll agree to tie ropes around your waists, we won't have to worry about anyone getting out too far. You can go right in with your clothes on, and I'll find clean things for you to sleep in tonight. Now go ahead, take these towels and soap out where Harlan is while I get those clothes."
Harlan was on the terrace lighting lanterns. They were ingenious, made of plastic gallon milk containers he had fished out of the river. The tops were cut out with the handles left on. Candles were secured by handmade holders in the weighted bottoms. It couldn't be missed that this fit the motto: What we need is at hand.
Each girl carefully carried a lantern as they followed Anna down to the hill. The scene was something like a Sargent painting in one of the art books at home, where girls in lovely summer dresses were in a twilight garden with lit paper lanterns around them. The bottles set down along the river had a similar warm glow. It was amazing to see something so simple to be useful and beautiful.
Harlan stayed at the house to help clean up while Anna and the girls rigged up a tent for changing using a sheet and clothespins fastened to branches.
"This is fun. Like camping."
"Harlan and I bathe in the river whenever the weather allows for it. Otherwise, we heat water in the house. Sometimes, when we are gardening or canning, or doing laundry and we get hot and dirty, we just have a swim."
"Wow, that is so cool, and you don't have to scrub out the bathtub!"
"No we don't, but I'm sure you would find it quite cool if you tried it when the weather is chilly. Sometimes the water is a bit muddy, and sometimes it is chilly, but we don't mind hurrying to the fire to warm. One thing is certain-after a late swim, we usually sleep very well."
The girls went into the river with their lines tied, sharing the brown bar of soap to wash away the dried trail dust that covered them from head to toe. It was refreshing to rinse away all that dirt in the warm silky water.
Anna sat on the shore watching them play like river otter pups. "This is my favorite spot to read Wind in the Willow to children," she said wistfully. The girls splashed. "We usually have willows at the rivers edge. Eventually high water comes and tugs some of them out and washes them away. I'm sorry to see a willow go, they add so much privacy to our shore. The riverbank is ever changing and always interesting."
Kellie was floating on her back rinsing soap out of her hair when she decided to dig her toes into the bottom and raise herself up from the water. Looking for the horses in the dark, she made a mental note to give them a bath when they returned home. "Hey Ranger, would you like a bath?" she said with a splash in the direction of the curious dog. He slowly wagged his tail but made no move from Anna's side. Anna smiled, patting the dog on the shoulder.
"Do you feel a little like a duck?" Hannah spouted at Kellie.
"Actually, I was wondering what it would be like to be a piece of driftwood floating all the way to the ocean...Look at the stars!"
"Harlan and I with our little dog Skipper, did just that, we drifted all the way to the ocean in a houseboat Harlan made. We were much younger, but even then it wasn't easy. There were dangers. We had to keep alert, so we made our journey cautiously and stopped to rest whenever we needed to. Harlan did foraging and trading along the way, and of course our little dog Skipper needed lots of runs. We were also always on the lookout for clean drinking water, or a few fresh groceries. Several times we stopped long enough to raise a garden and preserve our food. We had to inquire with land owners for that and sometimes we found someone who would play music with us, so we found many treasures in the land and people we met. Your little adventure today has me remembering our river journey."
The girls had questions about the houseboat. Anna said they always called their boat a shantyboat. It was wooden with no motor at all. The years spent living on the shantyboat were so rich that Harlan had written a book about it. Anna thought that they should wait and let Harlan answer some of their questions.
They used the sheet tent one by one, removing the wet clothes, putting on the dry. They hung the wet clothes where the sun would hit them first thing in the morning. It felt so good to be clean and dry now, that they didn't care if their own things were damp when they had to put them back on before they left.
A summer moon was rising when they made their way back up the path. The smallest breeze made the river surface shimmer with light like millions of floating mirrors. Moon mirrors! In the reflective light, they could easily see the horses were safe and still enjoying the grass in their little yard. Good night Gracie, Hrimnir, and Lady!