At the end of our vacation in New Hampshire last summer, I suddenly felt that I had somehow missed the vacation. I had been physically present, but mentally distracted, fretting about completing a manuscript, submitting poems to journals, and who knows what else. My disappointment at the missed vacation stayed with me long after the vacation was over. One night last winter I woke in a panic from a dream in which I had somehow missed yet another New Hampshire vacation. I took the dream as a warning, and last week on vacation I kept mentally poking myself, asking myself again and again, Am I really here? Am I really here?
While I’m on vacation, I spend a lot of time reading. I sit with my book at the edge of the lake or float with my book in a tube on the lake. (“Don’t you worry that your book will get wet?” asked a young cousin, and I told her that I’m not so precious about my books.) So to be on vacation is for me also to be imaginatively elsewhere. But the reading isn’t a distraction. It’s an embodied activity—the lapping of the waves on my feet, the bobbing of my tube on the water—and an activity with a rich personal history. Summertime reading has always been my favorite reading, my experience on the page suffused with the sunshine, rustling of leaves, chirping of crickets, and whirring of cicadas.