My husband returned from a duck-hunting trip to Arkansas last night. He told me all about it – standing in the chest-deep water, which is cold, watching dawn rise, countless ducks swooping in to land on the levee. The buddy put out the newest version of a decoy, the Robo-Duck, which paddles away from you and then back around in a circle. My children had the same toy, only it was at the end of a yard-long wooden stick, which you pushed, and the duck walked around, quaking and wobbling. “How do you get your Robo-Duck back, in the marsh in the dark in Arkansas?” I asked. “It’s on a leash,” he said, surprised, looking at me as though I was daft. Robotic ducks on a leash in the dark in the freezing Arkansas water. To each hunter his best toys!
While he was gone, I watched ducks here. They swim neatly in a line in the North River, right out in front of the Inn’s longest stretch of shore. Ours appear docile and well-behaved, perhaps aware they are a more privileged group than their far-away cousins crowding the Arkansas waters, there being only about fifteen waiting for us in the mornings here in front of the Inn. They float with a prim confidence, unafraid of hidden hunters. We have the same dawns, too – gorgeous red and gray over the Mathews shoreline, behind which lies the Chesapeake Bay and the rising sun. This morning, we had huge flocks of large, dark ducks, which I pointed out were easy targets right from the breakfast table (closer than Arkansas) – only they turned out to be geese, tall forms rising as one into the morning sky and heading off south, towards the open water of the Bay.
While Breck was gone, I managed the Inn. We were privileged to have a whole group here celebrating one guest’s birthday. Young, talented, rising-star people from Washington and New York. To a one, they are deeply engaged in careers that will make a difference in our world — in politics, in social change, in the arts. They live in urban centers, in order to follow these passions. I often wonder what the “younger set” will think of our history-bound homes and unabridged rural setting (the three buildings that make up the Inn, surrounded by fields and lanes and water). I like to think that combining access to wireless internet with sitting by fireplaces that burn real wood (of which there is no shortage), helps disguise the gap between us and the “outside”; if it doesn’t, that’s OK, too. The fact is, our common rooms have embraced many diverse gatherings over the years. The big rooms host eating and toasting, the smaller rooms invite private conversations. Everywhere, one feels the proximity to water: both the big blue salt river and also, just off the entrance to the river, our wooded, salt creek. Sitting by the creek, with our private shore opposite, appears to work a kind of change on guests – it speeds up the the process of unwinding, of coming together. This group seemed to relish their time doing just that, pulling up wing chairs by the Creek House fireplace after Marjorie’s big breakfast, planning their celebratory dinner they would be cooking there that night, and re-connecting with each other. There would be skits and singing in the evening – they would be sharing their fine talents with each other, bolstering friendships with this exchange of gifts, before going their separate ways back to work, back in the “real world”.
The benefit runs both ways, so often, in our innkeeping experience — it’s marvelous to see guests enjoying themselves so much, but their presence is also often a gift to us, too: I called Mollie, our twelve year old, to come over from Toddsbury on Saturday morning and meet me at Creek House, so she could hear the two opera singers practicing for their role in the upcoming birthday celebration. I impertinently interrupted these two song-birds to show them how the large common room there, the “second dining room”, was said to have good acoustics. They took off, their voices soaring and winding around my weekend housekeeping-helper and me as we stuffed extra towels into racks and plumped pillows – purposely taking longer than necessary so we could enjoy our private concert. Their music filled the waiting rooms. I called Breck on the cell phone, holding it up to the dining room opera singer’s booming throat, so he could hear “Don Giovanni”. He was still in the swamp in Arkansas, Robo-Duck in the background. I think he was jealous.