Literary Van-Cation; A Story Filled Road Trip
“Great Bellan!” rang through the hotel room as Kenzie discovered something surprising (honestly, I never did find out the source of the exclamation). The outburst made me smile. We had begun the fourth book of the Chronicles of Prydain, Taran Wanderer at our trip’s onset (on audiobook) and were nearing its completion. Kenzie’s cry mimicked one of the characters, right down to the slightly accented pitch. A few days later, on a particularly difficult hiking patch, Judah began complaining in a manner exactly like Gurgi, another character in Taran Wanderer. We immediately began to call him Gurgi, and he took up the mantle on subsequent hikes, regaling us with his outrageous “groanings and moanings”. In many ways, we have been on van-cation with the characters in Taran Wanderer which, at its completion, made beginning a new audiobook (Kidnapped by RL Stevenson) seem almost unfaithful. For me, the miles of trekking we braved on this road trip will be recalled any time the Chronicles of Prydain are read. Stories shared among family are binding.
In my profession as Homeschool Teacher and Stay-At-Home Mom (thank you international border crossing for naming “how I am employed”), my chief desire is to create a literary community in which our family can thrive and learn. Charlotte Mason (the 18th-century educator whose works and philosophy are shaping our schooling) describes education as an atmosphere; one teaches by spreading a feast of great works. With that in mind, and because it’s my nature, we read multiple books with this trip in mind and memorized poems. On our first hike of the trip, a leisurely stroll around the shores of Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, the kids began discovering “secret paths” up rocks and through caverns. At one such side trek, we found ourselves at a cliff edge, staring down at the gently rippling lake below us. A poem immediately came to mind, so I asked, “Does anyone feel like an eagle right now”? In chorus the recitation began:
“He clasps the crag with crooked hands
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls;
And like a thunderbolt he falls.” — The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson
At Crazy Horse Memorial (in the Black Hills of South Dakota) we watched a clip of the monument’s sculptor describing his engine and the “ka-put, ka-put, ka-put” heralding it’s dying breath. Immediately I was a teenager, hearing that story for the first time on a road trip with my parents and brothers. We drove my parents crazy echoing “ka-put, ka-put, ka-put” any time on that trip that we felt we just absolutely could NOT continue with whatever was being asked of us. I shared this with my kids, and the next day heard a squabble be resolved when one child looked another square in the eye and said, “I’m so “ka-put, ka-put, ka-put” with you right now.” They dissolved in laughter, bound by a shared story. Our final drive, after 19 days on the road, traveling that infuriating stretch down I35, was made bearable – even enjoyable – by listening to “The Princess in Black.” This favorite series of the two youngest girls calmed their road weariness and saved the rest of us from their other favorite, restlessness induced pastime: annoying one another.
The literary nature of Van-cation 2019 Canada Edition has been a communal nature. It will not always be thus, and if I am brutally honest even this trip had elements of individualism. Kenzie is a strong reader and speed through a dozen new chapter books I had put away for her; however, her giggles were immediately followed by “want to hear this funny part of the story?” and upon her completion of a book she almost always began reading it aloud to her siblings. We listened to audiobooks, shared poems memorized collectively, resurrected stories from the past, and gained access into Kenzie’s blossoming literary life. A Literary Van-Cation for the books.