It being winter, we went to the mall for ice cream the other night. Gawd. There is absolutely nothing adventurous, joyful or remotely enchanting about stuffing the kids and their 14 layers of clothes into the frigid truck, avoiding crazed suburban mothers suffering from minivan fever, and paying six bucks for two small dollops of soft-serve. Consider, by comparison, our summer ritual of boating for ice cream.
It is just going on evening, and Quill, our 17-footer, is already in cool, deep shadow when we hop onboard. But as we motor out into the creek, leaving the shoreline behind, the late-day sun suddenly pours down our backs once more. This time, though, it has a softness to it, all its bright heat and fury melting willingly into the coming dark.
Our creek has a six-knot limit. This is so civilized. There's something supremely gracious about a six-knot limit at the end of a long, hot workday. We've been moving too fast since sunup. This is a required slowing of the pace, a state-mandated respite. I'm sure lawmakers never considered the psychological and emotional benefits a six-knot limit might have on the average working person. Still, there it is.
Once we clear the mouth of the creek, though, we fly. Most evenings, the river is ours, a ribbon of sun-tinted satin we share only with a few other families lucky enough to be here. Most of the big boats are gone. Runabouts and center-consoles zip along like waterbugs, and the people in them always wave-something you don't see much during the day. We're a tribe, we evening river people. Our relationships are oddly pure. We've never spoken, but just by sharing the river at this bewitching hour, we know each other in a way no one else can.
After a few minutes at 25 knots or so, we slow at the corner of the Naval Academy seawall and turn right into the Annapolis harbor. Another speed zone, another stroke of state-inspired genius. The sedate pace gives us time to check out new boats in town, feel sorry for the plebes sweating through their drills on the academy field, admire a fleet of racing dinghies, their white sails darting like origami birds over the water. We chug into Ego Alley, looking for an open spot. Usually there is none, so Johnny noses Quill into a patch of bulkhead, the kids and I scramble off and he circles. Our destination, Storm Brothers Ice Cream Factory. Only Storm Brothers is right on the water, and only Storm Brothers has Crazy Vanilla, which is something like a rainbow in a cone. We wait in line, the kids feeling important in their life jackets. As soon as we've secured the goods, we're back on Quill, leaving behind the cars, the people, the hot jostling crush of life on land.
As we skim back upriver, the kids wash their sticky hands in the spray that arcs off Quill's hull. I lean back in the cool evening breeze we make as we fly along, and find the first stars pricking through what some might call the floor of heaven. The river is a black satin ribbon now. The day is done. And I think I needn't look up. Heaven is right here.