American Bear, Day 3: Ashtabula, Ohio

We got to Walnut Beach just as everyone was getting off work and piling onto the sand. Or so some teenage girls said when we asked if they thought we'd find someone to stay with. They were positive - but the opposite of loquacious. Most of the people we spoke to seemed less than eager to share stories with us. But then again, most of them were teenagers excited about the first hot breaths of summer.

Finally, we found Susan Hamme. She was nice from the get go - and also interested in answering our questions. And then - after a subtle but thorough background check, she invited us home with her. After, of course, the party she was attending wrapped up. But then she invited us to come play bocce with the group starting in a couple hours.

It was a perfect situation really. Because we got to explore Lake Erie.

I have never seen a Great Lake, until yesterday. And let me tell you - that is not a lake, it's an ocean. Without salt. The only thing that felt different to me - that really felt like someplace I'd never experienced, were the woods on either end of the beach - [small and light and more like clusters of trees than woods. But thats what they were called: woods.] - and the pebbles. There were pebbles and stones everywhere. Round and smooth and colorful. I spent most of my childhood obsessed with rocks; my 5th grade science fair project was basically just a survey of the different kinds of rocks. And the tide of this great lake had rubbed these rocks into smooth little pebbles in so many colors - bright orange to a jasper green - sand stone and granite and something the color of Greg's shirt.

It was cold. Very cold. But bareable. And I pulled Greg in after me. It had a small tide - a little rumble really - nothing exceptionally dragging. We swam around for maybe an hour, Greg stuck his tongue in the water multiple times - I think he was shocked to discover it wasn't salty. He said it was the first time he had been in a big body of water since he was fifteen - and it showed on his face.

Then we watched the sunset.

And then we met up with Susan, Lindsey, Chris and the gang for bocce. It turns out Greg is an amazing bocce player. He saved the day on multiple occassions - mostly after I had just messed something up. I had a few good rolls - even earning us a few points, but Greg, whoah, someone needs to buy him a set. And force him to compete. For money. Their family is amazing - a collection of the most interesting people: loving, nurturing. We used bug spray for the first time this summer, spent a few hours in the lights of the bocce court, caught some lightning bugs (that is another story from my childhood), played with the dog, and made sure to keep the feeling of competition up.

As we were playing, Sabrina (Chris' daughter) suggested an adventure for the morning. And I latched on - even if it meant waking up before 7am to go to the river.

Our time in Susan's home was short - at least while we were awake. But she was so kind and hospitable. She had an amazing shower - by the end of the night I felt cleaner than I had in days. We were joined in our night with her by Lindsey's two children: Gwen and Ian who were cute, cuddly and tired. They also loved the stuffed bears that we give out as thank you presents.

It was an all out sleep over - Susan, her dog Maddie and 4 guests.

After a delicious breakfast - Chris kindly treated us all - we pulled on our swimsuits and drove to the ford to jump into the cool (read: very cold) waters of the Ashtabula River. From a ford. Which is a bridge made of concrete that also functions as a dam. It was beautiful. The entire river bed was made of solid rock, the edges covered in the same colorful pebbles. Sabrina, Jose, Tatyana and Chris were fabulous company. We walked upstream, tried to catch some fish and told stories about algae and home. ATV's drove past, revving their engines as we counted to three and jumped into the river.

One. Two. Three. JUMP.