All my life, I’ve done a lot of daydreaming, otherwise known as woolgathering, fantasizing, and spacing out. It’s one of my favorite hobbies, along with eating. It’s free and portable and available to anyone, anytime. You don’t need any equipment or training. All you have to do is ignore whatever’s right in front of you and let your mind go wherever it wants. There are no rules, no one is watching, and nothing is off-limits. It’s one of the few absolute, eternal freedoms we possess.
The best daydreams are the ones that erase the present and feel so real it’s almost as if they’ve become true through sheer force of the imagination: the transporting ones, the ones that give the daydreamer something like a temporary parallel existence.
In mid-morning today, staring at a blank computer screen with a sense of dread, feeling the stresses of adult life and unwilling to contend with any of it, I rowed off in my mind across a vast, quiet lake in a canoe with a huge picnic basket, a canvas tarp, and an old-fashioned zippered sleeping bag.
I was 11, with my imaginary childhood best friend. Simultaneously, I was 14, with my imaginary summer boyfriend, sneaking away from our families for an afternoon. Also at the same time. Brendan was paddling in synch with me, Dingo sitting between us, his big bat ears peaked in the lake breeze. But really, I was alone in the absolute quiet.
After a long time, I came to a piney, rocky island in the center of the lake, isolated and far from any sign of people. I landed the canoe and carried everything ashore. I strung a rope between two trees and slung the tarp over it and weighted it with rocks, and then I unrolled my sleeping bag inside.
After I wedged the picnic basket in the roots and shade of a huge tree, I stripped and dove into the clean, cold water. And then, ravenous after a long, hard swim, I sat on the edge of the island, looking out over the water, and opened my picnic basket.
This was the best part of the daydream, the high point, and the purpose. In the hamper was a carefully curated picnic, one that took me a while to come up with as I stared into space, choosing, rejecting, and adding. In the end, I brought with me half a juicy, cold roast rosemary-and-lemon chicken, a container of vinegary, creamy German potato salad, a large, chewy sourdough roll, dusty with fine flour – I can eat all the gluten I want in my daydreams – and a mild, buttery brie, a hard, aged Gouda, herbed mixed olives, a hard salami, and cornichons. I also had a container of cold raw vegetables: sliced cucumber, red pepper, radishes, and celery. And a bottle of chilled red Cotes du Rhone, which is my favorite thing to drink this summer.
For dessert, I had a sack of fresh-picked wild blueberries, a bar of hazelnut bittersweet chocolate, and a big Thermos of tart, fresh lemonade, crackling with little ice cubes.
After I’d glutted myself, I sacked out in my canvas lean-to on my sleeping bag with the shadows of pine branches making patterns on my eyelids. A sweet-smelling breeze lifted the tarp gently and let it go again, without making a sound, as if I were inside a healthy lung. Dragonflies helicoptered through the air with a soporific buzz. The pine needles gave off their perfume. The pine boughs lifted and sank with a hushing sound.
I got chilly after a while and burrowed into my bag without waking up. The soft flannel inside smelled of long-ago campfires and past summers. The taste of the chicken and cheese and salami stayed on my tongue while I slept. When I woke up from this epic nap, I drank a bellyful of lemonade and dove into the lake again, and then, while the shadows got longer and the air cooled, I packed everything into the canoe and paddled for a long, calm, quiet hour back home.
When I got back, my computer screen was there in front of me, still empty, along with every damned thing I was worried about. Also, I was hungry. From the fridge, I fetched the rest of the purple cabbage, three carrots, and a head of greenleaf lettuce. With a red onion and a can of smoked kippers, I made a lunch so simple but good, it almost made me forget the imagined one.
Wash and tear into small bits 10 tender, fresh leaves of greenleaf lettuce. Thinly slice ½ red onion. Open a can of Bar Harbor peppered smoked kippers. Toss all ingredients with the liquid from the tinned fish, a dollop of mayonnaise, and the juice of ¼ lemon. Serve alongside a light, crisp coleslaw.