There are many kinds of summer house experiences. This summer I had two that couldn’t have been more different. In early June I spent a week alone in an isolated dune shack at the National Seashore outside Provincetown. It was a week filled with sky, clouds, dunes, and the distant rush of the ocean. The beach roses were in bloom, and I came to recognize the birds that nested nearby. There was no running water or electricity in my little shack, so I rose at dawn (4:30 at that time of year!) and went to bed when it got dark. Every morning I took a long walk on the beach, where I would see a few fishermen, my only human contact for the week. Sometimes I felt peaceful, and sometimes lonely and scared, especially at night when the wind made the shack bang spookily. Either way, it was a rich immersion in quiet and solitude.

Then, in July, came a week-long reunion on Martha’s Vineyard with my husband’s family. What a difference! Twenty-eight people aged six to sixty-five crowded together in a pair of up-island vacation rentals. We shared noisy meals, good-humored baseball games and rag-tag trips to the beach. With so many people to consult and transport, nothing happened quickly or easily – a simple run for fried clams sometimes took an hour of negotiating. There were the usual bloopers and missteps, so a large measure of humor and goodwill was called for. By and large, everyone rose to the occasion brilliantly. It was a rich immersion in the spicy brew of family.

We all need a balance between solitude and companionship in our lives. Both can be challenging in their own way. We get in trouble most often when we demand that things be a certain way in order for us to be happy: the sun must be shining, our relatives must behave the way we want them to. When we let go of our expectations, we have a chance to appreciate things the way they are. As the Chinese philosopher said, “Try not to expect anything. In this way everything will open up to you.”

I hope your summer had a good mix of silence and laughter!