I Make This Quilt and Dream of Summer Picnics

by Crystal Sands

This quilt started with a pandemic. We are homebodies—homesteaders with chickens, ducks, livestock guardian dogs, and an organic garden to keep us tied to the land. We like being home and didn’t venture out often unless we were going on a family hike, even before the pandemic. But we loved to hear live music and always celebrated our children’s birthdays with dinners at great restaurants. 

Despite being homesteading homebodies, after a few months of isolation, the pandemic was starting to take a toll on our family’s mental health, as pandemics will do, I suppose. In spite of my tendencies toward introversion, like so many others, I longed to leave the house, to see people, to hug my friends, to hear live music, but this was not to be. We remained careful and vigilant, but we needed relief.

Nature would provide it. 

The first summer of the pandemic, I was determined to find a way to do something special as a family, especially for summer birthdays and holidays. After all, we live in beautiful Maine—vacation land. Picnics became our activity of choice. 

Sometimes, we would hike first and then picnic. Sometimes, we would just choose a fantastic location, load up the goodies, and eat our sandwiches while we enjoyed the view. 

My favorite picnic of the first year of the pandemic was for our youngest child’s birthday. There would be no birthday parties with friends, but we could spend some time together in nature and celebrate in a new way. I made sandwiches and cupcakes and packed a robust picnic bag complete with cute little apple juice bottles. We brought a blanket, our picnic basket, and a lot of hope. 

We drove from our small town in middle Maine about an hour to Acadia National Park, hoping to find a spot that wasn’t too crowded. Right away, my husband found a little cove that looked out onto the ocean. It was perfect. It was just us, the rocks, the sand, the waves, and the seagulls. We hiked out far enough to find a giant rock that made a kind of ledge over the water—and the view was magnificent. I breathed it in.  

I unpacked everyone’s goodies, took off my shoes, and hung my feet over the rock ledge. My toes could almost touch the water, and as I sat with my face warming in the sun, I realized that this was the most joyful experience I had had in years. Our sandwiches made with homemade bread were delicious. It was just our little family, sitting in the ocean breeze, being together. And, after our picnic, we cleaned up our mess to leave no trace and then explored the sand, the rocks, and the water. 

“I want to do this again,” I said as we made our way to our car. 

“Me too,” echoed my son. 

“We will,” my husband confirmed. 

That day was good for all of us.  

Today, I make this quilt and dream of our picnic that day, of that perfectly warm Maine sun on that perfectly flat Maine rock in that perfectly cool Maine breeze. I make this quilt to remind me of that day. I make this quilt to solidify memories of the picnics yet to come. 

By the second summer year of the pandemic, we were full of hope. Vaccines were here, and though our son wasn’t yet old enough for a vaccine, we were close. We just needed to make it through one more summer with a bit of carefulness–and then we would all be vaccinated. We could return to concerts and the nice restaurants on our birthdays. Just a little longer. 

Plus, we had our picnics, and the picnics were lovely. 

My favorite memory of our second summer of pandemic picnics involved a lighthouse and the eastern-most point in the United States. We packed our sandwiches and our apple juices and drove to see the lighthouse in Lubec, Maine. It was crowded around the candy cane lighthouse, but we hiked a little bit and found a massive rock overlooking the ocean. We carried our blanket and our basket down into the rocks and spread out on a rock’s beautiful flat surface. 

In this quilt I make today, I put the joy and love I felt that summer on that beautiful, warm rock into the pieces of my quilt. 

As I sat in the bright sun listening to the ocean waves crash into the rocks, I could see Canada just across the water. I wondered what they were doing. “How are they handling this pandemic over there?” I hoped they were doing better than we were, but I suspected it was about the same. When the “summer of love” the media promised all of us never arrived, some realizations began to sink in. Though vaccines offered some hope, this thing was going to be worse and longer than I thought. Delta had arrived. 

Thank goodness we still had our picnics. Early autumn picnics in Maine are fantastic too. 

At one of our picnics on the coast that year, a seal came strangely close to us. For a moment, I was hopeful that, somehow, the seal wasn’t afraid of us. I was surprised and thrilled to see nature that closely. I normally see seals as elongated dots from far away, but I could see the seal’s eyes and whiskers. It was a breathtakingly beautiful animal. 

But it was all an accident. The seal rode the waves joyously in our direction but then saw us on the rocks. Truly, that seal did a u-turn right in the middle of a wave. Before it turned, I am certain I could see the look on its face: “Oh. Humans. Time to head out.” I was sad it left but understood. Humans cannot be trusted.  

I wonder what this summer, our third summer in a pandemic turned endemic, will be like. Our family is vaccinated, but we feel safer doing outdoor activities still. Thankfully, we can wear our masks and go to concerts, but our family now has a new tradition to look forward to. 

I make this quilt and plan our summer picnics. Where will we go? What favorite places will we return to? What new places will we find? Won’t it be nice to have a special quilt? 

The quilt is made of small red and muslin blocks, classically-picnic in its pattern and color. With each stitch, I think about the coming summer months, when, no matter what is happening in the world, I will be having picnics with my husband and my son, under trees or on the rocks looking out on the water, letting nature heal my soul. I make tiny squares into larger squares. I measure and then cut and then sew with intention and hope. 

We found a joy in our picnics, and if there’s one thing I have learned in my time on this planet, it is that we have to find moments of joy—and then cherish them. 

This quilt—with its perfectly imperfect stitches and deep red hues and its nostalgic muslin–brings me comfort. I make this quilt as a wish for the future, as a wish for the stories this quilt will hold. Quilts are magical like that. 

Today, I make this quilt and dream of summer picnics.