I’m leaving for elk hunting tomorrow. It’s all still a little surreal, how my life has expanded to include stalking a large mammal with a firearm. Last weekend we went apple picking and then did a little shopping for the week. You know, toilet paper and copper bullets. For months I’ve been jogging, guzzling bone broth, target-shooting and reviewing lethal shot placements. And soon I’ll be in it, where all that prep is theoretical; where the aperture of my focus becomes exquisitely narrowed; where for five days everything that isn’t relevant to the hunt is suspended: the knocked up foster dog, the election, the children (whose schedule is a 4-page, multi-caregiver puzzle including daily single-serve yogurt, a concession which makes it all doable for Rosie. “It helps to have something to look forward to,” she explains).
It’s been a little nutty here as I dash around whipping up uber–caloric food, teaching creative writing to ten children out of my home, throwing down for a round of push-ups, and palpating the dog for contractions. Never one to quietly and unobtrusively stand by, Rosie’s need for connection ramps up in direct relationship to my busyness. She shadows me as I pull apple muffins out of the oven. “Last night at Col’s soccer practice when I scored a goal?” she begins, “the boys were all surprised because they under-doubted me.” She explains which parts of our 5 days away brings up the most nervousment and how she’d like Col’s bed to be no more than one foot away from hers on sleepovers. And then she kicks up into three handstands, whomps back down and reminds herself aloud that it’s normal for some puppies to die. This too, I tell myself, uncranking my shoulders. There is room for this too.
Shit’s getting real here on the maternity ward.
Sunny’s birthing tub has been installed in the living room. Rosie set it up with the thrift store blankets and waterproof bed liners that our mentor Erin brought over. Later when I climbed into Rosie’s top bunk to snuggle with her I noticed she had placed a waterproof bed liner in her own bed. Well that makes sense, I thought, being that she’s not one to miss out on anything ever. Col’s been singing the Daft Punk song, Get Lucky with adapted lyrics: We’re up all night ’til the sun / We’re up all night to get some / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to
get lucky HAVE PUPPIES!
The doula is in.
(If the puppy muffins come while we’re away, we have Kathryn, former garden apprentice and best housesitter in the universe, standing by).
Last week was Banned Books Week at the library and I picked up The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for Col and Rose, which I must have read 35 times when I was 13 years old. Reading it to them is like having my teenaged self momentarily intertwined with their emerging tween selves, all of us mired in the literary self-conscious angst of wanting to belong. The kids are loving it, partially because the characters drink endless Cokes, smoke a pack a day and eat chocolate cake for breakfast, which is as debaucherous a life as they can imagine, let alone the prevalent rumbles and switchblades.
Well here I go out into the (hopefully) elky woods, surrendering to the wild, unknowable elements. See you on the flip side.
Last week I put up a new post which never went out to e-mail subscribers. Because I totally understand the medium upon which I work, I
did a lot of technical troubleshooting, just decided to cross my fingers and repost.
Go here (last week’s post) to find out why there is an extremely pregnant dog living in our house, see if you can find the biblical verse applied to chard and kale, and read why I get so excited when Rose announces that she’s feeling jealous of a friend. And longtime readers, thank you for your kind and reassuring comments on that last post. My heart felt full of gratitude and connection hearing from you.
p.s. Stay tuned! Another post coming THIS WEEK. Like old times. :)
Thank you for your patience with my showing up here. I am wistfully nostalgic (and a little baffled) that I used to post here three times a week (and then two, and then one…). So much recording of the daily now. However, being such a traditional family—different than traditional family values (meaning, how Dan’s been boiling down hooves and hide scraps on the stove for three days straight to make hide glue again)—in some ways, I feel like I’ve written it all before.
Right? I mean, here we are again, caricatures of our own seasonally habitual lives. I’m blindsided by the flared up beauty of fall. Rose announces she’s not so hungry for dinner, while peach and plum pits are confettied around the house, in her hair. Col’s been gleefully shooting frost-killed tomatoes with his BB gun. And Dan’s been drying various things in the October sun: peaches, pears, deer and elk hooves.
The children pulse on. Col stumbled into my room late one night while Dan was gone hunting and said, “I’m feeling a little nervous about all the interests I’ve given up.”
“You mean like airplanes?” I asked.
“Yes,” he sniffled, burrowing his head into my chest. “And I used to be really into archery.”
“Right. And before that, rocks. And before rocks, trains.”
He nestled into me, teary and nostalgic for all the versions of himself that had already come and gone, the naming of each bringing on fresh waves of sadness. We snuggled for a long time; Col has a beautifully efficient way of absorbing physical affection, metabolizing it into something useful. At midnight I made him some crackers and peanut butter, his small body like a hopeful buoy floating at the big ocean of our table.
The first thing Rose told me when I picked her up from shared school yesterday was that she felt jealous because her friend just got new shoes and pants. And I may have been a little overzealous. “Jealousy? We can work with that!” I told her. We may be a little fuzzy on fractions, but we’re really comfortable with feelings around here. We’ve learned that they blow in like an extreme weather event, rumbling around colonizing your mind and body, then vanish. It helps to give those feelings space, to not crowd them with solutions, judgments, diagnosis or reassurance. It helps to lavish understanding upon painful feelings. I can understand how new clothes are so fun and exciting. It’s hard to see your friends get things you want. We spent the whole 1/2 mile walk home allowing and caring for the jealousy, and by the time we hit the trampoline in the front yard, the storm had blown out.
We had our first hard frost last night and as Dan’s mother and I scrambled around the garden picking half-blushed tomatoes and adolescent tomatillos, I had this feeling of completion, of the comfort and familiarity of returning to the steady and enduring greens that started this growing season, the chard, kale, lettuce, arugula. And as it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end.
In other fall happenings, we are fostering a small, lovely, heeler mix we call Sunny. Her life purpose is to bring love and peace to the people, while unearthing every bone that has ever come through the Tupperware Heights bone channels. (The life of a bone: first, the butchering table and then simmered down into bone broth, then tossed, denuded of minerals, into the chicken coop, where it is raked up and put in the compost and then resurrected under an elderberry bush or grape vine, then dragged out by Sunny).
Also, she’s pregnant with five little puppy muffins, and will be delivering sometime in mid-late October at the Turiel/Hinds home for unwed foster heelers. We have no idea what we’re getting into, which is good. Rose mused the other day, “I wonder who her husband was?” Indeed. Hoping there weren’t many St. Bernards on the Navajo reservation.
Yesterday Col spent the afternoon zooming a balsa wood airplane around the house. I didn’t point out to him that interests have a way of circling back around. There’s so much yet for him to experience.
:: The canine love dispenser.
:: Dan shot a bull elk with his homemade bow! He worked so hard for it. His friend Ben spent three days hunting with him and came home saying, “I kind of knew Dan went all out, but now I really know.” We had a family celebration recently and Dan said about this elk, “I’ll be celebrating all year.” Here, Sunny’s going, “Dat’s so cool how we kilt dat big elk together!”
:: Our amazing public library held a Young Author’s Showcase last weekend. Rose submitted her very suspenseful story about a snow leopard hunting. An excerpt: “I lunged to grapple with the meat. I ripped open the belly to get to the heart and liver. Blood sprayed everywhere, soaking my muzzle. The snow looked like red and white fireworks.”
Thank you for continuing to come here!
If I had just one more arm I could read to the kids while pitting plums. Or, make this while sweeping soccer mud off the floor. The grapes are purpling, the tomatoes are juicing up, the apricots are conducting their own middle school biology fruit-fly experiment. (I recently taught a canning class in which I explained that if you opened an apricot and found a little white worm, just discard it with the pit; the apricot is fine. Later—like 2 seconds later—I wondered if that’s the sort of advice that keeps me from rising like a star in my field. Just kidding, I don’t really have a field.)
New September chores are inventing themselves, like: clip spent cosmos flowers daily to prevent the deposit of billions of seeds, while swooning over the pinkness of those in bloom. Or, teach Rosie to actually bring green beans, cherry tomatoes and grapes inside rather than simply raccooning around the yard (just kidding, I love how she grazes at the backyard buffet). Dan says,”it’s that season when you have a sneaking suspicion that there’s something lurking in the fridge or garden that you should be eating.” Indeed. I am haunted by a 5-pound turnip.
We’ve started homeschooling again, meaning another year of experimentation and prayer. However, we walked out of the library recently, and Col said about his teetering stack of self-chosen books, “I can’t wait to get started on these.” Later that same day, walking a Humane Society dog, Col reached up on the river trail and grabbed a shiny brown acorn, shelled it and popped it in his mouth. And I thought, well, my work here seems to be complete.
September is the month of Dan bow-hunting, which is so traditional it seems to be encoded into our DNA. The familiarity of slipping skins off green chiles, or salting cucumbers into pickles while the house is bright and loud with children is terribly reassuring. These days solo-parenting is less about swooping around with a rag in hand (ready to wipe butts, faces, chins, floor) and more about connecting with these increasingly independent children.
Without another parent on which to deflect responsibility (Maybe Dan will make dinner, I think lazily from my Facebook haze), we become this small, rag-tag team, this 3-person pod conducting our own little nurture-fest. I become so available! They lap it up! I feel so fulfilled! We break out the same 700-piece puzzle that vexes us every hunting season (still vexing). We bike to the farmers market, play boardgames with grandmas at the UU Church on Friday night, lounge around the house utterly plan-less, choreographing the day in real time. I consent to my annual game of Monopoly, bored out of my skull, yet filled with the joy of being a mother who will play Monopoly with her kids. The September weather is endlessly perfect regardless of sun or rain; and even in the midst of whatever sibling nano-crisis is occuring, we are rich with the blessings of this season.
:: We got to have Chica for a two week sleepover, and I swear, we all became kinder, gentler humans in her presence. If anyone knows of a small, fun, kid-friendly dog who likes to take morning runs and give kisses, please don’t tell me about it.
The moment where life has a distinct before and after: Chica discovers elk liver.
Also, we loved this book, in which a rescue dog, much like Chica, brings people together.
:: Dan, “I can’t believe we live on an earth with this sort of bounty.”
Gorgeous Boletus edulis.
:: Boletes, when sauteed, taste like bacon cake.
:: Do you see how I can get a little distracted when Dan’s around? Holy moly! The fruit, the fruit! Just talking about all that fruit.
And Rose, for her bouquet titled “fruit fireworks” which included apricots, chokecherries, rose hips and crab apples.
:: Just in case you have a few sneaker zukes around, recipe for zucchini sliders:
:: Don’t forget to eat your broccoli leaves, and freeze copious greens to slip in your children’s mac and cheese.
:: For the historic 2016 Southwest fruit bonanza, my Fruit leather recipe:
Sending ALL the love, wishing for you ALL the blessings, and that maybe you will find yourself playing your least favorite board game with your most favorite people, and finding the hidden wealth therein.
We’re backpacking through stunted trees and out into the green alpine where late season wildflowers flare in a last stand of fertility. The sky is forever blue, making the threat of thunderstorms seem as menacing as a fictional villain. A pika squeaks its raspy warning bark while a pair of peregrine falcons swoop overhead.
We stop to fill water bottles at a spring and everything feels so poignant and peaceful. Perhaps this is because Dan and I have left the children back in town.
We’ve been steadily trying to indoctrinate the children into the family culture, which can be loosely summed up in slogans like: Follow your heart! Celebrate the bounty of the earth! In practicality it looks something like: Let’s spend the weekend scouting for mushrooms in the woods, throw a roadkill deer in the Subaru and head home for leftover elk goulash accompanied by a salad-like assemblage of every toothy, edible green leaf in the garden.
And honestly, the kids are a little skeptical. Col is happy to snap legos together in the dark opium den of his room while the sun rises and sets on another day. Rose’s current greatest adventure is walking with a friend to the Rec Center pool with a backpack full of store-bought snacks, “without any parents checking on me.”
And for Dan and me, walking in the lush mountains during the brief blaze of summer feels actually, well, ecstatic. And at our age, this may be our best bet for an altered state. There’s something about moving my feet on the wildly gorgeous earth, where every living thing has everything it needs, where the complexities and artifices of human culture haven’t infiltrated, and choices shrink to the elemental: set up tarp here or here? that I remember my best self, which is to say, my simple and ordinary self. And at this stage of life, that is ecstasy.
I have no doubt that someday the kids will forge their own meaningful relationships with the wild world. Someday Rose will yank her car—full of raucous, singing girlfriends—to the shoulder and knife out the prized backstraps from a roadkill deer all without bloodying her fabulous outfit. And Col, with his keen skills of observation plus big heart for wild animals (not excluding “cute” skunks) will be called to his own nature path.
“It’s looking good for our future,” Dan says as we’re eating goulash by an evening fire.
We’ve had wonderful family hikes and camping trips, in which we hike one whole mile each way, stop for hundreds of snack-calories, and make tremendous amounts of noise. Recently, getting us all to the top of Olga Little Mountain required recounting the abridged, semi-accurate life story of Michael Jackson, while the kids bushwhacked uphill, listening, utterly distracted and rapt.
It’s easy enough to hustle sleepovers for the kids and zoom out on one-night backpacking trips, which is like speed-dating for couples already in love. Or like a discovery, like realizing that limbs that had been pruned to accommodate the intense needs of young children are growing back. Or maybe like being born again, as yourself. We come home refreshed and inspired. And this seems as much a gift to the children as it does to myself.
A place where orchids congregate like cliquish middle schoolers under seepy cliffs; and the larkspur sing a song called purple. (With senecio hitting the high yellow notes.)
A place where weather is an animal that will never be tamed.
Here, being human feels like just the right size, appropriately small amongst the stout spruce and fir trees, and the ancient, storytelling rocks. For a brief, wondrous time you may find your desires shrink into something manageable, a small parcel that you can put in your pocket and examine later.
You may be led by your own curiosity, like honeybee to pollen.
What about the columbine, which manufactures its own nectar in its elegant spurs?
It’s hard to remember that wildflowers and pollinators have signed their own covenant – no humans required. And yet, walking in the wild garden, you may learn something new about humanity.
Here, the flavors of happiness may begin to look different, less about accomplishments and acquisitions, and more about the privilege of walking this beloved earth. You may allow yourself to be schooled by the resident teachers, the living things who seek only what they need. Maybe life need not be so complicated.
If you feel tension unravel, or the deft brush of clarity sweep away what is no longer necessary, trust it. Who’s to say this is not the real world. Beyond.
Rose is fumbling in her wallet while explaining to me that she owes Col a dollar.
Me: Oh yeah? What for?
Rose: For giving me a massage, painting my nails and counseling.
Me: (turning to Col) Counseling?
Me: What happens in this counseling?
Col: We discuss her needs.
Turns out summer is this strange phenomenon, parts of it warp-speeding by while I gape in bewilderment and panic. Other minutes stretch into a sticky eternity of frenzied boredom, everyone flinging themselves and their neurosis cumbersomely around the house.
The days I like best are when we’re all together for these brief cosmic stretches of harmony, everyone living out their particular notion of home. Col whistles a symphony while snapping together legos in the cool, dark opium den of his room. Rose zips around the garden, pulling carrots, snarfing hard, unripe, stomach-acidifying grapes and presenting me with assortments of palm-sweaty berries. Dan is in some stage of hide-tanning, which looks a lot like the exact stage he was at last week, last month, last year because it’s all a little pleasingly repetitive.
Behind Rose is the deer/elk hair pile, a byproduct of tanning so many hides. Filed under: strange things that have proven to be useful that you can find in our yard.
The vultures are circling to the south. Tomatoes are both mundanely and miraculously turning red. One chicken is flaunting a worm she just nabbed while her sisters chase her. And I am in the garden contemplating our latest set of non-problems, like: how can I get adult salads (kale, chard, arugula) to merge with kid salads (lettuce, lettuce and more lettuce)? Should Rose be paying Col for his services? (And, could I benefit from Col’s counseling services?) How did my kids become such capitalists? Who’s going to homeschool my kids if there is an uprising in the house and Dan and I revolt?
Growing a garden is such an unruly way to eat. We’re currently in a frenzied prosperity of spinach. A mutiny of green leaves winks suggestively, and slightly threateningly, from the garden. Eat me. Water me. Save me from bolting. Hey, hey you! Yet, in another week, spinach will be scarce and we’ll all be crying from missing it. We’re just safely passing out of our cherry-abundance, when we all had a daily quota and the cherries would ripen a little more fully every time we turned our backs; now we are hording the last few bags. There is no moderation.
Our monsoon season seems to have started (!!), which for Col means playing soccer in the rain; for me it means the garden can finally be all it wants to be, and for Rose, well, yesterday she told me, “I have a problem. When my clothes get wet from rain I leave them in a pile and they get stinky.”
:: We just finished up the cherry harvest, now moving onto apricots. We’ve secured picking options to several apricot trees and are now feeling a deep sense of security.
:: Did you want a rat update? Well, despite grim prognoses from the extremely compassionate and competent people at Kindness Animal Hospital (who not only don’t laugh at us for showing up with our ragged, elderly rat, but call to check on her and Rose), the little rodent seems to be thriving in her avocado-snarfing golden years. Every night I pray that if she has to die today, please let it not be between the hours of 7pm and 9pm, which would greatly disrupt bedtime.
:: Driving home from the mountains recently and listening to our one car music option—the radio!—Dan started beat boxing.
“Dadeeeeee!” Rose protested in embarrassment.
“What? You didn’t know Daddies could be cool? I was cool before you were even born.”
I was wondering why a ladder was propped up against the shed.
:: We spent almost two weeks with my dear cousin Amy, her husband and their three boys. It was ridiculous fun. I want them to move here immediately. Amy had spiritual experiences picking cherries and walking through the chest-high wildflowers, you know, the things we do every July.
Amy’s sons were endlessly fascinated with Dan, who always seemed to be into some project that involved antlers, animal brains, knives, etc… Here are two cousin-boys not missing a second of Dan sawing off a dead chokecherry limb at our campsite.
:: Our blessed, odd, urban homestead. Long may it thrive!
Col is trying to get me to give him a dollar bill in exchange for a half dollar coin. He lists the four reasons he thinks I should agree:
- The half dollar is bigger than a quarter.
- You don’t see them all the time.
- Might be worth more money someday.
- He found it in the driveway so it’s good luck.
“I like that you thought this out,” I tell my little Alex P. Keaton, “but I aint no suckah.”
Col: (thinking) “Okay. Then will you give me 75 cents?”
Enjoy the rest of summer friends,
We are at 11,500 feet, staring across a sloping meadow, wildflowers swirling in a Monet-like blur of color. Three kids are deep in the meadow bent over a gopher hole, every cell in their bodies magnetized to this precise spot. The other two kids are out of view, proving the axiom: when you have a slingshot, every spruce tree looks like a target. It’s so cool, everyone absorbed in their own particular experience of the moment. But wait, the adults are trying to do this absurd thing of propelling ourselves forward on a trail to a destination. You know, actual hiking.
I glance at the storm clouds aggregating over distant peaks and wonder about our destination above treeline; wonder how to motivate the kids to keep moving forward; and wonder why adults and children have such different goals.
“Rach-uhllllll” five year old Teo calls to me from down meadow, still crouched over the gopher den, “come see! Dere’s a whole ‘nudder world!” It’s like being challenged by the smallest Zen master urging me to trade my future agenda for the splendors of the present moment.
The sling-shotting boys come into view, curtains of hair eclipsing their chiseled tween faces. They hardly notice the waylaid herd of parents stopped on the trail, for their deep discussion regarding slingshot rules and regulations.
We’re so close to our high ridge destination, where a view of forever-mountains saws open the sky. Just to take in the wild country: alpine snow banks; gouging drainages; aspen-electric slopes; dark, secretive forests; it fills me with a sense of peace, awe, and inspiration. I could walk that ledge between mountain ranges all day, feeling deeply fed by the interconnectedness of this ecosystem. We arrive and the kids want, simply, lunch.
Turkey and cheese slices are passed around, oranges peeled and shared. I imagine us all taking monk-like vows of silence to better hear the raven wingbeats above, or a butterfly slurping columbine nectar, or to simply absorb the mountains’ particular July song. But no. The kids shout to each other from ten inches away. They negotiate, fiercely, the splitting of energy bars. They snarf their lunches in minutes and are on their feet discussing, with amplified passion, rules for the slingshot competition.
It so lovely to be here in the mountains for three days with this tribe of families. The kids form permutations that change as dynamically as the weather. The girls emerge from their tent each morning with brushed hair and eye-strainingly high ponytails; the boys have become their own traveling Maker Space of sap and dirt. After breakfast, Col announces he and Cedar are heading off for a bit. “Ok. Where will you be?” I ask. “Around,” he replies and glides away.
Possessive pronouns lose their edge as we all feed each others’ kids and forget whose camp chair belongs to whom. I understand that the kids are here for something completely different from us adults. They are masters of searching out the next exciting thing, while I await my own predictable nightly hour of reading in bed with an embarrassing amount of relief and enthusiasm. On the hierarchy of kids’ needs, adventure and play can eclipse, well, dinner. Everything is fair game in the pursuit of fun. I remind myself of this when the volume soars, when the campfire becomes venue for circus fire tricks, when slingshot safety is drowned out by the roaring call to push the limits into the next galaxy.
Lunch is packed up. Clouds are zipping around tauntingly. The adults long to climb higher on the ridge, to gain the whole enchilada of San Juan mountain views from Lizard Head to the South San Juans. Meanwhile, the kids’ world has distilled down to one spot of earth where slingshot competitions are heating up. It’s almost funny, how we were once them, and they will someday be us. For now, I am grateful to share this place where inevitably everyone gets what they need.
Summer is this precious bird, so exotic and lovely and fleeting. Miracles are occurring daily in the garden, by which I mean sun + rain + soil = food, which sounds somewhat like 2nd grade biology, but still, it astonishes me every season. It’s like there’s some unseen force plumping up peaches and luring bean plants to the sky.
Our house has become an accordion, expanding with children and then squeezing them out into the yard, the street, the trampoline. Rose knows all the neighbors’ knocks. Pound pound pound. That’s Kamea. Soft repetitive raps. Chloe and Jordan. Owen and Lyle burst through the door and then knock as an afterthought. No one is turned away.
This is a subliminal message: you will now pour your coffee into ice cube trays.
The days last forever and still we can’t seem to unpack soggy bathing suits, send off the water bill, find the escaped rat. (Dan comes in from tanning hides and I say, “Rat’s on the lam.” And he sighs, “Is this the same being lost as this morning, or is this a new being lost?”) A little summer homeschooling sounds like a really good idea, but, what – I’m going to pry the kids from their lego airport building/novel reading/street soccer practice to run through multiplication tables?
Bedtime is a moving target, hovering farther in the distance each night, the children breaking free from their bunkbeds and appearing by our bedside at hours that used to belong only to me and Dan.
For the grandparents: we’re not totally off the homeschooling wagon. Col reading his work at the kids creative writing class I’m teaching. In our yard. To his best friends. It’s very formal.
I’ve given up on cooking. It’s just too repetitive and heat-producing. Everyone can fry their own egg and forage for a popsicle. Last week before heading out to Junction Creek for the day I threw some sweet potato chips into the leftover rice I was heating up for Col and immediately felt redeemed. Steamed chips, people. I couldn’t tell if I was a kitchen genius or shameless slacker. Turns out I forgot to pack him a spoon, but Col found one at the base of a cottonwood tree, which turned out to be the very spoon I left there several days ago. Or close enough.
This is the time of year I move through the garden like a life coach, supporting every plant to be their best. I spent this morning
yanking laboriously transplanting the many dill and cosmos seedlings that sprouted in the carrot patch back in May, seeming just like cute neighbors at the time.
Rose likes to take a few trips around the yard on her yard sale crutches everyday while she’s waiting for something exciting to happen.
Rose has been extremely excited about making mint tea from the garden—Watch, I don’t need any help. I can do this all by myself, Mama—and less excited about drinking it. It’s like living with a raccoon, our house and yard full of half-finished glasses of murky-colored water.
The strangest development is I’ve been getting out early and running with my dog-friend, Lucy. I am the waddliest, most awkward runner and sometimes feel I should offer an explanation to the other morning trail users, like why I’m panting while moving so slowly. My goal is 30 minutes, but if a Taylor Swift song comes on Rosie’s iPod at 28 minutes, I am good for a full 32, and while Taylor sings “I’m feeling 22…” I retort: “X two, babe,” and then endorphin all the way home busting the Tupperware Heights finish line tape.
Sometimes I can’t believe we get this rare bird gift called summer. Today, Col and a small posse of friends spent the morning gathered around the lego pile, collaborating on the spaceships of their dreams. Meanwhile, outside, Rose and her girlfriends lounged on the trampoline, talking. I wanted to eavesdrop on these kids all morning, these happy, giggling, engaged children. But I had a few hundred dill and cosmos seedlings to find homes for.
:: Our sweet rat is on hospice. She has some incurable tumors and is expected to live just a matter of months. She’s in no pain and as friendly as ever. The good thing is that now we all feel mandated to offer her homemade almond milk and other treats from our fridge.
:: Dan’s new mushroom cards! Available in his etsy shop (Right, Dan? You did list them, yes?). Also, see the summer issue of Edible Southwest Colorado for more of his art.
:: I can’t believe I get to share a planet with Parry’s primrose.
:: Scrabble at 11,000 feet. Pinch me.
In town the sky is grotesquely cloudless, the sun shimmering like a pool of heat you could drown in. We spend the morning consulting the camping checklist circa 2009 (which lists stuffed animals now obsolete and beer, twice). We rattle up through the dusty pine-oak belt, through the aspens reflecting sunlight like a thousand fractured mirrors, and into the cool, spruce-fir zone, which only Southwesterners could appreciate as green and lush. And we do.
We’ve been here before, every year to be precise. And when Rose hears of our destination she pumps her fist in the air as if she’s just won something, something like a weekend with her family in the mountains.
By afternoon camp is set up, and we’re like caricatures of our own predictable selves: the tarp’s tied to the usual trees, tents occupy familiar ground, spotting scope is set in time-tested elk-viewing location, beers are cracked and Dan sings about how the elk, who’ve just meandered out into the open slopes—the very slopes we’ve been watching them on for two decades—are “so traditional.”
The ultimate elk-viewing scenario.The elk have recently calved and their troop of spotted children frolic and nurse and slip on snow patches. Watching them makes us all feel like nostalgic grandmothers.
We too, are so traditional. Being here is like being inside my own deja vu, while also watching it from a thousand different incarnations that have already come and gone. (In fact, I’m certain I’ve written this very post before. Oy. Apologies.). Rose emerges from her tent in new aerobics instructor outfits while Col looks like an escapee from Woodstock. Col and Rose argue over camp chair placement and then he begs her to accompany him on a spruce sap-finding mission. I want to start a hundred conversations with Dan, but we circle around the same topic for three days. “I’m so happy to be here,” I say. “I know,” he answers. “Can you believe this place?”
Rose goes off on a 5.3 minute solo hike and comes back to report breathlessly on all the wildflowers she ate. “Bluebells and red columbines and the yellow banana ones.”
We take a hike, Dan-style, trail-less and ascending the steepest path to avoid disturbing the elk (who’ve conveniently bedded down in the gentler path). It’s time, Dan announces, to discover where that waterfall we gaze at from camp—the vertical one—starts.
Rose’s journal: “It was the hardest hike I dune.” But, we did have “turke raps” at the top.
We return to camp and install ourselves under the shade tarp. We play scrabble, guzzle icy spring water, read a billion chapters of the Lightning Thief, pass around two bags of chips and stick limbs out into the sun to test its strength. That feeling that I have so often, that time is breathing menacingly down my neck, evaporates. Instead, the hours stretch and pool luxuriously around us.
The solstice sun sinks into the western trees. The kids are at the fire, Col tending flaming sap in a sawed-off beer can and Rose chattering cheerfully, as if she’s a new English language speaker, thrilled just to practice. Whatever agenda I may hold for this time together doesn’t matter. Something bigger and out of my control is happening.
This place is imprinting on the kids.
By evening, swarms of insects are backlit by the falling sun. One second later, swallows are deployed to nab dinner on the wing. A thousand robins wake us each morning, no doubt descendants of the robins who’ve woken us every year before. That waterfall, ever-visible from camp, is now on our mental map, the absurdity and the triumph of having scaled it an eternal family footnote. Col puts down his book to watch a goshawk turn breathtaking circles over the forest.
I can’t quantify this knowledge, these experiences, the enthusiasm with which Rose greets a red columbine, eager to suck the nectar from an elegant, red spur. There will be no “local bird identification” section on the SAT; no colleges looking for students who can scrap together a salad from the forest.
But this education, this spending time in nature feels foundational. It’s a force, an entity, a benefactor shaping our lives, offering us a roadmap to what’s valuable. It’s imprinting truths on all of us: there is enough time, paths may be trail-less, there is value in being traditional, trust the questions, drink the spring water, your sibling can be your best friend, the earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention.