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Camping, family style

2010 June 16

Last weekend we crammed the Subaru with gear so we could snooze under the aspens while ticks investigate our ears and wind itches at our tent. I believe it’s called camping. It’s almost like the old days when Dan and I plastered the San Juan Mountains with the soles of our hiking boots. Except back then, when only world leaders carried cell phones and we lived fat off dishwashing paychecks, mountain-adventuring meant pawing our way up jumbly talus, hungry to spy bands of elk and the inconspicuous siberian gentian. Now we park our mounds of stuff 20 feet from our car and call it good.

Rose sucking nectar from a red columbine flower

And it is good. Long after the last child has squirmed his dirt-dredged body inside a sleeping bag, Dan and I tend the fire, marveling at how splendidly the kids are mixing with the wild land. How well they’re amusing themselves with the gritty, scratchy toy box of nature. The permutations for “rock-paper-scissors” are endless and Col pounds twigs with rocks, smothers pebbles with leaves and spears everything with a stick – the one super-glued to his hand the second he spills from carseat onto pine needles. Rose shovels bluebell blossoms and violet flowers onto her tongue, re-enacting some vital part of her female biology: must gather and eat ripe plants now.

Dan and I recline in camp chairs, coffee mugs sloshing with dark beer (from growlers! Eco-nerd style), and finish the conversation we started last spring.

Watching the sky change at 9000 feet is like taking an intensive course in Mountain Weather, or perhaps Buddhism. There’s a saying around these parts, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” And really, didn’t Buddha say something like that about our changeable thoughts?

Heavy brooding clouds knocked around the sky like angry toddlers much of the weekend, lashing out brief tantrums of rain. And then like an underdog, the sun would emerge briefly and exquisitely, electrifying our spirits like the greens of the mountain plants. And there was hail too, but mostly clouds, just enough to make you fall in love with the sun when it came curtseying out like a shy girl.

We met up with friends, and the adult to kid ratio allowed for each parent to break away for a solo foray. I strolled a section of Hermosa creek and got so absorbed by the worm-snatching robins, scurrying chipmunks, bedraggled wild irises, aspen-weave beaver dams, paired up mallards, shifting clouds, spring green and the thrumming life of the mountains, I felt like I was walking the wilderness for days. And where balance seems an aloof, intangible tease to us parents of young children, I offer you something else: take your one hour, your twenty minutes, your afternoon alone, and wring every drop of bursting life you can out of it. You might just return to your brood feeling balanced.

Col's perch on the cliffs we brilliantly camped next to. Col was drawn to the very edge of the rock shelf like a moth to a light, and every five minutes some parent or another was obliged to shout "step off the rock Col!"

Like the kitchen at home, the fire is the epicenter of our camp life. Our stove gave out and we cooked all our meals over the fire. Here’s Rose steadying an aspen log while Dan saws off chunks for our fire.

Our days in the woods follow a rhythm and simplicity that feels a little more, well, human. The kids stop asking “what are we doing today?” and get down to the business of investigating life in a spoonful of soil. In the absence of commerce, electricity and high level activity-shuffling, simply cooking a meal takes on appropriate importance, as does fluffing our nylon nest. As each day passes, we adults shed another layer of inessentials, while the kids’ skin thickens, literally, under assault of rocky ground, wild rose thorns and the mosquito’s sting.

The posse enjoying some wild trout

Driving out, kids napping in their car seats, watching the mountains come in and out of focus as we rolled down the forest service roads, I felt like something internal–small and unnamable–had shifted from our time in the woods. And that is enough.

**announcement for locals:

The local chapter of Holistic Moms Network has invited me to speak about the benefits of gardening as a family. Come get nerdy about plants! For free! Time tested tips for those of you braving food production at the challenging altitude of 6512 feet.

Thursday, June 17th, 6:30pm. 150 E 9th St, suite 400. Above the Red Snapper.

Related posts:

Of thankfuls and medicinal weather
This Moment
just a dream some of us had


23 Responses leave one →
  1. Kathy permalink
    June 16, 2010

    …and this is why I cry with memories of camping with my children there years ago, and wishing the time would shorten when I can move there and enjoy… as you and yours are doing.
    Henry David Thoreau said once, “My needle always settles west and southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and richer on that side.” Mine too!
    Your writing thrills me!!

  2. Ellen permalink
    June 16, 2010

    Wonderful evocative post with great pictures. We can almost smell the crisp mountain air and feel the vicarious deep peacefulness of being in such beauty away from civilization.

  3. June 16, 2010

    I love this! “gritty, scratchy toy box of nature,” “re-enacting some vital part of her female biology: must gather and eat ripe plants now,” “Dan and I …finish the conversation we started last spring.” How well you capture it all! And how beautiful…makes me wanty of the mountains (although not so much of those knit caps and jackets…I remember those days of packing for four seasons for a weekend camping trip).

  4. Ami permalink
    June 16, 2010

    Yes – you’ve done it! What an eloquent, lovely description of another elusive and yet extremely valuable part of life as a parent. I am so moved, as Cole and I were camping just last weekend, and experienced so many of the same moments. Except, we kept it real simple… we slept in our car! However I wrapped my heart around that feeling of a small, internal shift as I drove away and vowed to grow it over the next few summer months, and it wasn’t until we got back home that I realized just how entertained Cole was by the whole thing – as it wasn’t until then that he started in with his usual “mom, what can I do?”…. and we live IN the woods!? Go figure.

  5. June 16, 2010

    Ahhh, Rach. I’m really missing you all, family and Durango right now. It rained every day in May here, and we surpassed the record for June in one Sunday. . .

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 16, 2010

      Julia, I’d beg, borrow or steal some sun to get you three out here (but I guess what you really need are plane tickets and some work). XOXO

  6. June 16, 2010

    Your posts are constant reminders of how different our lifestyles are, and even though we’re just a few states away, there is a whole world between us. I’m not a camper – never camped and am not excited at all to try it. Yes, I’m the quintessential prissy little city girl but there is such raw beauty in your posts – the lyricism and descriptions pull me into your world each time. And I am right there with you. The funny thing is, I WANT to be.

    Your writing, your gift, truly inspires me.

  7. June 16, 2010

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a note. Really enjoyed your reflection on your time in the woods. I really like the idea: time in the woods felt human. Something about wildness and wilderness and big open spaces that call us to the root of who we are–human–and our close connection to the rhythms of nature and her cycles. A visit to the woods becomes a reminder of who we really are. So human, so natural to wander in the woods. So like home, really. Peace, Nicki

  8. June 16, 2010

    Pure joy in words and pictures, as usual! You must frame that picture of Col standing on the rock holding his arrow (?)

    It brings me back to my childhood, where I spent many a summer weekend camping in the mountains of Colorado. I’ve lived most of my life in the soggy Northwest, but a significant chuck of it (from age 5-10) in Evergeen, CO and those are some of the best memories of my life. I’m sure it will be for Col and Rose too.

  9. June 16, 2010

    Darn… I wish I lived near you. And I love so much camping with my kiddos. Love it. :-)

  10. June 16, 2010

    I so wish you could speak about gardening here in Oregon, we need you, I NEED YOU!! I love this post, the photos remind me of what camping in Colorado in early June is like. I notice everyone bundled up in coats with hats pulled snuggly on their heads. I remember even when things heat up in Colorado, as soon as the sun sets, it cools down to bone chiling temps. I miss the days of camping – we’ve finally decided this summer will be the year we resume those fantastic outings and hopefully turn Shayden on to “nature’s toybox”.

  11. June 16, 2010

    Love your photos in this post. When I was a kid, our family camped a few times a year~big camp trips. My mom rocked the food; our tent was so cozy. I absolutely loved it and look so forward to camping with my family now. I always love reading something you write, but I particularly loved this piece~so thank you! :)

  12. June 17, 2010

    Brings back memories when we lived in Albuquerque at the base of the Sandia Mountains. We hiked, camped, collected rocks and fossils, bathed in icy springs…
    Thanks for the flashback.

  13. June 17, 2010

    It’s true. No boredom when camping. The kids dive full force into nature. I love it. I would love to come see you talk about gardening :) Just a 15 hour drive or so!

  14. krystal v permalink
    June 17, 2010

    just barely missed the talk!!!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 17, 2010

      Oh darn. It was really fun. Maybe we’ll meet at the next Holistic Moms Meeting, except it’s “birth stories” and telling Col’s birth story still chokes me up.

  15. June 18, 2010

    Thank you for allowing Col to live a little close to the edge ;-)
    Five minutes before uttering, “come off the rock” is inspiring! I bite my tongue in those moments and allow my focus to surround them (my kids) in a white light-safety net, as they explore their edges. I trust that they trust themselves.

    Thanks for this reminder of why I’m looking forward to camping this year, many times. You’ve distilled it down to the sweetest essence. :-)

    ~Erin

  16. June 18, 2010

    Thank you for such a beautiful description of camping! Your words took me directly to your camping spot. I think I even caught a whiff of that great outdoor smell! My son is only 16 months so we have not had the camping experience yet. But this will be a must do adventure in our future.

  17. June 18, 2010

    This makes me want to play in spoonfuls of soil myself … or at least let the kiddos go to it! (And I wish I lived closer. I would love to attend your class and start turning my black thumb green. I don’t suppose they’re going to post in on the Internet??)

  18. June 18, 2010

    I love it… all of it…

  19. June 19, 2010

    I didn’t realize how much I missed Colorado until I read this post!! I have been reminising while going through old photographs recently but this post put me over the edge…especially your description of your time alone in the wilderness. I truly miss the Rockies……I miss the weekend backpacking trips….I miss the long hikes….I miss the unpredictable weather…..I miss it all.

  20. June 29, 2010

    agh! the last two weeks have been harrowing and i was *totally* out of town on the 17th but would have PAID to come hear you get all nerdy ’bout plants. maybe next time!

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