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Let’s meet in a spruce grove at 10,300 feet

2010 August 8

The sun had long ago oozed into Silver Mountain by the time the assembled parents got our eight collective children zipped into sleeping bags. Drowsy siblings, who just an hour ago, were bickering over camp chair real estate, nestled close together, exhaling marshmallows into each others‘ hair.

One by one, the adults returned to the campfire, perhaps skipping just a bit at the clandestine pleasure of uninterrupted conversation with people who have full command of the English language. It wasn’t entirely unlike the elk mamas Dan and I have spied frolicking in a high mountain meadow while their wobbly-legged newborns were stashed under mountain shrubs.

Despite the high level communications required to get four families to a spruce grove at 10,300 feet, or coordinating meals for sixteen people via 160-character text messages, or simply the 2-day project of gathering and stuffing gear into our Subaru, it was totally, entirely worth it.

Bomber tarp set up by bomber husband, accommodating 4 families and 2 thunderstorms.

Adult needs were heartily provided for as coolers spilled with local beer, marinating elk, farmers market corn and other culinary delights. However, the only child-accouterments carted along were the same played out pair of buckets and shovels we always bring camping. In the woods, the kids are responsible for their own entertainment. This is not something we have to tell them; soon as they spill from car seats, the sticks and rocks leap into their hands as if magnetized.

What a lovely treat to sip coffee at a morning campfire while eight children rambled around wet wildflower meadows, picking orange sneezeweed blossoms for their moth named Cinderella. The nuclear family structure got pleasantly dismantled as parents casually rotated through positions of responsibility, cooking, cleaning and minding children. And even the minding of children takes on a relaxed, more auditory flavor in the woods, as in “I can still hear them, everything must be fine.”

Orange sneezeweed showing off on a south-facing slope

The kids did beautifully, they really did. They picked wild strawberries and discovered ancient dinosaur jaw bones and gave every single fruiting mushroom the exotic label: poisonous. There were hardly any scuffles, perhaps because sharing, the prickly goblin of the home scene, is easy when there are plenty of rocks and sticks and moths to go around.

And sometimes it seems like we need a life coach, cheerleader and super nanny just to pack up the family and head to the mountains for a night, and I don’t get much more sleep than when I was seventeen and slurping down crappy coffee in a Denny’s booth at 3 am. But ambling down the forest service road—pre-coffee—to see the morning mist draped across the mountains as magically as if exhaled by a dragon, was like falling in love with life itself.

Driving out, 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 will always be enough.

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24 Responses leave one →
  1. August 8, 2010

    thanks for breathing life into the bits of me that have been forever changed by that place. ;) tears in my eyes, really.

    sounds like you had a lot of fun!! what a great experience for kiddos and grown folk alike.

  2. August 8, 2010

    I can almost taste the marshmallows, and I love Col and Rose’s spread of leaves. And sneezeweed? Could a plant have a better name??

  3. Ami permalink
    August 8, 2010

    You have perfectly elucidated so many of my exact experiences camping en masse… Thank you!

  4. Melissa permalink
    August 8, 2010

    sharing = prickly goblin–love that.

    what a gorgeous. gorgeous post. thank you.

  5. August 9, 2010

    What a great adventure and you’re so right…pick a great place to camp and the kids entertain themselves. I will NOT share how much STUFF I thought we needed for the kids for our last camping trip, and it all sat unpacked in the tent trailer ;-) This time when we go in a couple of weeks, it all stays home.

    You took some lovely shots of gorgeous scenery, and I loved those mountain mornings you shared!!

    ~Erin

  6. Kathy permalink
    August 9, 2010

    My sis and I took our seven to the primitive KOA! That’s laughable in the face of the exquisitve experimentation you offer your children. I feel like a bad mom! But, we all share the memories, the now adult children and we alike, and it was the best we could do, to bring them all together from far flung Texas and Denver, and give them sticks and stones and the KOA swimming pool, walks along the river to the thinking rock. It’s probably gone now, rolled down into some other habitation for the next fifty or more years. Thank goodness for the rocks and our children, for wildflowers and tents.

  7. abozza permalink
    August 9, 2010

    What a beautiful way to describe a fantastic experience! Love it!!! Your photos really captured the feel of it all, but your words made the photos come alive!
    http://amysreallife.wordpress.com

  8. August 9, 2010

    Absolutely well said! What a lovely time you all must have had—– I for one have been tent camping since my littlest was 3mo old (yes we took him) and now 2.5 kids later, they love it! Our biggest acheivement was our last camping trip (details on my blog) where we took a long two mile hike (okay not that long but with littles ya know how it goes!) and my oldest (4) walked the entire way!!!! He loved it!!! Camping is absolutley wonderful and perfect for young children and families!!! Keep it up!!! Now I’m going to read all your camping posts! By the way we road trip/tent camp from MN to CO!

    ~Samantha

  9. linda permalink
    August 9, 2010

    We spent a night in the woods this weekend. It will be Watts’ last camping. She slept most of the time, but got in some good smelling in the morning. Unlike your adventure, she was the only “kid” that we had to look after. But, I connect with the need for open space and big country. I sat and looked at the same pile of hills, and watched the clouds gather and move across the sky for a couple of hours while my book sat alone on the makeshift table. Needless to say, I read less than 10 pages.
    Being in the mountains brings me luck, too. I actually won both backgammon and dominoes. That is a rare feat.
    Thanks for sharing your life with us, Rachel. I really enjoy your posts.

  10. August 9, 2010

    I adore camping. We may not have any mountains around here, but the mornings and lack of arguments definitely seal the deal for me.

  11. sabrina permalink
    August 9, 2010

    loving those photos…

  12. August 9, 2010

    What a gorgeous place and photos. And dinosaur jaw bones! Wow. I could never put my finger on just what I needed to get everything together for trips with the kids but now that you mention it: a life coach, a cheerleader and super nanny would be really fantastic. Especially if they would throw in a load of laundry.

  13. August 9, 2010

    Awesome camping pictures :) Love ’em. Just wanted to stop by and say you won the giveaway!!

  14. Ellen permalink
    August 9, 2010

    Beautiful post. I felt like I was there.

  15. August 9, 2010

    Oh, wonderful weekend! I love camping. I love sticky, dirty, camping fun!
    The fog photo is gorgeous.
    Nicola

  16. August 9, 2010

    you have a way of making me wish we were there.

  17. August 9, 2010

    wow! looks like an awesome weekend. it is miraculous the difference between camping with other kids and camping only with siblings…

  18. August 9, 2010

    I just love the imagery you conjure with your words, like right here: “…soon as they spill from car seats, the sticks and rocks leap into their hands as if magnetized.”

    And the pictures of the misty mountains gave me the chills. Gorgeous. And the tarp? Ingenious!

  19. August 9, 2010

    That’s the most gorgeous dragon’s breath I’ve ever seen, and how lovely are your words. Miss you!

  20. August 10, 2010

    Ooooh, ahhh…. that fog… those meadows…

    I should be packing the car right now but I’m glad I saw this first. I love our parallel living!

  21. August 10, 2010

    There is just something unspoken and completely magical about submersing one’s family in the woods. I love how you mention the sticks and rocks being magnitized to the children. Those are the best toys and nature is the best playground. Thanks for sharing your wonderful camping trek.

    :)Lisa

  22. August 11, 2010

    What gorgeous photos!!

    “There were hardly any scuffles, perhaps because sharing, the prickly goblin of the home scene, is easy when there are plenty of rocks and sticks and moths to go around.”

    Yep. :)

    You make me want to come live your life with you. ;)

  23. August 11, 2010

    Sounds like you had an amazing trip. I think food always taste better when eaten outside. And that life is just richer, and fuller, when we’re surrounded by nature.

    These pictures are gorgeous!

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