this is the education I want
It’s the same song I sing to myself every time we go camping, “it’s a lot of freaking work, but soooo worth it,” as we schlep all our necessities from the car into our weekend home of pine needles and dirt. (Necessities, as in: bacon, beer and books. Everything else I can live without).
The clouds roll in, swirl around, drop a casual little spray of rain, and we say, appreciatively, nice clouds, while pulling on all our layers, never ones to disparage the bringer of moisture to the Southwest. We’re here with friends, and in the absence of the usual indoor trappings of childhood, the kids explore each others tents and snacks with the enthusiasm of Lewis and Clark approaching the Pacific Ocean.
We’ve been coming to this same spot in spring for 4 years now, and in that way that looking back at your children’s lives is like one of those time-lapse movies (like this amazing video), from these particular ponderosa pines, on this particular weekend, I can see it all perfectly. In the first frame everyone’s in diapers and mashing dirt into each others hair while getting ravaged by biting insects. In the next frame we set off for a hike, one kid in the backpack and the other rambling around our legs; two hours later we circle back, having covered .00012 miles. And now, there’s this: one child is chopping potatoes with a knife and the other is helping to set up the tent.
Which is to say, it’s almost easy these days, taking the kids to the woods for 2 nights. Dan and I didn’t even get into our usual fight while packing, which has been such a historic norm, I usually pencil it in: pack coffee, gather extra socks, pause for snippy argument with Dan. And as much as the mopingly nostalgic part of me misses Rose’s full moon belly and Col’s squeaky voice, (okay, squeakier voice), there are these new, bright selves coming into focus. These selves who are like the ESPN stars of imaginative sports. “Okay, lets say we’re all horses and we’re walking down the trail watching out for mountain lions.” They skip and whinny happily while I lie back in the grass, amazed at our continual good fortune.
(Which is another song I sing to myself: It’s okay that my babies are growing up because look how much easier it’s getting).
And really, the nostalgia seems to be sewn from a fabric called “maybe I didn’t love and squeeze and appreciate them enough because I was too tired from scrubbing the dirt out of their hair.” And I don’t want to spend much time there, when here, now, we’re all upright humans, hiking to the nettles patch.
The pack of horse-children.
The dazzling bling of box elder flowers.
Nettles patch in old sheep camp. On our return night Dan made nettle enchiladas, which we all devoured.
We spend a lot of time sitting around the fire, which includes coaching Col through all his aberrant fantasies about fire (I say a little prayer for his future 15-year old self who will inevitably go camping unsupervised with his buddies).
Three pounds of pine needles to dump on the fire in a Hollywood-esque explosion of fire and smoke.
And really, now that we’re not trying to enforce naptime in a sauna of a tent, or coach anyone through squatting and pooping in the woods, camping has become a bit of a leisure sport. I read the last half of one book and the first half of another. We take walks, chop wood, sing off-tune rounds of Yellow Submarine, and drink wine out of plastic cups. Dan and Col go off on a bow-shoot like two buds, and later I overhear Dan say to Col, “That’s a coyote bullet if I ever saw one. Probably from some sheepherder protecting his flock.” Col perks up, storing this information in the mental file: “This is the Education I Want.”
A serious likeness.
Luckily there are still someone’s babies to snuggle with.
By the end, so much falls away: our civilized notions of cleanliness; the rationing of firewood and watermelon; the separateness of families. The kids are dusted in dirt like small powdered donuts, I wake up to robins singing and Rosie’s bright face, and I know we’ll be back next spring, one year older.