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feet on the earth

2015 January 28
by Rachel Turiel

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It is penciled into our calendar this Sunday: Family Adventure Day. This is the vaguely formed notion that we’re devoting a full day to getting out of town, to being outside together, to expanding out of our habitual activities, even if Col would elect to stay home drawing airplane #3987 and Rose could cartwheel her 7-year old body across our 800 sf house into the next year.

There is a faint memory circling my head of a time when Dan and I would set out on any wild adventure our hearts conjured. Now, these family outings are prefaced by inserting every relevant child-limitation (weather, time, gear, endurance) into the hopper of appropriate activities, and rallying around what clunks out. We consider our angles of persuasion as measuredly as any marketing company.

The kids drag their feet. They don’t want to go hiking, get dressed, leave home, or endure the drive required to get out of town. There are protests and pep talks. There are negotiations and compromise. Concessions are made: we leave home an hour later with a tall thermos of hot chocolate and our neighbor’s golden retriever.

We drive south into New Mexico, peeling back layers of high desert, descending into a kingdom where scrubby, spiny plants reign. The landscape has been crayoned in with the Crayola set “desert triumvirate:” orange rock, blue sky, dusky green plants.

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We park at a quiet trailhead, and the dog, who’s been drooling, panting and whining for the last hour explodes out of the car, running like a man released from prison. We shoulder packs, sloshing with hot chocolate, and set out. Half a mile down the canyon that spills liquid life into the San Juan River, we find a dead raven, spot a bald eagle, spy mountain lion tracks and pull apart clustered clumps of owl pellets found at the base of an old twisted cottonwood.

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Rose springs down the canyon as if there’s candy at the finish line; Col meanders, gathering rocks he must have, then forgetting them when he stops to inspect another desert gem. It turns out the kids are naturals at inhabiting this world, their world. Shoes off, scaling rocks, and shimmying up the trunks of fat cottonwood trees, they need not one suggestion to fill their time. Rose even finds a flat, sandy expanse upon which to unleash an olympic torrent of cartwheeling and back handsprings while Col perches high in a tree, privy to the hawk’s view.

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When Col was still in the NICU, we met with a soft-voiced social worker, who asked us what our dreams were for our son, this boy who hadn’t yet broken two pounds and needed technological assistance to eat and breathe. “I..I want him to be able to walk and eat unassisted, to talk and laugh,” I replied, my heart clenched in its own prayer of anxious hopefulness. Dan replied without hesitation, “I want Col to begin to feel the blessings of this earth.”

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I will never understand why the idea of a hike equates with boredom and hardship in the kids’ minds. They never fail to find magical worlds, real and imagined, as well as the craggy interstices where they can fall into their own, mysterious sibling-friendship.

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Many hours later we return home, drop off the dog, shake the sand out of our clothing and dive back into our habitual activities (plane drawings, cartwheels, e-mail, bow-making). But, we are long blessed by our time away, our time together, by the simplicity and freedom of feeling our feet upon the earth.

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22 Responses leave one →
  1. Marlene permalink
    January 28, 2015

    Interstices!! Great word, in a great post. We have been trying to do this as well, when work/skiing/other skiing and such all magically part to reveal a free day, half day, weekend. I have been finding lately that I am finding the outings of just the four of us – while a bit harder on the front end, in negotiation terms – to be important for our family dynamic. Though I would bring a borrowed dog, too. Our backpack is sloshing with hot chocolate, and burdened down with mustard, sausages, and a lighter. There is nothing better than a winter fire.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      January 28, 2015

      Dan taught me that word nineteen years ago. Also, I like thinking of you four in a parallel universe with your hot chocolate and negotiations, stoking your fires and family dynamic.

      • Marlene permalink
        January 28, 2015

        I read an old New York Times yesterday – probably from October – and one of the little tidbits mentioned a fellow who had a cabin in Durango! I wanted to ask you if you knew him. Then the parallels would converge, a tiny bit.

  2. Susan S permalink
    January 28, 2015

    The rare trips into nature that my family took–in particular, the drives up Poudre Canyon from Loveland to see the aspen turn–are some of the best memories I have of being a kid.

    Rachel, you and your wonderful family would really, really enjoy Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. When I read the words, “Col perches high in a tree, privy to the hawk’s view,” I thought again what kindred spirits he and Farley would be. I think Dan would appreciate the purity of Farley’s boy spirit (both as it was when he was a kid and the way he writes about remembering it), spending each day from dawn til dusk on the Saskatchewan prairie, learning how nature works by observation and developing a sense of his own place in it. Those days grew in him a deep passion for wilderness, wild life and wildness. Farley was also an animal lover and foster parent, something with which Rose could probably identify. You would revel in his memoirs, especially his WWII battlefield observations and how they blended with his abiding reverence for nature to create a lifetime pacifist. Besides, he’s just a cracking good story teller. He even wrote a nature column for his local newspaper when he was just a kid! Give him a moment when you get a chance. I know you’ll love him.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      January 28, 2015

      I want to read that book, Susan. I just have to convince the kids to take a Harry Potter sabbatical. We are approximately 3000 pages from finishing the series. Oy.

      • Susan S permalink
        January 28, 2015

        I hear ya! I’ve been on book binges, myself. If they’re going to be on a binge, at least it’s good stuff! :-)

  3. Susan S permalink
    January 28, 2015

    p.s. Neighbor’s golden? Luckiest dog in the entire Four Corners region. :-)

  4. January 28, 2015

    Oh this is welcome…I’ve lately felt like waving the white flag when it comes to getting my girls out. A big snow comes, and it is so painful to get them sledding we call a sitter and go skiing on our own. We need our own time in the woods, I’ve learned, and so we take it. But we persist in small ways. Lately, it has looked like taking the whole family for afternoon walks up our ridge, where with my own eyes I watch our daughters find the universe in a grain of sand. A day or two after the last snow fell, we walked to the park with their tiny skis and criss-crossed the field. They had fun. I am renewed, and ever hopeful…

  5. Chi-An permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Thank you, Rachel, for enabling the Internet to make me teary-eyed for the second time today. The first time was reading a news story about a mother in my city shot and killed in front of her three children, so I feel particularly blessed to read your writing tonight. I’m thinking I need to get my family out of the city and into nature this weekend.

  6. Drew permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Rachel, I often find myself wiping subtle tears after your posts, and not knowing why exactly I’m moved; I think you often hit on something really essential that I don’t often think about, especially in the technical work of grad school.

    I can vividly remember the feeling of getting “lost into the landscape” on hikes and rambles as a little kid. Now that I think about it, perhaps the most present and focused I’ve ever been was ambling aimlessly through the wilderness as a kid, attuned to the wildlife, weather, vegetation, rocks and water, sun and shadow…

    I think of all the things I do these days to seek that present state, all the training and travel (and risk, often) I invest in pursuit of presence, and I wonder why it can’t be just as simple as it was when we were kids?

    As always, thanks for the gift


    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      January 29, 2015

      Thank you, Drew, for this beautiful and moving comment. You ask, why it can’t be just as simple as when we were kids, this pursuit of presence? It is true that our adult minds are tasked with more logistics and responsibilities than a child, but truly, the earth is always there, welcoming and supporting your presence. xo

  7. Dan permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Love this honey, you are amazing. You make me want to do it again and again! What fun we’re having. Thanks for illuminating it all with such beautiful words and pictures. Love, Dan

  8. Ellie permalink
    January 30, 2015

    I love how well you articulate the simple frustrations of trying to get kids out in nature; getting there is always by far the hardest part; once outdoors, they will always always find something wonderfully simple to occupy them; but the whining at the door!… (Our secret to hiking with our 5- and 8-year old lately is to get friends to come along. We call friends spontaneously, and we also organize monthly hikes for the school of the older one where we always try to invite at least one younger friend for our five-year old as well. We find that, unfailingly, kids will run through a hike if they have friends along. On the other hand, the opportunity to have this be “family time” gets lost in these more populous kinds of walks…so it’s a trade-off.)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      January 30, 2015

      Friends are often part of our negotiation package. :)

  9. Andrea permalink
    January 30, 2015

    Well, i would say that all your wishes for Col have come true. Beyond true.

    Although, he really not need to feel the blessings of this earth because he IS the blessings of this earth.

  10. January 30, 2015

    This: “I will never understand why the idea of a hike equates with boredom and hardship in the kids’ minds. They never fail to find magical worlds, real and imagined, as well as the craggy interstices where they can fall into their own, mysterious sibling-friendship.” Times ten! It’s so exhausting dragging three (nay, throw in dad and make it four) reluctant, home-bodied, stubborn beings out to just have fun already, goddamnit. Why does last time’s good time erase itself from their memory, each new prospect for adventure as bare as a field of fresh snow (but not nearly as inviting)??? When you figure this out, let me know!!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      January 30, 2015

      Andrea, I have a friend who stops her girls on hikes and says, “see how much fun you’re having? Can we REMEMBER THIS FOR NEXT TIME?” Of course, they can’t. The feet-dragging may just be part of the ritual. Remembering this helps gives me resolve for getting everyone out despite the protests.

  11. judith ann henry ( Para-gaa-Y'ma/ ma-ci) permalink
    January 31, 2015

    Oh how wonderfull to see YE down here in the homelands dear Rachel and hearts,

    Tis an endless land/scape and we are so fortunate when winter sets in to still be roaming about with the other worlds near. Bless you each in these February seasons and stories and thank you always for all that you share……and I agree that was one luck dog!

  12. January 31, 2015

    The blessings of this earth! Yes.

  13. Blank permalink
    February 26, 2019

    “I want Col to begin to feel the blessings of this earth”

    Dan sounds like such a lovely human being.

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