It’s Sunday morning; Col and Rose are circled around a pile of legos. They could stay here all day, or at least until their fingers have begun the evolutionary adaptation of sprouting their own small colorful plastic bricks.
But it’s October and things are happening outside that we just can’t miss. The sun—already tightening its daily route—is offering generous, limited beams. The land is leaning towards fall, and each day a new leafy canopy goes up in yellow flames. The very smell of autumn, that ripe fruitiness of decay, beckons, and I am magnetized to the scene of it all.
The drive to the high country is long and breathtaking: aspen groves sparking up the mountains like living luminarias. In the backseat, Col reads a New York Times Magazine article about the new “Talking Barbie,” reminding me that children are not static and fixed points on the map of “reading” or “not reading;” the past 473 days that Col read only airplane trade magazines and TinTin comic books apparently do not predict the future.
We try to keep the day’s main plan, the actual fact of hiking, underplayed. Spending unstructured time walking around this wild world is one of the greatest gifts I can give my children. And yet, they become belligerent amnesiacs when the word “hike” is uttered, patently forgetting that they come alive under the influence of wind, trees, rock and soil.
Like so many things in parenting, and in life, all we can do is commit ourselves to what feels beneficial and possible, trusting that our actions will bring about positive results at…well, some later, undisclosed date. Sometimes the committing is a daily, teeth-gritting endeavor of tremendous faith and patience. When I remind Col that telling his sister and her doll-playing friend, “I’d like to be included,” will always work to his advantage better than, “your game is boring and stupid,” my greatest hope is that these words will someday become his own. And I will offer these gentle reminders faithfully until they do.
We arrive at our familiar spot and the kids rocket out of the car. By the time Dan and I shoulder packs, the kids are inhabiting mud puddles and brushy hillsides as if they’ve been waiting decades to get back to this precise spot.
We follow a creek, spot small trout darting under shady banks, investigate abandoned beaver lodges, sample sun-swollen rose hips, guzzle secret stashes of rainwater from the hollow stems of horsetail grass, and share one fat chocolate macaroon under the golden October sun.
In a braille-style nature immersion, the kids touch every seedy grass and rake their hands through leathery fallen leaves. At one point, Rose announces, “I need to lie down right there,” and falls into a meadow of wind-flattened grasses thick as horse manes.
It’s not until our hike is over that I realize the kids didn’t complain once. Not before, during or after. And the arrow of our hiking success tank shifts from empty to full, for today at least. Every (freaking) day holds opportunity to live our values, to do the next beneficial and possible thing, to take another small, firm step on the road of our personal ethics. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”
I take these words to heart. Without them, I’d likely be drunk, or in a sugar coma of numbed out bliss while the kids descend deeper into the lego pile. Parenting will always be more a practice of strewing seeds than one of quick results. (And this is why Dan and I conduct full, post-bedtime celebrations when Col approaches homeschooling sitting up in a chair – rather than under the table; or when Rose tells me later, “I’m glad you suggested I wait 2 weeks before buying that plastic fill-in-the-blank.”) I can commit to the daily effort of tossing seeds into the fertile ground of our family, which on an October Sunday will always mean coming to the woods to witness the season’s change.