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2016 June 23
by Rachel Turiel

In town the sky is grotesquely cloudless, the sun shimmering like a pool of heat you could drown in. We spend the morning consulting the camping checklist circa 2009 (which lists stuffed animals now obsolete and beer, twice). We rattle up through the dusty pine-oak belt, through the aspens reflecting sunlight like a thousand fractured mirrors, and into the cool, spruce-fir zone, which only Southwesterners could appreciate as green and lush. And we do.


We’ve been here before, every year to be precise. And when Rose hears of our destination she pumps her fist in the air as if she’s just won something, something like a weekend with her family in the mountains.

By afternoon camp is set up, and we’re like caricatures of our own predictable selves: the tarp’s tied to the usual trees, tents occupy familiar ground, spotting scope is set in time-tested elk-viewing location, beers are cracked and Dan sings about how the elk, who’ve just meandered out into the open slopes—the very slopes we’ve been watching them on for two decades—are “so traditional.”


The ultimate elk-viewing scenario.The elk have recently calved and their troop of spotted children frolic and nurse and slip on snow patches. Watching them makes us all feel like nostalgic grandmothers.


We too, are so traditional. Being here is like being inside my own deja vu, while also watching it from a thousand different incarnations that have already come and gone. (In fact, I’m certain I’ve written this very post before. Oy. Apologies.). Rose emerges from her tent in new aerobics instructor outfits while Col looks like an escapee from Woodstock. Col and Rose argue over camp chair placement and then he begs her to accompany him on a spruce sap-finding mission. I want to start a hundred conversations with Dan, but we circle around the same topic for three days. “I’m so happy to be here,” I say. “I know,” he answers. “Can you believe this place?”

sheephead5Horsie/skateboard rides are a favorite here. They break for: chipmunks, spring water and edible bluebell flowers.

sheephead2Hitching up to Dad.

Rose goes off on a 5.3 minute solo hike and comes back to report breathlessly on all the wildflowers she ate. “Bluebells and red columbines and the yellow banana ones.”

shpd12Rose, sucking red columbine nectar at age 3. Traditional.

We take a hike, Dan-style, trail-less and ascending the steepest path to avoid disturbing the elk (who’ve conveniently bedded down in the gentler path). It’s time, Dan announces, to discover where that waterfall we gaze at from camp—the vertical one—starts.

sheephead7Trail-less and steep.

sheephead3The top of the waterfall, found!


Rose’s journal: “It was the hardest hike I dune.” But, we did have “turke raps” at the top.

sphad14Arnica foot rubs post-hike.

We return to camp and install ourselves under the shade tarp. We play scrabble, guzzle icy spring water, read a billion chapters of the Lightning Thief, pass around two bags of chips and stick limbs out into the sun to test its strength. That feeling that I have so often, that time is breathing menacingly down my neck, evaporates. Instead, the hours stretch and pool luxuriously around us.

The solstice sun sinks into the western trees. The kids are at the fire, Col tending flaming sap in a sawed-off beer can and Rose chattering cheerfully, as if she’s a new English language speaker, thrilled just to practice. Whatever agenda I may hold for this time together doesn’t matter. Something bigger and out of my control is happening.

This place is imprinting on the kids.


By evening, swarms of insects are backlit by the falling sun. One second later, swallows are deployed to nab dinner on the wing. A thousand robins wake us each morning, no doubt descendants of the robins who’ve woken us every year before. That waterfall, ever-visible from camp, is now on our mental map, the absurdity and the triumph of having scaled it an eternal family footnote. Col puts down his book to watch a goshawk turn breathtaking circles over the forest.

I can’t quantify this knowledge, these experiences, the enthusiasm with which Rose greets a red columbine, eager to suck the nectar from an elegant, red spur. There will be no “local bird identification” section on the SAT; no colleges looking for students who can scrap together a salad from the forest.

But this education, this spending time in nature feels foundational. It’s a force, an entity, a benefactor shaping our lives, offering us a roadmap to what’s valuable. It’s imprinting truths on all of us: there is enough time, paths may be trail-less, there is value in being traditional, trust the questions, drink the spring water, your sibling can be your best friend, the earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention.


sheephead8Soccer at 10,000 feet.

sheephead10Scrabble, too.

shphd13Tween-boy face. Same tween boy who announced in our tent, “Mama, I’m ready to snuggle.”

12 Responses leave one →
  1. June 23, 2016

    This description is breath-taking. I literally felt as though I was holding my breath through-out, eagerly devouring each word, each perfectly turned-phrase. Thank-you so much for sharing your family’s experiences. Reminds me of how restorative natural spaces are, and how amazing it is to be in a place where time slows down. I loved this sentence: “Instead, the hours stretch and pool luxuriously around us.”

    Thank-you again for sharing your writing, your family, your adventures.

    • Amber Lena permalink
      June 23, 2016

      Yes, Jessica. Yes. This is exactly how I feel. I cannot imagine a more perfect childhood experience.

  2. Natalie Christensen permalink
    June 23, 2016

    Fucking delicious.

  3. Maya Kane permalink
    June 23, 2016

    Truly inspiring. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. Ellie permalink
    June 23, 2016

    “But this education, this spending time in nature feels foundational. It’s a force, an entity, a benefactor shaping our lives, offering us a roadmap to what’s valuable. It’s imprinting truths on all of us: there is enough time, paths may be trail-less, there is value in being traditional, trust the questions, drink the spring water, your sibling can be your best friend, the earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention.”
    Amen, Rachel.

  5. Andrea permalink
    June 23, 2016

    It doesn’t matter how many times you write this post. It’s amazing always. Those elk feel like my elk too now.

    We just returned from our own yearly ‘traditional’. Coming here, to this space, to catch up on your writing has become for me, well…


  6. June 23, 2016

    God you’re Go(o)d!!!

    head bowed at thy lotus feet…

    miss Dewa sooooo much i, i,…i’m not i…

    thank YOU and Blessed Be Thy Clan!

  7. Anonymous permalink
    June 24, 2016

    I may have mentioned it before but these are absolutely things the kids could put on an application to Prescott College!!
    “There will be no “local bird identification” section on the SAT; no colleges looking for students who can scrap together a salad from the forest. “

    • Chelsie Kane permalink
      June 24, 2016

      Whoops forgot to enter my info on this lil phone screen!

  8. July 14, 2016

    When I was a girl living in the desert, the best week of the year was the one spent each summer outside Silverton camping.
    Now we hike there with our kids. One boy packs books for breaks on the trail, one boy is eating every edible thing he can forage and our one girl is climbing the hardest part of every trail and wanting to scurry up every tree.
    Life is beautiful, indeed.

  9. July 14, 2016

    BTW-I was reading a list of the things Charlotte Mason expected a child at six to be able to do. It might not all appear on the SATs, either but it’s wonderful. It’s not our kids, we may just live in the wrong century. And this is why we learn and school differently. This list? It warms my heart. There’s nary a bubble to color in, or multiple choice to make.

    To recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns
    To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm
    To add and subtract numbers up to 10, with dominoes or counters
    To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child
    To copy in print-hand from a book
    To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows
    To describe the boundaries of their own home
    To describe any lake, river, pond, island, etc. within easy reach
    To tell quite accurately (however shortly) 3 stores from Bible history, 3 from early English, and 3 from early Roman history (my own note here, you may want to substitute American for early English)
    To be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views
    To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wildflowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and where they found them.
    To do the same with leaves and flowers of 6 forest trees
    To know 6 birds by song, color and shape
    To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed
    To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog or cat
    To name 20 common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences
    To sing on hymn, one French song and one English song
    To keep a caterpillar and tell the life-story of a butterfly from their own observation

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