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celebration is an extreme sport

2020 September 15
by Rachel Turiel

DAY 1

We are cruising towards the San Luis Valley after dipping in the Rio Grande, our wet bathing suits standing in for air conditioning in our elderly Subaru. Col is plugged into music while reading Gone Girl; Rose is ceaselessly texting with friends she’s been efforting to keep up with since we left home 2.18 hours ago. Though we have granted unlimited access to music and texting, the phones are like extra personalities in the car; I try not to catastrophize. 

Dan is methodically shelling acorns in the passenger seat, and I am talking talking talking to him, trying to cover everything while he is captive here beside me. This has less to do with kid interruptions and more with the rarity of finding Dan stationary for a couple hours. 

The acorn hulls start to split on their own as they dry and mature

Col unplugs long enough to ask, wariness coating his voice, “So, what exactly will we be doing on this trip?”

“Oh, swimming, hot springs, hanging out, relaxing, eating well, hiking, you know, just being together before you two go back to school.”

I am hoping this registers somewhere in the realm of not as good as hanging with friends but as long as I can keep the Gangsta Rap rolling, better than staying home and doing chores. 

“You guys aren’t like typical Colorado parents,” Col notes. “You know, you’re not like mountain bikers, climbers, skiers, rafters, like a lot of my friends’ parents.”

“True. But I once broke 400 points in Scrabble,” I tell him. 

Dan throws a few acorn hulls out the window into the sagebrush. “And, I know when the acorns are ripe.”

DAY 2

We leave Joyful Journey Hot Springs, which is an unbelievable bouquet of relaxation (see above: not so much extreme sports). The night before I take a picture of Rose in one of the hot springs with a pinked up sunset lighting the Sangre De Cristo mountains behind her. This is expressly for her Instagram account and she asks for my editorial assistance coming up with a caption.

Rose and I are tinkering with the exact wording, when I realize that social media is a little like how dogs find a really good stick and parade it in front of each other. Did you see this? Isn’t this a good stick? I found a good stick so I belong, right? RIGHT? I want to implant this insight directly into Rose’s brain so it appears to have originated from her. We all want belonging, but it doesn’t live on social media. But, no hearts have changed from a mom-lecture. I wrestle my agenda to the ground, and help her spell Sangre de Cristo.

We drive to Salida, both kids plugged into music, giving Dan free-reign on R-rated innuendo from the passenger seat.

~BACKSTORY~

This year the kids were ambivalent about going on our annual end of summer trip. They’d miss their friends, they don’t love our style of camping, they’re afraid of endless hours of boredom, filled only with acorns and Scrabble. We decided to ask them what would make our end of summer trip fun for them.

“Not camping,” one said, 

“Stopping in towns for cold drinks,” the other said.

“And thrift stores.”

Part of me was in full blown panic: we’ve ruined their love of camping! And another part was like, Seriously? That’s all it’ll take? Deal! Col and Rose did go backpacking and car-camping with us this summer, and though I love the stripping away of complexities and dubious American culture when we’re in the woods together, more important is the being together. Always.

We stop for our first cold drinks before we even leave Durango.

(And, still we bring two coolers containing eight jars).

DAY 2 cont..

Rose makes a project of outfitting us at the Salida thrift stores. (Not altruistically; have you seen our style?) She finds Col several bathing suits and Dan a snazzy shirt that he puts on immediately and hardly removes for the rest of the trip. Col selects a black, felt fedora which quickly becomes an appendage.

We swim in the Arkansas, slurp ice cream and head to Monarch Pass, acorn shells flying out the window. Dan and I sing along to the Rolling Stones’ Angie (he replacing Annn-geee with Rach-ieeeee) and the kids are stone-faced in the back, likely trying to tamp down the visceral possibility of their old, non-sporty parents in mutual passion. 

New(ish) bathing suits from Salida thrift stores!

We arrive at the Monarch Mountain Lodge, a cavernous ski hotel, outwardly decrepit and suspiciously empty. Eerie comparisons to The Shining’s Overlook echo in the empty stairwells. The kids descend upon our hotel room with the enthusiasm of people who’ve spent hours shivering under tarps in the wilderness rain. We get permission to set up our cookstove in a vacant banquet hall, and Dan and I crack beers and cook elk fajitas, our dog Arlo woofing protectively at every sound, while the kids watch Simpsons reruns in our room.

The memory of having kids underfoot is so distant, when I turn my head towards the past I can barely make out those days. Now, Arlo and I make regular trips up and down our home hallway to see if anyone needs us. “Just checking in!” I wave, when their bedroom doors open to me, like a friendly guidance counselor, available but not pushy. Used to be there was no separation between us; any thought that bloomed in their heads was headed my way. Their small bodies needed regular plugging into the large recharging station of my own.

Now, I hear the clock ticking. Everything’s recalibrated. Every connection is a celebration, as if any day now these kids will don their parent-repelling armor and shut us out completely. At the end of the day, like our own governing board for the project of raising teenagers, Dan and I review the small celebrations: she held my hand in public; he asked me to wrestle with him on the couch; she shared her feelings without blame; he asked for a salad.

Empty banquet hall at The Overlook, Monarch Lodge.

Dan ceremoniously sets a table by the enormous heat-leaking windows, and brings the kids in. They are sweetly awed by the cooler-sponsored buffet line. Col, who often admires Arlo’s life of sleeping, eating and playing, leans into me in our corner booth, all doped-up from TV, and says, “How did you guys make this dinner so good?”

“I may not have a kayak, but I can cook, right?” Dan replies.

After dinner we take a walk on the trails, each parent walking with a kid and then switching partners for the walk back. Col grabs my hand, like an involuntary reflex from a different era. I inquire if I can ask him things. Things regarding upcoming school, soccer, girls. Sure, he says. I try to engineer a curiosity that’s attentive though not over-bearing, like hey, if you wanna tell me about the girl you’ve been texting, cool; if not, we can talk about Tupac and Biggie. He tells me things I didn’t know, which I meet with casualness, rather than taking notes for a future board meeting with Dan.

DAY 3

Morning in the banquet room, we fry a cornucopia of an omelet while the kids snooze. Later, we take another walk, pack up and head towards lovely Gunnison (cold drinks, thrift store, and our favorite town park for lunch and soccer). When we hit cell reception, Rose gets deluged by texts, so much checking in, keeping up, what are you doing? eating? wearing?

“It’s hard to see what my friends are doing without me, but I’m always going to be missing something,” Rose announces bravely, trying to convince herself.

“Do you have to ask your friends what they’re doing?” I ask. “Cause, it seems like knowing makes you feel worse.” 

“Well, I have to ask because then I know what I’m missing and can prepare myself rather than worrying about what it could be.”

Col shoots her a bewildered look from behind his headphones.

Sometimes it seems like all we can hope for is progressively less suffering.

It gets hot quick and we plunge into Blue Mesa Reservoir, no gear, no sports, just us, human-powered in the deliciously clear cold Gunnison River water. 

Why are swimming dogs so cute?

My new(ish) bathing suit, found by Rose at the Gunnison thrift.

We check into our cabin on the Little Cimmaron River, where we’ll be the next two nights. Rose announces that there is no wifi nor cell reception. “It’s probably a blessing in disguise,” she proclaims with shaky faith. 

Dan and I spot muskrats in a nearby pond and bring the kids back after dinner to view the scruffy little aquatic mammals. We creep around the pond, certain the muskrats will come out at dusk, but the water is still. We crouch at the shore, wanting the kids to be compelled by the possibility of wildness, and wishing, as always, we could have a few more moments with them.

DAY 4

At our one room cabin on the Little Cimmaron River, acorns are drying on every surface. Arlo is woofing protectively (and embarrassingly) at our neighbors. Col is all amped up, wanting to snuggle-wrestle everyone. “At least he’s not being Quiet, Surly Teenager,” I say to Dan. 

“I’m going to become Quiet, Surly Teenager very soon,” he deadpans.

We plan a hike into Black Canyon of the Gunnison, wait for the kids to riot, and when they don’t, we paste on our ‘hiking is a perfectly normal family activity’ smiles.

It’s quiet on the trail, and we descend into the canyon, steep, dark walls enveloping us. We spot trout in the river; butterflies flash orange and yellow like summer’s last flowers. 

“I’m just really happy we’re doing this,” Rose says grabbing my hand. 

We reach the Gunnison river, shimmery clear and cold. Swallows dip and race over the water. We throw sticks in the river for Arlo, sit in the sun and Dan asks, “Can I get mushy with you kids?”

“No,” is the general response. But Dan pushes on. “As your dad and a person who loves you very much I want you to feel belonging, significance and happiness. And as the challenges come, I recognize you won’t always be happy. I know it’s not my job to fix your sadness and I just want you to know I honor your process to meet those challenges in your way.”

Is he actually listening? Who knows.

Back at our cabin, Rose discovers a tiny sliver of cell reception between two cars in the parking lot, and immediately gorges from the banquet of what everyone else is doing (reminding me of when she’d wake from a nap at two years old, disheveled and disoriented, and immediately ask, “What Col doing?”)

I’m annoyed that she tracked down the cell reception like a junkie needing a fix; worried about the emotional costs of trying to make meaning about our own worth and belonging through following others’ lives; and sad, because I want her to find enough in the present moment to hold her. And I remember what Dan told the kids. There will be challenges, and we can’t fix them. We will be here to hold your painful feelings with you, but not for you. 

We eat elk burgers outside on the picnic table while hulking semis, rerouted off Hwy 70 because of forest fires, lumber by. After dinner Dan pulls out our annual end-of-summer questionnaires, and we sit around scrawling in our answers: What surprised you about this year? What are you celebrating about this past year? “How many weeks did I run that summer camp?” Col asks.

Later, after spending 20 minutes at her wifi spot, Rose is ready to visit the muskrat pond. “I guess I didn’t really need to catch up,” Rose concedes, though has a FaceTime call scheduled for tomorrow. The swallows launch circus dives through the cottonwoods, but the pond is still. We crouch in the thistly grass, waiting for the charming dog-paddling rodent to surface.

There is a campfire roaring in the community fire pit when we walk back from the pond, muskrat-sightingless, and we grab seats. A young man strums the guitar and sings passionately about murder, mayhem and LSD. An older couple who look like they just got dropped in from America’s heartland nod along appreciatively, and the owner of the cabins sips a wine cooler and tells stories about her worst guests ever. Col and Rose take it all in, each kid leaning against a parent, and I could stay here forever, semis rolling by into the night.

DAY 5

It’s our last day. We pack up the acorns, the last dregs of our food, wet bathing suits and books, and I keep wanting to invent reasons to stay a little longer. One last trip to the muskrat pond! The kids, who can smell home, grudgingly agree, though they no longer believe in the possibility of muskrats. We walk past last night’s fire pit, under the mammoth cottonwoods, and over the drought-anemic Little Cimmaron River. I update the kids on the plot twists of the book I’m reading, and like it’s old-days storytime, each kid grabs one of my hands unselfconsciously.

Yellow warblers in willows are spotlit like exquisite statuettes in the sun. Cows laze in the grass beyond the pond. I miss the kids already, because I know they will keep leaving us in different ways. Two muskrats, so small they must be babies, cross the pond, and we point and shout and laugh and celebrate. 

Acorn waffles with applesauce. Hells to the yeah.



7 Responses leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    September 15, 2020

    So much understanding and love. Thank you for *another* glimpse into your lives.

  2. September 15, 2020

    I love your writing. Especially in posts like this one where it feels like you are just giving us everything for free.

  3. Pam permalink
    September 15, 2020

    wow. I so love what you do and how you write about it. I love this glimpse into what life can be. <3

  4. Chi-An permalink
    September 15, 2020

    *sigh* so beautiful, thank you.

  5. September 15, 2020

    For wrestling your agenda to the ground, and for breaking 400 points in Scrabble, I salute you. Beautiful, thank you for sharing your trip with us.

  6. September 16, 2020

    Your sentence about them no longer being underfoot, well, I wanted to sob! Mine is 6 now and independence is showing up in so many ways. He’s still underfoot plenty but I see that future where it all changes.

    Love your writing as always.

  7. Molly permalink
    September 17, 2020

    I love your updates! It makes me so happy to read your blog. Thanks for continuing to post.

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