My version of a selfie.
Backpacking must be the original video game: first, shoulder everything you’ll need for next few days on your back (discover just in time that you remembered the goat cheese but forgot a jacket), next, feel a little choked up saying goodbye to family (helps that 8-yr old daughter is nattering on cheerfully about shoes…What if your shoes get muddy, Mama? I would have brought my boots, sandals, flip flops, sneakers….), then, ford knee-deep snow on forest service road (while discovering fairly large rip in old, substandard hiking boots), arrive at trailhead with equal parts excitement/apprehension, descend 2000 feet in 2 miles (the 40 + #@*% yr old knees!), fend off mosquitos, shiver under mountain wind, swelter under mountain sun, arrive here:
All the fear I felt before this solo trip was actually the fear of getting out there and having to deal with feeling fear in real time. Does that make sense? I truly am not scared of wild animals, nor human predators (who would do better than seek prey 7 miles from a road), but of having to feel the fear or loneliness or boredom that might arise. (Which is highly human and slightly neurotic and decidedly not a good enough reason to stay home).
Mostly, I felt acutely the infinite blessings of my own ordinary life. Everything came into focus, which is to say, I felt blessed to be alive walking on the earth, smelling elk musk on the wind, spying big cat poop on the trail, popping glacier lilies in my mouth like caviar. I felt perfectly alone, but never lonely. When a mixed flock of chipping sparrows and siskins were whipped up by the wind, filling an aspen tree like chittering leaves, I felt surrounded by friends. (I may have even began talking to them).
Beloved calypso bulbosa (fairy slipper) orchid.
Ladies in the meadow.
I did feel the tiniest bit apprehensive arriving at camp. Camp, being simply the cluster of trees from which I would string my tarp and spend the night. The night! And then I made a small hobo fire, cooked a pot of rice and beans, set up my tarp for maximum rain protection, and felt like I was home.
I could smell the musky scent of elk from the forest above me, saw the nibbled down grass stems around my camp, and found a hunk of elk hair right where I smoothed out my sleeping bag. Clearly, this was someone elses territory.
As the sun melted into the western hills, mixing with the first clouds of the day, camp stove spluttering its busy tune, a cow elk exploded away from my camp, hooves kicking up dirt. Next, I heard a short, urgent bark, an unmistakable cow elk “alarm call.” For the next 20 minutes this one cow issued steady, loud, frequent calls, each one—a dog-like bark with grunts, growls and screams around the edges—so loud, so close, so wild, a startle rippled through my skin every time. Typically, the lead cow issues her alarm call to alert the herd to danger, and what follows is a thunder of hooves beating away. This lady was sticking around.
I wondered if she had just given birth (first week of June is prime elk calving time in the San Juans), and was giving her newborn a lesson in predators. Or maybe she didn’t want to leave her baby and was giving me a fierce warning. She sounded awfully mad (Being currently steeped in Harry Potter, I couldn’t help but think, she’s sending me a close range howler). I wasn’t aware of being nervous, but strangely had to pee every two minutes.
Just as the sun blacked out, the cow elk quieted down, and I crawled into my sleeping bag, perhaps breathing the same night air as a brand new elk calf and her Mama. I felt peaceful.
I woke to rain, made black tea and sipped it from my sleeping bag, watching the clouds cap off the valley.
I hiked out (now up 2000 feet in 2 miles) in the rain, feeling pulled by the little family waiting for me 7 miles away.
It rained all the next day (except when it snowed), and with each hour of tent confinement the kids reached greater levels of infectious hilarity. They’d stand up wearing sleeping bags like upright cocoons and roam blindly around the tent falling into each other, or quiz each other respectively, on horses and airplanes. (Ok, what’s a fetlock, Col? Um, I don’t know…What’s the rear stabilizer, Rosie?)
Dutch oven birthday cake.
By the campfire, Dan and the kids sang me their (weeks in the making, self-written) rendition of the song, “Mama,” sung to the tune of “Lola,” by the Kinks. I laughed and cried while rain tapped out a beat on our tarp and gratitude became the blood coursing my veins. (“Boys will grow up, and girls will grow up. It’s a long, sad, happy, short, muddled up trip, including MAMA, M-A-M-A…”)
Back home, on my actual birthday I requested a walk alone with each family member. Col held my hand for the entire hour, while we discussed Harry Potter as the hero’s journey. Rose and I tested every neighborhood iris for sniffirifficness, and Dan and I walked along the rain-swollen Animas River, discussing how our lives are filled with blessings, top to bottom, and how in the wild swirl of life, we’re living precisely in the sweet spot. (And then Dan threw out my hiking boots.)
sung to the tune of Lola
We camp all summer and snuggle all night
Reading H.P. by flashlight
You picked me up, and sat me on your knee
Said dear kid, “Don’t you want milky?”
On the occasion of my upcoming birthday (40 + approx @%*!!), I’m heading out on a solo backpacking trip.
During the day, when I think about my trip, I’m all: Wild plants! Connecting with the blessings of nature! Waking up to bird song! Slowing way down! The mental clarity that comes from being alone in the woods! Feeling the power of my own two legs! At night when the doubts come knocking on my cranial door, I have a little mantra I repeat about “peaceful nocturnal animals staying in their own areas.”
And really, the nighttime doubts and fears are more about the unknown (I’ve slept in the woods enough to know that wild animals really don’t want to visit my camp, except for one highly persistent mouse-type scurrying around under my tarp a couple summers ago). The unknown! It’s such a vast, amorphous and shifting little nightmare. And really, I’m onto myself. When the doubts whoosh in, I try to shine the light of awareness on them, catching them before they do too much unaccompanied sneaking around. “Hello there, fears!” I say really loudly, “I see you’re back. Take a number.”
But it’s daytime, so I’m excited again. Excited to experience the wild world directly, to get a glimpse into my own humanity as reflected back to me in an aspen forest, to get curious about the taste of columbine nectar, to loosen the reins of control, to simply walk, to love the rain without a roof (the weather forecast is fierce), or I don’t know, just to not have to share my bacon and chocolate for a few days. I’ve got my sleeping tarp, my rain poncho, one pot, one bowl, one spoon, a book (OK, two books – last night was like speed dating for bibliophiles, scrutinizing the first pages of five books I brought home from the library), a large helping of trust, and the sweetest family awaiting my return at a nearby campsite.
And if you pray, pray for me, but only because I’m not bringing coffee.
p.s. Col and I planted a 3-sisters garden (corn, beans and squash) last weekend. Why does the boy look so aggrieved? Must tone down zealous delivery.
What is happening here is that it’s raining. Raining, as in this regular thing that you don’t have to desperately pray for, nor purposely leave car windows down in hopes of chumming in the roving clouds while superstitiously pretending not to actually care.
More snow now than in winter.
Last Friday, downtown with the kids, taking respite from the downpour in a magazine store we love to loiter in, Dan texted me, “Welcome to the New Age” (a nod to the post-apocalyptic song all the kids these days love, or at least our two kids and their friend Cedar who introduced them to it).
Indeed. Everyone is walking around pleasantly bewildered, making back-up plans for outside events, and if you’re Col, noting, “it’s troubling to hear a plane and look up and not be able to see it because of all the clouds.”
Col and his agent doing business with airplane cards in a real airplane hangar at Animas Air Park.
Also, what’s happening here is Col has created a new business, Col’s Aviation Art, in which he draws custom portraits of people’s airplanes. I catch my breath when I hear him on the phone with a client, his shy, hesitant voice squeaking out, “Hi, this is Col, the airplane artist. Your portrait is ready.” Yesterday he was sketching at the kitchen table, muttering about deadlines.
We finished the final Harry Potter book last week and I’m having a bit of a hard time moving on. Everytime I open our new book, I can’t help but feel there just aren’t enough owls. We did name our new foster kitten, Hagrid, which helps a little.
Rose asked, Is it legal to post pictures of cats and rats together?
Every night at sunset we (Dan) slip the six baby chicks in the coop with the five adult chickens, when everyone is all dopey on melatonin and not likely to notice the interlopers, and then in the morning we (Dan) bring the babies out to their daytime daycare. We actually forgot to make a plan for integrating the generations. Whoops.
The payoff for packing out elk ribs.
While I spend most days contemplating, doubting, celebrating and generally over-thinking my life, Dan will happily pass an entire day pushing on the fibers of a brained elk hide with rocks and antlers, softening them into a permanently butter-soft garment, feeling like he’s in the exact right place at the right time. And developing really nice muscles.
Col and his homeschool co-op cronies celebrating 4 yrs of learning and playing together on a backpacking trip. Verdict is: more please!
My summer project is helping the kids to appreciate each other. (I don’t mind the mundane bickering over who gets the coveted privilege of holding the dustpan while the other is burdened with the broom, just wake me when the floor is swept), but I do want them to see each other as allies, as precious kin needing mutual kindness and compassion, or at being least worthy of “bad acupuncture.”
Rose: Col, do you want the good acupuncture or the bad acupuncture?
Col: the bad acupuncture for 12 minutes, then switch to surgery.
Which is to say, one strategy that seems to be working to build sibling bonds is to go outside and plant tomatoes for two hours and leave them to their own, strange devices.
Files from the Raising a Boy Department:
Col: Hey Dad, wouldn’t it be fun to take the model airplane I just built, send it down a zipline and set it on fire?
Dan: Sure. Grab my camera and take a video.
The burning plane came apart, half of it landing on the plastic greenhouse roof below, causing a disembodied adult male voice to shout on the video, “Get the fucking crutch!” Good thing Rose had bought a pair of adult crutches at a garage sale last year, which have been malingering in the yard, but came perfectly in handy to scoot the burning chunks of balsa wood off the greenhouse roof just in time.
That’s all for now, lovely people.
It’s been raining Northwest style here, complete with clouds that move in and camp out for days, unleashing extended drizzle interrupted by regular downpours. One of our tenants recently asked Dan what he did to the lawn, it looked so…green…and lush…and lawnlike. And, yesterday I had the thought, for the first time ever, “Hmm, the garden might like a little sun.”
Kathryn, my garden apprentice is back for another season! So are the hollyhocks!
All the carrot seeds that our outlaw chickens recently unearthed from neat rows have germinated in random clumps. Also, every seed that has ever bounced, drifted or paraglided into our yard, has split open and sent down an exploratory root, the conclusion being: hey, this place will work. The hollyhocks, comfrey, and mint have received the biblical decree to go forth and
multiply take over the world. The garden walkways are crawling with volunteer upstarts, each of which I should yank, yet I see as potential and future friend. (The cosmos: beautiful!; lamb’s quarters: edible weed!; Rocky Mtn Bee Plant: a special native!). Which is to say, like all relationships, it’s complicated. And strange. And beautiful.
On the homestead:
Rose turned 8 last weekend. She is a delectable mix of very innocent and very mature. Last night, walking one of her dog clients, she asked, “Is there a dog in the world who’s ever married a cat?” And for a moment it must have seemed possible that the right mix of dog and cat could walk down the aisle together, making it official. She wondered, watching the 4th Harry Potter movie, “Do you think the actor who played Wormtail really cut off his hand?” She loves when I feed her like a baby, scooping up soup and zooming it in her mouth. And, she told me last week, before a drama performance, that she was feeling “just a wink of nervousment.”
And yet, she is completely authorized to answer my phone, fully trusted to take messages or explain to a caller that I’m in the garden, rhapsodizing over carrot seedlings, which were unearthed by chickens on April 25th…Which is to say, the child pays attention. She knows people’s passwords, where their spare keys are hidden, can psychoanalyze any of us, and can detect that precise moment when celery has malingered too long in the fridge, turning from mild to bitter.
Rosie got an ipod from my parents for her birthday. Because I’m still beholden to mixed tapes and Pandora, she has officially surpassed me, technologically speaking. She’s figured out that 1 dog walk = 4 itunes songs. She likes to listen with Col, and the music soothes the two of them into quiet, thoughtful, non-bickering creatures. All the music she knows she’s heard through me. So when I hear her singing, very loudly, “Virgil Kane is the name and I served on the Danville train...” I say to her, “Wow, you have such great taste in music, Rosie,” both of us secretly congratulating ourselves.
:: Because plants in the cucurbit family (squash, cucumbers, zucchini, melons) have such a hard time transitioning after being transplanted, I am experimenting with germinating cucurbit seeds in a wet paper towel and transplanting outside before they put out leaves. It’s beautiful to watch how the rootlets literally grab onto the paper towel, determined to steady themselves.
:: A rare sunny day (can’t believe I just wrote that…but locals, can I get an amen?), launching a cardboard tri-plane from the roof.
Daytime, the baby chicks go outside to hang out in a cold frame for what Dan calls Chick Daycare, where we hope they get worn out enough to sleep through the night rather than party it up, squawking and pooping all over the bathroom floor.
:: Dan, bringing home the
: Baba and Nana are in town, being their typical awesomely kind and generous selves, taking the kids and then sending me texts like “We are having SOOO much fun!” Bonus points: why is there a gallon jug of water suspended in this photo?
:: In case you were still ambivalent about the cuteness of rats:
The arugula is fading out, (though if you invite us over for dinner in the next week, we will show up with a beautiful arugula salad that no kids will eat, except my friend Jennifer’s kids, who, while waiting for dinner, will go outside and eat dandelions. I am trying to splice some of their DNA into Col and Rose’s).
It turns out stripping hundreds of arugula leaves off stems is great therapy plus mindfulness practice plus Mama quiet time. It’s kind of like when the kids were very young and scared of the vacuum. When I needed no one to ask anything of me for ten minutes, I would plug in the vacuum and the kids would hide in their room while I buzzed around the house in a weird, loud state of relief that only someone who felt like time might actually be going backwards could appreciate. Now, I go outside and pick arugula.
Col decided to teach Rose how to play chess approximately ten minutes before we had to leave for shared school, and if waking a sleeping baby is taboo, than try interrupting two harmonious siblings.
It’s been raining here (as in, almost daily this past week) which has been cheering me up immensely. All the seeds I planted a few weeks ago are coming up, including new rows of ARUGULA, which made me flinch at first, and then smile and give thanks.
Dan has been away for a week helping his mom in New Jersey on house projects. Dan’s mom has raised such kind, devoted sons, and just in case Col didn’t get the Grow Up and Pamper Mom gene, I like to mention regularly to him, “I bet Nana Judy is just thrilled to have Daddy helping her!”
I’ve been texting Dan with Tupperware Heights updates: La Plata Mtns socked in again. Simps heard in spruce tree across the street. (Simps are baby crows). Col spots bullock’s oriole in yard. You know, the big news. I’ve realized that what I miss so much about Dan (besides the fact that he’s mastered the coffee/water ratio of our french press and isn’t squeamish about trekking through our coon-inhabited yard at night to lock up the chickens) is how we partner in celebrating the ordinary details.
I think this picture will cheer me up for approximately the rest of my life.
I read two books recently that I want to recommend. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a fast, suspenseful and masterfully written saga of mothers and children, all of whom you can relate to even if you don’t want to admit it. There is bad behavior, humor, secrets, friendship and bonus, a murder mystery.
I can still barely talk about the memoir, A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. It’s the true story of a Canadian world-traveler, held by kidnappers in Somalia for over 400 days. I stayed up until 3am finishing it because it was so harrowingly gripping. And yet, Lindhout is courageous and forgiving and manages to tell her story without any extra drama.
Finally, I am extremely excited to share that I’ll be teaching the creative writing portion at two sessions of Art of Mindfulness Summer Camp for Kids. Children, ages 6-12, will rotate through mindfulness practice, yoga, theatre, drama, visual art and creative writing, each modality anchored in a child-friendly sense of mindfulness. (Mindfulness creates space…replacing impulsive reactions with thoughtful responses).The second session is 50% full, and scholarships are available courtesy of Inhabit. For more info, go here.
Have a superb Mother’s Day/May weekend.
5:43 pm: There is one red sock on the kitchen table. A slushy of ripe-smelling liquified elk brains warms in a pot on the stove (I overheard Dan explaining to a friend, cheerily, “Oh, they just tend to rot in the process.” Brains are essential for brain-tanning hides).
I am trying to pretend that the smell of putrefying animal parts isn’t hindering my dinner-making mojo. Col is nearing the final lap of the last Harry Potter book, leaving strange Tourette-like written spoilers around the house like this one I came across on a recent airplane drawing, “Fenrir Greyback is not a death eater.” Rose is DJ-ing via youtube, singing along heartily to Steely Dan’s Dirty Work, making me wonder if we should be encouraging, I don’t know, the Mary Poppins soundtrack.
When you need a bit of lovin’
Cause your man is out of town
That’s the time you get me runnin’
And you know I’ll be around
Looks muddy because it’s been *raining!*
(Feel free to fall asleep for this paragraph) I stumbled upon an apparently uncommon violet on a hike in my backyard shale hills the other day, by the name of viola vallicola. The ultimate authority on Colorado Western Slope flora doesn’t list it as even being present in our county, and my favorite website for Southwest plants says: “This lovely miniature is not very common at all in the Four Corners area.” So, I’m appropriately nerdily excited and have a renewed belief in keeping ones eyes open for the unexpected. Dan and I have decided that when we retire, we’re devoting ourselves to monitoring various local plant populations. If Col and Rose want to visit, look for the ragged tarp in the arnica fields.
Also, we’re having a bit of an arugula situation.
Which is to say, all those sweet little October cold frame seedlings have become a towering, menacing forest of vitamin A, K and carotenoids, folate, anti-cancer compounds, yadda yadda. When I ask Dan if he’s been doing his part, he’s indoctrinated enough to ask, “How does arugula compare nutritionally to dandelion and lamb’s quarters?” (Also abundant these days).
The kids aren’t expected to eat arugula until they’re eleven, and Dan and I are doing our best. But, I need some help, so I can clear out those beds and put in tomatoes (inside walls of water and under greenhouse plastic because I’m a wild gambler). I’m offering up bags of washed arugula! Will consider any and all trades…watch the kids for an hour, homemade goodies, garden work, original love poems, hang a few flyers for my summer classes, teach Rose some appropriate song lyrics. Or, I don’t know, slap down four bucks. Really, help me out. You know how to get in touch with me.
The daily arugula salad:
There’s nothing not to love, really, about all of it: the smell of elk brains, Rosie belting out mature lyrics, Col detonating Harry Potter spoilers, having too much of so many good things.
p.s If you want to see the violet, let me know. Blooming for another week or so.
p.p.s This is happening:
This happened the other day:
First, crack a beer. Next, put on Pandora. Accept that he refuses to wear an apron. Take 5 deep breaths. Explain to Rose that no, when you take a deep breath it doesn’t mean you’re annoyed, just that you’re remembering to calm your system. Get out the ingredients for the chocolate cake Col visioned up this morning, lobbying for “recipe creation” to replace your ideas of homeschool writing practice.
When Col forgoes your suggestion to cut the butter in even pieces for melting and instead drag-zooms the whole stick around the hot pan, sizzles of smoking fat shedding off the yellow rectangle, remind yourself that Col comes from a long line of men who don’t like taking instruction from others. Feel the jungle drums of your nervous system signaling the dictator has stepped into your psyche.
Let the dictator off for the night and say with what you hope is a gentle voice, Honey, is it fun to melt butter that way? Do you notice the butter is smoking? Remember that while Col is a beginner in the kitchen, he sees himself as contender for Top Chef of Tupperware Heights.
Take 5 more deep breaths and a long swig of beer. Remember that you also rarely follow recipes, that you haven’t mastered taking instruction from Dan after nineteen years together. Remember that Col wants to be here, that he turned down his sister’s invitation to play outside so he could cook with you. Remember that the rebel genes come from your side of the family and did not skip over you.
Watch Col spill, accidentally, copious amounts of poofy tapioca flour on the countertop, on the floor, watch him lick butter off the spatula, wonder why beating four eggs has to be so loud. Remind yourself that this cooking together is a new iteration of your relationship. Be determined to show up for it.
Find a way to casually remind Col to fold the flours into the wet ingredients with a light touch, we’re not mixing concrete, even though you’re quite sure you’ve mentioned this once or twice or ten times before.
Feel thankful that in your own home you can sing along loudly to Pandora. In fact, this may be the crucial ingredient, the back up support to cooking with a ten year old. Spirit in the Sky. Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall. Late for the Sky. Notice that belting out, Gotta have a friend in Jeeeesus, loosens something in your jacked up spine.
Hold the pot while Col scrapes the batter into the cast iron. Together, lick the spatula, the fork, the chocolately-gooey sides of the pot, congratulating yourselves that this is gonna be a good one. Feel the excitement and satisfaction of creating something together. Put the timer on for 35 minutes and let Col run outside to find his sister while you happily, singingly, clean up the kitchen.
Chocolate grain-free cake
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
1/2 cup tapioca or arrowroot flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup plain yogurt (can be omitted or substituted with applesauce or half as much milk or coconut milk)
1 tsp each: salt, baking powder, vanilla
Mix wet ingredients, fold in dry ingredients. Bake in greased pan at 350F for 30-40 minutes.
Let cool and celebrate.
p.s. This cake is delish. Moist and light and full of flavor. When we’re feeling extra fancy, we mix cream cheese with fruit sauce for a frosting.
Arugula from the cold frames, planted last October.
We’re eating through the magical forest of arugula: hack away at an armful and watch it reinvent itself while you sleep, like Madonna. (Conversely, I’ve been watching hairs turn curiously grey, and it’s just like that, a hair formerly a rich compost brown simply turns grey). I’ve been engaging in April seed therapy, scattering seeds in the greenhouse, garden beds, cold frames, small labeled pots, unmarked troughs, feeling like my own clichéd caricature of dotty hopefulness.
When you’re dotty and turning grey you can start growing datura.
Col’s homeschool co-op is exploring the light and breezy topic of “Life Purpose.” Yesterday we discussed the feeling of being “in the flow,” to which children are so strongly magnetized. This explains why, as our house is going up in metaphorical flames (“We’re supposed to have shoes on now!”), Col is serenely drawing and Rose cartwheeling into nirvana.
I spent the afternoon with Rose and her 2 BFFs on Sunday. Between playing “teenagers” (Lets say my name is Jazzlynn and I’m on the train with my cat. Commence furious teenaged texting on cardboard phone) and sparkling at full freaking tilt, they held impromptu breakout sessions to manage their interpersonal conflict. While I spend my Monday nights dousing the fires of my deluded, craving mind at the Durango Dharma Center, and my Thursday afternoons figuring out how to get along with people at my Conscious Communication Group, these girls are working out who gets to play the Kitty figurine in real time. It’s not about being conflict-free, it’s about being able to comfortably work that shit out. (And they do, they do). And then returning to the work of sparkling.
Col, at ten, still finds the occasion of Dan and I dancing together in the living room to be an opportunity not to shirk away embarrassedly, but to insinuate his small, lovely self between us. He had a personal epiphany in the Trimble Hot Springs changing room the other night, something about how while he still really likes the aesthetics of airplane design “it’s more that when you fly you feel like you’re in control and there’s no one telling you what to do.” (A slightly troubling attitude which might land him at the Durango Dharma Center or similar spiritual bootcamp in 20 years). The upshot of which is that he thinks he can achieve this same feeling in a boat. On water. Which is closer to being on land than 20,000 feet in the air. (I mean really, are there any mothers who wholeheartedly support their children piloting small aircraft over the Rocky Mountains?) So, we’re renting an experimental canoe this weekend. The plan is to fish and lounge while Col paddles us around feeling like he’s in control.
Also, we’re making volumes of Everlasting Salad. This is a hardy, improvisational salad which gets reinvented and added to as the week goes on. The point is to have a quick, easy, highly-vegetal meal to constantly draw from. In it goes everything that won’t wilt quickly, namely: cabbage, arugula, grated carrots and beets, parsley, dandelion greens, kale, cilantro. We dress it with olive oil and rice/balsamic vinegar. It’s an act of freeform love. Dan will start a bowl of Everlasting Salad, I’ll scoop out a lunch’s worth, add a handful of arugula and a grated carrot and put it back in the fridge, he’ll pile it on our plates for dinner before chopping up a cabbage to replace what he took. Occasionally we get to the bottom of it.
Kids bowls with friendly add ins: cheese and raisins.
Last night at dinner Col and Rose were talking about who wants to be whose girlfriend or boyfriend, and who has a crush on who. Rose reported, “Alex likes me and Dewa. Kailas likes Fawn.” (These names, I know). I asked Col, “And what girl are you interested in?” “Just you, Mama,” he replied. Smart kid. But that still won’t get you a ride in an airplane.
Pear flower buds
I am riding my bike past Turtle Lake watching coots skim blue water when a large shadow strobe-lights the road ahead of me. I look up. White head, white tail, body a black feathery bullet, dihedral wings (Col taught me that term; it means inclined upward). Bald eagle. First: the requisite full body turned inside out gawking lucky awe. Second: I can’t wait to tell Dan.
Back home, I sling my bike in the shed. I pretend for a moment that this sighting is the singular headline of the day, the most important news to convey. With swift Mama-ninja mind tricks, I elbow out the competing stories: the unfinished taxes, outstanding dental bill, upcoming homeschool co-op day still to plan, ultra-pricey orthodonture in our future, groceries needed, who’s driving which kid where, Rose’s 64 pieces of easter candy that she fondles daily, we’re almost out of toilet paper!
Spring is like living inside a constant all points bulletin, except y’know, about evening grosbeaks SPOTTED IN THE CRAB APPLES, and apricot fruit MAKING AT THE SMILEY BUILDING and WHERE are the white crowned sparrows? Yesterday I found new carrot seedlings lifting two green arms to the sun. Daily, we watch crows, house finches, magpies and scrub jays scoop up sticks, deer hair and chicken feathers from our yard, off to shore up secretive nests. The evening grosbeaks descend every morning, a numerous club of yellow- and black-suited members, taking voracious shifts at our feeders.
This is the news.
Our peach tree is in full, fancy pink bloom; honeybees are back in business. The plum blossoms have emerged like twinkling, white daytime stars. The hops, elderberry, lemonbalm and rhubarb are popping out like electric green currents charged by the earth. Maybe spring is about hope, or maybe it’s simply about keeping your eyes open, believing this world is worth our attention.
Every crevice of the car is packed. The kids are human puzzle pieces wedged between carefully stacked ramparts of coolers, water jugs, sleeping bags. Four handmade bows bisect the vehicle lengthwise (and keep children to their respective sides, lest Dan hollers, Watch the bows!). We’re heading to the canyons of Utah, a seasonal spring migration down from the mountains of Colorado.
We pass dozens of vaguely familiar dirt roads, at which earlier versions of Dan and me parked an ‘86 Honda, and descended into the slickrock, hoping to find water, ancient ruins, unpeopled miles, the meaning of life.
“It’s like old times, but with new people!” Dan says, maneuvering the Subaru through a soaring mesa of pinyon and juniper, through which secret canyons are gashed into solid rock.
We set up camp. A canyon wren sings the final, descending notes of the day. Rose chops potatoes, Col chops wood. Our tent smells like every camping memory plus pine needles and the merest whiff of mildew, not unpleasant. I have the distinct feeling that I have everything I need (plus two 6-packs gluten free beer and several bars dark chocolate).
From camp chairs, we can see into Colorado and Arizona. Our home mountain range, the La Platas, rise in jagged snowiness. I drink a beer and survey our good fortune.
The next day our friends arrive. Factions coalesce. There are those in the first half of their lives and those, likely, in their second. We grown ups check in and catch up and make plans while the kids get busy with a game in which one person throws pebbles at the others who are lined up firing squad style. It’s Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games in the desert.
With buddies, kids can hike farther, eat more, stay up later, and recover faster from personal injustices. They become a roving band of grubby life enthusiasts, seeking adventure. We drop over the flat edge of the mesa, down spiraling stone staircases which require all four limbs. A raven disappears into a slickrock nest. The sky beams blue.
Our obligations and responsibilities shrink down to some basic human code: keep children hydrated and away from cliffs, while the trickier aspirations like, Become Somebody slough off like layers of desert sand.
Even the kids cut through the fluff.
Rose (to Teo, 4 yrs old): do you want to chase me first or eat an apple?
Teo: I will chase you now.”
In the canyon bottom we adults unfurl in the shade, having modern conversations about whether the unadulterated sun is more likely to sponsor vitamin D production or melanoma. Meanwhile, the children sculpt mud pies, like every other child who’s ever lived on this planet.
“At my bakery, you can get anything from wheat to grain-free pies!” Rose announces. (Okay, maybe not quite like every other child).
Yes, we hiked this “causeway,” looks sketchier than it was. Plus, at the knob, we found this:
Various permutations of adults meander down canyon while I remain to watch the kids. All their usual lust for the Next Thrilling Thing has evaporated in a poof of sand-smoke: they scurry around seeking the perfect grass seeds to sprinkle on mud pies; they climb boulders and stalk lizards. My nostalgia about the carefree, childless days Dan and I spent in the canyons alone is already passing away. Someday (likely, in about a week), I’ll feel wistful about these moments. About how these slickrock canyons were enough to keep the kids’ imaginations firing, about how we came here and found everything we need.
Kangaroo rat tracks found in our camp kitchen every morning.
Driving home, it’s like pressing rewind as we backtrack through tiny dusty towns, climb up out of the desert, finish off lukewarm coffee, remember our modern responsibilities. I look around the car for signs that we’ve changed somehow, that we’ve absorbed something essential and immutable from the desert, something to bring back with us to our days of busy routine.
Col tells me, “I wore the same clothes for four days.”
“And that’s a good thing?”