Simple trip to the high country shows power of family ties

Dan must have free reign over our Sunday if we’re switch-backing up a steep, rutted, cliffy gravel road at 8 a.m., bag of bakery goods sweating greasily in the front seat, truck pointed toward 11,000 feet.

There is no doubt that our kids get different things from each of their parents. I am pretty thrilled that they consider the library a destination, and that for them the nightly reading of chapter books falls under the “needs” category, along with food, water and snuggles. Dan is pretty thrilled that last week, Col trounced him in a BB-gun shooting contest and that Rose would spend all summer in a tent if she could. Dan finds hanging out at the park fairly ho-hum; I find the street bike races he organizes harrowingly unwatchable.

At the beginning of our hike, we cross a creek and Col’s left foot slips in, getting soaked. Dan tells him, “You were born with wet feet, kid, and you’ll probably have wet feet again.” I wait for the protest, but Col blithely hops onto a fallen log and continues his quest for fossils.

Later, when Rose wonders, sighingly, where we were going, Dan answers, “We’re here to be where we’re at right now.” Rose nods up at him as if Dalai Lama the Daddy had spoken.

I try to pay attention to Dan’s wisdom. While I’m bumbling around trying to find the line between encouragement and praise, often mistaking it for some subtle, mysterious thing, Dan delivers it straight.

He tells Col, to whom he’s pitching baseballs one day, “You don’t need to hit the ball into the San Juan Mountains, you just need to connect with it.”

I crane my neck from where I’m weeding the tomato bed to see how Col is absorbing these words. He smiles, takes a long breath and smoothly cracks the ball over the chicken coop.

Dan’s comments to the kids sometimes seem flavored with the bitter spice, “Quit your complaining.” But really, the underlying sentiment is, “I believe in your strength, adaptability and flexibility.” The kids get to rise up to what is already expected of them. And they do.

In the mountains, we get rained on, hailed on and chased out of the forest by lightning smacking a nearby ridge. Rose, whose superpower is “can have a party most anywhere,” plucks hail out of wildflower cups and sucks on ice balls like candy as we’re running for safety.

As usual, we don’t hike far. As usual, being up among the primroses and columbines leaves a wistful taste in my mouth from every glorious pre-kid backpacking trip I’ve ever taken. But the gift now is watching Col swoop a heart-shaped rock up from the banks of the creek like it sang to him, and presenting it to Dan. (Later, he tells me, “I’m going to carry this rock, but it’ll always be from me to Daddy.”). The gift now is hearing Rose announce proudly, “I’m spotting so many yellow wild mustards!” (Even though they’re actually wild parsley. No problem, girl, you’ll get it.)

The gift is simply being here, the invisible cord of family cinching us together on a summer day in the high country.

Reach Rachel Turiel at sanjuandrive@frontier.net.Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.

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