We’re backpacking through stunted trees and out into the green alpine where late season wildflowers flare in a last stand of fertility.
The sky is forever blue, making the threat of thunderstorms seem as menacing as a fictional villain. A pika squeaks its raspy warning bark while a pair of peregrine falcons swoop overhead.
We stop to fill water bottles at a spring and everything feels so poignant and peaceful. Perhaps this is because Dan and I have left the children back in town.
We’ve been steadily trying to indoctrinate the children into the family culture, which can be loosely summed up in slogans like: Follow your heart! Celebrate the bounty of the earth! In practicality, it looks something like: Let’s spend the weekend scouting for mushrooms in the woods, throw a roadkill deer in the Subaru and head home for leftover elk stew accompanied by a salad-like assemblage of every toothy, edible green leaf in the garden.
And honestly, the kids are a little skeptical. Col is happy to snap Legos together in the dark opium den of his room while the sun rises and sets on another day. Rose’s current greatest adventure is walking with a friend to the rec center pool with a backpack full of store-bought snacks, “without any parents checking on me.”
And for Dan and me, walking in the lush mountains during the brief blaze of summer feels actually, well, ecstatic. And at our age, this may be our best bet for an altered state. There’s something about moving my feet on the wildly gorgeous earth, where every living thing has what it needs and where the complexities and artifices of human culture haven’t infiltrated. Choices shrink to the elemental – set up tarp here or here? I remember my best self, which is to say, my simple and ordinary self. And at this stage of life, that is ecstasy.
I have no doubt that someday the kids will forge their own meaningful relationships with the wild world. Someday, Rose will yank her car – full of raucous, singing girlfriends – to the shoulder and knife out prized backstraps from a roadkill deer all without bloodying her fabulous outfit. And Col, with his keen skills of observation plus big heart for wild animals (not excluding “cute” skunks) will be called to his own nature path.
We’ve had wonderful family hikes and camping trips, in which we hike one whole mile each way, stop for hundreds of snack-calories and make tremendous amounts of noise. Recently, getting us all to the top of Olga Little Mountain required recounting the abridged, semi-accurate life story of Michael Jackson, while the kids bushwhacked uphill, listening, utterly distracted and rapt.
It’s easy enough to hustle sleepovers for the kids and zoom out on one-night backpacking trips, which is like speed-dating for established couples. Or like a discovery, like realizing that limbs that had been pruned to accommodate the intense needs of young children are growing back. Or maybe like being born again, as yourself. We come home refreshed and inspired. And this seems as much a gift to the children as it does to myself.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.