The sun long ago had slipped behind Silver Mountain by the time the assembled parents got our eight collective children zipped into sleeping bags. Drowsy siblings who just an hour ago were bickering over camp chair real estate nestled close together, exhaling marshmallows into each others’ hair.
One by one, the adults returned to the campfire, perhaps skipping a bit at the sweet, clandestine pleasure of uninterrupted conversation with people who have full command of the English language. It wasn’t entirely unlike the elk mamas Dan and I have spied frolicking in a high mountain meadow while their wobbly-legged newborns were stashed under mountain shrubs.
Despite the high-level communications required to get four families to a spruce grove at 10,300 feet, or coordinating meals for 16 people via 160-character text messages, or simply the two-day project of gathering and stuffing gear into our Subaru, it was totally, entirely worth it.
Adult needs heartily were provided for, as coolers spilled with local beer, marinating elk, farmers market corn and other culinary delights. However, the only child-accoutrements carted along were the same played-out pair of buckets and shovels we always bring camping. In the woods, the kids are responsible for their own entertainment. This is not something we have to tell them; soon as they spill from car seats, the sticks and rocks leap into their hands as if magnetized.
What a lovely treat to sip coffee at a morning campfire while eight children rambled around wet wildflower meadows, picking orange sneezeweed blossoms for their moth named Cinderella. The nuclear family structure got pleasantly dismantled, as parents casually rotated through positions of responsibility, cooking, cleaning and minding children. And even the minding of children takes on a relaxed, more auditory flavor in the woods, as in “I can still hear them; everything must be fine.”
The kids did beautifully, they really did. They picked wild strawberries and discovered ancient dinosaur jawbones and gave every single fruiting mushroom the exotic label: poisonous. There hardly were any scuffles, perhaps because sharing, the prickly goblin of the home scene, becomes less urgent when there are plenty of rocks and sticks and moths to go around.
And sometimes it seems like we need a life coach, cheerleader and super nanny just to pack up the family and head to the mountains for a night, and I don’t get much more sleep than when I was 17 and slurping down weak coffee in a red, vinyl booth at 3 a.m. But ambling down the forest service road – pre-coffee – to see the morning mist draped across the mountains as magically as if exhaled by a dragon, was like falling in love with life itself.
Driving out, watching the mountains come in and out of focus as we rolled down the Forest Service roads, I felt like something internal – small and unnameable – had shifted from our time in the woods. And that always will be enough.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her blog about raising children, chickens and backyard food at 6,512 feet: 6512andgrowing.wordpress.com.