We've been cramming the Subaru with gear so we can snooze under aspens while dealing with ticks and gusts of wind over our tent. I believe it's called camping.It's almost like the old days, when Dan and I plastered the San Juans with the soles of our hiking boots. Except back then, when only world leaders carried cell phones and we lived fat off dishwashing paychecks, mountain-adventuring meant pawing our way up jumbly talus, hungry to spy bands of elk and the inconspicuous Siberian gentian. Now we park our mounds of stuff 20 feet from our car and call it good.
And it is good.
Long after the last child has squirmed his sap-sticky body inside a sleeping bag, Dan and I tend the fire, marveling at how splendidly the kids are mixing with the wild land; how well they're amusing themselves with the gritty, scratchy toy box of nature. The permutations for "rock-paper-scissors" are endless, and Col pounds twigs with rocks, smothers pebbles with leaves and spears everything with a stick - the one super-glued to his hand the second he spilled from his car seat onto pine needles. Rose shovels serviceberries and violet flowers onto her tongue, re-enacting some vital part of her female biology: Must gather and eat ripe plants now. Dan and I recline in camp chairs and finish the conversation we started last spring.
When I see my kids' bodies covered with dirt, toting pine cones and a smashed bottle cap Col insists is a fossil, I think: This is exactly the education I want for them.
It reminds me of a story my mom tells about receiving a breathless call from me soon after I moved to Durango, 14 years ago.
"Good news!" I exclaim.
She wonders: job interview? Perhaps Rachel will take the GREs after all? I tell her, "Dan and I tapped a box elder tree for syrup and it's starting to flow!"
I love these beetle-stalking children of mine, these fresh-eyed creatures who devour the scratch-n-sniff ponderosa pine bark with their noses.
The truth is, they're still undomesticated.
My job is stamping the "pleases" and "thank yous" into their rambling sentences, reminding them to wipe their orifices. But here, in the aspens, we learn other lessons. Our days follow a rhythm and simplicity that feels a little more, well, human.
The kids stop asking "What are we doing today?" and get down to the business of investigating life in a spoonful of soil.
In the absence of commerce, electricity and high-level activity-shuffling, simply cooking a meal takes on appropriate importance, as does fluffing our nylon nest. As each day passes, we adults shed another layer of inessentials, while the kids' skin thickens, literally, under assault of rocky ground, wild rose thorns and the mosquito's sting.
Maybe upon emancipation, our kids will speed out of Durango, text-messaging their way toward the nearest city. But I will rest easy, knowing their foundation was built on aspen leaves, serviceberries and cool mountain water.
Rachel Turiel's column runs the first and third Sunday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.