We’re at 10,500 feet, tents tucked in the tall spruce, the La Plata River bending clear and cold below us. Wildflowers splatter the slopes like a Jackson Pollack painting. Dan rigs tarps from stationary objects, steps back to admire his work and admits, “Well, now I kind of hope it rains.”
Rose spots a chipmunk, no doubt head of campsite cleanup, names it, “Chitty,” and becomes very curious about which foods in our cooler Chitty would most enjoy.
“Are you hoping she’ll eat out of your hand?” I ask Rose.
“No, I’m hoping she’ll sit on my lap,” my daughter replies with alarming sincerity.
While Dan and I say a million times a day: “The kids will appreciate this when they’re older” (“this” being our fringe, non-mainstream ways), I often wonder what it’s like growing up in this family now, from their perspective. I believe Rose dreams of thumb-happy weekends on an iPhone. And Col? He issued the bizarre request recently that we do some traveling outside Colorado, as if we’re people who actually leave the ZIP code.
In the afternoon, lightning smacks the nearby ridges, hail pelts the ground, a new stream picks a route right through camp, waterfalls swell, the river turns muddy and high. We huddle under the tarps, layer on clothes, and give the kids our toothiest smiles, trying to relax any brainwaves registering alarm. The storm persists; morale sags. By hour four, the kids ask to go home.
Dan tells them, “Rain falls on the earth, and we love that. Can’t we be part of that?”
The kids are dubious, and yet the rain feels like a metaphor, something about enduring discomfort, allowing it in, knowing it will pass. A meditation teacher once told me, “We practice (meditation) to increase our capacity to endure discomfort.” I believe parenthood works toward this end, too.
Dan gets us through some low points by telling stories of his childhood summers camping in spongy, soaked Eastern Canada with his dad. If it wasn’t rain, it was bugs! Dinner was what malingered in the cooler, called “goulash” – a fretful compilation of blackened bananas, whole, bony fish, a few shriveled garbanzo beans. Col and Rose howl with laughter, forgetting for a blessed minute the rain soaking their ponchos.
Six hours later, the storm lets up. The mountains are instantly greener. A blue patch of sky spreads like a rip in the clouds.
“That’ll freshen up the flowers,” Dan says like a parody of his own indefatigable optimism.
The sun delivers one last blast of hope before crawling over the western ridge. We eat a Dutch oven meal of warm, meaty deliciousness, remove our ponchos, and I read to the kids around the fire before bed.
The next morning is cold and clear, sun sparkling off every green, living thing. We hike to an alpine lake, and in an ironic twist, Rose begs me to hike farther with her. The ground gets marshy, and Rose states the obvious: “Well, take off your shoes,” hers long since abandoned. We sploosh through the soupy wildflowers and the lake mud, waking up the soles of my feet.
Now home, I think of everything the children saw on this trip: the baby grouse tucked into tall grass while her mother led us away in the opposite direction, deer sneaking around misty morning slopes, the robin forging an aerial path through camp to her nest, insects in beak. I don’t know what level of future appreciation for these experiences will dawn on the kids, but I believe that right now they’ve received the gift of knowing how much their parents love wild places, rain and all.
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.