It’s Saturday morning, the sun shimmering like a pool of heat you could drown in. The kids are stationed at Lego headquarters, where small, hard-edged plastic shapes sprawl menacingly. Dan and I dream of the high country, where time-limited wildflowers have arrived like dear friends for a brief visit.
Luring the children away from home and onto a hike requires a shrewd craftiness that is surely a developmental stage for parents.
“We’re going on a pika search!” Dan bullhorns toward the kids with all the enthusiasm of a cruise director hot for tips. He pulls out our Colorado mammal book and gets the kids oohing over photos of the furry dish-eared critter that lives in alpine rock piles. Something snaps precisely into their motivational receptor sites because the kids pack notebooks and pens, ready to record very important data on this high-altitude member of the rabbit family.
We bounce and rattle up the Forest Service road. A sleek pine marten bounds through the spruce. Drama builds in the back seat surrounding who will finish their muffin first, the bizarre and fervent goal to have the last crumb standing. We pass meadows colonized by white islands of the noxious weed, ox-eye daisy, and the kids launch cutting-edge challenges: “Try not to whistle for five minutes,” Rose propositions Col.
We park and hike up through the trees, into to the alpine, where the whole world is laid out on a platter of green. The meadows flare with color, and we scare up a buck from his day bed under a talus field.
We bring the kids here to show them that you can fill your heart without accruing a single object, that the earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention, that entire ecosystems thrive with each species taking just enough. Maybe it’s far-fetched, but I’m hoping that these trips act as an answer to why I won’t buy the kids another cheaply-made toy that provides a two-hour hit of joy before becoming forgotten under the couch. (Which, truthfully, is most toys). I believe children have the greatest power to find simple joy in the art of living and playing and being, and I don’t want to dampen or confuse this ability.
Someday, when I’m an old woman (if I am so lucky) with nothing left to lose, I will publicly share all my strong and unpopular opinions. Like, that acquiring more stuff will never bring true, lasting happiness. And that our confusion about this is bringing great harm to ourselves and our Earth. But until then, it’s the kids who get my dubious sermons.
We scurry from columbine to penstemon to the impressively adapted alpine willow, no taller than a child’s pinky finger. We patrol the vast talus fields, listening for the telltale pika squeak, looking for the plant bundles they dry in the sun. We hear only one pika – not typically a shy animal– over several hours, and my heart clenches in alarm. It is said that as our world warms, the pika, designed to survive winter at 12,000 feet, can die if exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees.
For the next few hours, we ramble around, nibble wild plants and collect this wild world into our hearts. At this age, undoubtedly, the kids get more excited to watch a movie than go hiking, but I can see the subtle forces of nature chiseling their characters, reminding them of what endures, and seeping, quietly, inside, where it counts.
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.