Our first date was a hike. He proposed after we set up camp on a backpacking trip. My engagement picture shows us in fleece and headlamps. So for our tenth anniversary, a backpacking trip just made sense.
It’s been eight or nine years since I’ve carried my pack, a fact made clear by the layer of dust on it when we took it down from its hook on the wall. In those years, I’ve carried three babies. We’ve both carried the weight of grief. We’ve walked together and alone. But we hadn’t hefted these packs together, purple next to black, in a long time.
We bought packets of dehydrated food, granola bars, jerky, and cocoa. We pulled out sleeping bags and stuff sacks and the backpacking stove. We jumbled it all with Tevas and hiking boots and warm layers and somehow fit it all into packs.
Tuesday morning, after getting the kids off to school, we set out on an adventure. We left behind bills and homework and trying to figuring out what people would eat for dinner. We left behind a comfy bed and warm house. We headed out, just the two of us for three days.
When Brian said 6.4 miles for the first day, it didn’t sound so bad. I’ve run 6.1 in under an hour, with a “nobody runs the hill” hill in it. But that run wasn’t this steep the whole way. I wasn’t wearing a heavy pack, and the ground wasn’t broken rock. 6.4 miles in the mountains is different.
Still we set out hopeful that we’d make it to Mizpah hut where we could get water and set up in a nearby tent site. Briefly, the trail was easy. Then we went up and up and up. Brian listened to music. I got lost in my thoughts. We continued upward. We talked about music and books and the value of trekking poles. We climbed some more.
We stopped for a snack and checked our watches. As dusk settled into darkness, with no real idea how far we’d come, we realized we weren’t going to get to the hut. We started looking for water. Then a flat spot. Too wet, too wet, too wet.
Darker and colder. Brian was stumbling with his pack top-heavy with water. We were both stumbling tired.
Finally, we found an opening with a bed of moss, not too wet, just barely big enough for the tent. We got water boiling while we got the tent set up. Then quiet. Too quiet. The ever-reliable, but loud, backpacking stove had gone out. There was cursing and repeated attempts to restart it, and finally the consistent loud roar that meant that we’d get a hot meal that night.
While we waited for dinner to rehydrate, Brian poured hot water into our mugs, and I stirred up the cocoa, a cup of comfort, hot and sweet.
Wednesday morning, we fueled up on our backpacking staples of oatmeal and cocoa, and also hard-boiled eggs, homemade granola, coffee. Little luxuries.
About an hour later, the trail opened out to the hut we had been aiming for. We filled water bottles, used the bathroom, spread maps out on the broad tables. I noted that the weather, that as of the day before had looked glorious for this longest day of your trip, was now:
Mixed precip. High in the 40s. You will be walking through clouds.
Mixed precip (possibly some snow). Lows 20s
As we stepped out, we felt raindrops and put pack covers and rain gear on. It didn’t last long, and we were working hard enough that our rain coats came off soon. Still, wisps of hair slapped across my face, wet from the moisture in the air. We were walking through clouds, but even in that gray, we were surrounded by emerald, moss green, maroon, and scarlet—moss, lichen, alpine blueberries at our feet.
Above treeline, in that low visibility, I appreciated the cairns that kept us on track. Brian would periodically glance over his shoulder, make sure I wasn’t falling too far behind.
Above treeline, the wind whipped loose straps from my pack into my face. My pack cover rattled and ballooned in the gusts. I appreciated too, the scrubby stunted evergreens that blocked the wind a few steps down. We hunkered on a rock in one such windbreak and ate Granny Smith apples, crisp and tart with slices of creamy sharp cheddar. More luxuries shared.
We carried all we needed on our backs—food, water, shelter, more layers. We chose which non-essentials made the cut—weight vs. worth. Coffee, eggs, apples, cheese . . .
We went up and over Mount Monroe, where the wind tried to take us off course with each step. As we started down, the clouds suddenly opened. We saw blue sky for the first time that day, sunshine, and Lake of the Clouds.
The hut was closed for the year, but we entered The Dungeon, the always open emergency shelter, to eat lunch and check our maps out of the wind. As we ate, the sky grew darker. Clouds loomed closer, sprinting across the sky in a solid stream. We wouldn’t do any extra exploring above treeline. We’d just head down (6 more miles) and try to find a place for the night.
Descents are obstensibly easier, but my knees have never liked them. The trail was wet or mucky, and I found myself picking my steps carefully, deliberately. It was faster going than the day before, but still slow.
All around us, downed trees showed the damage of a storm a few years back. We climbed over and under some that still crossed the trail. Sometimes, I’d find myself straddling a log, willing my other leg to swing its way over so I could continue. M&Ms + salted peanuts + almonds + craisins kept me going. I wasn’t so sure about the M&Ms at home (I added chocolate chips to my own bag of trail mix instead), but out there I scarfed them. No luxury, quick energy.
With all the downed trees, there were no spots for tents, and this night was supposed to be colder than the last. Dusk was just starting to inch in around us. I didn’t want to be picking my way down this slippery, wet, rocky trail in a headlamp.
“How’re you doing?” Brian asked as I caught up to him resting on a rock. I slumped against my pack on one nearby, and he handed me the water bottle.
He nodded. “We’ve got to be close to the shelter.”
I hoped he was right though I had no sense of distance traveled. We didn’t sit long.
“Ready?” We lurched to our feet.
As dusk gathered more closely, I remembered the cocoa from the night before, and started this mantra: cocoa, lasagna, dry socks. This was my promise to myself once we found our home for the night. It had to be close. Maybe. The only thing to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Brian smelled it first. Wood smoke. Camp fire. The shelter.
He was stumbling into view of it when I made the last water crossing. Looking up, I saw trail leading either way. I barely saw it in the dark. So close and I felt lost. I called out. He answered, and I saw his headlamp.
And then I was stumbling in too, seeing the cheery fire, the three folks already there. We dropped our packs. Pulled out sleeping pads, sleeping bags, dinner.
While Brian boiled water, I put on those dry socks and fleece leggings and another layer. Brian poured the water and we had cocoa by the fire, while we waited for the lasagna to be ready. I ate out of the bag. So good.
“You make better lasagna,” he told me, but right then I wasn’t so sure. That lasagna tasted pretty damn good after our long day. Half-way down, I handed him the bag. Our romantic shared dinner.
Then we pulled on layers, zipped sleeping bags up tight and settled in for a cold night, grateful to have made it to this place where we could rest.
Thursday was our anniversary. We’d made it about 15 miles on that trip so far. We’d made it 10 years since we said “I do.”
We continued down together, talking about ways to start the girls out in these mountains with us and about dogs that would be good for hiking and barn restoration. The trail continued to challenge us with slippery mud pits and downed trees. At spots it seemed to peter out and disappear. We crossed a river once only to cross back when we realized we’d been mislead. We both cursed at separate times. And we navigated it together. We checked in on each other. We shared snacks and water.
We got back to the car in the warmth of a blue-sky October day. We donned new socks, dry underwear, cotton t-shirts. Ah.
Two hours later, we both hobbled out of the car for dinner, tired muscles stiff from sitting still. We devoured bacon burgers and fries at the Happy Hour Family Restaurant. It wasn’t a fancy dinner or a particularly romantic one, but we were there together 10 years later and in that moment it all felt easy.
I think about the slogging part of our trip, the tight lines on the map showing the hard work of the up-up-up, the mucky ground, the stumbling in the dark, the hard ground beneath us and the cold. And I think about the brilliant green and the exhilaration in the wind. I think about feeling small but part of something bigger. I am exhausted and sore, but I’m also refilled. We’re also reconnected to some part of who we were but also to some part of who we are, a part that might have gotten a little dusty like my pack.
There are moments when your pack is dialed in right and everything feels balanced, when the trail is almost flat and well marked. Enjoy those moments. Soak them in. Because even in the midst of an adventure, there’s a lot of slogging. You’ll feel your pack dig into your shoulders or your boot rubbing the wrong way. You’ll stumble in the dark and slip in the muck. You’ll wonder if you’re going the right way.
Turn around, make sure you’re still together.
Ask, “How are you doing?”
Offer each other trail mix, water, a spot next to you on the rock to rest.
Point out the fairy colors of the landscape, the sun brightening the sky, the leaves—you’re back to lower ground—crunching underfoot.
Keep each other going.
Keep going together.
“Let me take your picture before we eat,” I said imagine chocolate smears from the muffins all down her first day of school outfit.
As I grabbed the camera (I still don’t have a cell phone), she raced to the stand in front of the flowers where her sister had stood for her first day of school picture last week.
“Only with K!” she demanded wanting her sister in there too. Then quickly she changed to, “I wanna take a selfie.”
My preschooler wanted to take a selfie.
I didn’t go to preschool, but when I was in school, I didn’t know the word selfie because it didn’t exist. When my first day of school pictures were taken, my mom took them with a camera. With film. Long after school started, when we finished the roll and remembered to drop off the film and remembered to pick it up, we got that film developed and actually saw the pictures.
These days, my kids want to see the picture practically before I take it. “Let me see. Let me see!” Digital means you know if you got a good shot or not, but there’s no waiting, no anticipation. Sometimes it feels like everything is RIGHT NOW all the time.
But last week, my big girl headed off to school on Monday and the little one turned to me as the bus pulled away. “I’m bored. There’s no one to play with.”
Despite everything feeling “on-demand,” she had to wait for more than a week for her school to start. But today was her day. She was up early and dressed in the outfit she had picked out, the one that wasn’t my favorite on the rack, but was so her, bright and bold and sassy. She was all big grins that she had the same kind of muffins her big sister had had for her first day of school.
She waved her sister off and then hurried to the car. It was her day, and she was ready to start.
Both my girls are back in school, and I’m settling back into my own routine, including writing more regularly.
Are you writing today?
Think about what’s different now than when you were a kid. Make a list or zoom in one change. How do you feel about this change?
At lunch, her face crumpled, or flattened out rather, chin pulled down, eyes wide and blinking. She was trying not to cry.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
Her mouth tightened from its frown, and she took a minute before she answered.
“I’m going to miss Mrs. Foley,” she said, the last word rising into a near wail. “I’m sad she isn’t going to be my teacher anymore.”
Then my big girl sighed and took another bite of her pizza.
Last Thursday night, as I put teacher gifts together and sat down to write notes, my mind flashed back to the first day of school:
Mrs. Foley read The Kissing Hand. When she asked a question, my big girl’s hand shot up and she answered in a loud clear voice. I wondered where my shy preschooler had gone.
Now I wonder where this year has gone. Weren’t we just chasing the bus up to school on that first day?
In the last few months, my big girl has started reading and writing. She’s riding a bike without training wheels “on the pavement!” and I let her go to the end of the street and back by herself. She lost her first tooth.
The images of her year ran through my mind as we wrap up this year, moving at fast-forward speed as they seemed to have done. Friday at the picnic, I smiled as my big girl took her certificate and squealed with her friends under the water in the spray park, and I felt the sadness of an ending too.
Yesterday I came downstairs after quiet time, and as I opened the fridge to get the iced coffee, I saw the note stuck up with a magnet:
I am sad.
As I set the coffee on the counter, another paper fluttered to the floor. I stooped to pick it up.
I am sad.
I saw her trying not to cry face again. I felt my own end of the year, my baby’s growing up so fast happy-sadness. I remembered the feeling of “this will never be again” even as a kid.
I found I am sad sprinkled all over the house. I gave my big girl a hug and looked her in the eye. “You really are sad, aren’t you?”
She nodded, eyes big with tears that didn’t fall again.
“It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to miss your teacher. I’m so glad you loved her and had such a good year in kindergarten.”
She nodded again and snuggled into my hug. We sat for a moment, paused in that ending place.
After she squirmed out of my arms and went off to play, I looked again at the note, amazed because it wasn’t so long ago that she couldn’t write. It wasn’t so long ago she didn’t know how to say I am sad. Those days of thrashing tantrums as she learnedon the floor seem so long ago and not.
I am not sad to have said good-bye to tantrums, but I feel the tug of what was, what is passing, even as I embrace what comes.
It’s the first day of summer vacation. Yesterday’s rain has passed. My big girl came down this morning smile wide and bright. The summer stretches before us. with beach and camping and picking blueberries to look forward to. At breakfast, her face clouded, “I’m still a little sad,” she said. And then she noticed the squash flowers in the garden and the log with a hole that would make a special fairy house. She’s holding what’s passing and what is and what’s coming in this ending-beginning time of year.
Write with Me Wednesday
Write about an ending today, either one you are experiencing or anticipating or one from your past.
Were you sad? happy? relieved?
Choose one moment from that time of end. Put yourself in that moment. Start writing there.
It’s finally spring, though some days it feels we’ve skipped ahead to summer. It’s the smell of something on the grill and waving to neighbors walking by during dinner. It’s kids stopping to play and moms sharing a drink. It’s thinking we can stay out all evening in the golden light, only to remember school tomorrow, early morning, bedtime.
This spring/summer weather means smoothies outside instead of movie and popcorn after school. It means helping buckle bike helmets and pushes on the trapeze. It means washing feet and checking for ticks every day.
It’s the season for checking my greens every day to see if I’ll need to buy spinach or lettuce next week. It’s dragging the hose to water the little pockets of my garden I’ve planted so far. It’s getting ready for planting all the stuff that doesn’t like the cold (and the stuff that does that I haven’t managed to get in yet).
Monday so many things seemed to come in to bloom all of a sudden. The violets that I wanted for a science experiment flowered. My tulips bloomed. The cherry tree down the way was abuzz with bees. It felt like a long winter. Finally, really spring.
One year ago today, I launched this blog. I set out to create a space to write about growing and food and family and the connections of all those things, and I guess I’ve done that even if it doesn’t look exactly like what I was imagining.
I’m going to be playing with this space over the summer. I may be less regular and trying new things as I continue to focus on the themes of write, nourish, and grow. Thanks for reading and sharing with me this past year.
Supposedly rain on your wedding day is good luck.
We laughed and shrugged and gave up the idea of pictures in our garden. The jewel yellow and orange nasturtiums that spilled over the cake shone bright on that dim day. We weren’t worried about luck. We had love.
I questioned the idea of luck on our second anniversary when we sat in a crowded Thai restaurant within walking distance from the hospital where our son had been in the ICU for three weeks.
I questioned it on our third anniversary when grief continued to swirl between the two of us, locking our tongues, tripping up our words. As I sipped my water, I understood we were lucky to have gotten pregnant again, quickly and easily, but I had no confidence or trust.
Today as I contemplate the rain falling and remember how hard it came down nine years ago, how people were late because there was so much water on the roads and visibility was so limited, I don’t believe in luck.
But I hold the fullness that we have packed into these nine years
Three children born, one buried.
Months of hospital life and living hours apart.
Family illness, more funerals.
Buying a canoe; struggling to learn to paddle together.
Long afternoons of shushing and swaddling.
Years of not sleeping.
Stories read, made up, remembered, retold.
Chilis bubbling on the stove, chicken pot pies browning up in the oven. Finding our rhythm again in the kitchen.
First tastes of ice cream and family outings in that green canoe.
Dancing—crazy made up swing at our wedding and dancing later with our girls on dark winter evenings in the living room.
Today the storm has passed; the sun is shining, the sky a deep blue. We’ve walked nine years together, sunshine and storm. Nine years, and despite all the statistics thrown at us in the hospital, we’re still dancing, still cooking, still writing our story together. Nine full years, not luck, but life.
Write and Share
Share your own story of good times and bad. Does one overpower? Or do both parts hold their own?
It’s quiet in the car. The radio is off as it often is so I can hear what the kids are saying from the back seat.
There is no one in the backseat.
No buckling. No “When we home can we . . . ?” No “Is Melissa open? Can I get a donut?”
I pull my own seatbelt across me. Click.
It’s quiet. Still.
It’s not so much that I want to cry as that I am aware of the space around me. This space and quiet I’ve yearned for.
I waited so long. It went so fast.
My baby girl has been ready for this day—first day of preschool—for two years. She knows the routine: hang up backpack, wash hands and sing ABC, sign in. Today, what’s different is she gets to stay.
I squat next to her at the busy play dough table. Watch her, check out the other kids, the other moms. Ask what she’s making. I glance at the clock. It’s almost meeting time.
“Can I have a hug? I’m going to go now.”
It takes a minute for her to pull herself away from the play dough. She looks at me and lunges into one of her superhugs—arms and legs entwined around me. She lets go with one arm, presses her cheek to mine—one arm hug.
She doesn’t like hugs herself, but she has a whole repertoire to give, each tight, each heartfelt, each connected. Her hugs lift me and fill me like Henry’s smile used to.
I remember when my big girl started preschool, how I waited impatiently for the end of her day to find out how it went. I worried and wondered how she was feeling and doing in her new environment. This one, I’m not worried about. I don’t imagine her thinking about being there alone without me, the way I find myself focused on being here without her.
From now on, when I go to the market or stop for coffee after drop off, I won’t unbuckle and buckle. I won’t field requests to buy a pretzel or a donut or put money in the piggy bank for the ambulance fund. I’ll buy what I need, chat for a minute. Go back to the empty car. Drive home. Do what I need to do.
I told people it wouldn’t be all the different this year. I’m used to doing drop off and then working most of the morning.
But I’m not used to the empty car as I pull out of the school lot. I’m not used to coming into the house alone. Maybe once we settle into routine, it won’t feel so strange, but right now it feels empty, quiet, still.
I waited so long for this. It went by so fast.
Write with Me:
Have you ever had somebody say to you, “Enjoy every moment! It goes so fast”?
You hear it often while you’re up every couple hours to feed a baby or recovering from (or still dealing with) a meltdown in the grocery store. That really little stage does go fast, though it doesn’t always feel like it at the time.
Today, I started with the idea of it goes so fast. Try that or pick another cliché. How do you feel when somebody says it to you? What situation from your life does the saying apply to (or not apply to)? You might respond to the cliché, use it as a theme, give an example, or tear it apart. Write your cliché at the top of your paper—then just write what comes to you.
I love reading what you write. Share your writing in the comments, add a link to your blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether you have a little extra quiet, still time with the kids back in school or you’re still dreaming of it, take a little time for three days for yourself. Write What You Love starts next week. Sign up now.