Brian looked up, our little red head in his lap. My suddenly taller, more long-legged girl at the end of the bench. I was across the picnic table in the sudden quiet after his stove was turned off. It was one of those moments where everything froze for a second, and I was aware of the fullness of what is and what was.
We were camping, our second camping trip with the girls. Our first one with the dog. We were camping on hardpack dirt with a picnic table to sit at, our own personal bear box, and the car just feet away. It is the kind of camping Brian used to scoff at. It’s the kind of camping we can manage right now.
My children look feral after only two days here—hair unbrushed, faces smeared with dirt and chocolate, clothes rumpled and dirty. They look happy too, despite the squabbles over colored pencils while we cooked breakfast. They’ve made fairy houses and walked across fallen logs. They’ve hiked dirt roads and well worn trails with walking sticks they found trailside. The little one adopted the nickname Mountain Sally. Whatever it takes to get through a hike.
Brian and I used to hike a lot more. Our first date was lunch and a hike. He proposed on a backpacking trip, up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He was a backpacker long before I knew him, completing the AT a decade before we got married. On our first trip, I had a borrowed pack and boots, nothing fit quite right. By the second trip, I was breaking in my own boots and my own packs, learning its pockets and straps, fitting it to me.
We hiked at different paces. He’d outstrip me on the uphills. Downhills too, but give me flat ground—especially heading out of the woods toward a good meal, and I’d win hands down. I miss those days of long walks, hard work, hiking our own hike, catching up with each other throughout the day and then at night when we settled in to make camp. The stove would fill the evening with its loud static and the smell of gas at first. Then we’d sit in quiet, mugs of cocoa warming us, dinner right out of the pan. We’d start the morning the same way, oatmeal tasting slightly of chili or whatever we’d eaten the night before.
Brian had his own systems when he backpacked solo or with different friends. We had to figure out how to work together—who carried what, dividing up camp chores—but we got into a rhythm.
We’re still finding a rhythm with this car camping thing. Our neighbors had bacon sizzling. The people we met at the beach had kebabs with steak and chicken and bacon. We had oatmeal, hotdogs. The car is a tangle of overflowing bags. I packed too many clothes.
But we had s’mores. We visited the nature center, observed small yellow and red newts navigating the roots and leaves underfoot. We sat on a big rock on the edge of a field and watched bats swooping in the gathering dusk.
We are getting our kids used to the woods, to sleeping in a tent, to walking on rough terrain. Someday, we’ll go deeper into the woods, away from where our car can carry all our stuff. I think of it as a return to what we used to do, but really, I know, it will be different with four of us. We’ll need to learn new systems, figure out how to adapt to our different paces.
I love being in the woods and seeing my kids loving it too.
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