The city, the ocean, the backpack

The city, the ocean, the backpack March 23, 2010

This past Saturday, our little family picked up our newest Craigslist purchase, the baby hiking backpack, loaded up a picnic lunch, and drove twenty miles north of the city to a beach in Marin County. Still new to this area of the country, I can’t get over the fact that both the ocean and mountains can be within driving distance of a city. It’s so unfair! Our lovely afternoon started with a picnic near the beach before we loaded up for our first official family hike.

I should make a note here that we’re most definitely not “those people.” The ones who go on hikes and camp every weekend. And have the most breathable and protective hiking pants. And make their own tofu jerkey. (Is tofu jerkey even a thing?) It’s not that I don’t want to be those people. I have always fancied myself an outdoors girl. I grew up camping. I have no problem digging a hole in the woods. I love fly-fishing (even though I’m terrible at it).  And, most of all, I love the smell of being inside a forest. I love the quietness of feet crunching sticks and leaves. I love the whoosh of streams starting down the mountain. I love the exhaustion of a good, long hike.

I did not marry an outdoorsy man and he has no qualms about that.  Chris is not anti-outdoors. He loves playing football with friends outside. He loves being on sailboat in the ocean. He’s just never spent his time hiking or camping. And he has no need to make himself into a Chaco wearing, guitar-playing dude so you’ll like him. That’s one of the traits I most admire about him: he doesn’t need to impress you.

So, when my husband, knowing how much I would love it, expressed interest in getting a hiking backpack and heading up a trail, I was so excited I actually giggled. He strapped all thirty pounds of our little boy onto his back and we started what would be a six-mile, five hour long trek. (I don’t think we would have actually committed to that if we had realized what we were getting ourselves into).

There were definitely some difficulties for Chris carrying the boy on his back. For one thing, my husband is 6’4” and lots of tree limbs aren’t. So he was doing a lot of ducking and August was learning how to bow his head from his seat on his dad’s back. Chris even crawled on his hands and knees a couple of times to get under a branch with August. It was awesome.

And after our first two and half hours of climbing, when the forest opened up into a sprawling, pale green, rolling meadow, we all gasped. (Note: August didn’t actually gasp. He was asleep in the backpack by then, his mouth drooling all over the foamy nylon). It was stunning. We continued on for a while until we reached the peak of one of those grassy hills, where we could look toward the south at our new city twenty miles away and to the west at ocean spreading all the way to Asia. We walked a little further toward a hill where we sat and my boys took each other’s places in the nap department. August woke as we sat his backpack down and his father lay on his back in the grass with a sweatshirt over his face.

So August sat beside that sleeping man, sharing a bag of dried dates with me, both of us on our butts with our legs straight out in the grass, able to stare straight out at our city and this ocean which both still feel like strangers to me.

August will be two in a few months and I know that marker is officially the end of his life as a baby. I’ve been coming to terms with what the loss of his infancy means to my heart. But I’m having a hard time right now writing about those minutes of sitting in the sunshine on a mountain beside my little boy. A year ago I was still nursing a crawling babbling thing who was learning to throw a ball with wild flapping arms. Saturday, we stared at the ocean, eating dates and talking about bugs.

You know those moments of holiness: when every normal thing in your life is lit up and you can see for an instant the beauty of what you actually hold? Ours lasted twenty minutes. We picked up a mama and a baby roly-poly in the grass. We felt their shells and sat them back. We ate all the dates in our bag. We watched a family of deer meander out of the trees and graze across the meadow from us. We walked at toddler pace past wildflowers which August picked and plucked to his heart’s content. We got a better view of the ocean and when I pulled out my camera to take a picture, my boy said: “Cheese! Sharks!” (I will interpret: “Say cheese, sharks.”)

We walked back up the hill to his father, who was waking from his happy nap, strapped the backpack to Chris and sat an ecstatic August inside it. And we hiked another two hours down.

The chapter I’m reading in Henri Nouwen’s book, Lifesigns, is about how fear and joy cannot coexist together. There have been plenty of moments of fear in my short motherhood. But I’m thankful that just as August could run into our house on Saturday evening, shouting at the cat: “Backpack!” I can live in joy in those moments that glow.

It’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

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