Morning light breaks. A new day. We choose a trail, a chance to see the mountains up close. A pristine alpine lake scooped out of silvery-blue peaks. Always beautiful. Wildflowers, hummingbirds, berries await. We pack diapers, wipes, sippy cups, and snacks. Cheerios that will inevitably work their way into the one thousand hidden corners of the car, and stay there for years, multiplying in their clandestine glory. We leave the house three hours, three hours, later than we planned to. We endure the one-hour drive punctuated by tantrums and whines for objects that they accidentally drop to the floor below their carseats, or toys and shoes that get taken away and put into time-out for being thrown from one carseat into the other, and at several points just flat out nonstop screaming.
We arrive and find a parking spot at the nearly empty trailhead because it is mid-day and the whole world has been awake for hours, has already hiked this trail, and is now long gone. A blessing in disguise. We pop the trunk and lay everything out, taking inventory before unbuckling carseats, pulling on socks and boots on tiny feet for the third time this morning. Because our children rub their feet together like crickets and kick off their shoes and socks. Since birth. Both of them. Baby shoe Houdinis. Sockless siblings. Barefoot toddlers.
I get out my trekking poles. I start adjusting one, while my son – the nearly-three-year old – runs off with the other one. It’s the best way to check the depth and thickness of the closest mud puddle. But that isn’t enough fun. So he jumps in with both feet, and makes a splash. Quick-dry toddler sandals are marvelous. After twenty minutes of wrangling and preparations, and “do you need to pee?” mind games, pre-hike snacks, retrieving trekking poles from little hands that constantly steal them away – “no, minnnnnnne” – we’re off. Ryan fights our daughter – the nearly-one-year old – into the hiking carrier, while our son bounds ahead. I try to keep up.
Onward and upward, pretending to ignore the soft small voice that is already asking “snack? snack?” not two minutes into our hike. We find interesting things to show the kids. Slimy slugs, spider webs shimmering in sunlight, a chipmunk scurrying off with a wayward Dorito. I try to imagine how it must feel for a chipmunk to stumble across a Dorito, with its neon orange cheese-like talc found nowhere in the natural world of edibles.
We hike through old growth forest. Douglas firs older than my grandmother, my house, the country in which I live. It boggles my mind. Everyone is quiet. The baby is snuggled in the carrier, staring up at the forest canopy, mouth wide open. She’s about to fall asleep. Everyone is happily hiking.
We clear the old growth and emerge into a meadow brimming with wildflowers and berry bushes weighed down with ripe fruit. “Hucka-beyyy!” My husband and I exchange a look. Our son is a huckleberry fiend. We’re going to be here for a while. Ryan sets the hiking carrier down, and our daughter Arya, on the verge of a nap, wails unhappily. She doesn’t like this unplanned stop. She had it all figured out and was just settling in. We bribe her with a huckleberry, which she gobbles up before snatching five or six more. Bright purple juice dribbles down her face and straight onto her romper. Five minutes later, when every bush in sight is picked clean, we try to convince our son to move on. “Johann, why don’t we keep hiking?” “Up, up, I need up.” He says he is tired and pleads with big brown eyes, to be carried. But the hike isn’t long, the trail isn’t difficult and we know he can do it. We try again. “I think we’ll see more huckleberries just up ahead on the trail.” He raises one eyebrow. He is an expert and can spot them from twenty yards away. But, he takes the bait. “Oh there’s more over there!”
Ryan hoists the hiking carrier over his shoulders once again, and off we go. Not five minutes later, sure enough, more ripe berries demand little hands’ attention. But this time we find thimbleberries, a much rarer delicacy. We just stopped, we shouldn’t lose momentum and get tired out so soon, we cannot be here all day, but we pick our battles. We stop for more berry-picking, and water. It is ninety degrees and there is no shade. Ryan heaves the carrier down, and I peer at my daughter. She has fallen asleep and is missing all of this. Her romper clings to her drenched in sweat, as we all are. My son has run off with the trekking poles yet again. Giving your toddlers a break during your hike sometimes means giving up your own break so you can chase them and keep them from accidentally rolling down the side of the mountain. Break over, we marshal our energy, and start up the trail again.
Finally, after forty more minutes that seem like hours of hiking, we arrive. The lake shines. The last of the snow clings to craggy peaks above. We sit. We breathe. We enjoy this beautiful slice of earth. The baby wakes, sensing the stop, and uncomfortable after a massive poop. Thank God for enough baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Thankfully, we didn’t forget it this time. A small voice interrupts me as I get out a clean diaper. “Amma, it’s really nice here,” my three-year old sings. He is watching whatever is sending up bubbles in the lake. The baby wobbles around, then squats, scoops up a handful of dirt and sifts it back to the ground. My son finally sits for a moment, now he enjoys the rewards of his effort. They are tearing into the sandwiches we packed for our late lunch. They are seeing, they are feeling, and they are discovering new things. We are experiencing this amazing natural world. We have one more experience to strengthen our family bond. We have what we came for. Our hearts are full. We’ll be back soon.