Thinking back on this summer driving through the mountains with that afternoon light. I was headed to Mammoth to visit a friend, an intrigue. It was the second to last night of our family vacation. I had spent the day hiking with my family up to Mono pass. We’d never been on the trail before, and there was virtually no one there.
It was a clear day, blue, green, yellow, and the forest seemed incredibly fresh and healthy. Between the wooded areas and the open green meadows, we walked into a new corner of the world. I felt so small, after all these years of trips we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Sierras. Every year we journey up there together to share each other, to share what we love, to laugh around the fire, to see old places we have memories of, and to explore further and discover the new. It’s your typical family vacation. At the end of the days we sneak, segregated by sex, into the showers at the tent cabins to be cleaned with hot mountain water, and then return to the open sky of our campground to cook, have a beer or wine, and sit around the fire, drinking some scotch often. We stare at the stars and tell old stories, my dad always finds a way to talk about the bear who can read labels and turned his nose up at a can of black eyed peas. My mom told us a story I hadn’t heard before about bonking a bear on the nose with a frying pan when it was trying to steal a bag of their food. This year I add my own story about chasing a bear who was stealing my climbing equipment at dawn, through the campground, in my socks, 25 degrees, throwing rocks and yelling “drop!” as though it was a trained dog. The grand finale was three men joining me, the bear dropping it and running, and me bursting into tears. Fun stuff.
These vacations never last long enough, why don’t Americans take longer vacations. In recent years Tony and Roberta, family friends of ours, have come with their brilliant and hilarious son Marco, who is nine and has about my vocabulary. An only child he is good at talking to adults, and his teeth a little big for his mouth he grins and asks “and you expect me to believe that?” every time we try to get the best of him.
Tony and Roberta have been through some difficulties lately, but Tony always comes with a grin ready to fish in his waders. Their work together has been a true inspiration to me. When something truly deep challenges your relationship it can blow you apart from each other, or you can choose to do the painful work of going inside it, figuring out your responsibility, and growing humbly together. They have done this, bumpily and therefore beautifully.
Tony calls Marco “son” and patiently employs him to rake our camp site before we put our tents down. “Dashielle, can I help you with your camp site?”, holding a rake that is about eight to ten inches taller than he is.
We are all talking philosophy this year, big changes, and so happy to be together, and so in need of the air, the water, the earth, and the movement. My Rumi and sufi books of life sit out for people to peruse, as do many seasons of various Edible communities’ magazines.
On this day hiking into the forests near the east of the park we are all out there except Tony, who got to go on a serious fishing expedition while Roberta took Marco hiking with us. I hike with she and him first, because I’m enjoying the child’s curiosity about the natural world, his mother’s responses. I also feel like walking slowly today. This place has a different feel than any trail I’ve been on, something so passing, yet old and full of energy, consciously ephemeral almost. At times I hiked by myself, or caught up with my folks. Marco was on a mission to see a pika, a little grey shy critter, and there was supposed to be an area that was known to be a habitat for them. Hundreds or thousands made their home in a rock talis pile half a mile below the pass.
I don’t know why this day sticks in my memory. We rested on rocks by the pass, eating, talking, napping, taking pictures, nothing incredibly special, but so incredibly special to me. As we walked back my mother, father and brother and I all walked together. Mom was talking about the magazine, and dad would chime in every once in awhile. I had never heard them talk about a project together before, and when I wasn’t listening or adding in my own ideas, I was reveling in what it felt like to see them, 58 and 55 years old, create something together again, something of meaning, something that held new life for them, a calling that they had fallen into. Even Kellen, who doesn’t always engage, was asking questions, and talking about involvement.
In the afternoon sun, the golden meadows emerging in and out of the trees, us flowing up and down the hills back to our evening rituals, this family of four together only a few times year, together again, talking and sharing a new family endeavor. I feel, and felt, so humbled to get to share this. The end of summer, the last days of the trip, the afternoon and sunset, it’s all about the passing. We pass our lives together. The project has given my parents new energy and purpose, but I’m not unaware of how fast life will pass and that I won’t have them forever. I think about death in these moments because I’m compelled to, but perhaps because it is always with us, filling out the joy with the humbling knowledge that it all passes. Passing.
As I drove down later that night I thought of these other moments, my dad making us spend half a day changing camps because he didn’t like our site, of my brother being irritated and snapping at me for leaving this evening, my mom getting demanding about leaving by a certain time when I’ve just started to enjoy my breakfast, but somehow there just isn’t the same irritation I used to get, either with them, or with myself. Each of us in our own lives now, loving each other the best we know how, still so imperfect, even hurtful and frustrating sometimes, but always so sincerely the best we can. I felt my eyes filling with tears with the trees speeding past, the light almost gone, doing what I needed to do, and trusting that my family would love me, even if they didn’t understand.