Tiny Adventures

First things don’t happen for me at work all that often, but in one day last week I was called a nigger and filled out a police report.  First things don’t happen too often, but the variations on the unexpected never end.  Seven year olds are rarely able to articulate the despair and injustice which comes out of the long instinct towards wholeness and adulthood being denied, but first or second grade almost always gives enough socialization and social proximity to well acquaint even the most remote with just what they haven’t yet got.  And even the most stunted will find many ways to express this; hence the swearing, biting, kicking, and screaming.  Experience, cognition, and behavior speak which other in an obscure, analogue language.  It’s hardly ever up to me as to when one of our clients might have something important to say, however that gets said.  I can only be there ready to listen, whatever listening might entail, and given that my mandate is revelation and not tranquility, not only being comfortable with but welcoming the most strident and offensive ways of speaking out loud is usually the most important thing I can do on a given work day.

My least favorite thing in Helena is the curb along the center of the universe, that stretch of the west side of Park between the library crossing and the bakery.  Encompassing the library itself along with the best pizza, beer, cake, and bread in town it has everything we need most week nights.  The library crosswalk is significant, as it provides a controlled crossing of the only busy street one must navigate going from our house to the center of the universe.  Little Bear is now three and a half, and 2 years of cultivated practice has his physique eerily mirroring my own; skinny arms, barrel chest, defined quads which bulge out beyond both knees and hips.  He loves his two bikes for different reasons, the light alu green balance bike for speed and familiarity, the solid blue Cleary singlespeed (stripped into a balance bike for the moment) for predictable spoke wheels and pneumatic tires, along with front and rear v brakes whose control he firmly harnessed over the summer.  Even without cranks and pedals the Cleary is close to half his body weight, and thus a trial up hill, but with gravity in his favor he tucks feet onto the bottom bracket spindle and confidently accelerates up close to 20 mph, dodging potholes, boosting cracks in the sidewalk, and braking late but well at road crossings.  His limited height terrifies me on open roads, but take other cars out of it and I’d follow his judgment anywhere he cared to take himself and his bike.

I don’t want to say no to that, so on the many afternoons when work has my ears past overflowing into my soul and I need a reminder that the world is still there, I herd the children off downtown with the promise that LB can ride his bike.  If I push Littler Bear in a stroller or carry him on me the spirit of the ride is disrupted, to say nothing of the disconcertion we force of pedestrians and drivers when a small figure flies around the corner, no adult in sight.  So I load LlrB in the Chariot and bike along, through the tight alleys and rolling hills and the tight foot path and under the bridge, to the library and whatever parts of the center of the universe we want that night.  Policing the bear in traffic while keeping trailer wheels off parked cars is not too complicated, though the symbolic burden never ceases to exceed the pragmatic concerns.  But damn that curb and the way it encourages overparking.  If everyone could manage to hang their bumpers just a few inches over this stretch of sidewalk would have room for one pedestrian and our family circus caravan, only just.  But the typical overhangs (including mine, on the occasions we drive) exceed this, often by several feet, leaving me to keep eyes back to negotiate the 3 inches of total clearance, and forward to police the Bear as he screams up the ramp, braking at the last minute in his enthusiasm for pizza.  Some days it just seems so fraught that I want to stay home, when telling him he can’t ride his bike feels like the most wrong thing.

The revelation is now far in the past, but it took a shocking number of years for me to accept all stress as the same, functionally, insofar as metering out energy and warding off sickness and lassitude are concerned.  These days it is not that I lack interest, ideas, or certainly ambition when it comes to going out in the woods.  Today, I am supposed to be breaking trail towards Route Creek Pass, finishing a big ski traverse.  Five days was first trimmed to four, when the initial departure was 10 hours away and I had only just bought food, packed nothing, and was profoundly flat of mind from the aforementioned days of profound progress at work.  That day of rest was made less so when LlrB, who at not quite 9 months is on the verge of walking and inspired to daily increases in speed by his vertiginously energetic brother, took the early evening to totter over to the open oven and grab hold, raising a series of blisters along most of his right hand pads which came to equal the joint upon which they grew.  Their dimensional horror was equaled only by our concern for his discomfort and what that would do to our sleep.  Remarkably, the phlegmatic ways and quick metabolism of babies had him sleeping that night, and acting the next morning, as if nothing extraordinary had happened, save his right hand being imprisoned in a gauze wrap and sock (to defeat chewing).

So the ski trip was back on, until a mile down the snowy road, the official wilderness still looming in the distance, when and odd sideways slide proved to not be a rut hidden by fresh snow, but rather a front binding screw which had almost entirely backed out.  My thought first went to the irony of having written on just such a subject the day before, then to the question of what horrid glue I had used to mount the bindings last winter (which would surely have all screws loosening quickly), and then to needing to call M, quickly.  The drive between Ovando and Helena has sporadic cell service, and I hoped to catch her before she got too far, and before the walk back toward the highway took away my one bar of service.  This messaging was not effective, and M noticed my messages a mile from home.  All such tragedies are in the end small, the kids survived the many hours of driving, I got to hang out with Charlie for a few hours and share our love of cottonwood trees, and I was home the next day, rather than camped in Danaher Meadows, when the cold I’d been dodging all school year bit.

All equanimity put aside, it is impossible to not see two things as pointing towards my continued decline in adventure prowess.  In work and kids I have daily, tiny adventures the magnitude of which easily equals anything else, and by that standard my life is more adventurous today than at any other time.  It’s certainly more full of meaning, the kind which you choose once in the big picture and ever after marches towards and over you with equal randomness and inevitability.  I’ve done enough packrafting, backpacking, skiing, and climbing that familiarity has forever (?) robbed me of the novelty and fear which once made these things so compelling.  Today challenging trips first offer tranquility, in a way six years ago I would have never considered.  Less time outside inevitably means less practice, which inevitably means that things get missed.  Like a pair of skis that apparently didn’t get skied enough last year (or at all?) to reveal a bad mount.  There’s a not inconsiderable extent to which this takes away both joy, in the illusion of competence, along with wearing away at the margins of safety.

There are reasons to hold on to that which is slipping away, beyond the very large portion of my identity and ego which has been tied up there for the last couple decades.  Foremost is the kids, especially the big one, whose joy in being outside we’ve built so successfully.  Doing stuff with kids outside is hard, and complicated, and the last thing that will help that cause is the big people dulling the edge of their skill and fitness.  The question then becomes how.  How can I stay sharp in the face of declining interest and much reduced time?  That reframing of the question might well be it’s own answer.  Work and family has taken a view of adventure, and how it shapes me daily, and pulled straight the waves and ripples of my developing self.  I used to, by default, look for the soft 5.11, the fastest trail across a range, and most predictable descent.  Now I know that, insofar as your soul is willing, difficulty always teaches more and better.  You might want to avoid that bushwack if you only have 2 days for fifty miles, but ease is almost never clearly seen through the prism of knowledge per mile.


9 responses to “Tiny Adventures”

  1. Honestly, the description of Little Bear scuttling down the hill did and does cause me a surprising tightness of the chest — and I have no children of my own.

    No answers to your questions, but they are good questions, and it is good writing.

  2. I know you are at the early part of this tunnel, where you can look back and see the light of the freetime there once was. But there is another side of the tunnel, one I personally am rapidly approaching, where the light is no longer behind you but in front of you. There will come a time when there is more time, when there is more motivation, when LB and LlrB will join in and not just survive but thrive, and even someday surpass you. My 13yo said in casual conversation the other night at dinner at a friends house that he wanted to do all the lines in the chuting gallery (despite him not having the full breath of what that really means. This week, I will be in my WFR classs to sharpen some long neglected skills. He is going to the skimo weekly race solo.

    I remember being where you are now. And I remember when my friend once showed me the other side as well.

    1. Much appreciated Greg.

  3. Good Read. Parenting is a mighty adventure.
    Here are a couple of our camp memories….
    I am 63 and fondly recall our first tent camping with A at 6 weeks. It was a cold night and to my surprise I learned A provided the necessary BTU’s that kept my wife warm in her 20F down bag. So, yes it was a bit depressing I wasn’t called upon to provide that extra warmth, but I understood.
    A few years later S came along and we continued bringing A&S along on our camping adventures. One 3-day trip we bicycle camped (multiple trips to camp with my trailer). That evening it rained. The next morning as A&S walked all over their clothes got soaking wet. I decided a fire would dry things out and I put my fire building to the test, however nothing would light. Then I noticed A&S were coloring in the tent. I calmly asked “what is your least favorite crayon color”. Without much hesitance both said “white”. So I asked “may I use your white crayon to start a fire?” They said “sure” and dug out this virgin looking crayon from the crayon box”. So I liberally dripped the waxy white crayon onto my kindling and this time the kindling ignited the squaw wood. The fire started crackling and we soon had everything dried out except S’s wet cloth diapers. I returned the white crayon stub into their crayon box and said thanks. For the next few years I smiled when I spotted this crayon stub and noticed it never did got much shorter.
    Thanks for sharing your adventures. Keep taking notes, we look forward to more stories.

  4. This has me tearing up. I won’t get into why, but it was a good thing for me to read today. Thanks.

  5. I’ve been trying to find a good way to express what you are talking about here ever since our second was born– less time outside, more time spent making/fixing mistakes while outside, not giving the new little one as many opportunities to learn to love the outdoors as the first got, trying to figure out what it means for my ego if I’m not a very good outdoorsman right now and wont have time to be for the foreseeable future. It’s hard stuff but thanks for taking a shot at talking about it. I still haven’t figured out how to.

  6. That’s a great read Dave. As the comments attest it’s obviously something others can relate to. I do miss the more frequent longer trips. But for me at least I’m thankful that the berry picking, birding, tracking in the snow, getting wood, etc., out the front door with toddler in tow has connected me to the land in more meaningful ways, not to mention seeing her joy in all that. Hopefully that continues with #2 and as #1 gets older and can take part in small game and bird hunting around the place.

    I’ll look forward to any conclusions you come to about keeping the skills up :) I certainly need them. Two years ago I lost a screw on my Hok bindings on the way up the scapegoat plateau, while my spares were left on the workbench in my rush to get out. Several nice nights of camping along the Dearborn, but not really what I was after…

  7. […] substantive rest.  Work continued to be hard, M continued to work evenings, and I tried and failed on a major ski trip, due to inadequate preparation.  A few weeks after that, having perculated in […]

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