Monday, July 26, 2010

scenes from a hike: a post for the gallery.

A post for "the Gallery"

She suspected the day was going to start badly when she was woken at five thirty by her toddler boy and she knew it when the kids complained about the pancakes. She had woken up optimistic about its potential, so much so that she took the trouble to fashion the pancakes in Minnie Mouse faces, with bananas for eyes and strawberries for mouth and hair ribbons (or should that be ear ribbons?).  Her daughter rejected them, complaining that they were not round, as pancakes should be. Her toddler son followed his sisters suit, so she ate the fruits of her creativity herself.

The children whined through breakfast, and moaned about the planned outing for the day, a hike on a nearby trail. The toddler started to howl as soon as he was removed from his car seat at the trail head. He did not want to walk. He did not like the forestiness of the floor getting in his crocs. He did not want to wear socks, either. He most emphatically did not want to ride in either of the hiking backpacks that his parents were burdened with.

She bundled the wailing toddler into the backpack anyway and hoisted his thirty pounds of misery down the trail. Three verses of "the happy wanderer" later, the wailing did not abet. Despite the racket her daughter chattered on endlessly, ever unsatisfied with her mother and father's responses to her "Mummy can I tell you something...? Daddy did you know that...? Mummy why does...?"

Her dog, who she keeps on leash on the trail, is a sweet obedient creature except when approached by off leash dogs. The dog ran out of patience after the sixth encroachment and terrified a passing fluffball and his owners, Owners who when asked "Please call your dog" replied "Oh, he's friendly", only to hear, over the barking and snarling "Ours isn't". She hates clueless people like that. She tried to blank out the wailing and snarling and incessant questions and recalled fondly the long, contemplative hikes she and her husband used to take back when it was just the two of them.

Even though the kids did cheer up and walk a little, it seemed impossible that they would make it to their intended destination without further meltdowns, so after a quick lunch on the side of the trail they turned for home. It was only about eleven in the morning, but she longed already for the kids to be in bed, so that she could curl up with a good book and a glass of wine.

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Is that how it was? Or was it like this:

She knew that it was going to be a good day when her toddler son was persuaded to go back to sleep for an hour after appearing, big eyed and adorable in the dark, at half past five in the morning, stating, in case it wasn't blatantly obvious "Mummy, I wake up." She marveled at the contrariness of small children as they turned down her beautiful Minnie Mouse pancakes and chose the plain round ones she had made for the grown ups. She and her husband packed snacks, water, sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, camera; miraculously not forgetting anything and "like a herd of turtles", a family joke referencing the speed at which they are able to get out of the house, they jostled the kids  into the car against their objections.

Her daughter was sunny and full of questions as soon as they started out on the trail, the whiny child reformed by a hearty breakfast into a bright and adorable one. The toddler still had other ideas. He stood at the trail head and howled. He sat in the back pack and howled. He tried to walk again, became enraged by the prickles in his shoes and howled some more. Then, as he planted himself firmly on the trail and refused to progress, allowing his parents to get a good thirty feet ahead of him, some passing hikers engaged him in conversation. "Are you hiking with mommy and daddy?" they asked. "No, I NOT hiking", he replied, gazing into the blue beyond. "Are you looking for birds?" they asked him. "No, I look for BUTTERFLIES." he corrected. Then he grinned at them. They looked at us, and with our implicit consent encouraged him to walk on. He did, but just when we thought the day had been saved he stumbled. His sister ran to help him and hand in hand they negotiated the trail.

"He must be about two" the kind hikers said.

I asked them whether it was his height or his attitude that had given it away.

The family dog restrained herself from jumping on most of the off leash dogs that invaded her space, and the one snarling incident that occurred was met with apology from the offenders owners. She sniffed and wagged and spotted squirrels and lizards and had such a rapt expression of doggie pleasure at being out with her people in the woods that it lifted everyone's spirits.

The family didn't get all that far, but there was no real destination anyway. The rocky outcrop where they stopped to eat their sandwiches was as lovely a spot as any. The hot pine scent, the crunch of needles, buzz of cicadas complemented the lunch perfectly. She even managed to take a few photograhs while the children ate their lunch.

Her husband had to carry the toddler in the back pack all the way home, but the little guy was happy by then, pointing out passing birds, bugs and airplanes. She drew the long straw in that her daughter deigned to walk rather than ride, and even held her hand the whole way back. She chattered away about squirrels, and how they hibernate, but do hamsters hibernate too, and what about chipmunks, and what do chipmunks eat anyway, and oh look, people riding horses. She's going to get a horse, a blue horse with a white tail, or maybe just a really dark grey one because horses don't come in blue do they? But she will call it "Blue" instead and what do horses eat, and do they hibernate....

By chance it was the peak of wildflower season. Fleeting and fickle, dependent upon the time of the snowmelt and the strength of the sun, the alpine flowers bloom for just a couple of weeks and then go to seed. The last time they bloomed she was parent to a three year old and a one year old. They next time she sees them she will have a child about to start kindergarten, and a preschooler.

Both descriptions of the day were accurate. Looking at the wildflowers, thinking about the transience of childhood, and indeed of life itself, she chose to pick the second version to store in her memory