The park is burning and I have a horrible feeling inside me because of it. Beautiful, tragic photos of the glowing ridge line are spreading through my social media feeds like, well, like wildfire. And while I know the ashes will bring lush new growth and our mountains will survive, it breaks my heart to watch my favorite playground struggle like this. I’m sad for those old trees. I’m sad for the baby seedlings. I’m sad for the flowers that waited so long to burst open in the warm sun. I’m sad for the hungry, tired, fearful animals fleeing from the flames. I’m sad for the history that is being erased and made. I’m sad for the workers and volunteers who put countless hours of care into our trails. I’m sad for the work that is ahead. And I’m sad to think this was caused by a careless, human mistake.
In December when it was warm enough to hike in light layers, we hit the trails on the north end of the Drive. This time to Overall Run Falls. It’s been a few months since this particular hike but a few key things stick out about that day: Ella slipped and fell on a rock (she’s ok) and thought it was the most hilarious thing in the entire world. We found a tree that looks like a hippo, I got to catchup on life and cackle with my sister, we saw a whole family of quiet, graceful whitetail deer, and my son gave sound social advice to my daughter as they talked about some struggles at school like ol’ friends.
As I sit to type this the view out my window is smokey and I can smell the tainted air. I hope you find time, real soon, to get out there and enjoy those simple pleasures like hiking, breathing with the trees, catching up with your family and watching your children bond. Let this haze be a reminder that nothing is permanent – go enjoy the things and beings that fill you up!
I’ve never fully understood what causes us to remember certain moments over others and what causes many moments to fall through the filter. It makes sense to remember huge events: my wedding day, the birth of my children, the day my Nanny passed, the day I purchased my own home as a single mother, that time a dog ate my face for breakfast (really, 50 stitches I won’t forget). But what makes us forget other seemingly huge things? Things like graduating high school, driving a car for the first time and signing divorce papers all happened in my life but I couldn’t tell you a thing about them. I remember a lot about my senior year of high school but not about graduation itself. My Nanny taught me just about all there is to know about operating a vehicle but I can’t recall the first time. I do, however, remember the first time I drove as a licensed and legal 16 year old…it was with my three little sisters. We went to the mall. I have been married and divorced but it appears that those final final days have been blocked from my memory. The brain is so fascinating.
Just before sitting to write this post I was making myself lunch. I heated up my quinoa soup, topped it with Sriracha and put the sauce back in the fridge. As I was sitting at the table eating, I realized I didn’t know where the Sriracha went. Sure enough, it was in the fridge. I put it there, I guess. We all do this at one point or another. We get to work and don’t remember the commute. We take a second dose of our vitamins because we forgot about the first dose. We put the milk in the cabinet and the cereal in the dishwasher. We see a bruise and think “surely I should remember how I got that“. We stare at our car door wondering why on earth our house key won’t unlock it. I’m not alone here, right? We are distracted individuals. These types of things happen because they’re routine and we go into autopilot. Not much brain power is needed to do mundane tasks so they are forgettable. Things that really stick with us are the new experiences. The firsts. The first time I hiked Old Rag: epic. The first time I went white water rafting with a bunch of ballsy dudes: terrifying, but memorable. The first time I camped and hiked in Denali, Alaska: surreal. Epic, terrifying, surreal…not words I would use to describe my morning routine. Each of those adventures not only put me out of my comfort zone but they made me feel strong, independent, confident, capable and worthy of all of those feelings. Being little in the middle of big nature does that for me. Giant rocks, massive mountains, roaring river rapids – nothing will put you in check like Mama Earth.
I don’t know what my kids will remember about their childhood and I really have little control over what they’ll retain along their way. But I like putting them in front of memorable experiences. I like showing them what it’s like to feel small…and I like feeling small with them. Each summit – a badge of self-reliance. Each waterfall – a source of confidence. Every trail – a step closer to themselves. I hope they carry these memories with them and I hope more is learned from our days in the mountains than I could ever teach them with my words.
Cell phone summary:
A harmless invite and there I was in a panic. “Meet us at the park,” she suggested. “The kids can play.” Time paused a moment as my world zeroed in on me: my son doesn’t play at the park. My son doesn’t play at the park! He’s a teenager. Teenagers don’t play at parks. Little kids play at parks. And he is not little anymore. When he stands our eyeballs meet. He will soon surpass me in height. Seemingly impossible considering I just paced a path into the living room floor after mid-night feedings, rubbing his back, shooshing him the way mothers do to relax his ten pound little body back to sleep. That tiny life that I raised, that I’m raising, is too big for park swings. One day you wake up and everything is different.
I am peeved by mottos instructing us to “live like there’s no tomorrow.” Sayings like this are far removed from their intended meaning and used as an excuse to live an irresponsible and reckless life. Living like there’s no moment after this moment, in the literal sense, is not realistic. Tomorrow my electric bill is due, therefore today I have to plan how to pay it. And that probably means I’m going to say no to dinner with friends a time or two in order to work to earn said money for said bill. If everyone lived like there was no tomorrow, the world would be in complete shambles. The laundry would never get cleaned, the seeds would never be planted, shelters would never be built, books would never be written, families would fall apart, everyone would be broke and uneducated and the world would turn black and die! I exaggerate, but really, who has the time and resources to truly live like there’s no tomorrow? Not me.
Every now and then, I am reminded that time isn’t waiting for my electric bill to be paid. It’s not waiting for invites to the park. It’s not waiting…it’s moving. So there are times when even if I’m tired, even if the dishes are dirty, even if I haven’t had a moment to shower in three days, even if it means we’re having Nutella and granola bars for dinner…I just go and do something that deposits memories in the bank. That’s what the sunset hike to Hawksbill was for us. It was a long day and I was tiiiiired with endless to-do’s to check-off but we went anyway. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly and arrived at the summit with thirty minutes to spare before the sun fell below the blue ridge. The looks on my kids’ faces at the vast, spectacular view are the moments I live for. Uninhibited awe. We snacked and explored and sat together and said prayers for people who need them. With the setting sun came almost immediate darkness so we strapped on our headlamps and headed back down the trail to the car. With nearly no light pollution and tree leaves covering the starlight, the walk back was the darkest dark I remember. My daughter squeezed my hand and chatted with me the whole hike back. The boys searched for deer and frogs with their flashlights and clonked their every-growing teenage feet behind me. It was the coolest hike of the year.
While you can’t plan every second and you can’t realistically live like there’s no tomorrow, you can enjoy right now. You never know when you’ll give them their last push on the swing set. You probably won’t remember the last time you helped them wash the shampoo from their hair, the last time you had to walk around the grocery store with a babydoll in your cart or the last time you cut up their dinner. But the last time will come for all of these things, as it should. Their childhood is moving and changing and fading and with good effort, it will be a fond memory they tell stories about one day. I hope to keep giving them stories to tell. ❤
I forgot about my approaching birthday until the day before it. Not because I’m a doofus but because I had a ridiculous schedule the two weeks prior. I shot a wedding on a Saturday, left for Alaska on that Sunday, hiked 1, 2, 3 mountains, returned home way late Thursday, Friday was my son’s birthday and dinner, Saturday I shot another wedding, Sunday we went on a group hike to celebrate his birthday and all of the sudden, it’s Monday and my birthday was the next day, Tuesday, June 30. When I list it, it feels like I’m lying. But I’m not. For my birthday I wanted to do a hike and luckily the weather was in my favor. My friend Danielle met me in New Market and we headed to Skyline Drive. There is truly never a dull moment in her company. On our way over the Luray mountain, there were a few whoops and hollers and fragmented sentences and white-knuckle clutching coming from the passenger side. I got the impression my driving was making her nervous. We laughed. A whole lot. I almost hit a deer. Then we laughed some more. I’ve heard of Stony Man Mountain before but it wasn’t until I read the description in my hiking guide that I learned how the name was given. As we rounded mile 38ish on Skyline Drive, we could see the profile of ol’ Stony, and his chiseled manly nose, looking west. I couldn’t wait to get up there and look with him. Within moments of being on the trail, we met hikers ranging from diapers and pacifiers to fanny packs and canes. A really mild hike and certainly enjoyable for all ages. At the top we had a granola bar while enjoying an amazing view of the Shenandoah Valley. Danielle is a photographer, too, so we each got lost in our lens for a bit before returning to real life where we sat on Stony’s forehead and chatted about life. One of my favorite things about the trail guide I have, is that it tells about the flowers and trees you see along your hike and often it gives some history of the area. For this hike it said that we’d “pass red spruce and balsam fir, remnants of the Ice Age.” That’s pretty cool! So on our walk back down, we set out to find the trees. I was so eager I tripped over the same rock twice. We found what we think is a red spruce and/or a balsam fir. (You can judge us below.) We left the mountain content and with minds and hearts recharged from the vast beauty of our Valley. Our post-hike treat was a cheese plate and wine on my deck because Happy Birthday to me!
The profile of Stony Man from Skyline Drive.
photo by Danielle Campbell
photo by Danielle Campbell
photo by Danielle Campbell
photo by Danielle Campbell
photo by Danielle Campbell
And just like that, I have a teenager. My son, my precious baby boy, is a teenager. We’ve all heard it before, and it’s true enough to repeat: time moves impossibly fast. It’s just leaving, right now, right past us. My children, who souls are most beautiful, remind me of this daily. It’s like I have three hearts and two of them beat outside of my chest. They exist, enclosed in the ribs of my children. A nearly perfect combination of me and his father, Blake is a kind young man with a heart of pure gold. He is wonderful with small children, has a ridiculous sense of humor, is sharp as tack and, most importantly, he loves his mama. (swoon) When I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate his 13th birthday, he said he wanted to hike to one of his favorite waterfalls, Whiteoak Canyon, and invite friends and family. His request made me proud. I’ve intentionally been taking them hiking more frequently this year and we hiked Whiteoak in February. Then, the trail was covered in ice, snow and mud and there was hardly any green to be seen. This time, it was a completely different hike with lush life all around us. The air was surprisingly cool for a June afternoon so when we arrived I looted the soon-to-be-dropped-off-at-Goodwill bag in my trunk and tossed sweatshirts out to our shivering group. There were 11 of us total: a good group of adult friends, kid friends and family.
In lieu of my usual cell phone summary, I give you an Instagram screenshot. (My phone is toast and I’ve lost all the photos. Boo.)
One time when I was a little girl, living with my Nanny, she made a quick run to the grocery store. Nanny left me home alone watching He-Man and She-Ra, coloring innocently at the coffee table. She walked out the door and a beacon of light shined down onto a bowl filled with mini Snickers, placed just out of my reach, on top of the microwave. I tossed my crayon and tugged a chair across the thick carpet. Wobbly legs and tippy-toes. The dog, Fluffy, gave me a sideways stare. That bowl was mine. I tore into those Snickers like a boss. I probably threw back 15 of those suckers! One after another into my little tummy. I heard Nanny’s car pull up so I quickly put the bowl back (empty wrappers and all), returned the chair and resumed my coloring. Within the hour I was in full regret mode. I felt gross….then, I yakked. And if you’ve ever yakked a candy bar, you know exactly the terrifying alienesque blob that was staring back at me from the toilet. I didn’t eat a Snickers bar for 10 years after that day.
Ben and I woke up one Sunday a couple of weeks ago and realized that, for the first time in a long time, we were kid-free and obligation-free onthesameday! A beacon of light shined on our day and we were eager to get out. I was so pumped I skipped a shower and threw my hair up in a tangled knot, put on some week old shorts and grabbed my backpack. We decided to hit a trail that a co-worker had recently told me about with beautiful 360 views called Bearfence on Skyline Drive. The trail was rugged and included some rock scrambling that will put your ego in check. As promised, the views were amazing. The layered gray clouds hovering over layered blue mountains were perfect. The kind of perfect you see in magazines and wish you could visit one day. I showed off a yoga pose (which is really dang hard to do when you’re on top of the world!), Ben ate a bagel, we took some selfies and then we hiked back to the car. We filled the rest of our day with a stop at two vineyards: Kilaurwen where we got to go on a property hike and Moss where we watched a rainband move in over several sets of hills before heading home to watch a movie.
When I was a little girl, that day of over-indulging in mini Snickers taught me a very valuable lesson. Mainly: the good things in life are best when savored, not indulged. There aren’t many free hours in my life these days and that makes those rare gems of unplanned days better than any candy bar, mini or deluxe, that I can imagine. I truly savored our time on the mountain and every drop of wine that followed….and I did not yak up an alien blob of remorse that day.
Cell phone summary:
I was the first one awake on Mother’s Day morning. My son returned home after midnight the previous night because of a band trip to Busch Garden’s. He was exhausted and my daughter likes to savor the morning so the house was quiet that Sunday at 7:15am. I filled a small pot with water and scooped some rich grounds into my french press, hearing the grounds hit the glass for maybe the first time ever. Light poured in the window as my coffee steeped, the house still and quiet. I tidied and swept the main floor carefully then tippy-toed the trash and recycling to the bin outside. The kids woke up one by one and greeted me with a hug and a “What’s for breakfast?” They ate sleepy-eyed and I packed our bag for the hike. We arrived at the Doyles River Falls lot around 11am and it felt a little like my house that morning. It was calm and still, as if our presence alone would wake up the residents. Not far onto the trail we rounded a turn and met a deer. Then, one after another, we saw lots of life on our hike: flowers, snails, millepedes (so many millepedes), gnats (so many gnats) and a snake (which I did not get close enough to photograph). We even passed our Harrisonburg friend Danielle and her boyfriend Cody on this trail! Doyles has two falls: upper and lower. The trail guide I have says “two waterfalls with different personalities.” I didn’t know what that meant until I saw the second waterfall. They were equally beautiful but so very different. And, they’re close to each other so you get two falls in one hike which is sweet. On our way back we passed a group of hikers that let us know there was a black bear ahead, peacefully turning over rocks, looking for food. I had a little tinge of fear, I’ll be honest. But it was way helpful to know it was up ahead and that the people who told us about it lived to tell us so… We saw it, I took a blurry photo of it and then we hauled it up the path. On the last leg of the climb, Ben and Blake raced to the parking lot. They each met their match…neither wanted to keep going and neither of them would quit. It was a fun sight for me and Ella, casually lagging behind. The day ended with one more pull-off along the Drive to take in the rolling mountains under gray skies followed by a Mother’s Day barbecue courtesy of my little sister, Brook. It was the perfect gift from her and a delicious post-hike meal for all.
Bonus mini-waterfall on the hike.
Lower DoylesCell phone summary: