Daily Practice.

luca kayak

I am terrible at playing with my kids. But, I am good at getting my kids outside. A lot. We paddle boats, hike the hills, ride our bikes, and swim in Goose Creek. Our big, Wyoming backyard is my favorite distraction anytime of the year, but in the summer time we pack in the sunshine and water. We stretch our days out like sugary taffy. Current parenting clichés harp about screen time and nature deficit disorder, but for us being outside is like brushing our teeth – it is just what we do. That doesn’t always mean we stop to appreciate it.

I don’t have much down time in my day. Even in the summer when I’m not teaching, I throw all of myself into parenting and running a household. My boys are fun and independent, but managing (and feeding!) two, tween boys is busy. Earlier this summer I made a pact with some friends to consciously slow down, but as the summer passes, even five minutes of dedicated slowness seems impossible.frank in fishing hat

And then this weekend stillness hit me in the most unexpected place. My youngest son and I set out to paddle across a lake near our family cabin. It was the longest distance my nine-year-old has paddled in one shot. The wind was blowing hard, right in our faces. The other end of Meadowlark Lake seemed miles away. But the sun was high in the sky and the mountains shimmered above the lake. Our paddles dipped quietly in and out of the cold, high country water. And Luca whined. Not just a little complaining, but full on screeching about the wind and the waves and the distance. About the sun and the clouds and the water. About everything. I tried all of my outdoor super mommy tricks: singing, knock-knock jokes, chocolate bribes. He just couldn’t put his head down and paddle.

frank photo bombSo, I ignored him. I pulled and pushed my oar through the green waves. I focused on the resistance of the water in my shoulders and elbows. I welcomed the hot sun on my neck and the wind on my face. I fell into a rhythm of muscle and water.frank and fish

After about five minutes I talked Luca through my movements. I ignored his protests as I narrated each stroke. Listen to your paddle dip, I said. Feel the wind against your face. Pull through the water. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him let out a breath. I watched him dip his head and pull his boat against the wind. He was quiet. Ten minutes later, Luca spotted his brother and dad fishing near the end of the lake. They had lunch and fishing poles ready for us. Luca paddled the last five hundred yards fast. He held his head high and smiled. When we pushed our boats up on the beach for a picnic, he asked if he could paddle back to the truck after lunch.

boys and raftsI will never know if my accidental meditation helped my son paddle the distance across our favorite lake, but I know that I found that elusive place of presence that my girlfriends and I talked about. I’d found a daily practice amid the chaos of parenting, not separate from it. I’m good at taking my kids outside. I am good at making adventures for our family. I‘d like to be as good at helping them appreciate the experience.  ~ Sarah
dock jump

Mountain Holidays

Potosi x2

Potosi Hot Springs circa 1998 and 2013

I’m not sure how much of a secret Potosi really is, but it is one of Montana’s few undeveloped hot springs on public lands. The trail isn’t particularly challenging; the view is no more spectacular than the average Bozeman view. But Potosi is tiny and the water is hot. It’s quiet; cattle graze in the pasture. Rain falls on trail and dirt – not in a parking lot between street lights. It feels like somebody’s secret place.

The first time I ended up in Pony it was dark and cold and I rolled out of the back of some punk kid’s smelly hunting vehicle. I’d spent an hour wedged between two foreign exchange students and a college tennis player, wondering where we were going. My date was quiet; it wasn’t the first time he’d drug unsuspecting co-eds into the mountains. His subterfuge might as well have included a blindfold and noise canceling headphones – for sixty miles I saw only dark highway and heard only French.

The second time I went to Pony with a plan. I’d promised my friend not to ruin his secret spot, but it didn’t take me long to make my own clandestine trip back. I figured I’d impress my new out-of-state boyfriend with a late night hike in the Tobacco Roots.

I picked Cody up from the airport early in the day – we had lunch downtown and bought beer at Albertsons as the sun slid down behind the mountains. We would drive to Pony in the dark. My boyfriend worked in D.C., but he’d grown up in the mountains of Wyoming. He hunted and fished in the Owl Creeks and the Bighorns. He was training to be a military pilot, so he read charts and maps every day. He wasn’t excited about letting me lead him down a trail – without a map – in the dark.

The hike is short – not much more than a mile – but I lost my way twice, veering up into the trees and finally drifting back down toward the creek. Rain sputtered and seemed to make the sleepy trail even quieter. I hid my confusion with more silence; Cody asked only once if I knew where we were going. Forty-five minutes later, we were both glad to see the bob of another headlamp headed in our direction. We passed the other couple without a word – they nodded to us, their heads wet and steamy under wool caps. I knew then that we would have the place to ourselves.

We sat in the springs for a long time. The water was hot enough to temper the cool air, but we never felt too warm. Our fingers and toes pruned and our bare legs took on the shape of the rocks at the sandy bottom of the pool. I laid my head in the damp grass at the edge of the water. The rain cleared and we were treated to Montana’s unrivaled starry sky. We drug over selves out of the water only because we couldn’t sleep in the springs. We hiked back to the car in a daze. Ten months later I married the helo pilot from Wyoming.

This year, on Thanksgiving Day we took our two boys back to the little hot springs in Pony. It took us a few minutes to find the trail, but we crossed the creek on a bridge of ice and followed the fence line through the trees to the same gradual clearing. The holiday was unseasonably warm – we walked to the springs in tennis shoes and shirt sleeves. And again we had the little pool to ourselves. Our boys dug around in the mud and begged us to lug baseball-sized rocks back to the car.

Somehow, at least for me, gratitude is easy in the woods.  The lilt of my children’s voices is clear and constant.  The ground is solid and the water is warm.  On this visit we soaked in the sunshine until we were too muddy and waterlogged to sit any longer and then we wandered back to the car as the sun pushed through the bare aspens. The boys led the way as they chattered about their ‘new secret spot.’ I know they will be back.

~ S