Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Autumnal Paradise

A cold front blew in today, gusts of wind chasing multi-colored fallen leaves down the side streets in waves of natural confetti. The autumn has been spectacular here, prompting neighbors to post tree pics from their morning dog-walks, or just photos of the view out their front windows. Brilliant golds, plum purples, crimson reds and Halloween oranges change the light as it pours through our windows, casting a glow on items within and without.

The warmish October and the absence of storms that gifted us with such splendid scenery even spurred acquaintances to poetic raptures online: turns of phrases like "autumn flaunts itself" or "the neighborhood is lit" make me smile; I'm happy that  everyone I know seems to appreciate the rarity of this season, to hold it with gratitude. But "nothing gold can stay," as Robert Frost admonished, and the wind and rain projected for tonight will finally denude our beautiful foliage and signal the start of raking season.

What we love, we protect. I hope we so love our trees, our regular march of seasons, our livable climate, that we continue to push for its protection. The Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet for the 26th time, this year in Glasgow, from October 31 through November 21. Keep one eye on the news of COP 26, look for promises made and plan to hold our country to those promises. I want my grandchildren to see an autumnal paradise like the fall of 2021, to scuff their feet through fallen leaves, to jump into leaf piles with abandon. Nothing good can stay, but it can come back again some day.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Seeking a Quiet Reverence in Zion

Waist-deep in the Virgin River, Rob and I paused to assess our way forward through the Narrows. The water on both sides of the massive boulder before us was tinted azure, a sign of increased depth, and we were averse to actually swimming. I looked over my shoulder at Daniel trudging along, leaning heavily on his rented walking stick. 

“We can’t cross here, it’s too deep. Daniel will get even more soaked.”

Rob glanced up at the couple perched on top of the boulder, calmly eating their picnic brunch and spectating as we prevaricated. We delayed our decision a few moments (while I secretly hoped they would finish and cede their boulder-top to us) but finally called an end to our upstream wading. It was a bittersweet end to our magical hiking foray through towering canyon walls, as we had been trying to outpace hordes of our fellow travelers since embarking on our journey before sunrise, and we never quite made it to solitude.

But Daniel's sweatshirt was wet from an earlier stumble and our feet, in their rented neoprene socks and fluorescent orange boots, were edging towards numb. Our legs were tired but dry, encased in grey waterproof drysuits. We had immersed our gloved hands in river water on several occasions and it would take hours before I could feel my fingers again. 

We retreated to a bend in the river where no one else was visible, and we ate our snacks in peace, scanning the green ferns and mosses growing out of the pink rock walls across from us, reaching toward the faint ribbon of light above. As sunlight glinted off a waterfall and my eyes traveled up, I spied a jet trail tracking the blue heaven, an exclamation point on the knowledge that our escape to Zion's wilderness was far from a complete withdrawal from civilization.

Most of our fellow National Park-goers were friendly, non-rabble-rouser types. When Daniel lost one of Rob's hiking gloves in the river, we gave it up for lost after a quick search. But a kindly fellow hiker rescued it and propped it up on a big rock, where it waved to us on our return journey. We met a French couple taking a year off work to travel the world with three young children in tow. Their five days in the American West hyphenated two months in French Polynesia and a long stay in Mexico.

"What's the connection?" Rob asked them.

"Nature," said the young father in a classy French accent.

Most travelers were like this, but people could also be loud and intrusive. We tried to beat the fall crowd by arriving before daybreak and hitting the trail hard the first two mornings. On our hike up to Angel's Landing, our altitude training kept us in good form and we passed many breathless (and quiet) hikers. Some had sloganned t-shirts and hats that spoke for them, but we looked past these and hoped others would overlook our exhortations to Daniel - either "hurry up!" or "wait!" depending on his mood.

Rob and Daniel followed the chains for the last, death-defying half-mile of the Angel's Landing hike, while I stayed behind and walked around the more broad section at the top. Rob dragged me out to the end about twenty-five years ago and I was crying then - my fear of heights has only intensified with age and I couldn't make my body walk through that sheer drop. So I caught sight of a huge California condor on a nearby cliff and shaded my eyes with my hand to take in the rare sight. The scores of hikers around me also chatted quietly about the bird, on the endangered species list and subject of several National Park signboards throughout the hike. 

Suddenly, a lunatic in blue jeans, backward baseball cap and white t-shirt ran toward the point where the condor was peacefully sunning. Waving arms wildly in the air, this idiot yelled at the bird until it raised its enormous wings and soared away, casting a broad shadow and an awed silence over the assorted tourists. As the condor disappeared into a slot canyon across the valley, a discontented murmur erupted.

"Someone always has to ruin it."

"Why would anyone do that? No wonder they're endangered."

"I just can't believe it."

It seems that even though people are part of Nature, kindred spirits to condor and craggy rock and flowing river, we fail to embrace that close relationship. Or if we get close, other humans get jealous and try to break our connection.  On the way back down the narrow switchbacks, Daniel ran into a girl from his current English class, and despite their kind exchange of greetings we felt a need to get farther from our fellow humans.

One of my favorite moments of the trip came on our last day, when we drove up to Kolob Canyon in the northwest corner of Zion. The magnificent rust-red cliffs were off the beaten path and few drove the scenic route with us. Pine forests, manzanita shrubs and other golden hardwoods flowed over the rolling canyon bottoms while unique rock layers rose seven thousand feet in the air. The flora was different from the still-green cottonwoods and grasses of Zion canyon, and we enjoyed the quiet and the spacious view on a trail to the canyon overlook. Until we reached the destination, of course, and then still air carried the conversation of two women in yoga pants who thoroughly dissected each other's dating lives while sitting at the best viewpoint. *Sigh.*

On our nature vacations we try to get outside of our human box and go farther afield on the longer trails, the paths less traveled. This time the popularity of the parks, even into chill October, thwarted our efforts. I am grateful that parks and open spaces are so popular in this post-pandemic world and I pray that the increased numbers people who see our natural treasures will want to protect them, and create more of them. But I'm eager to store up moments of peace where I can feel my connection to the non-human natural elements and quietly revere them. Just incentive to get out the map and plan another trip.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Homecoming in the Age of Covid

[Disclaimer: my sophomore has not only given his permission for me to write about our Homecoming prep experience, but encouraged my efforts, noting that he "doesn't star in enough blog posts."]

Attending a homecoming dance - any dance - any social event, period - in the age of Covid represents a triumph of returning high school rituals and tiny blooms of self-confidence. Many students were dealt body blows to confidence and self-acceptance by the torture of Zoom or hybrid school, going months without live peer interaction. We parents excitedly prepped for the return to in-person, or "regular" school, not realizing that the hustle and bustle, the 1,000x stimulation would cause great anxiety for many kids, grades pre-k through post-grad. And so Rob and I celebrate our son's Homecoming preparation rituals, even as we added a few gray hairs.

Four days before the dance, Daniel said to me: “I need to find a restaurant where we can eat, and it should be vegetarian, since my date is vegetarian.”

"Good, OK," I said. "I can help with that." No further words were exchanged, since my advice on virtually any subject is currently toxic. 

On the afternoon of the dance, I asked innocently, “Did you decide on a place to eat?” 

“The X Tavern. It’s near the school so we can walk to the dance after.”  

Daniel waved me off as I Googled the place, a bar and grill specializing in burgers. I started to say something, then held my tongue under his ferocious side eye. I figured Daniel's date could eat a salad. But I did insist that they accept a ride from dinner to dance since a two-mile walk seemed slightly out of line for a young lady in (I suspected) high heels. 

Dressing for the dance revealed heightened nerves and apprehension. Hair woes required use of special conditioner, gel, hair dryer, endless consolation, and finally our total silence on the subject. The buttons on the shirt were wrong, the tie too long, the shoes too tight. Daniel insisted on trying black Vans with his suit, we demanded he change back to one of his two pairs of dress shoes. Black shoes of various types were strewn around the living room: shoe-bomb shrapnel amidst the wreckage of dry-cleaning wraps and discarded ties and belts.

A confrontation over the suit jacket raised the volume on our arguments still higher. Daniel insisted the dance was “semi-formal, Mom! I only need the shirt and pants for a semi-formal, the jacket makes it fully formal!” We refused to drive him to his date’s house until he put on the jacket (it was cold and windy), insisting that at our seven previous Homecomings all the boys wore jackets.

Furious that we were chauffeuring him (his license over a year away)  he cursed at us from the back seat and repeated his desire to go to boarding school, mostly to get away from us.  Duly noted. Rob followed phone directions to the date's house and when we pulled up, Daniel was beset by uncertainty. 

“Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked us suspiciously.  

“This is the address you gave us, Daniel. Six – oh – one – six.”   

He lit up, incandescent with rage, bleached blonde hair standing on end.  “I said six – ZERO – one- six! This isn’t the right house! What are you doing?”  

We couldn't help but chuckle (which heightened his anger) as we explained that – in this case – “oh” and “zero” were the same thing.

Fortunately, we were at the right house and Daniel’s cute date came down the stairs to meet him wearing a lovely short dress – and black high-top Converse sneakers.  “Guess we should have let him wear the Vans,” Rob muttered to me behind his hand.  The young lady's mom and grandma took a few photos in their front yard as Rob did the same. Both sophomores gritted their teeth and bore our interest for a few precious minutes.

In the car on the way to the restaurant we realized that Daniel had forgotten his school ID and mask, both required at the dance. Rob kindly promised to bring both when he returned to take the kids from the restaurant to the school, finally  reconciling Daniel to last ride with parents. Rob left them at the dance a half-hour early  but no complaints were made; who knows what they did between events. Rob and I went for the fridge door - a beer and a hard seltzer, respectively - and were in bed before 10pm, more exhausted than our young dance-goer, and more relieved that all went well.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Leaf-Peeping in the Rockies

 "Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree."  - Emily Bronte

"In autumn, the trees show us how beautiful it is to let things go." - Unknown

I went to Frisco last weekend to hike with girlfriends, and the Rocky mountainsides threw down golden carpets to greet us. Bold yellow aspen leaves shook and shimmied as a Friday afternoon storm washed the valleys clean. We went through our first snow of the season after emerging from Eisenhower tunnel into that same storm, and snowcapped peaks around us stayed white over the weekend as we hiked and chatted our days away.

On Saturday we climbed almost ten miles through a magical fir forest, punctuated by the resplendent aspens and occasionally a red maple or oak. We walked singly or two by two as we discussed our college freshmen, older and younger children, husbands, jobs, politics and favorite hiking accessories. Striding out across a meadow at approximately 10,000 feet, we encountered a young couple and we stepped aside to let them pass.

"No," said the man, "You have to turn around and see the view behind you. It's spectacular!" Dutifully we turned around and exclaimed over the postcard-worthy vision before us: mountain tops split by green, gold and amber, a sky of deepest blue and scudding white clouds. We took photos for them and posed in turn for our group shots. All the autumn hikers greeted us cheerfully, leaning in to the steep slopes and to awe. We encountered many groups of women enjoying the trail together and joked with them (and took more pictures) as we passed.

Later in the day we curled up with prosecco and snacks, somehow finding new subjects to discuss, and I thought about how my girls' weekends have changed over the decades. From dancing, dining and drinking at exciting establishments, returning late, exhausted (and possibly hungover) to young families and messy homes, we've shifted to exertion of a different nature. Without the urgency to seize and fill every independent moment, as I felt when the kids were younger, it's easier to appreciate life's golden moments. I'm not comfortable saying that I have moved into my own autumn, but I'm not unwilling to go when it's time.