The sun draws close to the distant ridge. Pine boughs whisper from above and the fire warms our faces. Oak smoke rises into the breeze and disappears into the year’s first buds.
My daughter and I have been sitting silently on our fireside stumps for minutes on end. There are no words worth speaking just now, in the presence of mesmerizing flames and overheard conversations from the tree tops. This is a silence much needed and well earned.
Our journey here was not physically strenuous; perhaps more symbolic. Ninety miles in the car, up a hill, a couple miles through the woods. Schedules and emails traded for sunshine and quiet. No school, no internet, no other people. Just us and the waking woods.
Stress and cares have all but floated off and dissipated like smoke.
As it happens, a week ago my son and I swung from the trees on a ridge across the river valley. That was an entirely different trip but refreshing nonetheless.
It was a dark day. We arrived on the heels of a several-day rainstorm. Light showers kept our shirts damp on the two-and-a-half mile trek. Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and bluebells glowed from the trailsides while the drumming of grouse pulsed through the dripping woods.
A campsite chosen in a stand of white pines offered views on both sides and a carpet of needles to keep our gear from getting muddy. With hammocks hung and tarps placed, our agenda was short: supper and a campfire. Ramen bowls and tuna tortillas were the easy part. Making a fire in a soggy environment proved less easy but perfect for staying warm while the woods turned colder.
My boy slept like a rock that night. I did not. Owls, deer, and geese took turns coloring the dark with their respective outbursts. Then there were the coyotes— they were in a league of their own. I’m not complaining, mind you, only astonished at how a 12-year-old boy can sleep through all that.
The morning crept in slowly and gently. Instant oatmeal warmed us when we emerged from our pillowy cocoons. We lingered a bit, soaking in the sounds and smells, talking about nothing in particular.
Cranes and cardinals provided a new soundscape as we returned to the car by another meandering route. The terrain fascinated and challenged us. There were many questions and I did my best to provide answers. Mostly we just walked and looked and discovered.
It was simple, and yet perfect.
Since our experiment with hammock camping in March, I’d been looking for another opportunity to exploit my son’s shiny new enthusiasm for it (a good move on my part). It’s hard to find anything that motivates him lately. Whether due to his age or pandemic weariness, it has become increasingly difficult to pry him from his rhythm of bouncing between technology and listlessness. We know these years are both fleeting and vitally important in shaping who he will become. Problem is, sometimes as parents we flail ineffectually in our attempts to make the most of every day.
When I proposed we go backpacking with hammocks, my son accepted enthusiastically. Even without a destination or plan outlined, he was all in. It’s heartening to know my kids have that instinct. As for my daughter, she wasn’t going to let me off the hook. I had to promise to take her on her own hammocking trip, ASAP.
To tell the truth, she played right into my hands. I know she needs this as much as anything right now and the proof is unfolding. She is already relaxed, carefree, and more like her natural self. It always works. And it doesn’t matter if she’s camping, fishing, foraging, or whatever. As with her brother, transformation is assured so long as the recipe is followed:
Choose one or two kids. Remove from the heat and pressure of modern life and allow to cool. Add generous amounts of fresh air, exercise, and natural stimuli. Ferment until desired consistency is reached.
And so, we revel in silence so hard to come by these days. Soon it will be dark and we will let the fire die out. In the morning we will eat and talk and do whatever we like. When we are ready we will shoulder our packs and follow a new path. I will have made the most of this weekend and this sweet child of mine will be ready to face another week.