I bought this coffee mug in 2016 at the Glacier Point gift shop in Yosemite National Park to add to my collection of mug memories. My son and I were on day three of our summer trip to California. Printed on it is a quote from naturalist John Muir.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
It was the perfect senitiment to capture this adventure of ours through central California. We’ve hiked a lot of paths together over the years, and more than a few of them have been dirt.
My son and I stood at the summit of Baldy Mountain, on what felt like the top of the world. He wanted me to take his photo sitting on the edge. I have no idea what was going through his mind as he sat there, looking toward the dissipating haze of New Mexico’s eastern horizon, but my spirit brimmed with the emotional memories of the day he was born.
In the months before his birth, I voraciously read every how to be a parent manual out there. I believed that parenting could be treated as an academic enterprise, just another subject to learn, an expertise to be acquired. When challenges arose, I’d just flip to the right page for the answer.
The day we went to the hospital to be induced, I felt confident that we had this thing under control. I’d put myself through Dad 101 and was ready to roll.
Then everything went to hell.
His mom’s vitals started to plummet. Undiagnosed preeclampsia was starting to ravage her internal organs. It was time to get the kid out. The doors to surgery closed in my face as the gurney rolled away. They didn’t cover this in Dad 101. My confidence evaporated, replaced by sheer panic.
From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. This story takes place on Thursday, July 27, Trail Day 11.
We came to a sudden halt just a few miles from the end of our trek. Why were we stopping?
I was sixth in line, a couple of hundred feet from my son who was in the lead. We’d assumed lightning spacing a mile or so before, remembering the ranger’s advice if we got caught in the middle of one of Philmont’s daily thunderstorms.
“Keep at least 50 feet apart on the trail, so that if one of you gets hit by lightning, it doesn’t jump from one person to the other.”
The sky rumbled and my annoyance grew in concert with the intensity of the rain. We didn’t have time for a break if we were going to beat the storm back to base camp. My son turned to look up the line as I walked toward him, and my frustration became concern as I got close enough to see the fear in his face.
As I’m sitting here tonight in the kid’s room, he’s listening to his favorite They Might Be Giants songs as he settles down for sleep. Lately, he’s been a little TMBG-obsessed, but I can think of worse things to be. Earlier this afternoon, I told him to listen to the songs closely because TMBG tends to be “educational” in their songs.
So from the dark side of the room (I’m illuminated by the glow of my laptop LCD) comes “Daddy, what’s Particle Man about?” After a moment’s hesitation over whether I should open up that can of worms, I told him that I’ve always thought it’s about science, religion and the universe and how humans are really just small specks that get tossed around by the greater forces. He was OK with that. 🙂