Friday, September 30, 2011

Fishing For an Adventure

We headed down to the river for the weather was glorious. We both had work to do but decided to ignore it and take the girls fishing.

Fishing was something all of us could do. Even our two year old, Quincy, could hold a rod (although we usually took the hook off.) Our five year old, Siri, was in love with it.

Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, has written in the past about the value of getting outdoors. In this one, he describes an annual backpacking trip he does with his 11-year old daughter. As he puts it, it’s “a time to hit the “reset” switch and escape deadlines and BlackBerrys.”

Andy and I feel just the same about the outdoors. Nature provides an escape from everything and soothes our souls. Here in Telluride, we are lucky to have vast expanses of wilderness right out of the back door. Indeed, when people ask us why we live in Telluride, we tell them about Bear Creek and the Valley Floor. We tell them about the Sneffel’s Highline trail and the hike-to’s on Quail. And finally, we tell them this: As parents, when we get an hour or two to ourselves, we want to escape quickly. Nature, more than anything else, helps us to forget the petty and to remember everything that is important.

I wonder, though, what though do the majority of Americans do, who don’t have such access to the outdoors? According to Kristof: “Only 2 percent of American households now live on farms, compared with 40 percent in 1900.” Children, as we know, spend more and more time indoors. Author Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods” quotes Paul, a fourth grader from San Diego, who sums it up this way: “I like to play indoors better, ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

Kristof and Louv raise this important point: how will this shift from the outdoors to the indoors affect the psychological health of our culture? Children and adults need wild spaces to be alive. How do people recharge in the absence of true outdoor space?

Kristof concludes his first article with this advice: fight against such a nature deficit disorder and go backpacking. But for many people, this isn’t easy. After he wrote this, Kristof was flooded with emails, the majority of which read something like this: Backpacking sounds great, but how do I do it? And what about bears? Kristof responded with a how-to article the following Sunday. How-to camp. How-to light a fire. How-to travel lightly.

Backpacking though, of course, is just one way to be in the outdoors. I wonder what America would be like if everyone had the chance to have an afternoon like my family had last Sunday? What if more of America could protect open space as we have done in Telluride?

Americans need wilderness more than anything else right now. As the writer, Terry Tempest Williams puts it: “To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”

To watch water flow, to hear rocks splash, and to see a fish rise is to live in a world that is richer than the indoor space that humans manufacture. To hear and see such beauty means we forget about being human for a few hours and all the failures that go along with that. It means feeling alive, very alive for an afternoon. And most importantly, it means an adventure.

Camping above all else

All week I’d been trying to unpack from our trip back East. This should have been easy: unzip suitcase, remove clothes, wash them and put them away. Yet, this simple act had been pushed aside. As had a trip to the post office to pick up what was probably a small truck full of mail. I could claim work as an excuse—there had been a bit of that. I could say my children had been busy— but then when are they not?

In reality, the weather had been too good, and I felt I had more important things to do. Things like cookouts with friends. And camping trips with my family.

This reasoning is, of course, perfectly logical to most Telluride residents. Summer is fleeting, and rain is anxious to fall again and again.

Still, I was feeling a bit guilty about this camping trip. Hadn’t I just come back from a vacation? Wasn’t this play followed by play? One trip right after another?

I checked the weather, my tactic for stalling when I can’t make up my mind. Clear tonight. Sunny tomorrow. Clouding up the following night. The time to go was now.

As soon as we arrived and started setting up the tent, it seemed crazy that I’d ever doubted the necessity of this trip. We played in the meadow with the girls for a while. Then Andy gathered up the fishing gear and took Siri down to the lake to fish, while I hiked around the same lake with Q on my back. Looking up at the jagged peaks as they settled into the amber light of late afternoon, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in a few days. The world was quiet and for the moment, it seemed like this spot in the mountains was ours.

Yes, we had just had a vacation and didn’t necessarily need another one. But as anyone with young children can testify, traveling with the little ones is not exactly vacation. Or not in the same way we might use that term if we were say surfing and drinking margaritas in Costa Rica.

And visiting family, what can we say—we love them, we can’t stand them, often in the same instant. We’d had a great time, but Andy had been in school for most of the summer, and we’d had very little space with just the four of us.

That night, we watched stars shoot across the night sky. Q slept in her car seat. Andy, Siri, and I linked arms and lay flat on our backs. Andy and I tried to pretend we knew what we were talking about as Siri fired off one question after another.

“Where does the sky end? When do astronauts stop floating? Why is their ice cream dry?”

Eventually, our pretense wore out, and we fell silent. We were exhausted. Traveling was exhausting. Raising children was exhausting. It felt so good to stop moving, look up at the night sky, and let our thoughts stretch out like the sky above us. After a few minutes, Siri asked if it was time to go to bed yet.

“Yes,” Andy and I said, leaping up, amazed that our 4-year old had actually requested this.

As we walked back to the tent, Siri looked up once more. “Mom, isn’t it weird that outer space is everywhere? Space is in Maine, space is in Hawaii, space is here. Weird huh?”

“Yes,” I said, and held her up to look at the sky once more before crawling into the tent to sleep. How good it was to have a 4-year old around to remind you that often the most amazing things are right in front of us.

Space was all around us. We just needed to take a moment, with those we love, to see it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Telluride Wildflower

Wildflower season in Telluride is short. But its effect is felt all year. Those of us who call the high country home or who love to visit here dream about wildflower season all year long.

Just like wildflowers, life is short. In my family, getting outside is a remedy for the mania of modern life. My husband, Andy, and I take our children, Siri and Quincy, outside whenever we can. Sometimes our adventures are big—climbing a local peak or camping in Utah. More often, our adventures are small—a bike ride, a slow walk to the river, gathering leaves in our back yard.

Sometimes, we’re bad parents, and we leave our children to do adventures on our own. We climb mountains, we run trails, we ski. Call us evil. I’d rather climb a mountain with my husband than go out to dinner. We don’t think our children are too angry about being abandoned from time to time. And if they are, we hope that somewhere down the line, that they’ll be inspired to love the outdoors like we do.

We’re lucky, I know, we get to live in Telluride. But that really isn’t the point of this blog. Rather it’s about getting your kids outside and getting outside yourself. What do you like to do outdoors? What do your kids like? I invite you to share your stories here.