warning: extra long entry, trying to stuff several posts into one, since I have been too busy living to write. you might want to skip this one and wait til the next brief entries. Except for you, Mom, I know you and Daddy never mind the long, extra wordy stuff! thank goodness for parents!
I sit in our library, Nora plays with her little stuffed animals. Thomas is listening the Lady Gaga's 'Let's Dance." The dogs are sprawled, the sun has set and it is hard to believe that yesterday we were in our favorite national park, Big Bend, camping out.
Christmas was wonderful, so happy that Mom and Dad could come and be with us. There were lots of church activities. Walks in the snow. A nice afternoon bike ride with Raymond. Plenty of cooking and dishwashing. Only intermittent feelings of pain and grief and loss.
After a huge breakfast made by my Daddy, we gathered up tools and he and Raymond and I butchered a deer. Isn't it funny the things that make one feel at home? It seemed just right to be standing around the stainless steel table, sharpening up knives, cutting ruby red meat off the bone, cubing some up, dreaming of curries and guisado. Making steaks, dreaming of chicken fry and grill and port wine reduction. Grinding up more for spaghetti and tacos and shepherd pie. Some of which we enjoyed that afternoon with Christmas dinner mashed potato and pea leftovers.
I think my love language is working together with dear ones, doing something productive. It could be hay-making, yard cleaning, ditch-digging, meat-cutting or meal producing.
Mom and dad had some grandkid time and I headed to the park a day early so I could get up and take a hike, all by myself! Can you believe that we live only an hour and a half away from my very favorite place in most all the world and find my self so busy I can't get there? So my gift to myself was carving out the opportunity.
The parking lot was full.
The overflow was full.
I waited. Ten minutes later a spot opened up and I grabbed it, ready to head up the Lost Mine Trail.
Can you believe I had to wait for a parking place at one of the most remote National Parks in the country?
The day was pleasant. 60 something degrees. Clear. Sunny. I passed groups of hikers, families from India, China, Japan, France, Mexico, South America, several regions of the US and several regions of Texas. So many languages in one little area. As I wished for solitude and was tempted to pout, something grabbed my attention and made me grateful that many other people were searching for the same thing as me. Beauty. Peace. Grandeur. All away from electronics, stores, crazy consumerism. We were all able to enjoy the gift of the outdoors thanks to somebody who decided to make Big Bend a national park. In my heart I blessed those other hikers, the soloists, the cute couples, the families of children and parents and grandparents, the friends.
The hike is just under 5 miles. The climb is around 1000 ft, ending at 6800ft. The trail winds through mountain vegetation and trees, with perfume of pines offering incense to visitors. Pinon pine, alligator juniper, Texas Madrone, along with who knows how many other unique varieties of trees and vegetation decorate the way. The northside of boulders are scattered with colored lichens. Dollar bill green, mustard orange, chartreuse and rust. I feel certain I know where Jason Pollock got his inspiration.
Snow remained in little clumps here and there in the shade. Birds called.
My thoughts bounced, here and there. My muscles rejoiced. They knew what to do. At one point I came upon another hiker, tripod planted right in the middle of the trail, blocking the way.
My flesh wanted to grimace. To snarkily ask him to please scooch over so the rest of us could get by. In the same breath, I felt the spirit of Christmas come over me, and happily went around him, stepping in the mud, feeling rich in the ability to magnanimously give the gift of grace.
The voices of other hikers back down the trail wafted toward me. They wondered where the trail got its name. I imagined the answer I would give them if we were sitting around a campfire, cozy in for the night. As my muscles stretched and my heart pounded, the story wrote itself, as I dreamed of Spanish explorers and the hunt for gold, and Indians who knew that the true treasure lay right within our reach, if we would only get off the beaten trek and make time for beauty.
The destination on this hike is an unparalleled vista, set at the top of huge boulders, overlooking several canyons, desert land, a silvery trace of the Rio Grande and the far beyond mountains of Mexico. For me, the destination is a perch against a warm rock, back cradled. Eyes closed. Sun kissing my face and arms and birds calling and breeze caressing my hair.
My destination involves meditation. Prayer. Writing in my journal, thinking about pros and cons, business, spirit, parenting. A few minutes asking God to cuddle me up and let me know how much I am loved.
I found my little niche in the rock. Settled in. Then the party of 8 settled in above me. Which didn't worry me too much, since most people hike up and back out quickly, and don't sit down for long. But these visitors did. And they were loud. So I ate my lunch. Drank my green tea.
And laughed that after all the effort to make sure everyone was taken care of so I could grab some solitude, it was ironic that there was no solitude to be found! I considered hiking to another spot off trail, but since those folks would surely not be there for long, I picked up my book by Elie Wiesel and read. Night isn't exactly pleasant reading, but in my humble opinion, it is definitely necessary reading. So I read.
The sun kissed my forehead, the crows entertained me and the party of 8 left to be replaced by a party of 6. Who set up their picnic, whose children laughed and played rowdily. And I was proud of them all for getting away from the electronics, but wondered if I might ever find myself alone! So I decided to write down my story about Spanish explorers and the lost mine trail in my journal. And continued to marvel at the crackly sound of crow's wings as they soar through the air, and the funny sound of their call and answer.
Party of six moved on, then a sweet couple set up their picnic. Just a few feet above my perch.
It did get a little humorous. I think there is a message in it for me. Something about finding my peace in the middle of the chaos.
Finally, the hikers headed back down the trail and I was left all alone. Somewhat worried that my family might be getting a bit put out that I was away for so long, but trying to remember that I gave everyone good warning that I needed a large chunk of time, and that it was like the flight attendant giving out instructions about the adult putting on the oxygen mask first, and how I was going to be a much better mother for this long chunk of time, sitting out on a rock, sort of all by myself.
I finally spent some time working on lists. Not the to-do kind, but the heart inventory kind. And prayed. And didn't solve not even one problem. But I did feel greatly loved by God. And satisfied. And the trip down the mountain fed me.
We had some family time, watching the sunset from a hill down near Boquillas. Maggie and Patrick ran. We saw a cute coot (little duck) on a pond off the Rio Grande. Raymond grilled fajitas and I made freshly milled whole wheat tortillas and Daddy made his world famous specialty, pico de gallo. My long hike meant I missed out hiking into Boquillas canyon with Mom and the rest of the gang, but nonetheless I was so proud of her. 14 years ago she was told she would never walk again after a horrible auto accident. Not only does she walk, but she HIKES! I know it causes her great pain, but she does it anyway, and then goes home and paints about it.
We camped out on the floor that night, then next day, the kids and I gathered up the stuff and decided to primitive camp in an area we had never explored before. In a national park the size of Big Bend there is always a new unexplored area to find! We drove up the Old Ore Rd. I can't say everyone in the family was thrilled with the idea. After one day unplugged, they were not exactly happy campers. No movies. No texting. No FB or soft beds. Something in my gut told me that I needed to perservere, despite the complaining.
We said farewell to Mamaw and Papaw and bumped and bounced along the 4x4 road that traversed desert, slid through ravines and up rocky inclines. The girls wondered if I could speed it up above 10 mph, but no.
An hour and a half later, we left crowded wilderness to find the complete and utterly abandoned. We parked. We took inventory. Hmm. Rocks. Cactus. Lechugilla. Creosote. Great big hills. One tiny bird.
The group decided to camp underneath the stars. We pulled out sleeping bags and mats and everyone found a spot, and wonder of all wonders, the fighting and complaining ceased. The rough edges somehow smoothed, as we were thrust into such a rough-edged landscape. Rose and Nora grabbed their dollies and proceeded to climb up the farthest nearby little mountain. Thomas hiked down Telephone Canyon trail. Patrick ran the trail. Maggie found her own spot to hike. I prepared supper and then climbed a little hill. Then a slightly larger hill.
By seven we had eaten our dinner, cleaned up the dishes, then climbed into our sleeping bags, cold in the dark. Crescent moon, waxing, sitting like a bowl, slowly edged her way across the sky. We were in a bowl, surrounded by giant hills, in the shadow of mountains, tucked near the canyon. The silence was overwhelming. Not even cry of coyote or call of bird disturbed the quiet. Patrick pointed out the stars of Orion's belt and we all watched as he (orion) climbed up to the sky. Patrick then told us where to look for Taurus and a bunch of other constellations we had never noticed before. And I felt proud that these kids were willing to sleep out, under the stars, in the far away land. Nobody seemed upset about being unplugged.
As the night grew darker and the cold got colder, I realized I should have brought more sleeping bags for doubling up. I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. If children would die from cold exposure, and how that would make me feel as a mother. Then I wondered if I might die from cold exposure and how that would make the kids feel.
I wiggled toes and wondered what it would be like to go through the night without any sleep. Then I wondered how amazing it was that being cold totally eclipsed feelings of pain that I usually feel in my neck and back when sleeping out away from my bed.
Then I heard Maggie exclaim over seeing another shooting star. I removed the sleeping bag from my face, put my glasses back on and went back to watching the show. A giant shooting star. Apparently flung from Orion's bow, arching across the sky. And then another. And another.
I never got warm enough, and have to say that in my whole life have I never felt more cold. The temperatures were supposed to be in the mid 40's that night, but actually dropped down to the low 30's. Perhaps camping in the open air without warm enough sleeping bags is a bad idea. But once the water was boiled next morning and the sun rose over the hills and the coffee hit my belly, I knew that somehow we needed the camping trip more than any of us realized.
We hiked some more, and my runners, Patrick and Maggie, hit the trails, and covered six miles without stop, and Rose and Nora and I climbed up very high and could see very far, and threw rocks and yelled.
I wish we could have camped another night, but duty called. So did my warm bed. People are back to electronics. Rose wonders if I am trying to catch up for three months, since I am taking such a long time on this blog. Now she and Nora play Battleship and Maggie hangs out with her friend and Thomas plays with his Ipod and Patrick hangs out with Thai. I can't even see the moon.
Nevertheless, I will never forget her, crossing the sky, she and her lovely chorus of stars, more stars than I have ever seen in my life, more beautiful than any movie, telling me stories that have been told for thousands and thousands of years. Definitely worth the lack of sleep and cold.
BTW, noone died of cold exposure. Hard to believe, but true. And nothing is better for snarly teenagers (and their mothers) than a good campout. What a gift.
PS there are so many other stories I wish I could share, like a visit from a girlfriend and her husband, and our memories of working together over twenty years ago, as waitresses in Big Bend National Park. Our hikes and polyster blue uniform dresses and hairnets and making the Century plant Christmas tree and making lots of music around campfires in our spare time. And sharing Christmas with new church family, and the irony of a white Christmas in Texas! And the absolute highlight of my whole holiday so far: singing around the piano with Daddy and Mom and Raymond for an hour and a half on Christmas night. All the good Christmas songs and a few more and a couple of hymns thrown in for good measure. I don't know what I could like more. What a great gift. Music ringing throughout our new home. Thank you, Mom and Daddy, for giving me so many wonderful gifts, art, music, good food, lots of love.
I sure do love you.