I’d been feeling those last-day-of-vacation blues, at the end of a glorious trip home: a week of tent sleeping and garden picking, of gramma and grandpa (mom and dad) and their culinary tricks, of lakeside sand castles and car adventures—all soul-manna for this begrudging city kid and her kid. But we were set to leave the next morning, and my level of frazzle was high.
Antsiness catches: It was four in the afternoon, we still had to pack, and my two-year-old daughter still hadn’t napped. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was so much left to do: tangibles like laundry and stuff-organization, but also, so many adventures we hadn’t done yet and wouldn’t have time for. But there is never enough time until you make it, so I convinced her to take with me one last small “car adventure.”
The woods set me straight, as they always do, and it rubbed right off, that calm and joy and aliveness, as it always does, until we two had hiked out our worries and waries and returned to my parents’ house, and later our own apartment, renewed.
Whiting Road Nature Preserve in late August is: blackberries bursting; goldenrod, pokeweed and jewelweed in flower. The tree-blanket warms, and it’s no longer hot enough to complain about the hug.
I tell my daughter she can decide our path today, wanting to foster independence. I mean of course, she can guide us at each trail junction, but she takes me literally and decides we should remain in the parking lot. Sorting rocks.
But we are here for the trail, I explain, and I promise “creatures” and flowers until she acquiesces. On the path I walk 20 feet ahead of her, adjusting the tension on what remains of our loosening umbilical cord, comprised and contrived now of equal parts bribery, feigned negligence and Huck Finning. She strides and struts with confidence, bearing with ease the weight of all those trail rocks. “Present,” she says, smiling, and places one in my hand.
We follow the path. “Hold you,” she says, reaching, and I know she means “carry me,” so I pick her up. Our pace quickens on my two longer legs. “Jumpers,” she says, and as I tease out her meaning my heart jumps as well: she has remembered the jewelweed pods, those little green cocoons I am always popping in the woods back in the Bronx.
Something here is working. She’s got the memory of jewelweed, of “jumpers,” stuck inside that perfect little bud of a growing-up person, where I hope will stick also the following: the blackberries we picked and gorged upon (she wouldn’t stop picking until every ripe berry was eaten); the holiness of bees, whom she greeted cautiously, saying “Hi bees! It Elizabeth!”; the taste of trail rocks, thankfully not swallowed.
She walks ahead, stops to pick up more rocks, starts off again, then trudges back, reaching up her arms for a carry. I fit her to my hip, her head molds to my chest, and as her eyes butterfly closed I think…there are so many more lessons here. I will have to teach her moderation, to leave berries for the birds and her friends and the bears. I will help her build upon the twin urges of connection and self-preservation—a love and respect for the wild, its trials and rewards. And we have so many more stones to lick…
My soul soothes. So does hers. We slow our pace to a crawl, again on two tall old legs, closing the parabola of “speed” or “progress” or “mileage” that a hike or woods-walk never ought to be, and with this blessed child, isn’t. We reach the final curve. She has melted into me, and we into the woods, to home.