We went back up the Teanaway, the river valley on the east side of the Cascades that’s one of our favorite camping spots but prone to wildfires this time of year: an 18 mile road with only one way in or out, that makes Dawn nervous we’ll get trapped with the kids and die. It’s such a repeatable narrative, it feels like it’s already happened. But we finally got out on our first camping trip for the year, deep into July, and sure enough it looked hazy and threatening once we got over the pass—and as we got on the 18 mile road there appeared to be a clot of smoke in the mountains (but probably just fog). It was starting to rain big, heavy drops, and made steam form on the road ahead. We rolled the windows down, and along the steep drop-off it was verdant with the smell of wild flowers. We didn’t get our favorite spot but we did get the one we first came to when the kids were really young—and then we dismissed the idea of wildfires altogether: the passing rain helped us feel better it wasn’t smoke, probably just fog.
There’s a burn ban in effect now and signs everywhere saying no camp fires or briquettes, which is fine: as it got darker and the sun went down the light started to go in reverse and get brighter, and that was the full moon we waited to see in the narrow sky above our camp.
And there I was like before, like the last time we came: it had to have been five or six years now, maybe more. We had a photo of me and the girls sitting on one of the camp chairs in the same site. I followed a path down to the river and remembered that morning we left, I lingered in that same spot feeling so at peace and happy with things. Now here I was staggering up the road looking for the moon, the same, but different.
I thought about the phrase, to be realized—not to realize a thing, but to be realized yourself—and what a claim. Kind of like Maslow’s idea of being self-actualized. I felt like that when I saw the moon appear through the trees, yellow-pink. I pictured us gazing on it all night, but that’s all we saw of it.
Part of the idea of getting out was the nature therapy for the kids, after a week of scant activity and lots of time spent on screens. I joked, it’s time to start making memories! as we got out of the car, and took some snapshots of Lily and Charlotte in their camp chairs by the would-be fire. I brought the football and Frizbee, put a bell on Ginger’s collar so we could hear her whereabouts, and began setting up camp. I put just the rain fly part of the tent on the footprint (no actual tent), and rolled back the vestibule so you could wander in and out. I did that so the dog wouldn’t fuss and paw at the screen all night wanting out, she could come and go as she pleased.
But Dawn protested, wouldn’t there be bugs? And I said no, like I was an authority, like I knew: there hadn’t been bugs in the past, and I’ve done this many times when I’m out backpacking alone. You basically sleep under the stars, you don’t worry about bugs.
But then I thought better of it and got the tent out, feeling old, having to second-guess myself. Having to submit to common sense, and the happiness of others.
Charlotte bounded up and down, back and forth between me and Ginger, Dawn and Lily: thrusting herself in our personal space, destroying a bag of extra-hot Cheetos, sucking on ice cubes to relieve the heat, spitting them out on a rock. I told her to make sure she zipped up the cooler each time she was done, wondered if she’d use all the ice, decided not to care, but it took some effort.
When we walked down to the river I asked if she remembered it but she didn’t hear me. Instead she asked, was it man-made? And I had to laugh, and say no: just look at it. The rocks under the water were so smooth, I could see why she thought that. Some were really large and round, with moss-like algae for beards—others along the shore, that geometric rock that looks like a grid of teeth running on a right angle. On the other side of the shore, the same rock ran straight up to the sky, with tufts of growth clinging to it, gold and reddish in places, like the countryside I remembered driving across the Scottish Highlands.
It was so real and maybe we could realize we were a part of it for a time, too. With all the technology that’s either simulating, augmenting, or virtualizing reality: how nice to just relish in the sights and sounds of a place that’s really real?
I perceived the river as different then, and much wider, the light coming through the trees in the morning: all of it, bigger. And that’s because the kids were so small, I feared for them as they balanced on the rocks and played. Now the scale and proportion were different and we’d already seen it, we knew the river we thought, and that made it smaller. But what we knew was so small, really. It felt good to be reminded of that and feel small, ourselves.
All about us was the smell of wet earth, and what memories we could make with our time on it. And that made me feel big, inside.