The background blurs as the boys run playfully by …. years ago …. life is a blur as the years fly …..
These boys are now teens — one in college and the other a high school junior off to college visits later this week. And yet, on some days memories like this snowy October day at the cabin over 8 years ago seems like yesterday. I would love to be able to say I have treasured every moment, lived mindfully each day along the way … but I haven’t. And that’s OK. Life is an imperfect journey, and we sometimes just do the best we can on any given day.
Doing the best we can is all we can ask. That means on some days we yell at our kids, are short-tempered with our spouse, don’t make time for a friend, and regrettably, sometimes learn there is no “next time” to make it up to them. Reminders of the fragility of life come more frequently as we age, but I think as we mature we also learn to appreciate the moments that make up life that much more.
We recognize that the blur of life when slowed and viewed frame-by-frame is not only the major milestones of life — the births, the weddings, the deaths, the celebrations in between — but more than anything, it’s the walk with the dog on a quiet wooded trail; it’s watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” every holiday as a family even though we’ve all seen them countless times; it’s banter and debate that grows more interesting over the years as the boys grow up, prompted by programs on Minnesota Public Radio as we drive those couple hours to the cabin and back again; it’s the long talks over a meal about dreams, and hopes, and goals …. it’s the blur of life.
Ciao! ~ Kat
This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. ”Blur” was this week’s theme. Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.
If you research campgrounds at Glacier National Park, as I did before we camped there several summers ago, the Many Glacier Campground on the eastern side of the Park is usually described as “one of the most popular” campgrounds in the Park. For me, phrases like that are usually a red flashing warning sign to run in the opposite direction.
But, as we sketched out a rough itinerary for our week-long Montana road trip, I kept returning to Many Glacier Campground as the ideal spot to explore Glacier’s iconic scenery, including convenient access to the Iceberg Lake trail (which I wrote about in this post), and what seemed to be a large number of tent-friendly sites.
When the National Park Service has a chart of historical “fill times” for the campground, showing high season campground fill times of 8:00 a.m. on some days, you know that capturing a site at Many Glacier Campground is serious business. And, for you campers in the crowd, you know that just because there are some open sites, not everyone wants to have the spot immediately next to the entrance gate, nor does everyone desire to bask in the glow of the toilet building every evening. We were camping relatively early in Glacier’s season, at the end of June only a few days after the “Going-to-the-Sun-Road” was plowed through for the season (I promise a future post on that incredible drive!). Despite the fact that noon was approaching when we arrived, we were able to capture a cozy site nestled in the trees.
The campground is adjacent to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, which provided token-operated showers for campers, as well as a cafe and gift shop (after a relatively warm 10-mile hike, the huckleberry ice cream at the gift shop was especially refreshing). Because of the bear threat in the Park and campground, the rangers are militant about making sure campers have secured all food and other items that attract the bears. Coolers, cooking equipment, dry food goods — all had to be stored in your vehicle, day or night. On a warm day, this means the ice in the coolers melts quickly, which was another convenient aspect of having the the gift shop (which included a small grocery section) nearby — but not so close that we knew they were there while enjoying the campground itself!
Many Glacier Campground had a wooded amphitheater where evening ranger talks and other programming occurred. We were lucky to have our stay coincide with a presentation of the “Native America Speaks” program, which usually takes place at the historic Many Glacier Hotel down the road from the campground, or at the St. Mary Visitor Center. Jack Gladstone is a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and a Blackfeet tribal member, who often performs as part of the Native America Speaks series.
As we sat at the base of Grinnell Point, in the waning evening sunlight, we enjoyed listening to the legends of Glacier National Park and history of the Blackfeet tribe in music and words. A deer ambled through the woods on the edge of the amphitheater, pausing as if to listen with us. We bought two of Gladstone’s CD’s at the end of the program, and are reminded of the magic of Glacier National Park whenever we play them.
I leave you with one of Jack Gladstone’s songs in the video below, and share with you some of the lyrics from his song, “Legends of Glacier”:
As parents before us always cautioned, “Time goes so fast, enjoy it before it’s gone.” Words of wisdom, and words we tried to heed in between those other moments when every parent feels that a little alone time would not be so bad? So it goes with the family road trip.
My recent travel consisted of acting as a companion to my son as he visited universities in Boston and Washington, D.C., while my husband and other son held down the fort at home with the four-legged family members. As my oldest son and I traveled together for the week, I was struck with the thought that our days of the week-long family road trip are probably over – the boys’ summer activities, social life and work schedules increasingly interfered with trying to schedule family time this past summer, and in not much longer than a year from now, we will see our oldest off to college. Time does go fast.
Our family’s road trips over the years are full of memories — the good, the bad and the ugly. So it goes when spending 24/7 together in a car, in a tent, in a small rustic room of lodging, on the trail, in the heat, in the cold . . . .
Our road trip a few summers ago to Glacier National Park in Montana involved the long drive across Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana to reach that stunning northwestern Montana scenery. But don’t knock the scenery in between — the prairie land of North Dakota, the endless yellow canola fields of Montana, the miles and miles of blue sky in all directions, and the wildlife along the way.
After several days of exploring Glacier National Park’s trails and the surrounding area (I shared one stunning example with you in this post on the Iceberg Lake trail), it was time to reverse the road trip and head back home to Minnesota.
The novelty of 18 hours in the car over two days wears off more quickly on the return trip home. Mom’s choice of music (driver’s pick) gets tiresome (or so I am told), my husband has trouble sleeping for nine additional hours each day as front passenger, and my boys have to continually find new ways of pushing each other’s buttons. Sure enough, with each trip, new and novel ways to entertain emerge. Enter “gum guy.”
“Raising a kid is part joy and part guerilla warfare.” ~ Ed Asner
“Gum guy” ended up in “time out” status on the dashboard before his reign was complete. He was the creation of my oldest son. We are pretty sure that gum guy’s sole purpose on earth was to torture my youngest son. I will say that gum guy left us in stitches before he was confiscated, as he had some witty one-liners in between his aggravating antics.
Seriously, though, when I think of the countryside we have explored by car together, sometimes traveling for hours by interstate, but often taking that road less traveled to see the nooks and crannies of the scenic side roads, I am grateful. I hope my boys will be, too, as they look back years from now.
Road tripping provides opportunity to stop and appreciate the wonder of a changing landscape. As one example of many from our road trip travels, we approached our stopping point for the night on the western border of North Dakota. Storm clouds moved in and let loose some heavy rain for a time. The clouds were still dark and heavy when the sun broke through on the horizon behind us. The result was the most rewarding scene for miles — a rainbow which blossomed into a double rainbow, so breathtaking in its beauty that it even had two adolescent boys exclaiming in awe!
Never have we seen a rainbow so vibrant, so large. We pulled the car over to a scenic overlook spot along the highway to enjoy nature’s special show. The sight left us believing that if we ran across that rugged landscape we would be certain to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. ~ Vincent Van Gogh
As the sun began to set, the rainbows faded. My oldest son had discovered a geocache was located nearby; I called out for him to return to the car so we could finish our journey for the day. When he shouted back to me, I turned to see his silhouette atop of one of the buttes, making his way back to the car.
Our trips to the big cities have been exciting, full of interesting museums, historical sites, eclectic food, sometimes posh lodging. But our road trips in various directions across this diverse landscape of the United States have held memories you cannot create by buying a ticket or making a reservation.
“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” ~ Thomas Berry
Our family has been blessed with some wonderful travel memories over the years. Travel will be transitioning to college visit trips, with much of our travel budget over the next 6-8 years hanging on the hopes of good scholarship money! As the primary trip planner and organizer, not to mention chief photographer (let’s face it, often the only photographer, resulting in my handing the camera to some stranger at least once every trip and asking, “would you take a photo so that when I am gone they remember that mom was on the trip, too?”), I have learned a life lesson or two along the way, which I find are best expressed through some of the photos from our travels:
1. Hearkening to Mary Oliver’s sage advice, be amazed and allow yourself to experience the wonder of things.
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is known for the classic images of buffalo walking down or across a highway, blocking traffic. We would come across these scenes as we visited the Park one summer. The scene we were met with one evening, though, really left an impression. We were stopped in our tracks along the roadway, cars backed up as far as the eye could see, as the sky turned pink and purple with the sunset. The buffalo were not just meandering down or across the road, but instead were making their way to their evening grounds, crossing the river as they snorted, stomped, and called to each other, young bison in tow and swimming alongside their mothers. Buffalo after buffalo after buffalo, until the sky was dark. A wondrous sight, I can still hear one of my sons saying with pure astonishment in his voice, “this is a once in a lifetime experience.” Yes, yes, it was.
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver
2. Don’t give up; while the journey may be long and hard, the goal is often worth the effort.
We traveled to Yellowstone National Park when my youngest son had just turned nine. He was not always our most willing and enthusiastic participant when it came to hiking, but we figured the views from the top of Mt. Washburn were worth the 3-mile uphill climb from the Dunraven Pass trailhead. The hike was noted by the National Park Service to be “strenuous” with a 1,400 feet (425 m) vertical rise to the summit at 10,243 feet (3,122 m) above sea level, and we knew he was more than capable of handling the demands of the hike itself.
What do my husband and I remember about that hike? We recall the three solid, often seemingly endless, uphill miles of complaining from my younger son. Times like this try a parent’s patience. But, perseverance paid off, and we were rewarded with some of the most awe-inspiring, 360-degree views of Yellowstone National Park from the summit. At the top, I had another traveler take our family’s photo — three of us are grinning with the beautiful vista in the background, and the fourth member of this family is glowering at the camera. The woman who took the photo for me asked if I wanted her to take another with my youngest son smiling, and I told her neither of us had that much time . . .
After enjoying the views, my husband and younger son returned to the trail for the three-mile descent first, while my oldest waited with me as I stood in line for the limited restroom facilities. We figured we would have no problem catching up with them, given the foot-dragging that occurred with the uphill journey. The Dunraven Pass trailhead consists of numerous switchbacks on the trail, and the only time we even caught a glimpse of my husband and younger son was one or more switchbacks below us, as my older son and I descended. Reaching the bottom, I was met with a big grin from my younger son, proud of his accomplishment (and I think even more happy with the fact it was over)!
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” ~ Winston S. Churchill
3. Teach your children that our natural world is more entertaining than any movie or video game.
Our world is full of screen-time pursuits, and certainly many of them have some value, if not pure entertainment. Computers are often necessary for our employment and day-to-day life activities. Technology is part of the fabric of our world now. Because of this, it is even more important than ever that we teach our children and the next generations of the essential, critical elements we receive from the natural world. No technology, no matter how advanced and sophisticated, can replace the simple joys of traipsing through the woods, smelling the pine needles, watching for wildlife, and appreciating the complexity and interconnectedness of nature without any meddling by man.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” ~ Rachel Carson
4. Be kind to everyone and everything, wherever you are.
Arriving in Rome, what was one of the first stops of interest for my youngest son? The cat sanctuary. As we have traveled, he remembers the cats he has met along the way — the feral cat colony in San Juan, the cats outside Ostia Antica’s gates, the little cat who sat and listened to our tour guide at the Colosseum. Kindness and a gentle spirit can go a long way in solving the world’s ills. I recently saw this quote on Sriram Janak’s Facebook page (he has a wonderfully inspiring photo-blog here) and it seems a fitting start to the new year:
We have a whole new year
Ahead of us. . . Could we all be
A little more gentle with
Each other and a little more
Loving, have a little more
Empathy, and maybe – next …
Year at this time – we’d like
Each other a little more.
~ Judy Garland
5. Be adventurous and stretch the edges of your comfort zone.
Our camping trip to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado was the result of one of our sons learning about Mesa Verde in his 3rd grade class. I admit it was not even on my radar screen for travel destinations at the time, several years ago. One of the most interesting aspects of a visit to the Park is touring the various cliff house dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans. While in the Park, we toured both the Cliff Palace and Balcony House ruins.
The ranger-guided tour of the Balcony House is described as follows on the National Park website:
Balcony House Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour
This one-hour, ranger-guided tour involves climbing a 32 ft. ladder, crawling through a 12ft.-long tunnel, and climbing up a 60 ft (20m) open rock face with two 10 ft (3m) ladders to exit the site.
Mind you, we had one son who had shown some trepidation with heights. While the description of the ladders may not seem too intimidating, when you see their placement in the context of the larger cliff dwelling, you may understand why my husband and I exchanged looks of some concern as the ranger said at the start of the tour, “Now is not the time to ignore your fear of heights. There is no turning back once you start the tour.”
On we went, cautioning our son to not look down and keep moving forward whenever presented with one of the ladders. I think I showed more concern with heights as my legs trembled and I clung to the sides of the ladder while crawling up the open cliff face — glancing over one’s shoulder at the drop to the valley below left one amazed that today’s lawsuit-crazed society would still allow such a tour to proceed. Thankfully, these tours do still exist, because it gave us an appreciation of the demands of living in such isolated, precarious dwellings, and brought to life the history surrounding them. When we finished the tour, my son beamed, the interesting facts and surroundings overcoming any fear of heights that day.
“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger,
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.”
~C. S. Lewis
6. Appreciate the little things in life.
Ask this family what they remember about the Oahu Polynesian Cultural Center’s luau, and it’s not the dancing, the music, or the food — instead, it’s the loss of a first tooth in a bite of purple taro roll. The picture says it all.
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
7. Set your plans aside from time to time and just enjoy the present.
While spending time in New York City over Christmas, we had planned on extensively exploring the American Museum of Natural History, and I wanted to sing Christmas carols in Washington Square Park under the Arch on Christmas Eve. The list of potential sights and stops was infinite. However, as my oldest son and I left the hotel at about 9:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve Day, planning a short run through Central Park to see the Mall and a couple of its famous statues, before heading to the Reservoir for a lap, the morning unfolded in a more leisurely way, and we did not find our way back to the hotel for several hours. Stopping to look at a fascinating tree and other interesting flora, listening to the music at Bethesda Terrace, geocaching along the way and making time for my son to stretch his legs at his speed (rather than mine) around the famous Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. . . I scrapped caroling and we shortened time at the Natural History Museum, but I cannot imagine time better spent than we did that day, leaving our itinerary behind.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Let music fill your soul and mark your memory.
While alternating running and geocaching (a/k/a walk breaks for mom) in Central Park that morning of Christmas Eve, my son and I stood on Bethesda Terrace looking down on the Fountain and heard almost ephemeral classical music wafting through the air. We jogged down the steps and came across this duo, setting the tone for our Christmas Eve as we listened to several beautifully-played tunes. I was reminded of the intertwined memory of music and Sainte-Chapelle as my son and I reluctantly continued on our leisurely run through the Park, and Vivaldi faded in the distance.
“Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven
9. Don’t dwell on the past, but study and respect what we have learned from those who lived before us.
Standing on Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park on a dreary December day, one could not help but reflect on the lessons learned from this nation’s bloody Civil War. Each chapter of history has something to tell us — sometimes we may not like the lessons we take away, but they are important to learn, nonetheless. Actually standing on the ground where these historical events unfolded helps to reinforce and bring some understanding to the stories, lessons, and tragedies that make this world what it is and the people in it who they are.
History balances the frustration of “how far we have to go” with the satisfaction of “how far we have come.” It teaches us tolerance for the human shortcomings and imperfections which are not uniquely of our generation, but of all time. ~ Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
10. La vita e breve — life is short.
We have no regrets that we made our trip to Italy a reality, even though it seemed a pipe dream when first mentioned late one night at dinner club over a glass (or perhaps there was more than one involved) of red wine. The memories are priceless. Don’t be afraid to say “I love you” and give hugs freely, savor and protect good health, take that dream trip earlier rather than later, if you can.
“Enjoy the good things in life ~ you can always clean tomorrow!” ~ Kat B., Travel. Garden. Eat. blog
Which parent hasn’t searched the world over and then paid through the nose for the elusive toy that darling Jimmy whispered into Santa’s ear was the “one” special present he wanted this year? (I confess, for me, it was a hard-to-get Lego kit that I ended up ordering online and paying almost as much in Federal Express fees to have it show up in time for Santa’s sleigh!) Was the surprise on my son’s face Christmas morning as he rushed down the stairs to see what Santa brought worth every penny and minute spent tracking that toy down? Of course. I am not suggesting that joy cannot be found in gift-giving (and receiving), or that it is not part of the fabric of many of our holiday memories.
As our kids move past the magical Santa stage, though, if they tell us there is nothing they need or want, why are we so quick to ask insistently, “Are you sure there’s nothing you want for Christmas this year?” Perhaps we should pay attention to those signals that suggest no “thing” is needed under the tree.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” ~ Albert Einstein
Looking back, the experiences of life are what make the memories, not the “things” we collect along the way. When recalling a family trip, my sons do not say, “Oh, and remember the cool souvenirs we bought?” Wait, I take that back when it comes to our road trip to Yellowstone – I had to reverse course and return to a “shop” that was in someone’s garage, marked by the pile of antlers and other bones in the front yard. The “Jackalope” my son painstakingly selected, searching for just the right character in the little antlers jutting from the taxidermy creation, is still proudly hanging on his bedroom wall – but it is part of the memory of our travels through Wyoming that week. The memories of the rustic, western landscape were reinforced by wandering through a boys’ paradise of fossils, skulls, and fur pelts. Rather than the “thing” it was the experience of it that made the memory.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” ~ Robert Brault
During our memory-making family trip to Italy, what moment does one of my sons always recall when we talk about our day trip to Florence? Seeing Michelangelo’s David? No. Climbing the steps to Giotto’s Tower? No. He always first recalls the moment when I lost the top of my gelato cone in the middle of a busy sidewalk, successfully saved it before it hit the ground, and ungracefully restored the scoop to the top of the cone as the gelato dripped down my arm and onto my purse . . . and one of the many “gypsies” chose to approach me at that moment, speaking Italian with hand extended asking for a contribution. I replied somewhat sharply, “Go away!” — as I simultaneously wiped up the gelato drippings before they coagulated into a sticky mess. My son informed me that she promptly called me a “witch-with-a-B” in clearly-understood English as she walked away. My husband and sons found the whole scene amusing, and apparently it became one of their favorite Florence memories. I was just happy to not have good gelato go to waste!
“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.” ~ Susan B. Anthony
So, as we move through the often hectic holiday season, keep in mind that those little things hidden among the big events and traditions may be the real memory-makers down the road. Take time to enjoy the little moments – playing a game of cards with your family, undistracted by phone, computer, or the never-ending task list; enjoying a leisurely chat with a friend over a glass of wine or hot chocolate; heading out for a walk with someone you care about (and the dogs, of course!) on a crisp winter night even though you “don’t have time”; watching your favorite holiday movie for the umpteenth time and letting the tears flow even though you know the ending (can anyone say “It’s A Wonderful Life”?). Remember, you can always clean tomorrow.