Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth–“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.Hafiz
My daughter Leah and I went on our first of many backpacking trips together when she was nine years old. If you read last week’s post, Yes I Can, you will understand why her twin sister Annie did not go with us. I could not force her to like backpacking anymore than I could force her to do anything else. Kids are like that.
Leah, on the other hand, was happy to go into the woods with her mom. I chose a route that would be considerably longer than the trip we had taken the previous year, a gentle hike that followed the beautiful Hoh River through the heart of the Olympic Rain Forest. My parents dropped us off at the trailhead and then camped in their new R.V. until we hiked out five days later. I was glad that they were still a part of our hiking experience, however limited.
After the thumbs up and photos we crossed Taft Creek and began our trek up the valley, arriving the first night at Happy Four Shelter, where we made camp by the river. The next day we continued our journey to Lewis Meadow, where a ranger cabin was located, and the wide meadow offered short trails to secluded campsites. We followed one of those trails to a side channel of the river where a level spot provided perfect shelter under the spreading boughs of a bigleaf maple. There we set up the tent and made camp, far from other hikers and campers. I suggested we go for a swim, and Leah reminded me that she had not brought a swimsuit. “No matter,” I said, as I began stripping off my clothes.
“It’s called skinny-dipping,” I told her as we each walked naked into the still pool in front of our campsite. We were not in the water for long. The Hoh River flows out of Blue Glacier on the slopes of Mt. Olympus, the highest peak in those mountains. At Lewis Meadow the river is not so far below that glacier, and the water is only a few degrees above freezing. Still, the dip was refreshing and fun. We laughed as we splashed water on one another, then I walked out onto the riverbank and sat down in a patch of sun to warm up from the icy waters. Leah stayed in the water awhile longer and then discovered that she could climb the maple tree and jump from a sturdy bough into the pool. We had a private beach, a pool, even a diving board it seemed.
Later that evening, as we ate our freeze dried chicken and rice, we watched as two bull Roosevelt elk crossed the river where it was swift and deep, up to their chests in the cold water. It was achingly beautiful, this wild moment by the wild river with my daughter.
About a month later Leah and I were in her pediatrician’s office, where I had taken her for her school sports physical. “And what did you do this summer?” he asked.
“I went backpacking with my mom, and we went swimming naked!” I saw him stifle a sly smile. I turned my head away so that he would not see the flush of color I felt rising. Then I smiled too. I am smiling now as I write about this even after thirty-six years. I smile as well as I remember the elk crossing the river and Leah dropping from the tree limb into the pool, the water splashing, her laughter rising.
Outside the snow remains on the ground, and the temperature has dipped to near zero. I will not be going for any walks today. No matter. I have a lifetime of smiles.