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Posts Tagged ‘California’

A WALK IN THE COUTRY

“I think I’ll take the Scouts on a 50-Miler,” said my Scoutmaster husband many years ago.  “We’ve been to Scout camp for the past few years, but I’d like to challenge them a bit more.”  For prerequisites, Ken’s troop of eager young men, ranging in age from 17 down to 12-year-olds, strapped a full pack on their backs, laced up their boots and hiked the lowlands in preparation of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.  So for several years the troop, with Ken and a few other adult leaders, braved the rutted trails, thunder storms, peaks and valleys and dehydrated food so they could unroll a sleeping bag, toss it on a bumpy terrain and gaze up at a pitch black sky dotted with billions of stars.   The young men soon learned why it was unwise to go barefoot in camp, to identify certain rocks and rock formations, to fish the lakes and respect the land, to hike in groups, wait for the others when the trail forked, and to watch out for your friends who would took every opportunity to play practical jokes on one another.   A week later the troop  arrived home dirty, bandaged, bedraggled, smelling of camp-fire smoke, pine and sweat and gloriously happy for the experience.  They had climbed the mountains because they were there and both men and boys were better and stronger for it.

When our boys had completed Scouting, Ken was reluctant to give up the mountain adventure.  So for Christmas he bought me  my own light-weight aluminum backpack with a bright red nylon covering and a pair of hiking boots.  “Good grief,” said my friend Sofia, “are you going to like that.”  “Well,” I answered, “it’s more adventurous than two weeks at the Holiday Inn.”   Having sons who still hiked the high places, we were often joined by any one of them or all three. We also had grandchildren who wanted to come.  Like the Scouts, they had to be 12 to qualify.  John, Peter and Sean tramped the trails of The Three Sisters in Oregon with us and our oldest son, Kevin.

Kevin led the way, with Sean and Pete close behind.  Their taut young bodies springing ahead as if to blaze a trail for we who lagged behind with our aging dog, Bruiser.  Feeling our years just a bit, our packs seemed to grow heavier each trip.   Never getting to far ahead, we always found the others waiting around the bend, rested and ready to continue.   In between the front and rear guard, was John who finally decided to stay behind with us.  He felt no need to rush ahead, and if truth be told, I believe he was sensitive to us: his grandparents and Bruiser.  Whether we needed him or not, I’ll never know, but it was another joy to have him close by to share the adventure; to see which plants attracted more butterflies, to sit for a while with our feet dangling in the cool water of a mountain stream and to get better acquainted with this third generation.  Crossing the creeks Ken would hold out his strong, firm hand helping me and John, guiding us step by step to the solid rocks and logs until we reached the other side and the continuing trail.  Ken was ever the Scoutmaster at heart, still agile and experienced in his acquired knowledge of the wilderness, which he loved.

Out last backpack trip was to British Columbia with Pete and John, their parents, Julie and Tim, and two other grandchildren: Pam and Jeff.  Promises were left with the younger ones, “It will be your turn next time,” but next time never came.  The back packs were stored in the garage and gathered dust while the grandchildren grew up and married and had children of their own.  Ken’s Alzheimer’s descended like a gathering storm and he now shuffles like the frail old man he has become. 

It has been nearly impossible to talk him into much of any kind of adventure, but as Labor Day weekend approached and John and his wife, Marisol, with their little ones, and parents planned to camp on our acreage in the foothills, I longed to join them, if only for the day.    Ken sleeps very late in the morning and I didn’t want to make a 200-mile round trip for just an hour.  Being realistic, I hadn’t planned on going.  However, he surprised me at 9:30 agreeing to get ready and come with me for a ride, which he really enjoys.  But of course, once he was ready, he had forgotten about the ride, refusing to get into the car claiming he had too much responsibility at home.  I have learned to play the “waiting game,” and after a while I was able to coax him into the passenger seat and off we went.  How good it felt to once again be on the open road going somewhere, even if it was just a mini day trip.

We found the family at everyone’s favorite camp spot and they were surprised and pleased to see us.   Accepting some refreshments and pulling a camp chair into the shade, we settled in for the day planning an afternoon of relaxation before dinner.  The trip, mixed with country fresh air, seemed to bring out the best in Ken even if his remarks were often off the wall and  unrelated to the conversation, it was good to have him participate.    Someone mentioned a sight to see at the top of the hill, not much further than a walk around the block, but with a more difficult terrain.  A few of us accepted the challenge.  Together, we were four generations with 3-year-old Maya asking me if I could pick her up.  I did, then put her down suggesting we hold hands.  She did.  Single file, we began our walk in the country to the top of the hill.  Ken behind me and John following, bringing up the rear, making sure his grandfather would be all right.  This time I knew we  needed him. 

 Mostly a cow trail, we ducked under low-hanging branches, stepped over rocks, twigs and cow plops, and then dipped down an embankment where a very small creek ran forming a muddy bog on either side.  For the sure-footed, it was easy: from dry land to a rock to the opposite side.   The two of us were no longer sure-footed, but as Ken watched the others cross over, a scrap of memory struggled free from his tangled mind, and he said, “I used to do this with my Scouts.”  For some strange reason I am always thrilled when he has a spark of memory.  Meanwhile, John found a sturdy log and making it secure, he held out a strong, firm hand and guided Ken across.   My turn next, but as I watched John, no longer a boy, but a grown man — a father — with children of his own — now the strong one  helping his grandfather cross over the small expanse of mud and water to “safety”  I was warmed with gratitude.  What a blessing  it is to see the continuing generations of family right before my eyes.  Evidence that a  tiny bit of me and Ken will go on with our progeny yet come.  Joyfully, the cycle of life continues.

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