We camp every fall in a valley southeast of where we live.
Cold, goldenrod trees against bruised sky.
No cell service, continually stoked campfire.
Everywhere to explore.
Brown trout dancing up river, fat bodies leaping up high to help shake eggs into the frigid water. All day, all night: plop, thunk, splash as their bodies reenter the current.
Our arrival, just as the sun set. A baby moose walking along the bank. Careful, be slow the mamas say to the excited kids who sit on knees across the river from the moose. The mamas know the moose mama was one of the tree shadows. The mamas watch and wait as one of those shadows stirs and slunks into the crimson dogwood branches, baby by her side.
Shared meals made on camp stoves. Mama, where are my mittens? Easy, early campfire conversations about Halloween costumes, dogs and canning recipes. Spirited, late campfire conversations about ebola, gun control and taxes. Dada, can I please have one more s’more?
Morning air that shows breath, thick and cold. Hard to get out of sleeping bags so we stay a little bit longer and hope someone else is up making a fire. The men rise and leave for the fishing hole, before the moonlight gives into the sunlight. Nobody else is making a fire. So we do it. We can’t wait for the glory of that heat.
The kids play hard. The van is a ship, the snag is a castle, the cubby between the willows is a fairy classroom, the camper a space ship.
A storm tumbles up the river. The sky is cement and then navy and then graphite. Kids and dogs wait in tents, giggling at the cozy drama. Aspen leaves rain as the grown ups grab and throw everything in the cars, stake down tents. We drive to a restaurant for dinner. It passes quickly into liquid onyx.
The second night is a few degrees warmer. I fall asleep with the kids after reading two chapters of Little House on Silver Lake. Hours later I wake to a loud rumble. A gallop, I decide. A big animal, I am certain. It rushes past the tent and I make sure I am really awake. I listen. I hear my heart in my ears. I peek out the tiny side window and in perfect foggy silhouette against our neighbor’s camper is a bull moose. He stands as tall as the camper. He stands still to make sure I can really see him. I wake Andy. We watch as he silently slips into the night. It makes a good story the next morning, many times. Tell us again mama!
I tell it again. Again. We squeeze a last few things out of this place and pack up. Say goodbye to friends. I wish we could stay for a few more days. We head toward the highway and our phones ding with missed texts and voicemails. I again have access to shop sales, emails, instagram. I resist it for a while, treasuring the simplicity of not having that access, allowing myself to ease back into those responsibilities. I remember I felt anxious, wound-tight when we left. I remember to feel thankful for this reset, for my softened headspace.
Getting out, looking up and breathing in. A river’s wake, an owl’s song. Campfire warmed faces, pajamaed bike rides. Fish stories, deeper laugh lines each October. New puppies, kids and old dogs. The adults are in the middle somewhere, on this life span, tending to it all, making space for the tending. Making space for space.