I try not to travel in the spring. Instead of the stale air of the airplane, I try to get out to the mountains, the beach, the garden or to the nearby foothills.
Last weekend my daughter and I (who is 8 years old today), went for a walk. I thought she was strong enough to do the 5 mile hike in the Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve so off we happily went. As we started up the VERY steep hill, her trust began to dissipate. Then the inevitable “I want to go home”.
I definitely did not want to go home. More than that, I did not want her to want to go home.
“Look, a soap plant, the people that were here before us used to dig up this plant and make small brooms”.
She forgot the steepness and we started digging with some twigs. But these plants are not easy to dig up and the soil was not soft. Still, just to dig in the dirt in the quiet. A peaceful and shared task. Finally we gave up digging. Audrey was ready to hike again.
But soon, again, she questioned the purpose of the climb.
“To reach to the top, of course”, I explained.
She seemed unconvinced so we sat down again and I told her the story of George Mallory who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s. I told her how badly he wanted to be at the top and that he loved his beautiful wife so much that he carried her picture in his wallet with him always. I told her how tall the mountain is and how hard it is to breath up that high. I explained that Mt Everest is 27x taller than the edges of Cold Canyon. And then I told her that he died. For a long time noone knew if he ever made it to the top.
She almost cried and looked at me wanting a better ending than that. Fortunately I had one because I recently heard an interview on NPR with the author of a new book about Mallory. I told her that when his body was finally discovered in 1999, his wallet did not have a picture of his wife. “He must have left it on the peak”, I said. “He promised his wife he would do that if he ever made it there”.
Smiling, we continued on.
Near the top she found a rock and we looked over the central valley to the snow capped mountains beyond. “Tell me another story”. So I did.
“John Muir sat some place in the inner coastal range, just like this. He was an adventurer and loved California. When he saw the mountains beyond the flower-filled valley he decided to go there.”
I told her how he walked across the entire valley and into the mountains and how he lived there with the people who lived here before us and the bears and the birds. I told her he sat on a rock like this and said “”This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. ”
We then continued on. With the mountaineers on our minds and the company of the wildflowers- sticky monkey flower, Mariposa lily, California poppy, Indian paintbrush, and others- the hike no longer seemed so hard.
Besides we knew there was a swimming hole near the end.
It was a beautiful day in California. Too beautiful to spend blogging.
Note: A version of this post originally appeared on April 10, 2009 on http://pamelaronald.blogspot.com