It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted, but I had to take a break from virtual reality following the election. And I’m through with talking politics for a while, even though my ClustrMap lit up like fireflies in Cades Cove when I did—thanks and welcome to any new readers still sticking around. Anyway, back to more familiar terrain for a word or two . . .
So I took the boys to the mountains a couple of Sundays ago for a dayhike to the summit of Tray Mountain on the A.T. This being the time of year when Atlanta television and radio stations sound the Pavlovian bell of “peak fall color” predictions, the mountains were crowded with Sunday drivers making obligatory visits, and we sat in traffic for a good twenty minutes trying to get through Helen’s faux-Bavarian sprawl on the last day of Oktoberfest. Had I been thinking more clearly in planning our day, I would have taken us somewhere else. But there we were.
The hike is an easy one, maybe a little more than a mile from the high point on F.S. 79, and the summit is dramatic enough, an open crest of rock, knuckled like an alligator’s back, affording some nice views in places over the surrounding rhododendron tangles. We stayed up there for almost two hours doing nothing. Doing everything.
Will, who had amassed a collection of rocks on the hike up, sat down and pulled out his treasured science book from his backpack to try to identify them. His 1st grade textbook wasn’t much help, so I got called into service and promptly disappointed him with the information that 1) every single one was some sort of schist and that 2) metamorphic rocks don’t contain fossils (of course, that didn’t stop him from trying to load twenty pounds’ worth into his bookbag for the hike out). Meanwhile Andrew scrambled around in the rhododendron, bouldered on a little cliff face on the side of the summit block, made a collection of pretty leaves (demanding my personal inspection and approval for each one). After a while, Will pulled out a little notecard journal to draw the summit and take notes—”Dad, how do you spell metamorphic?”—while Andrew moved on to searching for insects and I tried (and failed) to doze in the sun. Both boys were disappointed when I said it was time to go.
Will’s only seen me work in my own naturalist journal a time or two (I’m usually much too busy when the kids are around), so I was surprised (and inordinately pleased) to see him take to it like this.
Have CamelBak, will bash through rhododendron
There were, unsurprisingly, a lot of people out on a perfect afternoon. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that 30 people visited the summit in the time that we were there, in pairs, in foursomes, in entire three generation extended families out hiking around. But here’s the thing I keep thinking about: no one else stayed there at the summit for more than about ten minutes. True, a few were hiking through to other destinations, but most turned around and headed back to the car after snapping a few pictures, maybe eating a granola bar. I suppose I should be grateful, as the place would have been crowded had everyone lingered as long as we did, but the afternoon reminded me how difficult it can be for us adults to kick off frontcountry restlessness. I guess I’m more at home in the mountains than most, but I can’t claim to reach the total here-and-nowness of my kids, at least not without having been out for a few days at a stretch. Good for them.
To the other parents of young kids we saw that afternoon, to those we’ll see in the future, slow down and stay awhile. Let them feel at home, let the mountains feel like home and not just a place to visit. Bring a book if you have to, or a picnic, but sit still and turn them loose. And watch them grow.