The trail to the pebbly beach was a short distance, maybe 400 yards at most. It was a skinny dirt path weaving flatly through pines and aspens, perceived by serious hikers as an uneventful start to greater adventures that awaited miles and miles into the mountains.
Cole was four and Hanna was almost three, and it wasn’t unusual for the three of us—mom and kids—to spend time in the woods. But it was the first time we each donned backpacks and planned a destination hike for a creekside picnic.
Twenty feet into the start, we had already stopped several times.
Cole: “Mom, what’s that?”
Cole: “How do they stay on top of the water?”
“I think it’s something to do with their feet. I don’t really know.”
“Yes, isn’t she pretty?”
Hanna: “Are there boy ladybugs?”
Hanna: “Let’s find one.”
I suggested we move along so we could get to our lunch site and both of them helpfully marched a few more feet.
“That’s Indian paintbrush. Don’t pick them.”
Hanna: “For you, mama.”
“You’re not supposed to pick them, sweetheart. Let other people enjoy them.”
Cole: “Hanna, you killed them!”
Hanna: Lips tremble, eyes moisten.
“It’s okay this time. Thank you.”
“Yep, looks like dog poop.”
Cole: “Bears have berries in their poop.”
“I don’t see any berries. Instead of smashing it with a stick, maybe scoot it off the trail.”
I was close to scooting the kids along when I stopped myself. There was no need to hurry. Nothing was stomping its feet, waiting impatiently for us by the creek.
The remaining 45 minutes that it took for us to open up our sack lunches were 45 minutes of childhood bliss. Everything under the bright sun was presented for scrutiny and discussion. I was humiliated by the number of times that I said, “I don’t know.”
What kind of butterfly is that? What’s fungus? Why is there stinging nettle? What makes it sting?
How many flowers are there? What kind of rock is this? Why is there a pop can on the ground? Has that waterfall been here forever?
It was one of those moments in my life that would be placed softly glowing in my emotional memory archives, to remember the pure wonder in my children’s eyes, the excitement of first sight, and the care taken to find just the right stone for skipping.
We move too fast, generally speaking. I decided then that I wanted my life to be a slow adventure, unfolding naturally without my predetermined sense of where I ought to be along this path.
The three of us ended our day with a lazy ramble back to the trailhead, choosing among many destinations for our next picnic: Butterfly Cove? Brook Trout Shallows? The Cold Plunge? We would visit all of them and more over the years.
I’ve had intermittent success at choosing a life of slow adventures, and while the dizzying pace of some chapters has created a blur, those slow moments are the natural alchemy that holds everything together.