06 Aug 2012, Posted by elizabeth in Blog, 14 Comments.
A few months ago, while taking Abra on a walk during one of the first scorching afternoons of the season, I found myself pausing at the corner of “Summer” and “Stop.” With a too-busy summer already staring down at me before it had even properly started, I took this as a sign that someway, somehow, I needed to find a way to slow down the pace of my life. This is not how things unfolded. I’ve often felt, over the past two months, that I was a passenger on a runaway train, barreling toward August, and now that it’s here I find myself suddenly busy again, the open swaths of blank space I carefully protected on my calendar being slowly nibbled away, the obligations mounting again.
Everywhere there are reminders that things are changing, that the sand is slipping through the hourglass. Just this morning, when I went to make a cup of coffee at my customary 6 am, I noticed that, for the first time in months, the streetlamps were still illuminated. This is the part of the summer, the beginning of the end, where I start to lament the picnics I never went on, the blueberry pie I never made, the beach books I never read. This sense of urgency is compounded by the fact that Abra is starting preschool next week, and while it is on a very part-time basis, the days with her at home with me 24/7 are literally numbered. All of this leaves me struggling with a desperate feeling of having squandered my time.
The world never stops spinning, and it’s our responsibility to claim the moments of respite despite it all. After reading Katrina Kenison’s post about making the most of these waning days of summer, Maikael and I were inspired to plan a little field trip last Friday. We realized it had been almost a year since we had made it up to the Sandia Mountains, practically in our own backyard, for a walk amongst the pine trees, the fields of wildflowers, the quaking aspens. Given Abra’s penchant for the outdoors, this fact is a crying shame.
I am always struck by the realization that the Sandias feel like another world within our own city. It is 20 to 30 degrees cooler at the top of the mountains, the vegetation a startling green, and the only thing that cuts through the silence is the trill of unseen birds, the whirr of foreign bugs, and the murmurs of faraway hikers. After taking the tram to the top, where Abra pressed her face against the air vent with a screened view to thousands of feet below and cried, “cold,” we set off on a short hike to the Kiwanis Cabin, a rustic stone structure that was built by the Civilian Conversation Corps in the 1930s. I have walked this well-traveled trail many times before without much thought. It is fast and easy to traverse; generally we would pick a more challenging route, but this seems like Abra’s speed.
Abra immediately runs ahead of us, fixating on a patch of purple flowers that rest at the edge of the trail. She picks a few, taking a moment to sniff each one, before we manage to corral her back on the path. We stop every few feet to look at the various wonders that litter the trail beneath our feet – sticks in varying diameters, fallen leaves, pine cones, stones. Abra scales the boulders that jut out of the earth with the fortitude of a rock climber, declaring them “steps.” Nearly everyone who had ridden up with us on the tram quickly passes by, weaving their way around us on the narrow path.
“C’mon, Abra,” I find myself saying over and over again, exasperated, when she wanders off the path to pick another sprig of Indian paintbrush, another handful of bluebells, or summit another boulder. But what, really, is the rush? At one point on the trail we stop when Abra notices a small well of water carved into a massive hunk of smooth stone. She dips the petals of the flowers into the muddy water, pronouncing it a “paintbrush.” Then she dunks the bristly tip of a pine cone in, coloring her legs brown with “nail polish.” Soon the pine cone transforms itself into a spoon. “I’m making sauce, Mama!” While we wait for her to lose interest an older couple bounds down the path with two dogs on leashes, which delight Abra. After chatting for a few minutes and observing Abra hard at work on her sauce they say, “This is how it is with kids. You walk for a few minutes, and then you stop for a long time.” Their own boys, they explain, had spent countless hours playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures in cool mountain streams.
I was reminded, as I often am in these moments, how small Abra’s world is. She does not care that there is a stone cabin up ahead that we are trying to make it to by lunch, or that we are standing on the precipice of a mountain. Abra is only concerned with the very tiny wonders that are there for discovery right at her feet. I catch a glimpse of her standing at the edge of the world in her father’s arms, gazing out at the vast tracts of arid land that stretch into the horizon, but all I can see is the wilting flowers dangling from her sweaty palm and the ashen mud that has dried on her shins. For a fleeting minute I see the world as she does.
When we stop for lunch just before reaching the cabin she is too distracted to sit down and eat. Instead, she spends the time walking up and down the uneven stone steps, running her chocolaty fingers over a laminated sign, and rattling dried cranberries inside of a red cup. She sits in a nest of prickly pine needles. She falls and scrapes her knee and pays no mind to the scarlet blushing her skin. I have rarely seen her happier.
On the return walk I strap Abra to my back and she quickly falls asleep, her head nestled soft and heavy between the valley of my shoulder blades, her lime green hat askance. We pass a long line of children that snake down the trail, who “ooh” and “aah” over Abra in the way that older children always seem to do with younger kids. They call themselves “The Children’s Adventure Company,” and I can’t help but think that, someday, that’s just the kind of thing Abra would love to be a part of.
It has taken us three hours to walk three miles, and although we are moving at a brisker pace, not stopping once to pick a daisy, the return trip seems twice as long as the hike to the cabin. While it might have something to do with having a 23-pound toddler pressing into me, I think it has more to do with the fact that I am not really taking any of it in. I am traversing this terrain in the way that I move through my life all too often: absentmindedly placing one foot in front of the other, without much thought to my surroundings.
Passing over this familiar territory again I mentally calculate just how far Abra had walked on her own before being asked to be carried (almost a mile). Normally one to walk a few steps before throwing her hands skyward in the international gesture for “pick me up,” it dawned on me that, here, walking didn’t feel like work. She was so absorbed in the joy of small discoveries that she hadn’t realized how far she had walked down the path.
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