Jack is growing up.
A solid three and half now, his spot in the kid carrier backpack has been taken by his little brother and it is time for him to go from occasional to full time walker on hikes. The transition hasn’t been easy and there have been a lot of “carry me” requests along the way. So, last weekend I took the opportunity of Angie and Henry being booked on a play date to throw Jack in the deep end and take a hike with no kid carrier in tow.
After a little bit of thinking something else jumped into my head: Since Jack is already going to be doing something hard why don’t we also try to overwrite his one bad outdoors memory? Two birds, one stone.
Of course I am talking about the great poop-splosion of 2017, when a disastrous apple fritter was turned into vile excrement that soaked Jack, I, and the kid carrier about a mile from the car. This was, by a very large margin, the funniest thing that has ever happened to me outdoors. It was also a very bad moment for Mr. Jack and taking the time to right that particular piece of bad parenting has been high on my list. And so, we were off to Fossil.
Things started off as usual– not even 10 steps down the trail Jack decided that he needed the jacket he had just told me he did not want.
And with that crisis averted, we got started for real.
It is amazing how slow walking makes the walk feel longer. The relatively short section before the trail drops down to the water, which is normally over in a blink, stretched on and on. Before too long I made the mistake of mentioning a snack and Jack decided that was a good moment to take a break.
This was as good an excuse as any to break out the fly rod. Jack was a good sport, letting me take more than my fair share of casts. Or maybe he was just excited for more Captain Crunch time.
I always forget how hard walking on river rocks is for the little ones– the rocks that adults step over are tiny scrambles for a three year old. The trail gets considerably more rocky for the last half, but Jack was pretty darn tough all things considered. Finally, we made it.
And after taking some time to complain about the high collar on his jacket, Jack started doing his best Lesser-Places-Look-Into-The-Distance impression.
He needed a good break here, so I decided to throw a line in the water while he attacked the last crumbs of his Captain Crunch. This pool is notoriously hard to fish, with complicated currents and deep drop offs, so I was as surprised when a good sized chub attacked my nymph.
Sooner than we probably should of Jack and I set off back towards the car. Slowly but surely we made our way back despite the many obstacles.
Of course we had to take a second and return to the scene of the crime from last year. Beside the pool that had been such a disaster for us a year ago Jack sat down. Nearly done with his first real hike he cracked a big kid smile that said the toddler days are over.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, how to ebbs and how it flows. Life feels fast right now. Unbearably, unbreakably fast, and I’d like to know why.
People say nature helps them slow down but I’ve never found this to be true. For me nature moves at whatever pace I bring to it. If I come feeling slow, I can look at a creek as a whole and see its soft repetitive patterns. If I come feeling fast I am consumed in the frenetic motion of each tiny piece of water. I see in it what I want to see.
But that doesn’t mean nature is disconnected from how I perceive change. Because they are near by I tend to take the same hikes and fish the same pools again and again. These places (generally) don’t change much, but I sure do. Over time these places become a fixed canvas that highlights the the small, gradual changes that get lost in the day to day fray. Nature is a lot of things to a lot of people. One of them is a time machine that reminds you how different you are from your last visit.
Or to put it more simply: A year ago a toddler was carried into Fossil Creek. This week a kid hiked out.
I couldn’t be prouder.
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Max Wilson is a born and raised Arizonan with a love for all that is beautiful and strange about the Southwest. He studied at Arizona State University, where he received his PhD in ecology. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.