Setting forth into a sea of golden grasses, the sun getting low, extending shadows, a breeze beginning to stir. We pass a few quail hunters and wish them well, talking quarry and who’s seen what, where, when. My son stands on the periphery, a boy amongst men in conversation; he has nothing to contribute, yet looking up to us, he’s obviously interested in the tone his father strikes with the two other men. He’s learning without knowing he’s learning, soaking in life. I will likely have a more profound effect on him than he or I will ever know. Nearly 20 years after I lost my father, I’m still discovering the subtle ways in which he helped shape me.
This trip is for the two of us, to talk, to walk together, to share a sunset and a fire, coffee and tea in the morning. I can still hold his hand, though I’m sensing it’s not for much longer; he pulls away a little faster than he used to. It’s not that he doesn’t want to hold my hand, it’s that he no longer needs to, at least not as often. And the sadness dawns on me once again that our time spent holding hands is limited, that there will be fewer and fewer fires at which he curls up in my lap and starts to nod off. He doesn’t know this yet, he feels no sadness for the inevitable shift that will come in our relationship as we age.
So I have to take this time we have, make time for us to have, to make it count, to make it something we will not forget. I’ll bear the discomfort of a 70 pound boy on my lap at dinner beside a fire for the fleeting opportunity to feel him there a little longer; soon it will be another man sitting across from me. It will not be bad, but it will certainly be different.
We stay up late into the night, winds picking up in the pines, temperature dropping sharply. It still makes him a little nervous when I leave into the dark for firewood but he does a good job of playing it off. Eventually retreating to the tent, we couple our bags as best as we can and he uses my arm for a pillow. A long, black, restless night for the both of us, the wind flapping the tent too loudly to let us settle in. My thermometer reads 27 degrees, by 4 AM I’m thankful for his warmth. Tired of waiting, we agree get up in the dark to get an early start. I slither from my bag to boil the water; we share our drinks while looking out the door at the sunrise.
And we’re back home before we know it, back to chores and video games and the various distractions of daily life. But we’ve managed to carve out just a little time for each other again, good time, slow time, time spent purely together. The type of time that we’ll remember when it counts.
Los Padres National Forest, 1/22-1/23. Trekking for an easy overnight out of Lockwood Valley to Pine Springs Campground.