Snow falls from the sky, the sun presses through densely congregated clouds. Such a beautiful contradiction in our desert landscape. Sharing a chocolate dipped cone on this cold afternoon, my four year old son Joel sits across from me patiently and deliberately enjoying every bite of the frozen treat promised him the day before. Outside the window of the ice-cream shop, delicate flakes are momentarily suspended, seemingly aware that this moment will never come again, the only magical display these intricately formed crystalline arrangements will perform. I am reminded of the fragility of time, the importance of being intentional on this earth with my family. I need these reminders constantly, because I frequently fail.
My wife and daughter are away in Missouri for some much needed time with extended family, leaving me and Joel with a healthy measure of father-son time. We had no plans, nothing on the agenda, just time for us to use as we saw fit. What would we do to avoid squandering it? I saw a break in the clouds for just a second, catching a glimpse of the Organ mountains in the distance, blanketed in a fresh layer of snow.
Our answer came. Today we were going on a hike. No overthinking, sorting of gear, extensive planning, or lofty goals. A simple walk and a modest adventure together on a snowy afternoon. We grab our coats, throw a few essentials into the ruck and head east for the trailhead.
My running escapades in the early hours of the morning before work are not lost on Joel, he knows where I go when everyone is asleep. It is my responsibility to share this with Joel and feed the curiosity rising up inside him of the outdoors. As soon as I put the car in park his mitten clad hands fumble with the buckle to his seatbelt. I can sense his excitement growing as I am slow to rise out of the car with our things. Swinging the pack over my shoulders, Joel takes off up ahead of me. I know he won't be able to maintain the pace he's established, but I let him discover this on his own. No more than an eight of a mile into the start of our 4 mile hike does he show the first signs of fatigue. He reaches up to me and says, "Dad, hold me", snot dripping down onto his upwardly curved tongue. I calmly instruct him that I will not be carrying him. This isn't warmly received and requires careful convincing and mindful words on my part to restore his fragile confidence.
We both finally fall into a more mutualistic pace, slowing down to enjoy the silence and the geological details that encompass us. I deliberately reduce my steps to not overwhelm him on the small climbs.
Cresting a small incline, the small canyon well ahead of us comes into view, hopefully we can reach it. Out of habit I meander along the trail within the imaginary confines of the trails edge, Joel on the other hand has taken to blazing his own steps through the snow, weaving in and out of the cactus buried under formless white mounds. I encourage him to stick closer to me but he insists on taking a different path along our journey.
Clouds erase away the familiar sights of this land, typically blown out in an excessive luminary display of the Sun's power. The monochromatic quality of light is easy on our eyes, we examine intricate details of the landscape both far and near, with clarity and truth. It really does seem magical on this day.
I sensed my son's pace begin to waver. Joel was about to hit the wall. He plopped right down along the trail face first into the snow. I knew there was a chance he would sandbag on me, but I didn't think that moment would come so soon.
Carefully selected words lift his spirit and we carry on, only this time his small hand held in mine. Onward.
As we near the small water feature at the end of the slot canyon, Joel can sense we are close, his pace quickens with anticipation. The snow deepens along the walls of the canyon and there are small obstacles now to navigate. I turn around every minute or so to check on his progress through the small canyon and catch him straddling a snow covered log.
We reached our "destination" and decidedly stop to rest and play in the snow for a few minutes. We share the area briefly with a small group, but they soon leave and we have the place to ourselves. It is an intimate wintery nook cut out in the rock with several oak trees tucked away along the perimeter.
Heading out of the garage before we left on our hike I reached into a bin and grabbed my small solo esbit stove and mug for a spot of hot chocolate, with a little forethought, I knew the small treat would be a highlight for Joel on our hike. A few minutes pass and we have boiling water for our sugary drink. Joel can barely contain himself with excitement and takes to warming himself with a strong serving of cocoa. Sometimes it is the small things, the simple things.
The temperature begins to fall quickly as the 5 o'clock hour approaches. Tidying up the contents of my pack and shaking out the snow from my sit pad, we load up and begin to head back down the trail before nightfall sets in. One last time, we take in the sights of the rock and ice knowing that this wintery world will depart as quickly as it arrived.
Joel put all he had into the approach hike and I was proud of him. With limited daylight left, I hoist him up onto my shoulders for the return hike. Faint orange, pink, red, and blue hues can be faintly made out behind the veil of gray as the sun nears the distant horizon. There was a wonderful display of light at work and we were properly situated in the right place at the right time to appreciate the moment.
This snowy afternoon with my son was well spent, not squandered, purposeful, and rewarding. I can't wait for the next one.