Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Alive

On the way to the lake, I was a little grouchy.  I was almost sure that I wouldn't be able to get in after barely being able to dunk a toe the day before and already disappointed in my failure. Coach joined Lily and I for our third annual first day of school eve swim that from here on out shall be known as the Back to School Plunge.  The two of them went straight to the pier to jump in at Lily's urging.  She has faith in herself and this ritual whether or not Lake Michigan cooperates.  Before long they were in and then out shivering on the wet stone. Then in and then out.

I am not a leaper.  I lack blind trust and shy away from loss of control.  I have to resist holding too tight to the notion that where I am is better than where I may go.  I have to talk myself out of safety and predictability and into potential and possibility.  So I started to wade in slowly, but surely.  The sharp rocks were harder to handle than the bone numbing water temps.  It's funny how one pain can mitigate another.  I'm pretty sure that's how so many of us end up in therapy at one point or another in our lives.

Before long, Lily was beside me and Coach was getting the camera because he didn't think I'd muster the mettle or the nerve either.  She said to me, "Mom, if you just go in to here (thighs), then it's going to be a good year."  I smiled in my heart because it was clear to me that she gets this.  This is special. It's not just about being's about releasing the heaviness.  Its not just about getting's about feeling purified.  It's not just about overcoming the numbness in my digits and my's about feeling everything.

As I briefly stalled, she encouraged me, "Just think of rainbows and butterflies."  It wasn't lost on me that I used those very things to describe her countenance earlier in the day.  Universe...let me catch my breath please, I imploredI studied her profile while she looked up at the clouds for a telltale formation.  One year there were angel wings, another year an angel that became a dove before our eyes.  There weren't many clouds, but then she saw it.  It was a heart with wings she decided very satisfied...only to me it was a bird.  A white bird in the blue sky so almost a bluebird and I went under.

When I came up I was exhilarated and proud and a tad stunned.  On the beach, I watched them back on the pier jumping off.  Jumping in.  I thought that next year I'm going to do that too.  I want to do that.  I need to do it.

Before long I was drawn to the lake again.  Lily met me on my way out to the hazy horizon and decided we needed to dive in together.  We did.  It was just as rousing.  "Again!" she spirited.  Again we went under bracing against the cold and toward feeling alive.

Road Trip 2015 - YNP Part III

Saturday was another bright and early Montana morning.  Actually, it was still pitch black dark when we woke at 5 o'clock, and forty frigid degrees out.  As we drove toward the stables, the sun woke and the fog dissipated.  It was an hour and a half drive. The kids slept while Coach and I spotted bison and big antlered elk alongside the road in the park.  Despite the frequency with which it happens, spotting wildlife never got old.

Fog over the Hayden River Valley.

We had reserves for a 7:45 back country trail ride. We were all excited to enjoy the quiet morning hours in the park on horseback.  I recommend getting to the park early and spending a good 6 hour stretch there, leaving during the heat and congestion of the afternoon, and coming back in the evening when the crowds thin out, the sun starts to descend and the wild life wakes up.  Before and after peak hours, it feels more sacred and pristine.

Saddled up.

In cue.

Lily greets Casino.

This is old hat for her.

Mike meets Big Thunder.

Ted was paired up with Pugsley. 

We nicknamed him Pigsley soon after we started out.

Ready to ride.

The ride was leisurely, much to the kids' dismay, but I have to say that I appreciated the lolling gait.  There were some steep and hairy spots near Cascade Canyon so speed would have quite literally put me over the edge.  The most excitement of the ride was caused by a lone bison who we happened upon in Jenna's Meadow.  He kept an eye on us while we kept many eyes on him without incident.  Our guides, Amy and Casey, were full of stories, knowledge (Google Old Man's Beard, but don't eat it unless stranded and starving), and a genuine love for this majestic park.  They tried to talk the kids into returning for a summer job one day.  I'd support that.

Initially we booked a half day ride, but due to time constraints we switched it to an hour.  That was a good thing too because by 9:00, things were heating up and we were ready to shed some layers.  The temperatures rose 25 degrees in an hour and a half.  

We stopped off at Tower Falls and hiked down to the banks of the Yellowstone River into which Tower Creek flows.  

The fall plunges 132 feet and gets its name from the rock pinnacles on top of the fall.

The river is named for the yellow colored sandstone bluffs surrounding it.

As we hiked down behind the kids, we spotted a lone bull in a meadow.

Too close for comfort, Mike kept watch and prepared to fly down the bluff if the bison started to charge  come closer.

Yellowstone River panorama.

Calcite Springs Panorama.

Also in the Tower-Roosevelt area is this lookout that features volcanic rock formations that resemble fence posts or soldiers at attention.
The basalt columns are so orderly that they appear precisely measured and carefully carved.

Our last stop at YNP for the day was Mammoth Hot Springs.  We arrived close to 2:00 and it was pushing 90 degrees so we only explored the sulfur smelling, heat emanating travertine terraces for about an hour.  Although this was a must see in many guide books, we just didn't love it, but I'm also not sure how much that review was affected by the fact we hadn't eaten all day, and were already hot and sweaty. 

The hill was created over thousands of years by the deposits left by the cooling of hot spring water.

The volcanic heat source for the springs remains a mystery.

The algae that thrives in hot pools is responsible for the reds, browns, yellows and greens.

Despite warnings of an extremely thin crust, we did see people venture off the boardwalks with selfie sticks trying to get a better photo.  In one one...asinine.

In one word...otherworldly.

We left the park and arrived at the Yellowstone Grill just before closing.  It's only open for breakfast and lunch, which is too bad because it's a great place for fast, fresh food.  We ordered sandwiches and burritos, and I loved my Gardiner Special. 

No food was gone too fast, but I give you this mural instead.

Souvenir shopping. Boy and bucket hat.  Teddy at Teddy's.

The best place for information and souvenirs was The National Park Gift Shop.  They informed us about wildlife sightings and had all things Yellowstone for sale.

Once fed, we decided we needed to cool off, and knew just the place.  Theron pointed out a local swim spot on The Yellowstone River when we were rafting the day before so to the river we went.  Local and swim are two important words when on vacation. 

Lily was the first one in the cool, refreshing water, which comes as zero surprise.

She quickly made a canine companion - also no surprise.  There were more dogs swimming than people and she was quite smitten with that fact.

As far as her pal Romeo was concerned, Lily was Juliet he so adored her for throwing him sticks for 2 hours straight.

Eventually Ted waded in.  Mike and I followed and it was heavenly: the water, the view, the chill beach vibe.

I'm pretty sure even our resident teenager was speechless and smiling.  Or perhaps, squinting in this shot.

This one's called: And I Should Complain?

No complaints on my part.  After cooling off, I sipped my chardonnay and spent some time with my friend Mary.  I'm pretty sure there were several "universe" moments in the 2 hours we spent at the river.

We stayed until 6:30, which meant that our initial plan to head to the Lamar River Valley (1 1/2 hours away before sundown) had to be scrapped.  We decided that we were having too much fun too get back in the car and drive across the park at the prospect of seeing wolves and bear.  I think it was a wise choice, but it was still a difficult one.  

Instead we cleaned up and went back into Gardiner for dinner on our last night.  We ate at the Iron Horse Bar and Grill on the patio overlooking the Yellowstone River.  A for ambiance and the food was decent too.  I regret ordering pork instead of elk or bison, but something inside me just could not order the beasts I had admired in the wild over the past few days.

We all slept like babies that night.  Full in every way.  We woke on Sunday to another sublime Montana morning: crisp, clear, cerulean.  We were sad to go and a little bit dreading the drive home, but Mike and I realized that the pace we had sustained over the past 3 days would not be possible on a fourth.  Go big or go home, so we went home.  But before we got on the road, we took these family selfies and I think that they capture the connection we felt with one another and this place.

The trip was really beyond words although in these three entries, I've conjured up quite a few.  It was beyond pictures too, but it's true that we took many.  That about wraps up my job as family historian for Road Trip 2015.  There will be another road trip, but Ted was quick to lobby for a week at Webb Lake next year.  He was convincing, and smartly made his pitch somewhere between Fargo and Milwaukee, which is to say we were a captive and carphobic audience. They had the week we wanted and only that week so we sent the check and now our road trip next summer will not take us out of state bounds.  I'm good with that...for now.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

two day pass

this was the last weekend of summer vacation.
the last hurrah.
freedom's final performance.
to this stretch of days we say bravo, but there won't be an encore.
although there should be.
ted got in lots of golf...finally.
friday with his uncle and sunday with grandma, grandpa and dad.
there was a pizza night with friends to talk about school year carpooling.
funny how denial kept every one of us from mentioning it.
there was a record breaking back to school shopping trip for teddy and grandpa.
lily and i purchased a single birthday gift before we got the call to meet the boys for lunch.
that's textbook efficiency.
there were baby backs for saturday dinner with jess, and beer can chicken on grandma and grandpa's deck on sunday.
there was a walk through the park, a matinee and a day at the beach.
as far as weekends go...i give this one a 10.
last night at the end of our weekend, we ate dinner early and curled up to read before bed.
as far as transitions go...i give us a 9.5.
not bad.

1. smoky, smothered shore.
2. the frigid lake is no obstacle for this water warrior. (pose inspired by the mockingjay trailer we saw the day before.)
3. beachy bouquet.
4. "now dad, the way you get in is you just get in."
5. skein in end of summer sky.
6. they're in this together.
7. you
8. sneaky
9. dad!

sayonara summer.

Without Words

I'm not saying anything because I'm feeling.
Well, maybe just a few words.
My two on another first day.
Teddy a freshman in high school.
I watched a news clip of last year's inaugural day this morning.
It's a tradition that the high schoolers walk the red carpet to the applause of their teachers while the band plays.
They all look a little uncomfortable by the fanfare freshman and seniors alike.
But I believe that they must feel some sort of fire in their bellies at that parade.
I get teary every year watching it.
This year I sobbed imagining Teddy's first walk down the runway.
It's just so ceremonious that it speaks straight to my sentimentality.
And that's what I have to do this year...imagine it.
Unless, that is, he takes his sister's suggestion and breaks out in the Whip/ Nae Nae.
If he does that, he'll likely make the 6 o'clock broadcast.
He was a little short and quiet this morning.
Equal parts nerves for all things new and keening over those lost.
Me too.
She woke all rainbows and butterflies and was sweet as pie.
Lily's first day as a sixth grader began with her usual smile.
Make no mistake, she's not happy to see summer end, but there is excitement in wearing the first day outfit she picked out with Grandma and Grandpa, in seeing who is in her classes and meeting new teachers.
She sent me an encouraging text on her way to school.
As much as I try to mask it, she knows how I rue endings.
But already the gentle shift to beginnings has begun.
Our standing first day of school date is to swim in the lake at gloaming.
Every year something magical happens.
Whether it's dove shaped clouds or a cluster of hummingbirds, we stand there awed and humbled by it all, and certainly grateful for a fresh, cleansing start.

Monday, August 31, 2015

On My Mind Monday

Photographs economize the truth: they are always moments more or less illusorily abducted from time's continuum.

Sally Mann
Hold Still

Today was the last day of summer vacation.  We spent the day at the beach simultaneously celebrating and lamenting.  This summer was a blink, a flash, a flutter.  The shore was shrouded in fog when we arrived and the air still waiting to warm up.  It never really did.  Lake Michigan was a balmy 62 degrees, but that didn't stop my little water sprite.  She was the first one in and the last one out aka FILO.  That's pure chutzpah as far as I'm concerned.  I sat with my toes dug deep into the warm sand reading my book and taking pictures because the truth is life is short and the photographs help me connect the dots that occur in endless perpetuity.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - YNP Part II

After sleeping past the sunrise and preparing what my dad used to call "a fat boy" breakfast, we spent the rest of Friday in one river or another.  We had reservations for a rafting trip at 10 o'clock that we were late for due to the paving project on the two lane highway right in front of our cabin.  The highway that is the sole route to anywhere we needed or wanted to be, and it seemed to coincide with our 72 hour stay.  Nonetheless, the pilot car was prompt, and the good people of Montana patient.

She chose to sleep on the couch outside our room instead of the room next door.  And it was a comfy couch.

Ellie and Alice everywhere, always and forever.

We arrived at Montana Whitewater Rafting, which I cannot recommend highly enough, and signed every disclaimer under the sun before getting geared up (life vests, helmets, booties).  I was a little nerved up.  I only needed to hear, "The worst thing that can happen to you is you can die," once to feel nervous, and I'm pretty sure it was said at least 3 times.  The rest of my family showed only signs of excitement.

I felt much more at ease after meeting Theron (The-ron) who was our river guide.  I'm of the belief that he could navigate that Yellowstone River in his sleep.  Which is to say that I felt like we were in good, capable hands.  He also made the trip tons of fun with his stories, stunts and jokes.  After 8 miles and 2 1/2 hours, each one of us was soaked, but all 8 of us managed to stay in the raft.  I most enjoyed the bald eagle and the herd of elk we saw, while the kids raved about surfing the Giant twice, riding bull and playing rodeo. Hands down it was the most popular part of the trip for all 4 of us.

The flotilla sets out down the river.

Forward 2.  Forward 2 more.  Forward 3. 

Theron at the stern. 

Teddy riding bull at the bow.

 Our first taste of rapids.

 Big water.

Big, refreshing water!

 Dig! Dig!

Cartwheeling off a large boulder.

 Now Miss Bit is at the bow.

 And fearlessly loving it I might add.

  I think we have an eddy here otherwise known as THE Giant!

I love the joy on Lily's face in this one.

 Lean in!  The Giant is not going to win.

 Hydraulics are killer!

 We're all wet, happy and in the boat after surfing The Giant not once, but twice.

 Heading below.

All paddle salute!

After rafting, we decided to check out nearby Chico Hot Springs.  Nearby out there means 30 miles or so.  We weren't really sure what we were getting ourselves into, but it turned out to be a resort that has hot spring fed swimming pools.  Given the commercial feel of it and the fact that it was hovering near 90 degrees, we visited the saloon for drinks and appetizers and then made our way back to YNP to swim in the Boiling River.  That was a wise choice.  Do not leave the park without swimming here preferably during the golden hour.  It's magic.  I promise.

Happy hour!

Here I am happy for air conditioning and an icy margarita.  He is happy for chicken wings.

It is here where the very chilly mountain fed Gardner River is warmed by the steamy run-off from Mammoth Hot Springs.  It is one of the only places to swim in YNP and another one of the highlights of our trip.  We arrived just before 7 o'clock and passed the ranger on the trek out who came to close the swim hole at 9 o'clock.  It was the perfect place to watch day turn into night, to cool off or warm up depending on your position, and to spend more time in YNP.

Next to this placard was a sign suggesting we refrain from all sorts of activities such as submerging our heads in the river.  Of course, we didn't read it until we were leaving.  Too late!

Racing to the rock.  Everything is a competition.

Looks like Miss Bit won this time.

Up river.  

A picture of Mammoth Hot Springs where the water reaches temperatures of 163 degrees.  The run-off is what creates the hot, sometimes near boiling pockets in the river, hence The Boiling River.

More cumbersome than the variations of hot and cold are the many sharp and slippery rocks in the river bed.

Not for the tender footed.

Lily had such fun allowing herself to be carried down the cold river by the very strong current and then beating her way back up sometimes with her dad's help.

Ted preferred to float in the warm pockets.

Over time, swimmers build ledges to lounge on (or to keep from being carried away) with the bigger rocks.

It was so peaceful despite the fact we were not alone.  There were probably 50 people along the river any given time.  The next day as we passed, we saw a small herd of elk standing in the river much closer than 100 yards from the swimmers.  No thank you.

The gloaming at The Boiling River.

We made a quick stop at the Gardiner Market for dinner: snacks and ice cream.  One thing I want to add is that everything (groceries, sandwiches in the park, restaurants, activities) is fairly priced.  We expected to spend much more than we did, and we didn't want for anything.  The entertainment for the rest of the evening was Ted's Barack Obama impersonation, and that folks was free.  After the rest of my family was finally dry and tucked in, I stepped outside in the cool mountain air to hear the elk bugling a little longer and to gaze at the bright, starry sky from the bench overlooking The Paradise Valley. Before long, Lily joined me.  My girl was also too jazzed and awed to sleep so we spent some time in silence taking in the dreamy moonlight valley, sitting with the wild vastness around us, and counting our many blessings. I'm convinced that those 20 minutes extended my life by 2 years.