July 5, 2008

Amazing Grace: Day Three

Day One
Day Two

We were awakened “late”—7 a.m.—to shouts of “Good morning!” We never knew what to expect, except for the meals, which were the same every day. Being unaware of what was coming next kept us from anticipating or worrying; it kept us in the moment. This is a wonderful tactic for helping those who are planners or worriers. You can’t worry about something if you don’t know about it. The staff was intent on having the families use this time for growth. They did not want us to talk yet about what might happen in the future. By staying in the moment, we were learning new family dynamics.

We were told to have our gear bundled into packs before we ate breakfast. The students were to instruct their parents on proper technique. So Ben began to use his new skills in a position of leadership, a unique dynamic for us. It was great to have him show us the steps, and he was encouraging and helpful. Not once did he express frustration or impatience as we struggled to complete our task.

We quartered our tarps lengthwise and rolled inside it our sleeping bag, blanket, clothing, flashlight and gear kit. While kneeling on the roll, we learned how to strap the pack together with “ribs” of poly cord. A length of 2” wide webbing was rigged through the cord ribs to make straps for our shoulders and waist. We topped the bundle with sleeping pad and jacket; jammed through any shelter sticks; attached cups, bottles, cans and canteens anywhere they fit; and voila! We looked like homeless people.

After breakfast—oatmeal again—we and our packs were trucked up to the top of a small mountain. Everyone who was able would be carrying his own gear to the next camp, about two and a half miles down the mountain to the Springhouse site in Timber Canyon. The only way there was through Timber Gulch, a series of washes, gulleys, and barely-visible trails with boulders, sage, loose rock, and the occasional rattler.

Timber Gulch

Desert flowers

The top half of the trail was steep and rugged, so for the trust exercise the students would be blindfolded first and led down that part of the trail by their parents. The field instructor gathered us at the trailhead.

“Okay,” she called out. “I want all of the students—and Birdie—to put on blindfolds.”

Open mouth. Close mouth. “Okay.” Everyone laughed, and we set about putting on our blindfolds.

Abe led Ben and me, both with packs, while the other parents led their children. Eventually we were the last ones in line, Abe carefully describing the trail as Ben held onto his shoulder and followed. I placed my hand on the back of Ben’s pack but put my weight on a walking stick. I didn’t want to pull Ben over if I lost my balance.

As we listened to Abe’s instructions, we kept quiet and followed. Each of us spoke only a couple of times to ask Abe to wait while we regained contact. There was no conflict at all as we slowly descended the mountain.

Asked about that later in the evening, Ben and I agreed that Abe is the World’s Most Careful Man. We knew without a doubt that he would never put us in danger, so it was pretty easy to trust his directions.

As usual, they never told us why I was the only adult to be blindfolded for that portion of the trek. But we figured out on our own that it was time for me to let Abe take the lead with Ben. I had been the primary parent figure for most of Ben’s life, and he needed his father to take the lead now. This is one example of the many teaching moments they found throughout our stay at the desert camp.

After a lunch of peanut butter on pita, students led their blindfolded parents—except for me—down the second half of the trail. I got carried away with the landscape and the freedom and wandered off-trail here and there. A bit in front of Ben and Abe, I was approaching a couple of boulders when I heard the sharp buzz of a rattlesnake about three feet away. I hit the brakes, called out “Snake!” and backed up. The instructor approached and stood about six feet away to guide the family teams away from the snake’s hiding place. Afterward, he came to me and said quietly, “Your son can’t lead you if you aren’t behind him.” Yikes. I can be so oblivious sometimes. I quickly jumped into line again, and Ben led the entire group into camp.

A new leader in the family

Springhouse was located in a beautiful canyon filled with tall grass and a cluster of cottonwood trees. A spring bubbled out of the ground in the ruins of an old stone house under one of the trees. Frame tents were spread through the grass, and ours was at the southern end. So were the cows.

Springhouse camp at Timber Canyon

Cows are fine. But fresh cowpies in our site are not. Three times that evening we herded about fifty cows into a side canyon. Each time they returned. As the night wore on, more cattle appeared. Apparently the ranchers were releasing their beef cattle into the canyons for the summer, where they would range higher and higher for the cool air and good grass.

Timber Canyon cows by our tent

By nightfall there were probably a hundred or so in the meadow near our tent. And they talked. Apparently cows don’t just moo. There were bulls too, and they brayed, honked, growled and rumbled as they sorted out the ladies and their calves. It was ridiculous. The mother of one of the campers had to push a cow’s head out of her tent with her bare foot on the cow’s nose. Cow kung fu. At about 3:00 in the morning, one of the instructors had had enough. We watched him running in flipflops after the herd, shouting and waving his hiking stick. He herded them through the camp and up the northern end of the canyon, where the cattle stayed. Apparently there is good grass up there too.

Most of us managed to return to sleep for a couple of more hours. After that long hike, it wasn’t too difficult to get back to sleep. We would awaken for another new experience for the families.

Next: Day Four


Me Online said...

What an amazing journey! As someone who has a challenging son of my own, I can really appreciate the lessons learned. (Wish you could learn those lessons in a nice hotel though!) Thanks for sharing the pictures and descriptive narrative. Can't wait for the next installment. Sounds like Ben's really on his way.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an important lesson, to step off and let the other parent lead. As moms, we tend to lead and it's so easy for the dads to get set aside.

I'm glad this experience is giving your family new perspective and new memories!

(I'd be freaking about the snakes and cows though!)

David said...

I am so loving reading this.

"..and voila! We looked like homeless people."

I laughed out loud.

Greg said...

OMG, cows to the left, cows to the right. What an experience...glad you heard that snake in time!