Sometimes I look at you and I can’t believe you were a glimmer in our eyes six years ago (well, you were a glimmer and a tiny peanut at that point). You are so completely breath-taking and self-possessed, it’s hard to believe you didn’t spring fully-formed and perfect from inside a cabbage leaf.
You are fearless. You should retain that; it will come in handy later. We had to remind you of that bravery when we recently tried downhill skiing again–rather, you had to remind yourself. Once that confidence returned, you simply pointed your skis down the hill and said, “Okay, where do you want me to turn?” You were a bit terrifying to watch, but you were nearly always in control. Then you went up on the lift by yourself! Okay, you don’t have to be THAT big.
You have the world’s most charming little voice. Sometimes I wish you knew how to turn it off, but I love its word-choice mistakes as well as its mispronunciations and impediments.
You are learning to read. Learning to read seems like a miracle to me. Learning a new language does, too. Our brains pliably wrap around the new information, prodding it like a curious octopus until–pop!–the brain and the information become one. To prepare for reading, you learned all of your letters last fall in Kindergarten. While you knew some of them already, you hadn’t absorbed them like your brother did when he started to read. You know what sounds most letters make, and now you can sound out many words and sight-read some, too. You’ve read books to me! If there are words you don’t know, you attempt them based on context, sometimes with funny results that collapse us into giggles. It’s such a pleasure to watch you figure out reading. Your process is different from what Sylvan’s looked like. You’re more of an experimenter.
While you have always wielded a pencil with grace and care, you’ve started trying cursive, because that’s what your brother’s doing. Second child: “I will not be left behind!”
I don’t love your stubbornness, your ability to look me in the eye as you’re jumping on the couch. You are fast to frustrate and fast to cool down. Your brother and I probably taught you to blow up, and now you’re a master. And we’re both calmer. I apologize. We’ll continue to hug you and try to understand your feelings.
I love you, Miss E.
Elena’s friend (middle): “I can totally see my feet!”
Elena (left): “I can’t see my feet because I’m not long enough.”
When folks live in Eugene, and Eugene looks like this:
then everyone in Eugene tries to escape the freezing fog. They climb mountains, they go to Hawai’i, or at least they hit the coast. We hit the coast. And our friends were close to where we were headed, so we hung out with them, too!
And we bought wetsuits.
We also got at least a little exercise climbing the world’s largest dune (not really), then running down. Fun!
And, before dinner, a spectacular sunset:
If you’re curious about Chris’s whereabouts, he spent the day sitting and reading in the sun. So no action shots, but plenty of contentment.
A couple of weeks ago, Julie and I went to the Cascadia Wildlands Project‘s annual big party and auction. All the hip(pie) nature lovers were there, and we ended up with a huge, beautiful photograph of old-growth trees in Oregon’s Elliott State Forest.
There was another kind of photography happening at the auction as well. A professional photographer was taking photographs to send to our Congresscritters and various other folks in D.C. who are laboring under the benighted impression that removing wolves from the Endangered Species List is a good idea because there are a few dozen of them around and everybody loves them (right?). CWP even had little whiteboards we could hold up with pre-fab messages about how cool and valuable wolves are. You can see some of the photos here (PDF, scroll through a few pages to get the idea).
Those of you who know me know that I like to make my own signs (someday I’ll dig up and scan a photo of me protesting at the Wall Street Journal in the early ’90s with a handmade painted sign depicting a generic conifer with the word GOOD under it) rather than run with the pack. I only had a few seconds, though, so this is the best I could do:
Today I took pictures of my family.
First I wrote ”Hello my name is blank<name>. I am blank<adjective> and my favorite animal is a blank<color> blank<animal>.” It was fun although it was kind of hard to get Elena to cooperate.
I used my little film camera. It was fun, annoying, and hard at the same time! It was a good experience.
As I was looking at photos of you from a year ago, I expected to see not much difference from last year to this, to see a boy who was just a little smaller, a little rounder then. That’s true, but those changes make a big difference. You look decidedly different now—longer, leaner, toothier. A third grader, more than halfway through elementary school.
Your Dad and I filled out a questionnaire for your new 3rd grade teacher, Janine, whose first question for us was what you like and enjoy. We wrote something to the effect of: reading books, dressing up in costumes, chess. I looked at your Dad and said, “He’s going to play D&D when he’s a teenager, huh?” Well, yes, except it won’t be D&D but the fantasy game of the age for black-clad teenagers who wear trench coats.
One of your absolute favorite things right now is laser tag. Loud music, black lights, guns with no consequences. I can definitely understand the appeal. Your birthday party was a laser tag party, and consequently we have only a few photos of the party, all from cell phones. Crazy Voodoo Doughnut laser tag party!
You’re not only taller with a rock-solid little muscular body right now. Your attitude’s changing, too. You’re much more willing to have your photo taken, for instance. That might seem simple, but, in the past, sometimes the camera would instigate a foul mood, like so many other things in your life. You still sometimes make silly faces at the camera, but that just shows your personality. You rarely stare sullenly at the camera anymore, willing it away. You rarely stare sullenly at anyone anymore. You’re still not Little Mr. Sunshine, but your subtle gentle humor is more likely to emerge to defuse stressful situations than your whiney little boy voice.
That change of attitude has permeated your actions. For instance, when we were back in Dover for a week at the end of August, I asked you and Elena if you’d like to hike up to the Stone Church one afternoon. Elena—usually up for anything—refrained, but you said, “Sure.” You explored the stream, checked out the church, and climbed up to a ledge just outside the church’s entrance. When I stopped and talked to loquacious gentleman, you very politely came up to me to remind me you were there, then went out to assemble munitions depots, and repeated that a few times as he talked to me. He and his wife were very impressed with your patience and ability to entertain yourself.
You and your closest friends—Cole, Robbie—enjoy outdoor explorations. I’m happy for their influence on you. While I enjoy living in a place where we can walk to school and to the store, I wish you could explore outside every day, that we lived in a spot where you could. It tears at me, knowing that you won’t have that everyday connection with the outdoor world.
That brings me to my biggest concern about you right now: that you don’t like school. You didn’t even give it a chance this year, before you wept before the first day and said you didn’t want to go. I wish I knew what was behind this for you. Is it social anxiety, true boredom, a lack of desire to do hard work, a real belief that you can’t do the work?
“Why can’t you homeschool me?” you asked. Because I think the social aspect of school is important for you, and because you wouldn’t do the work for me. Oh, and because I’d go insane. Don’t forget that one. And sometimes it kills me. I could take you out and let you explore outside. We could develop much more emergent curriculum, based on your desires and interests. We would both undoubtedly learn a lot. I want you to love school; would you, if you were homeschooled? Who knows? I do know that I’m going to make it a priority to help you solve your problems around this issue yourself.
And I do know that I love you.
You’re starting Kindergarten in less than a month! You are excited, and so am I. You are a bundle of social energy, and I think you’re going to really love being in school. It’s fascinating and fun to parent two very different children and observe how you both interact with the world. When Sylvan entered school, a year older than you, he was definitely reticent and nervous, and he was also already reading, although he wouldn’t admit that (he read signs to us, but he refused to read books). You are enthusiastic and ready to go; you probably know most of your letters, but we haven’t tested that; and I couldn’t imagine holding you back to prepare for another year, despite limited but available empirical evidence that students older within their peer group outperform the youngest students. I have no fear that you’ll succeed, Elena, really at whatever you put your mind to.
You are a master of Vision and Action, one of NOLS’s seven leadership principles. When something needs to get done, you simply buckle down and do it. If it’s time to put on sunscreen, you find the sunscreen and have it on before I can pack my pool bag. If you want to create art, you walk in and cut and paint and draw and paste until it’s time for a snack; then you get yourself a carrot. Getting things done is a crucial and healthy trait, a characteristic that will serve you well as a student, as a grown-up, as a partner, and simply as a successful human. I could probably serve you better by making art supplies more available to you—or cleaning supplies, for that matter. The house would sparkle if I just stepped back and let you at it. As a student, I think you would thrive in a Montessori setting. I hope Edison’s Kindergarten is hands-on enough for your sensibilities.
The other thing I hope is that this hitting phase subsides as you gain more and more coping skills. You get frustrated with your brother—as any human being would when confronted with big sibling cruelty (sorry, Jenn)—and you just haul off and whack him. You went through a phase like that a year ago in pre-school, and then it passed as your communication skills improved. Please don’t let your Kindergarten teacher call us because you’re beating up your friends.
You’re changing your child-logic verb tenses to grammatically-correct ones these days, inserting “went” where “goed” used to sit, for instance.
Right now, you’re motivated by being a “big girl.” I try not to utilize that too much, because it’s nice to have a little girl; but I don’t mind telling you that 5-year-olds can use Hideaway Bakery’s bathroom alone.
Yesterday, four days after you turned 5, you went down the big blue slide at Amazon Pool by yourself, without the lifeguard catching you at the bottom! After your first ride down, when the lifeguard caught you and then helped you swim to the side, I saw the disappointment in your eyes. “Go back!” I suggested, “Tell them you don’t need a catcher.” Big girl, you just zoomed out into the water, put your head down, and swam like a fish to the side. “The current helped me,” you said.
I love you, Big Little Girl.
Mountain #26: Mount Defiance (4960 feet)
10 August 2013
Mileage: 12 miles
Elevation gain: 4800 feet
Time: 3:20 to summit, an hour on top, 3:20 down, with a stop at Warren Lake
Temperature: humid, around 70
Partners: Brian Hamilton, Maisie and Kenzie
Do NOT attempt this hike without Tecnu! (and, okay, a strong heart)
I don’t know what gave me the bee in my bonnet to try out this hike, but once I saw that it has a 4800-foot elevation gain, I was determined to hike it. Mount Defiance. 4800 feet up. Six million-year-old shield volcano (according to web research; take with a grain of salt). Gotta have some of those in my 40-mountain year. Brian was willing to try it out with me, and, since his dogs wanted an outing, too, Brian even offered to drive. So, he picked me up at 6 a.m. (actually 5:55. Unlike me, he’s never late.), and we drove up to the Columbia River Gorge, to the Starvation Creek Trailhead, which has its own exit off I-84.
We were on the trail by 9:03 (or so). The first section of trail runs back west along the Jersey barriers lining I-84, then it ducks down into the woods on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Quickly, we passed three waterfalls: Cabin Creek, Hole in the Wall on Warren Creek, and Lancaster Falls, where we met the Starvation Ridge trail. We continued up the Mount Defiance trail (#413).
The trail traveled west along some rocky slopes (natural talus or the result of I-84 construction?) with challenging footing, lined with poison oak, then it turned seriously uphill and into the trees. The first 1400 feet of elevation gain happen fast on this trail. Switchback after switchback. I felt great, though. All of the hikes last week with Leslie (all of my previous 25 mountains this year!) helped, and Brian eventually said to me, “Okay, I’ll meet you at the junction with the trail to Warren Lake.” I must have seemed like a springer spaniel puppy right then, eager and energetic.
So I bounded uphill, not rushing but not stopping, quickly becoming soaking wet with the exertion and the day’s humidity. Eventually I passed Marc and Keith, two trail runners; but not much running can occur on this section of trail. Shortly, Marc caught me; and we chatted as the trail became much more doable. Instead of running, he told me stories about his short-lived military life and adventuring with his wife. From about 2200 feet to 4000 feet, the trail travels uphill in a more reasonable fashion, vine maples filling in the forest understory. There are even some runnable sections of trail. We walked.
After we passed into a sliver of Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness (the summit is again outside the Wilderness), the trail broke out of the trees near some cliffs at about 4100 feet. The mist glided up over the cliffs. We moved into the trees, which at this point felt very alpine. The trail became talus-y, purple penstemon sprouted from between the rocks, and we found many ripe huckleberries! We saved at least a few for the next folks to pass.
We headed past the junction with the trail that leads east to Warren Lake, then we took the unlikely-looking trail that travels around the west side of the mountain at the next junction. That trail was quite rocky, so the going was slow, but we had great views of Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. Our steps sounded musical as we clinked the fist- and foot-sized rocks together under our feet. We hit one more junction at the south end of the mountain, then headed uphill to the summit, where we found five other people and a whole boatload of radio towers and associated paraphernalia. There used to be a fire lookout up there, too. There still is four-wheel drive road to the top. The folks at the summit told us we’d just missed an ultrarunner who was summiting Mt. Defiance four times today, from the bottom. She was training for a race in the Alps. Brian later said she blew by him when he was at the trail junction to Warren Lake.
Marc and I took some photos and got some calories in. I was hoping Brian would join me at the summit, because it has great views of Hood and nice boulders for resting. Just as I was feeling like I should probably head down to meet Brian at our scheduled meeting spot, a hiker asked if I was Julie. He proceeded to tell me that Brian was right behind him. Kenzie, Maisie, and Brian summited, and Kenzie and Maisie even begged some beef jerky out of the very nice man who’d heralded their arrival.
Then we headed down off the north end of the mountain; and we proceeded down to Warren Lake, where the dogs were very happy to go for a swim, lap up some water, then roll in the dirt. At the next trail junction, we headed left and north down a lovely mellow section through large conifers with huckleberry understory. After we passed through an old, growing-back clearcut rampant with magenta-blooming fireweed, we ran into the ultrarunner, heading back uphill—the correct way on the loop, as it turns out. With some research, I found out she was Amy Sproston, no slouch in the ultrarunning world.
And, just as I was beginning to wonder what everyone meant about the steepness of this trail, we joined the Starvation Ridge trail, #414, and plummeted down along the ridge. The gravel turned to ball bearings under my shoes more than once, bouncing me onto my bum. I don’t recommend this as a descent. It would be straight uphill the other way, but I’d surely prefer that. I do recommend the trail, especially at the bottom, but not for kids or dogs (and definitely not without Tecnu; I’m hoping for the best). Near the end of the ridge, the trail breaks out of the trees and hangs over I-84, switchbacking tantalizingly close to the edge. The trail through the meadow is lined with poison oak. Then, with a quick descent through some trees with more ball-bearing trail, we were back on the Historic Columbia River Highway.
I bathed in the bathroom, grateful for soap and water, paranoid about urushiol. Three hours and a stop at Burgerville later (Walla-Walla onion rings, cherry-chocolate shake, halibut sandwich!), and I was home! Thank you, Brian and pups, for a fun and successful day.