Parenting terrifies me.
Past one AM the third Monday of April the smell of burning pine hangs in the air. The woodstove does well to heat the yurt, but it lets escape a small amount of smoke. When I open it and stir the coals a white cloud rolls from its belly. Rising it dissipates to a haze that lingers near the domed lid as it seeps through the vent. We might get a few more hours heat from the remnants of the logs.
At the window I gaze out onto the snow covered land of the north slope of the Uintah Mountains. The sky is a blanket of moonlit clouds giving the scene a quiet, ghostly feel. Aspens appear frozen in dance, chaperoned by shadowy evergreens, which stand on indifferent.
A few weeks back I came up with the idea of skiing into a yurt with the family over spring break. Never mind the kids have never cross-country skied or backpacked, I thought it would be great. Then as time grew close I began to doubt myself. What if they didn’t like it? What if it didn’t work out? Some unknown crisis could have us going home early. I imagined a scene where we were driving back to Salt Lake, the kids sitting in the backseat, happy as clams now that we were going, Jacki driving and shooting sideway glances at me which said, “told you so,” and me, sulking in my seat, feeling like a complete failure.
Now on our second night at the yurt I wince at the thought of the past couple days. Recalling my pathetic behavior I breathe deep and when I exhale tears come to my eyes. Why am I so up tight?
From the trailhead, once Fynn and Josie got onto skis and loaded with packs, I put distance between us. Certain that at any moment they would decide this wasn’t for them, I hurried up the trail. Expecting complaints and opposition I was stopped suddenly by laughter. Not light giggling, but full body laughter. As the two of them were getting used to maneuvering on their skinny skis, invariably one would tumble. The standing child would reach down and help the other up only to then fall over. Jacki was laughing too. She was near, but was allowing them to figure it out. In shame I turned south and saw the large peaks that lay beyond. Clouds swirled and painted the sky. My paced slowed while Fynn and Josie joined me taking turns shuffling and tumbling and eventually I couldn’t help, but to laugh too.
The next morning sleet fell from the sky and clouds erased the peaks that were seen yesterday. Again my doubts grew and I was certain the kids would not want to go out, but soon enough we put the yurt behind us and like the day before I pulled away. They caught up at the lake. Fynn and Josie were soaked, it was cold and I was sure they were hungry. It could have been ugly, but it wasn’t. We crowded under a large pine, taking shelter from the snow, and ate our lunch. Smiles on their faces and laughter coming out of their mouths confirmed it. The kids were having a ball.
That morning, before our ski to the lake, Fynn and I sat at the table with the map. We oriented the map, compass and then ourselves. From there Fynn marked our path from the car to the yurt and then our path to the lake. While skiing to the lake he referred to the map to verify we were on route. After our lunch under the pine, Fynn pulled out the map and suggested we go on a bit and pointed to a spot on the map. And so we did.
In the early hours of Monday, in a yurt on the north slope of the Uintah’s, I listen to the sleepy breathing of Josie, Fynn and Jacki. My thoughts are of camping as a child, sometimes as part of a church function, other times with the scouts and on the rare occasion, with my family. Then they are of my passion for the mountains. Running around the Wasatch, the Uintah’s the Teton’s. Then my thoughts float to parenting. What are my beliefs? What do I hold deep? What can go by the way side? My entire life I have found comfort in the hills. Sharing the peace I find in wild places matters tremendously. I love it and want Fynn and Josie to love it too. Terrified a negative experience would ruin it for them, the past few days I have been wallowing, waiting for the worst.
A coyote’s high pitched howl breaks my thoughts. It sounds only yards from the yurt. I wait for a response, but one never comes.
Will Fynn and Josie find a similar love to mine? Maybe, but first I have to get over myself and out of their way.
The first night after we settled into the yurt, Josie and I skied up to a knoll and watched the sun set. Robins whistled and jumped from tree to tree while the faint drone of snow machines faded. The two of us sat in the snow and watched the light dance through the mounting clouds. We talked about nothing. Josie mounded up snow into a volcano and I relaxed enough to just be.
“Louie, do you think we can come back here every year?”