Despite my narcissism, indifference and ignorance, Fynn and Josie welcome me into their hearts every day. With this free and open love, that I don’t always deserve, I constantly search for something to offer them in return. With every outing and adventure we share I am becoming more certain that whatever I have for them pales in comparison for what they have for me.
I wander through a meadow of mint, yarrow and sunflower at one in the morning, searching for a flat spot to sleep. First, I find a sloped space that would fit the three of us, Fynn, Josie and I, but keep moving to see if there is something better. There is. Below a small stand of aspens is a flat, primitive camp with a fire ring. As I open my mouth to alert the kids a shadow crosses the beam of my headlamp, stealing breath from my words.
It was a goal of mine to take the kids backpacking this year. I wanted to share the experience of putting a few things into a bag and leaving the road behind. The idea was to be dropped off at the trailhead, hike up to Lake Blanche, pitch a tent, sleep, wake up in the cool mountain air, then hike down.
On the approach to Lake Blanche, while the waning last quarter of the moon hung to the left of Sundial Peak, we stopped for a break and became aware of the one thing I had neglected to plan for. Mosquitoes.
They weren’t really a problem if we kept moving so we hurried through fields of wildflowers. We saw bluebells, firecrackers, paintbrush and lilies, but never lingered to enjoy them. We ran past the lake and found a suitable place for our pyramid tent. When the sun dipped below the horizon the mosquitoes seemed to multiply. Fortifying the tent was not easy and the bloodsuckers found their way in. With the fly zipped up and mosquitoes covering our bodies we were forced deep into our sleeping bags to roast. We suffered for some time before I removed the pole from the tent and used the fly to wrap us up like a burrito, protecting us from the bugs. This worked for an hour or so, but by midnight we were drenched from the condensation of our breathing.
Josie wanted to walk home. I countered that it was a very long way to go. Fynn suggested we call Mom, but we didn’t have a phone.
Finally, I recommended we move down from the lake to where the mosquitoes might not be so bad. They declined at first, but another fifteen minutes in the damp tortilla and they both agreed.
The moon had set hours ago so we left camp under a star lit sky. Using headlamps the kids led me down through slabs of glacially sculpted quartzite that pour from the lakes. Past the talus slopes, into the brush and under the trees the sky was cut off from them. Through the limited beam of their lights they became afraid.
“What if we run into a moose?” Josie asked with dread in her voice.
“Can we just sleep here in the middle of the trail?” Fynn pleaded.
After tears wet their cheeks, severals hugs and what seemed to be an eternity, I brought them to the sloped spot and laid out the tarp. I didn’t mention the animal that was wandering nearby.
“Fynn, Josie… I love you.” Within moments they were asleep.
I took a deep breath of the mint-scented air and let out a sigh. It was not the backpacking trip I had hoped for, but at least they were resting now. I leaned back and thought about the moose I had just seen. A falling star cut the horizon to the west. With a few more deep breaths I let go of the evening and slept.
In the predawn I rose quietly not waking the kids. I wandered to the empty camp then to the stream where prints in the mud and depressions in the grass indicated the cow moose had spent several nights. After traveling downstream and seeing nothing I returned to the trail and back to Fynn and Josie. I thought she must be upstream.
Out from under pine trees I entered the meadow. Thirty feet from the kids I froze. My brain was confused as it relayed the information my eyes were inputting.
A BULL moose was stooped over the tarp where the kids lay. His velvet-covered antlers, nodded side to side as he nosed the foot of Fynn’s bag.
That’s a BULL, not a cow, my brain finally managed.
I’ve been gone for 30 minutes. That moose is young. I can’t see any movement from the kids. This is unbelievable. He weighs a ton. Will the kids stay calm if they wake up? Have the kids knocked down the barrier between man and beast? What happened before I arrived? I still don’t see any movement from the kids. Has he stepped on them? This is beautiful… and it’s serious. I want this moment to last forever, but it can’t.
I clapped my hands. The bull raised his head, glanced my way then resumed munching. Four strides forward and I clapped twice. My heart dropped as he reared up onto his hind legs. He pivoted in the air and brought his front hooves down to the base of Josie’s bag. All I could hear was my pounding heart as I made one final step forward with arms in the air. And as if to say, “I wasn’t really interested,” he turned and wandered slowly away.
“Fynn? Fynn?” There was no movement. I peeled my way into his bag and found his face waking to my touch.
“What?… Let me sleep.”
“What’s going on?” Josie asked in a sleepy tone.
I told them a moose, a BULL MOOSE, was munching on Fynn’s sleeping bag. They didn’t believe me and went back to sleep.