I woke early the last day of our trip. The mist was tumbling gracefully over the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance and the sun revealed just how much the rain had swollen the Shenandoah in the valley below. There would be no canoeing that day either. From where I sat in my friend’s cabin, it appeared the swollen river would have given a wild ride to even an experienced paddler. (I think I am one until I meet some crazy river guide who paddles class VIs below Great Falls in his off hours.)
We spent six days in the mountains. In between, we took a side trip to West Virginia where we stayed in a yurt at the Friends Wilderness Center near Harper’s Ferry. (Mud-bogging anyone? Thankfully, the suspension of my mini-van appears undamaged.) We had intended to stay in the Wilderness Center tree house, but it was cold and the children liked the warm Hobbit-dwelling feel of the yurt. In the morning we warmed ourselves over hot chocolate and cooked breakfast over a campfire.
The kids and I took in some exciting whitewater with experienced guides at our favorite outfitter. There were a couple of rapids classed III which were probably easily IVs with the water about four times higher than at other times of the year. Exciting, it most certainly was. There was one wild run where I was thinking that putting my kids in a rubber boat that day wasn’t my brightest idea.
I said a little prayer that Little Man and everyone else had paid attention during the training video and shouted, “lock in!” above the roar as the boat nearly taco’ed almost tossing us all into the boiling brown water. I paddled hard and so did my eldest son and we made it through the furious foaming rapids. (I promise never again to harass the sturdy twelve-year-old for eating every morsel of food in the fridge.) We can say it was fun because we survived. When we finally got out of our boat, dripping, our faces ached from smiling and laughing.
We bought produce at the local stands several times and ate extremely well, even though every dirty dish had to be washed by hand. We hiked, took off our shoes, and let the mud squelch between our toes. We sat quietly around camp fires, we cooked over them, we sang together. We laughed. Several days, it rained like crazy and we played board games and cooperatively finished a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle. (I no longer think a completed 500 piece jigsaw puzzle is as much a sign of a wasted life as a perfectly neat home. Perhaps there is hope for me after all.) We played cards and charades and we listened to vinyl records on the cabin’s vintage console. The children expressing a distinct preference for The Beatles.
On the last night, we celebrated Little Man’s birthday a little early and he clearly felt fully loved. He beamed, full of appreciation. This trip was perhaps best for him, a chance to get muddy, to sit around campfires telling stories, to pick flowers, inspect six and eight-legged creatures, to let his little heart sing, and to engage with adults who were disengaged from all the daily distractions and fully present—a rarity in this modern world.
The court hearing was behind me on the last morning and it was quiet, but for the birds, the light sleeping sounds of children, the crackling fire in the wood stove which I had built up when I woke, and the rhythmic tapping of keys. The only computer was my daughter’s laptop, brought only because she had a must-do project. I caved and borrowed it in the last days when pencil and paper became excruciatingly tiresome. Unplugging, even partially, forced mindfulness and a reflective quiet, especially on the rainy days. I spent very few minutes checking devices at all, purposefully turning my attention to children, to our family of choice who shared their cabin with us, and also—inward. There is a lot of good stuff in this crazy old world, and I am blessed with an ample share. Bonding with some of the people I love most, I put another log on the fire of my heart, and boy, had it needed stoking.