Wednesday, February 19, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 18 — Bear Creek to Marshall Lake

We slept in and ate breakfast beside Bear Creek.  Pam and I spoiled ourselves by stealing one of the boys’ hot chocolate packets and making mochas which we sipped slowly, leaning shoulder to shoulder in the sun.  Everything felt especially peaceful, the boys relaxed and content, the air still, birds singing from nearby pine branches—the whole world inviting us to linger.  So we did.

We swam for the better part of an hour, jumping off rocks into crystal pools of cold water, shouting and hollering, splashing each other and then warming our skin in the late morning sunshine.  It was the most playful morning we’d had on the entire trip, and the kids loved it.  We all did.

When we finally hit the trail, we climbed steadily all day, following Bear Creek towards the high alpine lakes that fed it.  The sun blazed, and we were thankful whenever we passed from high meadow into the shade of pine trees or the lush riparian forest along the creek.

At one point Kai walked beside me and said, “It would be fun to be a frog…  Do frogs lick their eyes?”

“I don’t know.”  The question was funny to me and I smiled.  “Would you still want to be a frog if you had to lick your eyes?”

“It would probably feel good,” he answered.

A while later he turned to me again.  “Dad, when I spit do you think it’s as fast as a bullet?”

That’s the thing about hiking long trails.  You have plenty of time to think important thoughts.

We made camp in the midafternoon at Marshall Lake, just shy of Selden Pass.  Noah and Kai seemed especially happy all day, and they played in the shallow water along the lakeshore as Pam and I set up camp.  Eventually they settled on a game in which they were both magical martial arts heroes, Kai’s character wearing a suit of iridescent feathers and Noah’s covered by flexible amber.  They made up stunts, challenged each other and occasionally set off running across the field of bunchgrass.

Both Noah and Kai have always been relatively creative kids, but I noticed them using their imaginations even more on this adventure than they typically did at home.  They were more cooperative too, and it wasn’t only that they had more unstructured time or freedom.  At home during summer vacation they had hours of down time together, and they often filled it by bickering and competing over silly things.  But out here in the mountains, they seemed to let go of small disagreements more easily, redirect their games to keep things fun and give each other space without taking it personally when one of them wanted to be alone.

There was an easiness about their relationship on the trail.  I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for the change, but if I had to guess I’d say it was a package deal.  The quiet moments, the daily exercise, the wonderful feeling of smallness they received while standing beneath the star-filled sky or on top of a mountain ridge, the daily discovery of living things, the heightened connection we shared as a family—my guess is that all of these things gave them feelings of peace, a new enthusiasm and a sense of openness.

We ate dinner together at dusk, resting our backs against rocks in a quiet meadow.  Afterwards Pam crawled in the tent to read, and I went to sit by the water’s edge to catch up in my journal.  The boys continued to play as stars grew visible in the sky and bats emerged to hunt.  A quarter moon glowed above the distant peak of Mount Hooper, and I was captured by the stillness of it all, the world so peaceful and commanding at the same time.  Mountains surrounded us, reflections of their monumental fissures and crags placid on the lake’s surface.

In the middle of the night I woke and crawled out of the tent.  As I stood looking up in the blackness, a shooting star streaked across the sky and coyotes yipped in the distance.  I smiled, feeling lucky to be a part of the moment, and when I crawled back into the tent the boys were awake.  We cuddled against each other feeling connected and alive, listening to the family of coyotes howl into the night.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.