Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Meditation

"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito."
– Dalai Lama

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today

This is a great article from the Washington Post.

"The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem."  Read the full article by Angela Hanscom HERE.

Let's take a page from our own long-ago childhoods, when we were given the time and space to roam a little, to play freely, to create our own games, our own rules, to enter the magical worlds of our imaginations.  Remember how fun and liberating those times were?  Let's give that our kids.  Let's help them get mud on their feet!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Meditation

“The only authority I respect is the one that causes butterflies to fly south in fall and north in springtime.”
– Tom Robbins

Friday, July 18, 2014

When we stop children taking risks, do we stunt their emotional growth?

I loved this article in The Independent, and I couldn't agree more!  Let's loosen the reins a little.  Let's let our kids have their very own microadventures and take some age-appropriate risks.

"'The dominant parental norm is that being a good parent is being a controlling parent,' says Tim Gill, author of No Fear, which critiques our risk-averse society. But at what cost? And what's the alternative? And most importantly, when are we letting them play?"  Read the full article by Susie Mesure HERE.

Let your kids run free now and then.  Let them take some risks, skin their knees and get mud on their feet!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 34 — Timberline Lake to Whitney Portal

I got out of the tent at the first hint of daybreak and started cooking.  Already, dark clouds had gathered over Mount Hitchcock, Mount Muir and Mount Whitney, and the air bit with cold.  We planned to summit Mount Whitney that day, which would entail taking a side trail from the top of the pass, adding approximately four miles roundtrip.  After summiting we planned to drop down a couple thousand feet to pitch our tent at a place called Trail Camp on the mountain’s eastern flank.  The following day it would only be seven miles to Whitney Portal where we’d eat greasy food, meet my parents and end our adventure.

But as I cooked breakfast that morning, wind whipped across the land and clouds swirled in angrily from the southeast, mounting against the peaks like some empyrean army come to smother the world.  It seemed questionable that we could reach the summit before a storm ripped the sky, and I woke Pam earlier than normal.  “We’re going to have to really push to make it up there before lightning hits.”

Our gear was still damp as we packed, and we wore our stocking hats and jackets to blunt the cold wind as we hiked.  It was a steep climb, more than 2,000 feet of rock faces and talus slopes from Timberline Lake to the pass at Trail Crest—the whole world gone to jagged chunks of granite, pockets of emerald water, and a kaleidoscopic sky roiling with gray, white and blue.

We passed a group of hikers coming down off Whitney.  They had hiked up in the predawn hours using headlamps and spent the early morning on the summit.  “It’s seriously cold up there, and the weather is looking nasty” one of them said to us.  He looked at the boys with obvious concern.  “The wind gusts are crazy too and the trail gets pretty exposed.  Keep a hand on those guys.”

And he was right.  As we approached the top of the pass at Trail Crest, wind gusted over the crags like a blitz of freight engines.  I walked beside Kai and grabbed him a couple times as the wind blasted us and caused him to stumble.  Pam walked ahead of me with Noah and kept a steady hand on him as well.

We finally topped the pass, standing straddle-legged against the wind on a narrow shelf of rock, and we found the side trail to the Mount Whitney Summit.  We took off our packs and hunkered together on the leeward side of rock.

“What do you guys think?”  We nearly had to shout to hear each other over the wind.  Above us and to the southwest the sky was a dark ocean of clouds, but large patches of blue ran out from the eastern slope and across the desert.  “It could take an hour or more for us to get to the summit and back, and the storm is definitely coming this way quick.”  The clouds weren’t moving fast, but they were marching steadily in our direction and they looked threatening.

“I really want to get to the top of Whitney,” Noah said.  He looked so earnest, and I could tell the goal had really been driving him.  “I mean we came all this way.  I just really want to be up there.”

“I know.  Me too.”  I was proud of him for wanting it, and a reckless part of me wanted to roll the dice to make it happen for him.  “But it could get ugly really fast.  It’s probably smarter to back off.  We can come back and climb it later.  Even big-time mountaineers back down when it feels too dangerous.  That way they live to climb another day.”

Pam pointed to a sign nearby with big bold letters that read, Extreme danger from lightning.  To avoid being struck by lightning, immediately leave the area if any of the following conditions exist.  Dark clouds nearby, thunder, hail or rain hissing in the air, static electricity in the hair or fingertips.  “We should probably pay attention to that,” she said.

Just then a huge gust of wind tore over the ridge and rattled us even behind the large rock.  “Wind like that could blow these guys off the mountain,” she added.

And it was true.  The wind was a monster that morning.

But Noah looked crushed.  He even had tears in the corners of his eyes, and that was the hardest thing for me, knowing that my eleven-year-old son wanted to climb a mountain that badly, understanding how proud of himself he’d be for accomplishing it.  My boys had hiked more than two hundred miles with me.  They’d been hungry for days and pushed on through miles of exhaustion, and they’d amazed me with how little they’d complained.  They’d been tougher than I could have dreamed, and I couldn’t have been more proud of them.  I didn’t want them to walk away from this summer with even the slightest feeling of failure.

“Mom and I want to stand on top of Whitney with you today, buddy.  Believe me, we do.  But it’s just not the day for it.  It’s not safe.  But we’ll come back.  We’ll climb this mountain together some sunny day.  We really will.”

Noah nodded a little, his face full of disappointment.  “You promise?”

“I do.  We’ll stand up there together.  I promise.”

He nodded, and I hugged both boys, squeezed them tight and held them.  “I can’t tell you guys how proud of you I am.  You’ve hiked so far with so much grit, and you could easily get to the top of Whitney from here.  It’s not even much higher than where we are right now.  It’s just the weather.  It’s not safe, and it would be dumb for Mom and me to take you up there.”

“You guys have hiked the whole John Muir Trail!” Pam added, joining us in a big family hug.  “You did it, and you were so tough about it.  You guys are amazing!”

As we let go of each other I smiled at them.  “You know what this means, don’t you?”

They looked confused.  “That we’re not going the top of Mount Whitney,” Kai answered.

“Well, yeah.  But it also means we’re cutting out four miles of hiking.  It’s only eight and a half miles from here to Whitney Portal.  If you guys are up for it, we can skip Trail Camp and be eating at a restaurant this evening.  You can see Grammy and Papa and Franklin.”

“Really?”  They both smiled.   “It will be fun to hold Franklin,” Kai said.  “He’ll remember us won’t he?”  Franklin was our pet Chihuahua, a tiny, blind runt of a dog that we all loved to death.

“Of course he will,” Pam said.  “He’ll be so excited to see you.”

The wind stayed wild, and Pam and I walked close to the boys, grabbing them whenever a big gust hit.  Noah still seemed sad that we hadn’t been able to summit Whitney, and at one point he looked up at me and said, “It feels kind of weird that we’ve already spent our last night on the trail.”

A twinge of sadness stabbed at my gut.  This grand trip that I had dreamed about for the better part of a year and enjoyed living for the past month was almost over—no more going to sleep side by side in the tent every night and waking together in a pile of sleeping bags, no more sitting close and watching alpenglow slide across the granite peaks, no more swimming holes or long trail conversations.  “Yeah, it kind of makes me sad,” I answered.  “But we’ll be back.  Maybe next summer we can come back for a shorter trip, just hike to a high lake and hang out there for a few days.”

“That would be really fun,” Noah said.

As we wound our way down the 5,000-foot descent to Whitney Portal that afternoon I couldn’t watch my boys enough.  I walked behind them the whole way, trying to memorize what they looked like hiking beside each other, trying to burn the image into my brain—their strong, skinny, perfect, little-kid legs taking step after step after step.  They were so small when I really looked at them.  Sometimes I almost forgot how small they really were, and I told myself that I didn’t ever want to forget again because it would all be over way too soon.  They wouldn’t be boys much longer, and although I never doubted that I’d love the teenagers and men they’d grow into, I knew there would be a day when I would miss their childhoods to the point of tears.

I watched Pam too, with equally strong feelings.  Here she was, the girl I’d gotten to know almost twenty years earlier in Africa, a time that slipped away like a dream when I tried to grasp it in my memory, but she was with me, after all life’s crazy ups and downs she was still here with me.  We’d created these kids that we’d both fallen in love with, and we were still moving through the world together.  Step by step.

I think we all experienced some strong feelings that day.  There was something about walking those last few miles—knowing that day by day we’d passed through more than two hundred miles of the high Sierra wilderness in each other’s company—that heightened our feeling of togetherness.

At one point Noah and Kai walked side by side in front of me.  Noah turned to his little brother and asked, “So Kai, what do you plan to do with the rest of your life?”

Kai looked up at him, his face full of life.  “Where should I start?”

And they walked on, dreaming about the adventures and accomplishments that lay in store for them.  Step by step, I know they’ll get there.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1Day2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10Day 11Day 12Day 13Day 14Day 15Day 16Day 17Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23Day 24Day 25Day 26Day 27Day 28Day 29Day 30Day 31Day 32Day 33Day 34

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

More Than S'mores!

A new study by the Girl Scout Research Institute demonstrates that girls who spend time outdoors regularly surpass their peers who spend less time outdoors in critical leadership skills.  They are also more likely to be environmental stewards. 

Read the full report HERE, and take the girls you love outside.  Get mud on their feet!

Friday, July 4, 2014

School Ditches Rules and Loses Bullies

I wanted to share a short excerpt from a great article from ONE News in New Zealand.

“Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don't cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.”

To learn more about how letting kids run free at recess has reduced bullying and increased classroom engagement read the full article HERE.  And go outside.  Get mud on your feet!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 33 — Tyndall Creek to Timberline Lake

A light drizzle fell as I crawled from the tent just after dawn, and the first thing I noticed was that it smelled fresh, not acrid with smoke but wet and alive.  The rain had washed away the ash that choked us the afternoon before, and I smiled as I walked down to the stream and filtered water.  A young buck stood in the wet willows across the river, and for a while we just watched each other, everything motionless and silent except for the water that flowed laughingly between us.  Then he went back to browsing and I walked back up the hill to cook breakfast.

It drizzled off and on all day, and although we saw flashes of lightning in the distance it never got close enough to threaten us, which was a good thing because the trail was exposed for much of the morning.  We wound past the barren crown of Tawny Point then crossed Bighorn Plateau, a great windswept expanse of bunchgrass and scattered rock.  Trees were few and far between, and more than half of those that existed had been struck by lightning, standing like twisted, orange-gray carcasses to remind us that if we didn’t keep moving the storm would eventually sweep down and barbeque us.

To our north dark columns of cloud hung across the land, drifting slowly and shapeshifting, parting now and again to give us momentary glimpses of the towering crags around Mount Whitney.  The trail wound up and down, and by early afternoon we were tired, but we pushed on, wanting to get close to Mount Whitney so we’d have a good shot at reaching the summit before lightning became an issue the following morning.

We hiked eleven miles to reach Timberline Lake just as the storm hit with earnest.  The rain fell in sheets and we took shelter beneath a cluster of fir trees until a short break came, during which we set up the tent, finishing just in time for the next cloudburst.  We piled inside and huddled together inside our sleeping bags to get warm.

About an hour later the storm let up to a drizzle again, and I got out to cook dinner.  The sun was low, and its rays cut through the throng of clouds in golden shafts, forming a brief rainbow across the lake.  The rain came back before I’d finished cooking, so we ate in the tent.

“Tomorrow you boys will stand on the highest mountain in the continental United States.  Can you believe you’ve come this far?”

They both smiled then Noah said a little wistfully, “I really like being together out here like this.”

“Me too,” Pam said.

“It makes me really not want to die,” Noah added, and his voice was suddenly choked with emotion.  Tears wetted his eyes.

“Oh, honey,” Pam said, hugging him really tightly.

I reached out to touch both of them and smiled at Noah.  I think I knew exactly what he meant.  I related.  Being out here, out in these mountains with my wife and my kids, made me feel more deeply than I had in a long time that I wanted to be alive.  Really wanted it.   I wanted to keep being with these people I cherished, every day, seeing amazing things with them, sharing the simplest of joys and the grandest of challenges.  I wanted to make more time to live like this, to immerse myself in places that were still full of living things and unspoiled landscapes, because being here made me feel more connected, more deeply human, more alive.

We were quiet for a little while then Kai added, “I really wish we could just go down and see Grammy and Papa after Mount Whitney but then turn around and hike back to Yosemite.”

A smile came over me, the kind you can feel from the bottoms of your feet to the top of your scalp, and I hugged him.

“Of course we’d eat some donuts first,” he added quickly.

We laughed out loud and all leaned our bodies against each other.  “I wish we could, buddy.  I wish we could.”

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.