We spent last week at Mono Hot Springs. A cozy valley of granite, meadows and Jeffery Pines nestled under the Mono Divide. The bulk of our time was spent without camera, exploring the hot springs, building new pools, practicing our casting, frolicking with the minnows in the Lake, laying on our backs watching bats at twilight and generally getting our vacation on. However, Seth and I were not without agenda and the trip proved to be a Boy’s Almanac Bonanza.
Ryder was thoughtful enough to bring along rope and some knot tying books. Seth wasted no time in utilizing rope and a willing adult to transform the little grove of cedars in our campsite into a full-fledged scout craft play space. He directed the placement of rope which created a series of rooms that were used for numerous games over the week. Rather than try to teach Seth specific knots, we had agreed to let him play with the rope to get a feel for how it worked. As it happens Seth has a natural affinity for ropes and knot tying. His knots were carefully crafted and held up fairly well.
Seth designed himself a sort of beginning ropes course. He spent a great deal of time suspended in mid air practicing his balance and pontificating on rope safety, campsite etiquette and numerous other apropos topics.
Although Seth spent a great deal of afternoon time on the high wire, his morning routine consisted of sleeping in, lounging by the fire and sipping hot milk. Eventually he would get a bee in his bonnet to do some “hard work”. He would make a big deal of looking for his safety goggles, and lay his tools out for inspection. He had three tools that he could use with adult supervision: a rock hammer, a hatchet and a folding saw. The rock hammer is much more interesting on vacations where there are only rocks (like Death Valley), so it got little use. The hatchet was used, but revered. Seth spent more time carefully removing and replacing the sheath than actually chopping wood. The folding saw turned out to be the tool of the trip. He narrated the process every time he operated the safety catch, and announced all distances between the blade and his extremities with the utmost scrutiny, “Oops, my knee is too close…better get my hand farther out”. The external dialog was adorable, and the mounting pile of sawdust under the log was admirable. I guess it’s good to find the right tool for a little boy on a camping trip so he can feel useful and make a more solid contribution than just hammering in tent stakes and kicking up dust.
Vacation is a perfect time to get in some good reading. Last week we started two new books. The first was The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald. This proved to be a good man distraction for Seth when his own testosterone was just too much for him to manage. It also offered mommy a glimpse into the inner workings of the boy brain. I am often at a loss when it comes to understanding boy logic, but The Great Brain offered me insight couched in fiction, which always holds my attention much better than real child psychology literature.
The second book we read from was The Long Ago Lake by Marne Wilkinson. In her memoirs she talks about the idea of really “seeing”, following the Native American ways of tracking, identifying scat, and observing what events have taken place in the forest, meadow or lake surrounding you. Just after we read this insight and put the book down to start our day, a blue jay dropping landed on my hand. Needless to say, we were thrilled. We examined it closely and saw bits of seeds and plant matter. Later in the morning we were practicing our granite climbing, terrain surveying, and nest building when we happened upon the remains of a recently deceased bird. This offered us a good chance to speculate on the creature’s demise. We thought about all the animals that could have eaten the bird for breakfast and settled on “the bear”. Even though Seth seems to know what bears eat, his imagination gave this bear a special dispensation to eat flying creatures – who am I to contest the myth of the mighty bear!
Our last day there we visited Edison Lake. I wanted to take the ferry across the lake so we could see some back country scenery and take a boat ride. Seth nestled himself in next to a PCT hiker at the front of the boat and enjoyed the show. After we dropped off the hikers and picked some up on the other side we got a special treat. The boat driver and owner of the Vermilion Valley Resort (Jim) took us for a guided tour of the lake. We saw the beach where the bears like to congregate, we learned about the Mono Indians, but best of all he showed us each of the Osprey nests on the lake.
We were mildly disappointed not to see the majestic birds in or around the nests. However, after the boat ride we walked out on a jetty of sand to admire the lake, eat lunch and build a sand castle. We were surprised to hear “kreeing” above us and looked up to see two Ospreys circling us and chatting back and forth to one another. Presumably they were considering picking off Mango our 20 lb dog-let. We hastily put her on a leash and made her nestle in next to us. This did not deter the birds, they spent a long time strategizing and making their intent known. If you ask me, it was the perfect event to end our trip. Birds of prey are fascinating with their higher intelligence and individuality. It felt exciting that they were paying attention to us, and humbling at the same time.
A good camping trip “keeps it real” for everyone. It clears our mind of the daily grind and let’s us enjoy our children in the most natural of settings. Camping forces us to hone our outdoor survival skills. We get to leverage our ingenuity and we think more carefully about each decision we make. Immersing children in nature excellerates learning and absorption. Don’t hesitate to get your kids outside this summer and enjoy nature in “in the flesh”.
I forgot to mention that in The Long Ago Lake, Marne Wilkinson includes sweet illustrations of baskets, knots and other outdoor crafts. She suggests making reed mats for the camping table. I got inspired and harvested a few of the numerous cat tails and set to work making “reed mats”. The kids loved them, and they float!