As a child of the Rockaways, I have always thrived on salt air. I had sand in my shoes from the time I could walk, and the rhythm of the waves somehow syncs with my heart. For us Long Islanders, the Atlantic sweeps away boundaries. We may feel small standing on the shore, but there is compensation: We sense being part of something greater than ourselves.
Of course, I expected this love of the sea to be hereditary, but my daughter headed for the hills as soon as she could. She lives out West in a rural mountain town where she hikes and camps and bikes and works.
There is absolutely nothing in the way we raised her that foreshadowed not just her love of the wilderness, but her need to live among the wild things. She is the product of us — your basic neurotic middle-class suburbanites whose idea of adventure was Coney Island.
Now she drives an hour to a decent food market, and five hours for good restaurants and specialized medical care. For a recent birthday she got her wish, which was to go camping with her husband and kids in the backcountry. They slept outside, cooked their food on a camp stove and went shopping for a goat. They didn’t buy one, but I mean, how did a goat wind up on her wish list?
My husband and I somehow survived into adulthood without taking an official hike or rafting on a river. We never slept in a tent. But isn’t this the joyful mystery of watching our children find their owns paths?
This week I’m living in my daughter’s comfort zone, switched to Mountain Time for a babysitting stint while she goes traveling. I’m writing about this interlude because it isn’t just a visit. It’s a rather momentous anniversary in our family life. A year ago, I wrote about going out West to help my daughter through a difficult, unexpected surgery and the grandkids through a stressful summer with their mother — the super athlete and household manager and hard-working doctor — sidelined for weeks.
We were there for a month, and what I remember most is how painful it was for my daughter to give up jumping into the river after work for a quick swim, or running every morning with Grandma, her dog. The day she went for surgery, she said, “This is the end of my summer.” As we know, summer is a very brief season in the hills, and she isn’t a woman who takes easily to limitations of any kind.
To me, mountains have always seemed to pinch the soul. To me, the ragged peaks and craggy landscapes press in on life. To me, living in the mountains could not be more different from life at the shore: stasis vs. freedom and abandon.
But everything changes everything.
Here we all are, one year later. Even with snow on the mountaintops in the distance and temperatures this week ranging from 38 to 57 degrees, winter is clearing out and spring is peaking. I saw daffodils yesterday. The river is running high and fast.
We follow the grandkids’ school routine, with carpools and school shows and track meets and everyone waiting for the community pool to open once it hits 65 degrees outside.
This morning I took Grandma for a walk I have done two dozen times over the years, down several connecting paths to a bluff overlooking the river. On the way back, I got all turned around and, eventually, lost. I might have panicked in years past, especially last year, when high anxiety was the go-to mode.
But a year later, I see this wild country from a different perspective. The mountains seem solid and sheltering. They’re still here, and so are we. When I got lost, I told Granny to go “home,” and I followed her.
Over the course of this year our family worked, imperfectly at times, putting one foot in front of the other, to find our way. Haven’t we all been there? You think you’re traveling one path, and then suddenly nothing looks familiar.
Last year, when my daughter said, “This is the end of my summer,” it heralded a season of challenge and then, recovery. Now we’re on the cusp of another summer, long days in the sun, rivers ready to run.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.