a hiking he will go…

by bam

question number one: how in the world did the boy who could lose a math book in the wilds of his locker learn to pack like that?
that’s it, up there, his whole existence for the next four weeks, rolled, bundled, tied with those funky little cords we paid too many dollars for, just last night, of course, at the camping store, as they flickered off the lights, reminded us that we’d waited ’til the last possible minute to get this show on the road.
well, okay, so it wasn’t the last possible minute. the old wagon doesn’t pull away from the curb ’til shortly after dawn tomorrow. so we could have gone out today. or tonight. but, thank you, i think we cut it close enough.
it is all, perhaps, part of God’s way of reminding me that with the belly-aching missing of my manchild, the dull sense for the whole month that i’ve left something behind–my wallet? my sunglasses? what is it? oh, yes, yes, it’s my firstborn child, that’s what’s missing–there is at least one note of relief.
relief that for the latter half of july through the middle of august, it will not be my worry when the flashlight can’t be found, the bungee cords have lost their boing, and the hiking boots are not yet broken in.
the boy will survive.
the boy will, some far-off august day, come loping in my arms, a little browner, a little leaner, a whole lot taller if the current rate of return keeps up.
and a whole lot more as if the winds of the woods have filled his lungs, his soul, and set him soaring.
like the glint of eagle i caught in his eye the first time i picked him up from camp–after a mere two weeks that had me groping through each and every single day, not yet knowing if he was a woods boy, or if he, like me long long ago, would be drowning in some homesick hangover that wouldn’t lift ’til he heard the crunch of the wagon wheels grinding up the gravel road to where the campers and their wayward grownups are reunited, or at least sent home in the same car.
yes, the boy will survive. (do you think if i repeat that often enough i might come to believe it? make it be true, somehow?)
yes, he’ll survive despite the bumps and bangs that i’ll not know of. despite the things i won’t be there to fix.
that, i know, is the whole darn point of this exercise.
an exercise for me, most likely, more than him. a little practice session in what it might be like if some day the boy excavates that math book and goes off to college.
a reminder, even, that these children who are laid in our arms, often as they inhale their first deep breath of air, limbs flailing, covered still with birthing slime, they are not ours to keep, but merely to place-hold until they can be wound up, set out on the doorstep, and left to bump and roll on their way through life.
it is a lesson that needs frequent repetition. it must be drummed again and again into certain thick-skulled heads. like mine.
like me who thinks it would be simply grand, at least from where i now sit, if my boys grew up, got jobs, raised families, the whole shebang, right upstairs in the little rooms they call their own. and we will all be a big brady-style family band. we’ll hold hands at dinner, sing kumbaya.
just kidding. i was just reminding myself why it is i need this overnight, month-long camping deal. need to shake the delusions from my head. remind myself the boy is only in my keeping. he is not mine for keeps.
i cannot, despite my inclinations, despite the malaise that will set in as i gulp and wave goodbye at the curb, hold him back.
cannot keep him from throwing on the backpack, and the hiking boots that, as a state street shoe man once termed a pair of whopping size 13s, are now “past noon.”
nope, the boy is going hiking. the boy is headed for the woods.
the boy is ready, willing, itching (and, just think, he hasn’t even met the swarms of lake superior mosquitoes, not yet).
to go back to where all illumination comes only from the sun, the moon, the stars and the wand that’s stuffed with double Ds.
to where there is no noise, only sound. and it surrounds you from the tree tops, from the water’s edge, and if you’re really lucky, from a comet soaring through the heavens.
to where he seems to take in lessons in double time. to where he’s learned, oh yes he has, he told me so, to hear the blessed roar of God rushing through the trees, streaking pink across the sky, or simply fluttering in the butterfly that takes its time to sit beside him, where he won’t be in a hurry to rush away, to miss the ballet of the wings, and whatever song they’re playing to his soul.
it will be a long hard month. and not for the one hiking 12 miles a day, up and down ravines.
ah, but the coming home will be so sweet. and the knowing all the while that he is in the arms of God and God is taking him to where all creation first unfolded.
deep into the place where the dappled sunlight plays, and shadows dance, even with the moon. deep into the place, inside his very being, where life first stirred within him and where all knowledge dwells, in a tender slip, waiting to be discovered.
the souvenirs, i’m certain, will be something. will last a lifetime, too.

okay campers, it’s all about the letting go, is it not? time and again we do the drill. over and over, practice ’til we get it. the ones we love go off. they take in the world. they take in lessons for which we cannot be the teachers. sometimes the curriculum requires hiking boots. sometimes college admission letters.
the brilliant priest who presided over my firstborn’s blessing, along with a rabbi, too, spoke of how it is our task as parents to give roots and wings to those we love. the roots, they sprout at home. the wings come in the woods….
what wisdom have you to share for a campsick mama who will miss her camper? what lessons did you learn the first time you went off, into the world all on your own?