Naima NoMad

Nov. 19, 2009

I tend to write in here about our trips. And, seeing how my online writing began with the nomadic mothering column, Naima the Nomad. I guess it makes sense. But, life has been sort of stagnant for awhile, what with Dylan’s qualifying exams, and just the day-to-day caring for the children, dog, rat, chickens, mouse-in-the-house-that’s-not-a-pet, cooking, washing laundry in the bath tub, bartering for farm fresh produce, and other food etc., that I haven’t even recorded our last summer’s backpacking trip.

Sometime in September:

Things didn’t go as planned, but, if you read any of those mamazine.com columns, you’d know that we’re not very good with plans. I’d say it’s one of our weak points, along with organization, and buying things we need like underwear and space heaters. We really need to work on it, I think as I sit freezing and underwear-less in our uninsulated cinder block apartment.

We were going to go backpacking for three nights, but after talking with the forest ranger, we decided to cut our trip a little short, as Saturday would be the opening day of deer hunting season. And, according to the old guy with the pack horses in the parking lot, the first day of deer hunting season is like the opening night of the new Star Wars movie.

The sun was going down as we were re-packing our one backpack: two sleepings bags, clothes, pre-cooked burgers, soup, tarp, 1-lb of candied nuts, half a dozen nut muffins, fruit and vegetables and dog food (notice no tent, no stove, not much).  Naima is on a non-grain very restricted diet, and it seemed to be helping.

The old guy with the horses suggested we spend the night at the trail head instead of hiking out in the dark.

You’ve got two little kids, he reminded us.

Oh yeah.

Naima followed him around watching his bent frame haul hay and wooden boxes, asking him a million questions about everything. He made us a fire and told stories of hunting back in the days while we sipped cold soup from jars and ate avocados with a spoon.

The next day we hiked to a nearby lake. It was only a couple miles in, but both girls walked, including the one year old who walked/fell/crawled through the dust and horse manure all the way there. Dylan carried the big pack, I carried a small pack, and sometimes Sora too. We forgot Abuki’s leash so she dragged a long rope behind her, while pack horses passed us with hunters heading in.

At the lake, Naima had one of her “meltdowns,” which is part of the reason for the dietary change along with a myriad of other symptoms like stomach aches, diarrhea, leg cramps, odd tics, nightmares. She hit and kicked at us because we wouldn’t answer her questions correctly (ie. How do you spell the letter “f”). We sat there on the rocks looking out at the Sierra mountains, the pristine lake carrying her cries of “Help me, help me. You’re killing me,” far and wide, while I went over in my head how much fruit and candied nuts consumed, versus vegetable and protein, the possible stresses of backpacking, which in the past has helped her, something I said, something I did, did not do.

Sometimes, I just can’t quite believe I’m a parent.  Who graduated me from dog walking to child rearing anyways?  You can’t really clicker train a kid. But one saying in pet care, that’s transferable in child care is, “Moving Towards Calm.”  One should always be moving towards calm. The pre-schooler is tantruming in the wilderness and I am losing it because I can not win at arguments over grammar with a five year old, the toddlers getting mosquito bit on the butt, and the dog takes a shit in the lake. At some point you just have to sit back and breathe.

I think of the Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki who died of cancer. We live in a toxic world. We live in a beautiful world. Breathe in. Breathe out. The trick, I guess, is not to hold onto any of it. Or maybe there are no tricks.  Just like there is no “right” way to parent.

When she recovered we sought out a hidden pool. I scrambled ahead across boulders in search of the quietest spot in the world. In a sort of nest in the rocks was a clear little pool. Behind the pool the mountain dropped thousands of feet into a wide valley which reached back to the next range of mountains with names like Cathedrals, Castle Rocks. Because it was the end of summer the pool was rather small, but still ice cold, and deep enough for the kids to go running into naked, down sloped granite, sending little frogs flying for cover. I swam into the middle of it, floating on my back, looking at the rocks, the jets making lines across the sky, breathing in, breathing out, trying not to swallow the water.

We left the next day before hunting season began. Sora insisted on walking most of the way but she was so tired, she kept stumbling and falling in the dust. I eventually wrangled her onto my back with the sling and after she calmed down she began to chant, “Mountain swimming everyday. Mountain swimming everyday,” before falling into a deep sleep.

After being home for a bit, we called Julio. A homeless man we befriended during our last trip to Santa Barbara. He was in Georgia with his son. He said he went swimming one day, like how he usually does, goes way out past the Kelp, sometimes for miles. But when he got back he vomited blood. He went back to his camp in the bushes behind a playground at the outskirts of town, where we had visited him last. He said he nearly died. He could barely crawl out of the bushes. He spent some time in the hospital and the doctors ran all kinds of tests on him. Nothing was wrong. He just swam too damn far. His son, the one who works for Homeland security, came out and got him. So now he’s recuperating in Georgia. He says he misses the ocean, misses the beach, misses his friends like us. “It meant so much to me to have met you and your kids,” he tells me on the phone. “I was kind of lonely then. You guys brought me so much joy.” “I love you,” he tells Naima. I tell him he’s welcome to come and stay with us anytime. “It’s my turn next to call you.” he says. We haven’t heard from him since.

Mountains swimming everyday.

Mountains swimming everyday.

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