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Spending a Saturday, as fellow writers

March 12, 2010

I told myself that I wouldn’t “mom” him on Saturday. I wouldn’t ask him the typical mom questions about warmth and sustenance and sundry things like Kleenex and whether he’d tucked any in his pocket..or not. I wouldn’t remind him to get his pack or wear a sweater.

I told myself these things because we were stepping onto the trail as fellow writers, not mother and son.

Not really.

Saturday….Soren and I attended a workshop offered by my friend, Cinny Green, on trail writing. Her book, Trail Writer’s Guide, will be out next month, and the first thing we did in the workshop was launch into one of the writing exercises featured in the book.

We sat in Cinny’s sunny living room, her walls decorated with art by partner, and Trail Writer’s Guide illustrator, Maureen Burdock, and opened our journals. Silence, the scritch of pens on paper…I thought about intention.

Across the coffee table, Soren looked seriously at his notebook. He carefully inscribed words that I was dying to read.

I tried not to stare.

After writing for a little while, we drove to Cerrillos, and the entrance to New Mexico’s newest State Park. I was prepared for cold, the continuation of what’s been a bitter winter. But when I stepped out of the car it was warm and sunny. I chucked my extra sweatshirt in the backseat.

Soren and I divvied up our snacks–three bags of Kettle chips in his pack, two bottles of water in mine. I gave him a pen, after he sheepishly told me he’d already lost the one I’d given him an hour earlier. Then, with journals ready, we looked over a trail map.

Cinny asked me to be the “point” person, meaning that I would take the lead. The rest of the group would stretch out behind me, each walking a few minutes behind the person in front of them. Our goal: to write and think and hike. Inward bound was what we called it on my Prescott College orientation, many years ago.

I stepped onto the trail alone, my boots against the hardscrabble earth the only sound until the wind picked up and my breath quickened.

For awhile, I just walked. Feeling rather than thinking. Surrendering to whatever happened around or within me. I savored being alone under the arcing sky, casting my eyes about for birds, studying the beveled edges of cumulus clouds above, as they flattened and blurred against the sky. I kicked rocks and thought of landscape and memory and permanence.

A short way up the trail was the first of several mines dug by prospectors back in the mid to late 1800s. I paused to peer into darkness carved into the rock ages ago. Beside the mine was a small plaque detailing the story of the man who’d claimed and worked it for about 5 years before he died. I wondered how he died, and imagined for a moment struggling to unearth a living, while yearning for a fortune, with a pick axe beneath the brutal New Mexican sun.

While lingering at the mine, the hiker behind me came into view down the trail. It was Soren, ambling along, hunched within the depths of his black hoodie. I resisted the urge to wave, just turned and continued up the trail. But as I walked I thought of that old miner I’d contemplated moments before. I wanted to tell Soren about him, despite the obvious plaque. I wanted to turn around, go back, and marvel at the hole in the earth alongside my…son. Maybe offer him some water. Inquire about his allergies. He gets terrible, debilitating juniper allergies in the spring, and we were hiking through juniper heaven (hell, if you’re allergic). I worried that his nose would be stuffing up, his eyes swelling. The season hasn’t hit quite yet, as it’s been too cold thus far. But still, you never quite know when those dreaded trees will unleash their yellow clouds of misery.

I kept walking, knowing that it was important for him to have this experience for himself….at least on the trail. There’d be plenty of time later to pepper him with questions.

This is a unique stage of mothering I’ve entered. My youngest, Gray, is now almost 6, and I am forever past the infant and toddler stage of motherhood. I have one daughter on the brink of adolescence, and one in the throes of it. Then, there’s Soren. He could learn how to drive this summer, and get a job. College is something I think about now more in terms of my kid than of myself.

It’s a scary magical incredible place to be, on this edge of a whole new stage in my own life as mom to children moving into the greater world by degrees. For now, of course, all four are still at home, and the transition looks a little more like this: to find those spaces and moments in my life as a mother where I can let my kids find their own independence in their own way. And in such moments, it’s important not to be too much of a “mom.”

Soren is a gifted writer, something that has become clear very recently. Suddenly, my boy who didn’t even read until he was 10 wants to write books. He reads constantly, craving new Stephen King paperbacks even more than iPod apps. But the very coolest thing about all of this is that it’s easy to relate to him on all of this stuff. I don’t tend to read Stephen King, and he’s not quite interested in some of the books I’ve suggested….but we still have plenty to talk about. Character development, word choice, plot structure…we discuss these things, and it’s amazing to think that in doing so our relationship has grown beyond the bounds of mother and son. We are writers. Together. And last Saturday, when we stepped onto the trail both together and alone, I saw just a little more of that new world that I know is about to throw itself open in myriad colors and light all around me. Any day now. This transition on our journey together is the trail through a landscape of memory and permanence….where the land beneath our feet is both brand new, and entirely familiar.

I stopped at a fork in the trail a little way past that first mine, and waited for everyone else. While I waited, I surreptitiously snapped the picture, above, of Soren pausing to look closely at something on the ground. When he stood up I turned away…letting the moment be only his. Soon, he wandered up, grinning at me, hood pulled tightly over his head.

“Need some water?” I asked him, slipping his bottle out of my pack. I decided not to ask him what he’d seen on the trail or what he thought of the mine or if he was going to write for a little bit before we hiked on. I took a big drink of water. Smiled at my boy as a breeze picked up. He grinned back at me, then started to laugh as he pulled his hand out of his pants pocket and held a pen aloft. It was the pen he’d “lost” within the space of an hour, earlier in the day.

“Hey, look,” he laughed, “I found it!”

What follows are the two short pieces I wrote in response to the writing exercises in Trail Writer’s Guide, edited only slightly to smooth the swiftly-written words I penned on the trail, and add a few elements from otherwise disjointed trail notes. Soren is in the process of typing his up, and I hope he’ll let me share them here at some point. They’re hilarious, insightful, profound, and deeply honest…all elements that comprise the changing relationship he and I share as he approaches adulthood. I think it’s also important to note here that on Saturday night, following our hike, Soren showed me that I can no longer beat him at arm wrestling. He didn’t beat me either….we are exactly even.

For now.

I want to step onto the trail in bare feet. Feel the rise and fall of the Earth through my skin, and let the dust pool between my toes. Step lightly, becoming weightless and one, out of my body, as ravens fall through the high altitudes of the afternoon sky. Calling out as they flip and spin and play. I want to feel the sun’s warmth on my shoulders, and the rock beneath me. I want to walk, not as me but as everything. Across trails pounded out and wiped clean again by countless feet and hooves and claws before me.
But my feet are so sensitive that I bind them in soft socks and thick boots. I feel the design of the trail through something made by people. I can still see the ravens dipping and spinning and calling. Still feel the sun above….walk step by step into the shadows of rock and tree, letting the daily world melt away and reorganize into what’s real. This rock, this sky rounded over me, this spring that emerges from beneath a clot of winter-browned shrubs, this juniper stump, hacked down for mining timbers over 100 years ago.
I will feel the earth through this trail through these boots.

I walk with Tennyson on my mind.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

My intention for this hike was to dissolve into the landscape. Loose the shackles of civilized whatever and just be present. Present for myself, present for whatever thoughts come to mind in the moment. Present as well for nothing. No mind, no words.
Just…present, for whatever unfolds.
Stopping on the lip of an old mine, I mused about memory. How landscape is memory. The earth holds the remembrance of wind and water, fire and creation. Memory of the boundless primordial sea that once stretched out beneath these skies is now held in the rock. I imagine the sea receding and the ancient earth unfurling into mountains. I try to understand time in the millions.
All I have with me as the trail passes beneath my feet are breath and a quickening heartbeat. My legs strain against the slopes, loosening rock that was perhaps once loosened by the hooves of burros and the soles of mens’ boots more than a hundred years ago, as they prospected for minerals sheltering deep in the earth.

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