Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Camping at South Llano River

Last week we headed west two and half hours to Junction, Texas to camp at South Llano River State Park. Our second month doing the family challenge to camp at a different state park each month this year. This trip was easier than the first; we came in knowing more of what it would be like to camp with three small children, and even brought a chair we could buckle Foster into. Letting a toddler be "free range" for three days is pretty exhausting, hence the chair. We brought lots of cold, sweet watermelon and other camping snacks so he didn't mind being sat down occasionally.

Honestly I think the pictures speak of almost all the highlights of the trip. We loved bird watching as a family and some of the best bird shots (especially these last two) were Andrew using my camera. We both enjoying capturing more nature this time around. Andrew said we were still growing to be like one another as I asked for time alone in the bird blind to take some pictures, and he went tubbing down the river with Blanche. Normally I am the one in the water and he likes to sit and observe. Either way it was a nice change to give each other time to do special things while there. We had a fire going both nights and Andrew and I looked at the stars and talked and by the end of the trip I wasn't even afraid of raccoons that much anymore. Colorado Bend really had a large amount of hissing raccoons. Thankfully this time we did walk in camping and were more isolated. We hung up our food and tied down our cooler and old Rocky the raccoon pretty much left us alone.

There was hiking and swimming and marshmallow roasting. Blanche loves the water, but was a bit more whiney this time about "being the only one not carried." But I'm hopeful she will get back into the love of hiking. I thank God that one night as I was putting the younger two to bed I decided to check for ticks. I looked very closely and found one on Rosemary's head. That was the worse part of the trip. She was so scared and couldn't be convinced that it wouldn't hurt to take it out. It was close to bed time and we just told her we had to hold her down and do it if she wouldn't lay still on her own. She was shaking and crying but thank God we got it out and she was fine afterwards. Its always hard as a parent to feel mean for a few moments, when you know you are doing the best thing for your child.

We saw a jackrabbit jump through our campsite one morning, a little bunny one evening, and so many birds, some which are even endangered. The love of nature and protecting it is growing into our family culture and it makes the work of the trips worth it. Camping forces us to disconnect from the busy world a bit and connects us to one another and the nature around us. I think its easy in our big and strong homes to feel like we have this world under control, that we are alone in some ways as living creatures. But when you spend a few nights in the wild its pretty apparent that we are one part of a large and beautiful creation. During the day hundreds of lizards ran up and down the sidewalks and over the trails, hiding in the tall grass. The fire ants were busy at work, making their tunnels underground and flattening the earth into a large round circle of hustle. The birds sang as the sun set and the ants and lizards went to sleep. Then came the stirring of grass and trees in the shadows, a spookiness coming alive with a million stars.

Even in my most struggling moments, when I can't seem to put into words what it is that I believe about the world and God, I always have found God in nature. I see the grandness of the stars all the way to the finest detail of a bee inside a flower and know how foolish I would be if I thought I was the one in charge. God has always used nature to speak to me, to show me that he too is an artist. Nature shows me that God and Jesus and the gospel is an earthy thing. Jesus came at a time that he was outside and walking, hiking even, with his closets friends most days. After camping for a couple days, covered by the dust blown by the wind, I feel a little closer to Christ. Maybe it all sounds far stretching but sometimes removing my own control, even of the most basic act, like rinsing in the river over the shower, can show me truth. I can never hike along wildflowers and through fields and tall trees and not thank God for a beautiful creation. It is so stunning. And the thing is, He didn't have to make it this way, but he did.

The week before we camped was Holy week. It was a week that started by waving palm branches in the air for the coming of Christ. Followed by my own priest washing and kissing my feet as Christ himself did to his disciples. And then on good Friday I stood with a rose in my hand and walked what felt like an eternity to a cross, where Jesus was wrapped in black, facing death for my own sin. I had never had the weight of my own brokenness hit me so hard. I often think to my moments of weakness, the times when I am angry and bitter and hateful. And even with Christ I still have those moments. And honestly the moments of good and love and any sort of character come from God himself, teaching me and molding me. And yet, when I was yet still a sinner, Christ died for me. That truth made me want to collapse onto the floor at the foot of the cross. I laid my rose at the foot of the cross and had to take a few minutes to collect myself. All that I am is from him. Then Sunday came the largest celebration. All of the kids ringing large white bells, the entire sanctuary feeling covered in white and flowers. Christ has risen. Food and friends and celebrating the love of Christ. And then, almost like with an old friend, we drove out west. We went into the wilderness. The wild creation not in contrast to the decorated church but the very depth of the church itself. Feeling similar to where it all began when God placed humanity first in the garden. Nature shows me that while we are fallen, the story isn't over. It can't be. There is sadness but also so much beauty.

So, we will keep camping. We will keep working hard to set up tents and herd our children in the wild. I have come back feeling so thankful for all that is around me. It is a privileged life to have time to spend apart from the busyness of work and the daily to dos. My hope is that these trips continue to be a growing and rejuvenating time for our family.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Camping at Colorado Bend

For the past couple of years Andrew has given himself a new goal on his birthday for his next year. It has been things like trying a new beer or wine every time he drank and setting out to learn Spanish. This year as his birthday approached we were sitting on the couch watching an indie moving about a guy hiking. It was almost painfully slow, but the shots were beautiful so we just sat there tired watching beautiful scenes.

"You know, I think I want to go to a different Texas State Park each month as my goal for the next year, " he said all of the sudden.

"Yeah? That'd be awesome." I replied pretty quickly.

I'm all about the adventures and ideas of greatness. To better ourselves and expand our horizons. That's normally until my horizons are actually being expanded... like walking into the dark alone and hearing raccoons and trying to run to that gross composting toilet. Or my period waiting to be a week late, exactly on time for our camping trip were there aren't any showers. These types of stretching myself aren't what I was thinking about when we were sitting on the couch dreaming about Andrew's new goal. But, now that things are said and done, the pictures show it was romantic enough.

We drove a little over two hours from Austin to Colorado Bend State Park. Our first time camping as a family. Andrew's first time to even drive up camp, because he has always backpacked and done primitive camping. The park felt huge and quiet and slow as we drove in, winding along the roads at barely twenty miles an hour. We had the windows down on our van and could feel the dusty air as we watched cactus and shrubby trees go by. As soon as we were there Foster needed his diaper changed and the girls headed to the bathroom with Andrew. I changed Foster in the van while he cried thinking he was missing something grand, only to hear the girls coming back a bit fussy themselves, not wanting to use the weird composting potty.

 I shouted across the beautiful wild land, "I brought the pink potty remember? It will all be okay!"

We went into the park rangers office and Blanche immediately became best friends with the middle aged woman who was the ranger. Blanche has told me before that park rangers "save the world." The ranger asked if we wanted a campsite close to a potty, which I basically shouted yes for my own sake.

The next couple of hours were spent unpacking the tent and eating lunch at our camp site. For some reason whenever I come into a new wild space, I'm always a lot more cautious than my children. They seem to run in different directions, into tall grass and down steep hills, all while I keep saying again and again, "Okay, well wait a minute. Be careful." The full and moving Colorado River was just down the hill from our campsite and all around the area was brush and trees and what looked like a semi hidden tunnel system for raccoons. There were so many parts of our new world that felt untouched by man, which made me a little nervous.

After what felt like quite some time we all had on swimsuits and had snacks packed. After asking Blanche's park ranger friend, we drove down to a trail head to start our hike to find good swimming. We hiked a few minutes, past a couple of men fishing, the trail bright and sunny and flat. Foster had already fallen asleep on my back in the Ergo, and Rosemary was saying she was tired. We then bumped into some older women who had been hiking. They congratulated us on our victory of camping and being in nature with small children, and told us the swimming hole with several bikini clad beauties was the best one to swim in. When we turned the corner to the pool, a small waterfall or little rapids filled the pool. The trail crossed right through the water which was very slippery. After making it to other side, Blanche and I were the brave ones that got right in, the water freezing and clear and green. The sun felt so bright for March. The pool was at least nine or ten feet deep and Blanche kicked like a little puppy with her floaties. We swam and hiked and Blanche slid on her bottom down the small little waterfall, just like Mowgli in the Jungle book. One time on her way down the small fall, she went face first. She was holding on and kind of yelling so I made my way to her. I sat there and helped her onto her bottom. I let the water bang against me. There is something about sun and water and wind, it can just whip you around and wear you out in all the best ways.

Eventually it was time to go make dinner and enter our first night of camping. That night the kids were so tired by seven thirty, but it wasn't dark yet and the tent was still hot. I felt embarrassed at their hollowing. Well, mostly Rosemary, saying she was scared. I couldn't tell if she really was or if she just heard Blanche say it. I kept thinking that everyone could hear our wild little tent, and the kids a few spots down seemed so much more calm. Foster was nursing and then sat up and blew raspberries on my stomach. Andrew asked if I could get him to settle down, but that's what Foster always does, he just nurses and rolls around like a little puppy or kitten until he is tired. Finally he went to sleep though, sweaty and dirty and lying on top of the sleeping bag. The girls kept going on about what the tent would be like, were they anxious or tired or scared. By that point it was dark and I asked all the sudden, " Do you want to look at the stars?"

The depth of the night stars is so thick in the wild. Layer upon layer of stars and dust and magic, nothing like you could ever see in the city. We all looked up in awe, suddenly happy and better with fresh night air and glitter in the sky above us.

The girls went to bed just before Andrew and I did, but then as we lay there drifting in and out Andrew heard a noise. One thing that is so different about camping verses normal life with Andrew is that he is very aware in the wild. At home I have had him help me in the night and he will have no memory of it the next day. I have to become almost verbally abuse for him to respond in the night. He always acts innocent and doesn't know I've said the same thing thirty times. But this night, out in the wild, he jumps up at a thud, "What was that?" He unzips the tent and I hear him yelling "Scram! Get!" Rocky the park raccoon had opened up a green tub of ours and found the girl's marshmallows. I spent the next hour listening while Andrew got up and down to load more things into the van. Apparently raccoons like marshmallows and hand sanitizer and basically anything you leave out of the car.

The next morning Blanche thought it was hilarious that Rocky ate the marshmallows. She told some girls camping down the hill from us the story and they gave us their own marshmallows as they packed up camp. Both Blanche and Rosemary started warming up to the idea of camping and the community around it. Our second day was spent hiking to a beautiful waterfall that became a very steep trail at times. We met lots of great people and the wind blew and blew. We hiked until everyone was almost crying, and then had popsicles from the park store.

We were getting use to the idea of camping. Of cooking and cleaning with small amounts of water. I drew in my nature journal the tree the kids kept running around. When we first arrived at our campsite I told the kids not to go behind the tree, because the hill became steep there, and it was brushy and wild and untame. By the end of the first day I had said never mind, as they ran around and around the tree during their new made up game. Even Foster, could slowly make the circle. It would get a bit steep behind the tree and it always took him a couple seconds longer than I would think for him to reappear. But then, just as I was about to be getting up to go help, there he would come up that small little hill. That next morning as I washed breakfast dishes with the water dripping from a bag on that old tree, I looked down and saw an armadillo and its baby. I yelled, "A  opossum!" because I was excited and couldn't remember anything. The day before, after hiking to the waterfall and ice-cream we hung hammocks. That tree had a green hammock hung on it and I nursed Foster while he lay beside me in it in his diaper. We talked and he nursed and the wind blew really strong. Andrew came around the corner with my dinner and said, "Here you go lovers."

The second night was a lot like the first, raccoons hissing and maybe throwing up junk food in the woods while we tried to sleep. The kids slept so deeply after so much fun. We had hiked or played or walked to see deer, we had been moving all day. I laid there still in the tent. It was so quiet. And then, like a raging sea I would hear the mighty wind blow through hundreds of trees on those big mountain like hills, and then over the river and up the hill, finally making it to our tent, flapping like mad. The wind made me feel so small. Like one little baby tree. I kept waking and turning and scooting the little ones closer to me, in awe of sleeping in the wild, but ready for morning. Every morning felt a bit like a reward for making it through the night.

As I look back on our stories and pictures I just want to go back. I want to do the hard and the easy all over again. To get good at setting up and tearing down a campsite. To walk and hike with my kids and just enjoy them. To let the water and wind and sun wear me down and remind me how small I really am. There is something about camping that makes me feel a bit more human. Dirty and barefoot and sitting in the wild, remembering where I came from and seeing so much of the beauty that I had forgotten.