One of those last, blissful mornings of summer, I went for a walk with my 15-year-old son, the same walk I took most every summer morning. But this walk was different: instead of turning over to-do lists and worries in my mind as I walked, I wanted to be focused on the here and now. My son would be entering his sophomore year of high school all too soon, and with two others grown beyond that age, I was acutely aware of how fast the next three years would fly.
When I complained about being too tired to take the extra-hilly route, my 15-year-old reminded me of some hikes we’d taken on our recent vacation — and the one I declined. “You’d never have made it up Black Butte, then, Mom. But too bad — you missed some great views.”
Black Butte was a hike I couldn’t have done because of my fear of heights — my acrophobia a fear I discovered too late, following my last session of beginner ski lessons. That icy day, nearly 30 years prior, my husband and I were the last people off the mountain. I’d stopped the ski lift, and after being helped off the lift chair, I tried my primitive, beginner snowplow . Note to self: snowplow doesn’t work at 4:00 p.m., after the sun has beaten the snow down to an icy sheen. The helicopter I’d hoped would arrive to help me down the mountain didn’t show up, but the Ski Patrol did. It took that saint and my husband (whose loyalty to me after this excruciatingly embarrassing episode proved his love) to get me off the slopes. With the Ski Patrol leading, my husband behind, me sandwiched in between, we’d made it, but not due to much effort on my part. I still have little recollection of the downward journey: further evidence, perhaps, that it’s not just spiders I’m afraid of.
“The views, that cool house…you missed out, Mom,” my son was saying. But the hikers who did climb Black Butte were lucky not to have me along. The going uphill isn’t the part I fear; it’s the coming down.
As we rounded the corner at the Pittock Mansion, our nearby “castle,” that day, my son and I slowed for a bit to gaze down at the city. As we walked on toward the gardens, he took in a breath. The roses along the walking path were in full bloom, their scent heavy. “Wow, Mom, there’s just so much nature,” he marveled.
I resisted a laugh, surprised at this cute, honest observation from my boy. You think when they’re teenagers there won’t be any more cute things, those expressions you were sure you’d remember when they were young. Others warned me then, “Write that down, or you’ll forget. You’ll miss these days before you know it.” But when my kids were little, some days I felt lucky I’d remembered to brush my teeth, let alone write down all their cute sayings.
“There’s so much nature,” he repeated. Hearing me chuckle, he added, “Well, I mean, so many flowers, and those trees — so beautiful.” Now, as I write this, I wonder: how did he see this familiar place with such fresh eyes? Was the extra summer screen time to blame, or were his younger eyes just able to see more clearly?
So much nature. On a solitary hike in the spring, not long after a spell of especially wet weather, I ignored my hip pain and went for an extended hike along a particularly beautiful stretch of the Wildwood Trail. As I rounded a corner, lost in thought, head full of anxious thoughts about the slippery trail (I’d injured my hip slipping on just such a trail a few weeks prior), I was arrested by the sound of a waterfall. A full-on waterfall, in a spot where there’d been only a dry ravine the summer before.
I had to stop walking, stunned by its beauty — and hear the message meant for me. At that moment, all that “nature” was telling me to stop and take it all in, feel the moment. Isn’t that the point, part of the design, the lesson we are here to learn?
When my son was little, I remember thinking, if I just feel each moment, each stage, strongly enough, I can keep these memories. But it doesn’t work that way. Every “first” was also a “last.” As my son napped on my shoulder as an infant, as he took his first steps, this was the last day he was this age, and this age, and this age. And despite my greedy hoarding of each moment, he just keeps growing up. When I blink, he’ll be in college.
All we have, after all, is today.