This past January, my husband needed to observe a class somewhere in the middle of Parts Unknown, Washington, and so, desperate for a change of scenery, into our car we all piled merrily one Thursday morning. I packed five lunchboxes in preparation, picked out a couple of audiobooks, positioned the sun on the left side of the car, and off we went.
The road, alas, was far windier than we anticipated, so we arrived at our destination slightly green around the gills—with one child in the far back succumbing to her sloshing tummy, but feeling immediately better afterwards. We dropped Max off at his school, and crept our way along the one main street, Main Street, in town. No stoplights, but plenty of charm-packed store fronts faced us, with aged signs and earnestly scrubbed windows displaying pride of offerings. It was January and only about 40 degrees out, and I was tempted to find a quiet view and pass around the lunchboxes, but to be frank, the car and it’s occupants needed some airing out.
We found a sign declaring “Columbia River Camping, 2 miles”. Though it was far from the right season for camping, we were hopeful for a picnic bench and some birdsong as we crept along another windy road for two miles turned into one thousand thanks to the presence of heavy whining and claims of starvation and/or death by vomit smell inhalation. Finally, finally, pine trees began to appear around us—and then we turned the bend in the road to Glory on full display. If I were Anne Shirley, this bend would be titled something like, “The Gateway to Wonders” or “The Turn toward Eternal Beauty.” The vista that greeted us was miraculous, coming after such a smelly and arduous trek: The Columbia River abruptly appeared, vibrantly sparkling in the noon sunshine, with mountains just on it’s other side, rising in ombre blue to white peaks so pure our eyes hurt to see them. And, as is true in all good adventure stories, we were transformed by the beholding of majesty.
Suddenly I wasn’t a beleaguered and short-tempered Mother, frustrated by bad attitudes and too few car snacks. No, I was an Adventure Mom, a woman gifted with an interaction with True Beauty, Grand Possibilities beckoning her onward. My children took a beat longer, but once they flopped out of the car and caught a whiff of freezing air fresh off of the river, they began sprinting as best they could through snow toward the water which clearly was meant for them to explore that day. They whooped, they giggled, they raced toward God’s gift to us. Their voices immediately began overlapping and growing in excitement: “Mom! Mom! I see all sorts of different rocks on the beach!” “Mom! Can you see these trees? They are HUGE! I can’t see the tops!” “Mom! Mom! Watch me climb this tree that fell! Do you think we can go swimming?”
The frantic cries of my eight year old alerted me to our Foul Disaster approximately fifteen minutes into our Columbia River exploration. Friend, do you know what happens to sand in the winter? We do now. Or at least, my boys and I have become familiar.
Turns out, sand in the winter transforms into extremely muddy quicksand. As in, try to walk to the water’s edge on an only semi-freezing day in January, and you’ll find yourself in up to your knees in pure, sucking mud in under thirty seconds. The only correct response at that point is to begin hollering at your Mom as though actual ROUSes are after you. Your Mother then, in a fit of we’ve-just-been-studying-chivalry-so-my-other-boy-should-actually-get-in-there-ness, sends in your younger brother to try and pull you out, which of course means that there are immediately TWO young boys hollering that the sand is eating them. At that point, your Mother, who has apparently fully lost her senses, tries to walk out into the mire, begins to sink herself, and runs away from you yelling, “You’re on your own!”
Ingenuity born of desperation is your real mother here, if you’re an eight year old boy abandoned at the edge of the Columbia River in the Moment of Filth and Madness. So Hawkins pulled his stocking feet free, yelled directions to his younger brother to do the same, and heroically rescued all of the boots from the Sand of Devious Deception. I was so proud. And very worried that my own ill-chosen footwear was now toast.
To say they were muddy during the course of our red-cheeked lunch would be an understatement. They were mud, at this point. They were filthy, they were freezing, and they were exhilarated. They had peanut butter and jellies which probably never tasted so satisfying: they had left the car as discontented boys and re-entered as valiant conquerors. Our girls applauded their heroics while simultaneously giving them and their proof-of-adventure smeared clothing a wide berth.
While eating we found hiking trails and rhapsodized over the water lines on the ancient-looking pines around us, as the sun’s reflection from the River semi-blinded us. We talked of Narnia, and we dreamed of spring, when we swore we’d all come back to this exact spot and witness the glory on display yet again. Hawkins began plotting fishing expeditions, lured on by the vastness of the river spread before him.
When it was time to pack up and reclaim their Dad, we all took a moment to just look. To appreciate the water, the mountains beyond. To take pictures of the boot-sized holes by the water’s edge and take a last deep breath of the bracing air. We experienced contentment, and unlooked-for joy that afternoon. We remembered that winter isn’t forever, and that beauty reigns in all seasons.
Today I am challenged by this memory; I have been daily cursing the mud and dirt dragged into our home by my children as they try to find rays of sun and active pastimes in our backyard. I’ve resented what the dirt represents: carelessness on the part of my children. Work for me. But writing out this fantastic and hilarious and ridiculous memory has taken me back, and I hope transformed me a bit, again. That mud also represents play. Fun. Adventure, High and Low. That dirt means that it’s not all snow outside: it looks like the promise of Spring beginning to come true. That mud means tulips, and more birdsong, and best of all, Easter. The sun rising earlier, and the Son Rising once again.
Though I will still attack and banish the mud and dirt on my floors with abandon, I will aim to take a moment and thank God, too. Thank Him for the opportunity to really appreciate a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for the overwhelming gift of natural beauty in our own backyard, and for children who have such an exuberant joy in experiencing it all.
Columbia river gorge, USA photo by wirestock