The Great Wide Open: Family Style

The last six months have been a whirlwind. Pete and I had our fourth baby. We found our dream home and found our extended families love for us so deep they financially helped us buy it. I packed up our house while nursing a newborn, engaging a two year old and feeding our fast growing six year old twins, while Pete dove headlong into remodeling the new house so we could move in. Now we have moved in and the projects have started. Please don’t think I am complaining, we love this pace. It brings out hidden strengths and areas where we need help, but it is tiring!

Eventually the tiredness won out. A few weeks ago, I had a minor emotional breakdown. Pete asked me what I need. “Mountains. Wilderness. Water. Sky. Quiet and Laughter. I need a family camping trip. The further out the better.” But how far could we go with a family of six, one of which is three months old. After some discussion we decided that Upper Priest Lake would be our destination. There is a camp site half way across the lake which holds wonderful memories for us and all the elements needed for our restoration.

There were logistical concerns, such as: One seventeen foot canoe in which we needed to fit; Two Adults, Four Children, Camping gear, Food for four days and Pete’s guitar (the only non-essential essential!) and Is it irresponsible to take a three-month-old five hours from help? These questions did occur to us and the thought that maybe we should do something a little easier. But we both remembered well the glory of that upper lake. Whatever the pains and energy we encountered or spent would be replenished with interest as we pitched our tent and lit the first fire. And so they were.

IMG_2665Of course, it was a ridiculous amount of work to get there. Collecting the camping gear, planning out the meals and all the potential clothing needs for the children…accounting for the temperamental nature of Springtime in North Idaho, all the while fielding the wild excitement of our three girls…that tight rope walk between fanning their flames with tales of last year’s adventures and holding the reins so their small containers don’t explode with impatience. It isn’t easy trying to stuff the bare minimum of clothes into a small backpack while calculating exactly what each child needs while three wood nymphs dance in circles singing impromptu songs of camp fires and marshmallows. Very cute but somewhat distracting.

Finally, we made it into the van, the canoe strapped on top, gear packed in, the girls faithfully reminding us of passing time with a steady flow of, ” How much longer?,” or “Are we there yet?”. So we sang some songs and soon we were at Lower Priest lake packing the bags into the canoe. We had decided not to take the whole family across the bay, to give the canoe a try before loading in the most precious cargo, but to meet up at the portage put-in on the thourough-fare between the lakes. So Pete paddled the canoe and I walked with the children down the portage path.

As we rounded the last corner before reaching the water, we ran into our first adventure: a bull moose blocking the path. I herded my children up on a bank and tried to scare him off. It took half an hour of blowing my bear horn and yelling with Pete who had by this time arrived at the bottom of the path, for the moose to finally move nonchalantly off into the woods, completely unfazed.

What can I say of the utter glory of all six of us canoeing into Upper Priest. When we paddled around the last trees of the strait the view of Upper Priest opened before us; a spectacular vista of pristine lake and blue mountains, scudding clouds and an osprey diving for fish. We were singing at the top of our lungs. The next day, when my twin girls caught their first ever fish, they glowed with excitement and when we cooked them for our dinner they radiated their satisfaction. What can I say of the joy of watching all four children laugh wild and naked and free, the older ones diving in and out of the frigid lake or running along the stone beach and in the woods. They explored everything. Or our two year old, Thalia, and her utter delight as she let a worm squirm endlessly in her hand. Or our littlest love laughing, completely content as he kicked naked on the blanket and watched the tree branches moving overhead. We scaled a small hill behind our camp, barefoot bush-wacking the whole way and came back with small cuts on the soles of our feet. My girls beamed with pride as they told the story of each abrasion. We watched the sunset, skinny-dipped in the freezing water, and made masterpiece art with charcoal on logs. And every night, the sticky delight of roasted marshmallows and stories and songs around the campfire. It is an added joy to have my camera along and to be able to capture some of these moments with my lens.

IMG_3378Yes, it is busy, dirty and chaotic to take four kids canoe camping for four days. No, i do not have much time for relaxing on the beach in between nursing the baby, cooking, helping children untangle fishing lines, filtering water from the lake and keeping an eye on them while they played. Yes, it is a crazy process to both pack up and unpack from such a trip. And yes, it completely resets and rejuvenates my soul and body and being. Not only entirely worth the effort, but it knits us all closer as a family. It renews and more deeply ingrains our love of the wilderness and each other every time. It gives us space to see each other with different eyes. When the setting is slow and expansive, our lives loose the blurred edges and come sharply into focus. Even though we spend much of our time while at home outside at the lake or playing in the woods, getting away into complete wilderness for days at a time, cut off from all communication with the outside world, is to me not only important but essential.