Teri Orr: A river runs through it
I want to remember this for later: The bright blue sky with white jet trails fading in and out. The crunchy leaves, the warm sun, the sound of the river we were sitting next to as we enjoyed our picnic. We had been hiking — actually strolling — through the forest and exploring and chatting in that comfortable way of old friends with new stories to share.
The school break that falls this time of year is always a challenge for working parents. I like to see the time as my responsibility as The Grandparent In Residence to take a couple days off and enjoy the grandkids who are tweens and a teen now.
It is easy to throw them and their bags in the car and head out. Not like the old days that involved strollers and diaper bags and small toys to amuse. I loved those days, too. I did. But these days are easier and the conversations more challenging and the music — from rap to Swift — keeps me listening, carefully, sometimes painfully, to it all.
As any parent knows, the way to learn the most about the habits of young people is to become the invisible driver in a car filled with those vocal unfiltered creatures. And sometimes I do that. But mostly, since these are humans I don’t live with day to day, I have so many questions about their habits, and friends, and schoolwork. And they are still sweet enough that they are eager to answer. If I can, say on a walk, cut one away from the herd and meander, that is sweetest of all.
So after the parental drop-off of all three kids at my house, we packed up my car and made the obligatory stops Starbucks and Rocky Mountain Chocolates — and we were ready to go. Thanks to a story on KPCW this week that was not about politics but about mountain fairies, we headed into the Uintas. I only said we were going on a hike — they are between the stage of wonder and too cool right now and I didn’t want them to make up their minds before we arrived.
Up the road, on the Mirror Lake Highway, we immediately felt a sense of adventure. The "traffic" — about six cars in either direction — was stopped. And in the middle of it all was couple of ranch hands on horseback moving beautiful cattle down the middle of the road. It was just like being in Yellowstone, surrounded by buffalo, except that these were cattle and very friendly looking and it was all over in a matter of minutes. I forget, even though we live about 45 minutes away, that these kids are city kids. They ride TRAX and count destinations in blocks away and think Liberty Park is an extended backyard. For now, it is a great time to be a guide.
Not quite 20 miles up the highway, just as the KPCW story promised, there was little turnout where we parked (joining a handful of other cars). We loaded up the backpack, grabbed our water bottles and sweatshirts, and started our walk in the woods. After just a few minutes the fairy circles with painted rocks and imaginative groupings started to appear and the kids ran in every direction squealing — Come look at this one! No, over here, this one! Rocks painted like Minions, and Mine Craft, and alligators and tiny stick caves with glitter where fairies had most certainly been recently. Hundreds of fairy gardens on the dirt floor of the forest.
It turned out they were not too old or too cool for this.
We wandered to the edge of the fairy forest and headed to the river, rushing still over the rocks. There were logs across the water to balance on and plenty of rocks to toss into the stream. By the time we sat in the sunlight, by the water’s edge, to have our picnic, we were all a bit dirty and ready to sit a spell. And the kids just kept marveling at the day — their adventure, their discoveries. And I just kept marveling at my good fortune to able to steal the time to be in their lives right this minute.
The drive out of the Uintas included a stop for jerky in Samak and a milkshake from the lunch counter in Kamas. And as we drove to Sundance their chatter filled the car, and their music, and stories of their friends.
Our cabin came complete as ordered, with a loft for the kids and bedroom for me. And a deck where the river crashed against the rocks for our arrival. Our night walk back from the lodge after dinner required flashlights and included giggles.
We (I) have another hike planned for today, one I took their parents on about the same age these kids are now. Hopefully, the waterfall is still there this late in the year. But even the trail with a full backpack and promised great weather and a blessed lack of cell service will allow us to keep talking. Which is the best of time spent together between generations who want/need to learn about each other.
And somehow, with the river flowing in all these adventures, there is both a peacefulness and a sense of urgency as a soundtrack to this fragile time. I am grateful these humans related to me want to spend time with me. And I need to remind myself of that every time they choose to listen to Taylor Swift in my car … in any park, on any Sunday.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.