“Drink yourself of all of the beauty of this world as much as your eyes can hold.”
quoting a famous poet, or philosopher, or Goethe,
or one of the many writers whose work she memorized .
Losing her husband in her forties did not damper my mother’s adventurous spirit. It did, however, rob her of a travel companion, which over time, I became, as I knew how her spirit loved to travel and explore.
After I moved to Seattle to start my life with Tim and our daughters, Mom and I slowly eased into a yearly travel experience, usually in the summer, and almost always just the two of us.
Though I am an incorrigible planner and researcher, these trips were often by the seat of our pants. We always had a vague sense of destination, but routinely did no advance planning. How could you when every mile provided rich opportunities to discover something new.
We stopped at every roadside marker and every sign that promised a short hike. If billboards promised for miles some unusual roadside attraction, it required a visit. Only once in all the years of unplanned travel did we arrive at a destination to find literally only one room left, a grungy cabin with a lumpy full sized bed.
Along the way, the miles disappeared as we listened to Garrison Keillor stories, cackling and commenting as the miles cut through the landscapes as varied as the stories weaving their way through the confines of our car.
She canoed with me at 75 in Glacier National Park. We took a photo of my brothers with us on her 85th birthday on an Oregon road trip and took it into every restaurant so they could celebrate with us. In her early 90’s, we flew into Calgary and did a road trip to Jasper so she could get one last picture of herself standing on a bridge over her beloved Maligne Canyon.
The fact that we were trapped in a devastating flood there and could not get home by plane did not deter her. We literally raced the flood waters to drive to the border in a rental car that was supposed to be returned to the airport in Calgary… only there were no roads to get there. She declared, as she always did, “It was the best trip ever.”
Though her desire to adventure never waned, her body often did not cooperate, so we would take off on some desired hike only to have her announce, “Puppy is tired,” which usually meant we slowed to a crawl with me often pulling her up the rises of the trail and guiding her down the slippery hills.
Today, as Tim and I hiked the Echo Canyon trail in the Chiricahua Mountains, I thought of her. The other worldly rock formations would have pulled her deeper and deeper in the canyon, just as they did me. The tantalizing sound of water over stone in the distance would have sent her around just one more corner, just as it called to me. The bird song, the light through a crevice, the lazy lizards showing off their iridescent scales…each would have brought moments of delight and commentary.
And just as certainly, three miles in and facing a climb out of the canyon in the ever deepening sun, I channeled her spirit and announced to Tim, “Puppy is tired.”
Not wanting to saddle him with pushing and pulling duties, I slowed down and began rewriting lyrics to well known songs in my head. These Boots Aren’t Made for Walking, I Could Have Sat All Day, I Won’t Walk, You Can’t Make Me were just a few. Then, I counted my steps in groups of ten. Somewhere along the way I sang old campfire songs about bears and mountains and bottles of beer on the wall.
But mostly, I thought about my mom, the intrepid adventurer…the woman who stole a bike and rode from Czechoslovakia to Germany during the war, traveling by night and sleeping in ditches by the day. The woman who arrived in America with nothing in New York City and launched into a new life. The woman who canoed from Colorado to St. Louis, Missouri and lied about her age to do it just so she could retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark.
I am now the age she was when we first began to take our adventures. I thought through all those years of travel, I was taking these trips for her benefit…so she could still experience the thrill of discovery.
But I wondered today if she may have been taking them for my benefit.
Maybe she wanted to help me step out of my regular mundane life and into the world of adventure she loved - full of majestic views, unparalleled hikes, and the ever present surrender to the call to stand in icy mountain lakes and rivers just to marvel at the beauty of the earth.
I reflected today that I spent much of my life focusing on all she wasn’t. Because of a perceived lack of a maternal instinct, I often joked I was raised by wolves. She was not a protector, or a nurturer, or an encourager.
But she was a survivor who showed courage and initiative and strength beyond anything I think I would ever be capable of. She was fearless in adversity, and she met life with enthusiasm and wonder, especially in nature.
That desire to suck the marrow out of life with gusto is her legacy, and I think today I realized how much it is an integral part of my own.
I just had to heal and forgive a wilderness of childhood experiences to realize it.