Of Birthdays, Mouth Control, And The Risk of Living

My birthday just passed and the hubster and I headed outdoors to spend the day kayaking and hiking.  We always go outside for my birthday because if I were a compass, the natural world would lie at magnetic north.  This year was particularly inviting because it’s been so radically warm that it already felt like spring.  Everyone was outdoors in fact, not just us.  The young, strong, and nubile were hitting the river in wetsuits, while a caravan of towed motorboats wound its way out to the reservoirs with beach chairs and coolers of beer carefully tucked among the fishing gear.  (We lie somewhere around the middle of this spectrum.)

We’re just starting to kayak…our adventurous spirit is reviving from a near death experience as we finally shed some of this horrible weight…and we spent about an hour on a calm pond next to the river in town trying out different kinds and sizes of boats.  (Or, in the vernacular, “yaks.”)  Afterward we decided to drive up into the reservoir system northeast of Boise to scout for more exciting places to paddle once we spread our wings.

There are three dams on the middle and south forks of the Boise River…Lucky Peak, Arrowrock, and Anderson Ranch…and the reservoirs they create stretch for miles back into the mountains.  Below is a photo of Arrowrock dam with spring flows already being released due to the early snow melt.  Note the sparse snow cover on the mountains back behind.

The lack of snow bodes ill for future irrigation but it was terrific for hiking.  Normally we wouldn’t be able to access the ravine pictured below this time of year…at least without snowshoes…but we caught a great day.  The creek that runs along the bottom was low enough for us to cross since most of the lower snow had already melted and run off.  (The hubster missed one jump and got a shoe wet though.  Fortunately, he survived as seen with Dane the mangy rescue mutt below.)

It was spectacular back there, with snowy peaks capping both ends of the valley.  We had views both coming and going.  This is what it looked like hiking in:

And this is what it looked like coming out again:

As we began our hike we met a couple waiting next to a truck near the trailhead.  The woman, a pair of binoculars in hand, had just slid down a side hill and was engaged in serious consultation with the man.  They explained they were waiting for their three teenage sons who had hiked off along a high ridge running above the ravine some time earlier.  They seemed uneasy as the boys were late returning to the truck.  I got the impression the two weren’t married and that the mother was a lot more worried about her son(s) than the father, a hunting man, was about his.

She asked us to watch out for them and to deliver the message that they were waiting if we saw them, and I assured her we would.  But not before the hubster joked that the word “mother” is embedded in the word “smother.” (Sigh)  He realized from the ensuing awkward silence that it was a glaring faux pas, but couldn’t unsay it at that point.  Really, he’s come so far over the years in terms of filtering the thoughts in his head before they spill out of his mouth, but every once in a while he still just takes a hard right like that and sails over the cliff.

As a mother, I could relate to her worry because…well…that’s just what we do.  We know what can happen.  But at the same time I didn’t take her fears seriously because I was picturing boys in the sixteen to seventeen year range.  Around here, boys of that age with a hunting father are already experienced in wild terrain, so a simple hike on a clear afternoon wouldn’t usually pose any kind of meaningful risk.

We were only about a half-mile in when we sighted them up the trail and I immediately realized her worry was based on something more substantial.  The boys were younger than I thought…more in the twelve to fifteen year range…and her son, a pale, slight boy with glasses, looked to be the youngest.  By the time we met we could see that all three of them were agitated, a little scratched up and dirty, and they pounced on us wanting to know how much farther it was back to the trailhead.

They told us they’d been hiking along the ridge on the other side of the ravine when…for a boyish lark I suppose…they decided to climb down the mountainside, cross the creek, and climb back up to the trail we were on.  They pointed out the spot where they chose to make their descent and my blood went cold.  You can’t really tell from the photos but the sides of that ravine are quite steep and the boys had not only picked one of the steepest spots of all to climb down, it was a rocky, north facing slope that still held a thin layer of snow.  The descent was far more slippery and treacherous than they realized and they all exclaimed that they’d wound up slipping a few times.  If one of them had lost control of their fall, it would have meant tumbling wildly down a thousand feet of hillside, battered against jagged granite outcroppings the whole way.  Even the oldest boy (who seemed to be the son of the hunter) was visibly shaken by the experience.

We gave them the mother’s message and sent them on their way (although not before the hubster…imploding under the pressure of a stern admonition not to…helplessly blurted out to hurry because their mom was crying, which only made her son even more upset.  He then tried to backtrack by calling after their swiftly receding backs, no, no, no, it was their dad crying, not their mom, but both the intended humor and the correction sailed right over their heads.  I was just grateful she’d be gone by the time we got back.)

We talked for a while about boys of that age and how unpredictable they can be, how an older child can so easily lead younger ones into situations that escalate like that one did, and how all three of them now have a great story to add to their growing cache of adventures.   We shook our heads and reminisced about our own early scrapes, marveling yet again that kids ever survive to adulthood at all, and it made me think about the growing trend these days of trying to protect them from more…and more and more…of the perennial dangers that always lurk in the world.

To my eyes, some of these efforts lean towards the irrational, to the point where some regulatory attempts (not to mention some of the things parents are being prosecuted for) can not only interfere with basic parenting but a child’s ability to explore their world as well.  I sometimes wonder what kind of people our children will turn into under so much legislated fear, and what kind of society it might lead them to create in their turn.  Hopefully, the pendulum will eventually swing back to an attitude that’s more balanced…something that moderates the current hyper-vigilance with at least some acceptance of the fact that the very nature of life is, and always will be, unpredictable.

We stayed out for a couple hours and, as we headed back, the setting sun broke through the clouds turning the whole valley golden behind us.  A parting gift from the weather gods.

We ended the day by impulsively stopping by Mon Pere’s house on the way home and catching an impromptu dinner with him, his girlfriend of twenty-five years, and her daughter and grandson.

By the end of the day I was a very happy camper; relaxed and supremely content.  It was a most excellent birthday, to be sure.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

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5 responses

  1. Happy belated birthday, fellow Pisces person! Your “boy” story is such a familiar one to me. Here in our rural area, the boys run wild at an early age. They also have a lot of responsibility with the animals and learning to be safe around farm equipment. I noticed a big difference between the rural boys and the others by the time they were 10. My son is 26 now and can still do a lot of things the city boys can’t. On the other hand, being on the streets of San Francisco freaks him out. Glad you had a nice birthday hike.

    • Happy Birthday to you (must be having a birthday around here also) too Jan! I laughed at your son’s response to the streets of San Fran. I thought about that too when we met these boys…about how so many kids from this part of the world are comfortable traipsing all over the mountains but would be totally overwhelmed trying to navigate the subway system in NYC. The laws are substantially different between the natural wild and the human wild I suppose. Thanks for the good wishes!

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