Some of my best childhood memories are deeply rooted in the Colorado Rockies. I remember those summer road trips fondly: leaving before the sun rose, sleeping until we stopped at a McDonald's for breakfast, spending the night at Holiday Inn in Amarillo, where we kids ate free and spent our pent up energy in the pool.
And then the mountains. Ah. The mountains.
My dad always rolled his window down as soon as we hit the foothills. As soon as we reached our first rugged mountain road, he'd bang his hand on the side of the station wagon door, making my Mom dribble in her pants, thinking we were going over the edge. "ELDEN WAYNE, you big stupid buffoon!" she'd bellow. Much hilarity ensued in the back seats.
Finding a prime camping spot was the most anticipated activity of the day. It must have enough trees. It must have smooth, flat ground for the tents. It must be near a running creek. Most importantly, you must not be able to hear your next-door-neighbor campers. More than once, we set up camp only to move the next morning when a better spot opened up. And then we set up for real. Lines strung for laundry, milk and eggs tied to boulders in the frigid creek, a 5-gallon bucket with a trash bag liner and a toilet seat on top, nestled behind makeshift bedsheet walls tied between trees.
My favorite camping spot of all time was in the South Fork area. There was a huge fallen tree that spanned the width of the creek. We crossed that log countless times - at first with wobbly legs and deliberately placed steps, later with confident skips and bouncy bounces - and explored the mountain on the other side.
One summer, my Dad took me hiking. I was about 6. He wanted to take my photo, but the trail was so steep that whenever he let go of my hand, I'd start sliding down the trail. So he took his belt and tied me to a tree, and snapped away. Those photos are on slides. Someday, I'll scan them and have them printed.
When I was in my young teens, I was entirely too cool to be camping with my lame parents. I was bored senseless. So I took my dad's pocket knife and began whittling an aspen log. Soon, I had a perfect walking stick. Then I began carving designs into it. After that, I left my mark on countless trees. All that whittling proved to be cathartic. After a day of it, I was over myself and happy to be in the mountains with my family.
I remember standing in the mist of Bridal Veil falls, of running through fields of wildflowers near Creede, of climbing to the top of Engineer Pass with the Jeep in reverse, 'cause that's the only way we could make it.
I fondly recall the Silverton-Durango train ride, the time my Uncle Wes came lumbering through the woods gruffing like a bear, scaring the pee outta my Uncle Eli, and taking shelter in an abandoned old house during a fierce afternoon rain storm.
As Darren and I pack for this year's vacation (our first to the Rockies in several years. We've become terribly homesick for our mountains), I remember my childhood. I can feel Mom's hot-water-followed-by-cold-water method of washing my hair, and the comfortable discomfort of lying on my back on the picnic table with my head hanging off the end. I can hear the crackle of the fire. I can taste the hot dogs with just a little ash cooked on, and the marshmallows toasted golden brown. I can see the stars. Millions and millions of stars.
I can sense God. And I'm not even there yet.