Man Eaten By Tree

We have been plagued with good weather lately, day after day of warm sunshine and clear blue skies. Ordinarily, we get a break on the weekends, when clouds and rain close in so that all the office workers can stay home and do their taxes. But this last weekend remained sunny and we were eventually forced to do something about it.

We celebrated David’s birthday on Saturday, complete with a train cake and grandparents. A friend from the Hood Canal area was visiting and stayed to snap pictures and help me play remote-control car tag on the basketball court with the kids. On Sunday we went to church and hosted a Bible study in the evening … it was a full weekend.

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Playing tag with these two remote-controlled cars kept us occupied for more than two hours, I’m embarrassed to admit.

I had wanted to visit Mt. Rainier for our next field trip, and a little research suggested that a number of the hiking trails were open, although travel to the Paradise area (5400′ elevation) was restricted to those with snow chains. This has apparently been a year of minimal snowfall on Rainier, such that the sledding areas are closed due to insufficient accumulation (they require a full 60″ of snow cover to protect the vegetation). I ran my suggestion past the Field Trip Quality Council and it was tentatively approved. Though technically a volcano, Rainier has been dormant in recorded history. After what seemed an eternity of searching the garage for boots and snow pants Monday morning, we all piled into the van and headed southeast.

Since we have moved into the suburbs, Rachel has honed her already-sharp eye for Volkswagon bugs and beetles. She recently set the record (21) of ‘Herbie sightings’ in a single day. We decided to try (as a team) to beat her record, and eventually we did, scoring a total of 35 Herbies in the course of the day. Each time we would see one, we would break into a loud and raucous chorus, sung to no particular tune:

Oh, we now have seen [insert proper number here] Herbies,
We now have seen [same number] Herbies,
Oh we now have seen,
We now have seen,
We now have seen [same number, repeated for emphasis] Herbies!

To while away the time between sightings, I would sing variations on the “I wish I could find that big mountain” theme while Rachel accompanied me with “but I’m too proud to ask for directions”. Eventually David asked us to stop, so we limited ourselves to one chorus per Herbie sighting … it was a great hardship.

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Fortunately, Kathy can actually make a cake that is recognizable, so we didn’t repeat the Winnie-the-Pooh cake debacle of 1996. Notice the ‘Herbie’ caboose — we call that literary foreshadowing.

Competition was pretty fierce to be the first one to see a Herbie … Rachel had a very hard time subsuming her individual accomplishment into the team sightings (and kept a separate running total of how many she had seen, apart from how many we all had seen). I demonstrated my maturity by teasing her unmercifully about this. I’m not sure she ever did understand why it was so funny … I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

We finally arrived at the Park Entrance, although I did stop a few times along the way for pictures of the mountain. This was done in tribute to my father’s long-standing tradition in which he would stop for every possible photo opportunity involving Mt. Rainier. As a child, I spent long minutes sitting in the car waiting for him to capture such photographic masterpieces as:

  • Mt. Rainier looming over garbage cans
  • Mt. Rainier looming over a field with cows
  • Mt. Rainier looming over a field without cows
  • Mt. Rainier looming over a few rusty cars
  • Mt. Rainier looming amidst a large bunch of clouds

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I might as well just start out with a gratuitous shot of The Mountain.

I estimate Dad has as many as a thousand pictures of Mt. Rainier and its environs … we used to tease him that he worshipped the Mountain, a charge he denied fiercely, but which did not deter him from stopping for yet another picture of Mt. Rainier looming over wild flowers.

We bought an annual pass to the park, confirming my optimistic intention of visiting at least twice more, and we drove on to our first objective … a restroom. Daniel continues to lead the family in his need for frequent rest stops; I had foolishly given him a Capri Sun about 40 minutes before we got to the park. We stopped at the campground at Sunshine Point, and enjoyed a half-hour of clambering over sun-baked rocks and volcanic sand along the banks of the Nisqually River. David really liked playing at the river, and later asked at least five times to go back there, in spite of the fact that he fell (or was he pushed?) in the river within the first minute of our visit. It was a little nerve-wracking for me to watch Sarah make her uncertain way over the rocks. I kept expecting an injury with expensive dental repercussions, but we were mercifully spared such a mishap.

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Only David could look this cheerful after a dunking in the Nisqually.

We ate lunch at the Kautz Creek picnic area, enjoying the sunshine and spectacular view of the mountain, and throwing snowballs at one another. Although the bridge was out about 1.2 miles up the trail, I thought it might be nice to walk at least that far, remembering this trail from my own childhood. Surprisingly, the hike was mostly in shadow, a new-growth forest having mysteriously sprung up in the last thirty years or so. Joshua seemed very amused by my indignation over the ‘sudden’ growth of the forest and the fact that I considered 30 years a ‘short’ period of time … it made me feel like quite the geezer.

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I rounded up the usual suspects, but we never did find out whether David fell or was pushed.

The kids enjoyed a running snowball fight throughout the hike, and we all had fun hiding in a big hollow tree, some more than others. The trail ended abruptly at a sharp drop-off where the bridge used to be, and we weren’t able to get down into the creek bed, which was disappointing (some of us would have welcomed another chance to fall in). I had neglected to place a mandate on jackets or sweatshirts, and we were all glad to get back to the sunny parking lot … it was pretty cool in the snowy forest. David and Sarah were tough little troopers, walking nearly the entire 2.4 miles roundtrip … I was very proud of them both. David could not resist picking up snow along the path, and so I took on the additional duties of Chief Hand Warmer.

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It was a little snug, but I was fine, until I remembered Old Man Willow from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

We drove up to Longmire and explored the Inn and General Store there, buying a few obligatory postcards. We hiked the short ‘Walk of the Shadows’ loop around the Longmire meadow, and then played some more in the snow around the Inn. It was coming up on nap-time for the little ones, and so I decreed that we would head for home, keeping a sharp eye out for Herbies all the way. Everyone (except Joshua and probably me) dozed until we stopped off near home for ice cream cones at McDonald’s Playland … we sat around the table there and I told the kids how much I had enjoyed the day with them. They all agreed I was a wonderful Dad, so I gave them each their ice-cream cone. You can’t be too careful when fishing for compliments, I’ve found. I let them all play a little while, and then we went home.

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Not even Washington, crossing the Delaware, looked this heroic.

It was a glorious day … we all were a little sunburned, and I managed to snap a number of pictures of the mountain that would make my Dad proud. Kathy got some well-needed respite from being a 24×7 parent and home-school teacher, and the kids got a chance to play in the snow. For some reason it is (so far, anyway) easier for me to set this field trip day aside than it is for me to set aside five distinct one-hour blocks on separate days … maybe the expectations aren’t quite as intense, or perhaps there is some other explanation. Whatever the reason, I finished the long weekend charged-up and ready to face my work-week again.

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The Geneva Convention was thrown to the wind, as were caution and a few snowballs.

Kathy and I are really enjoying the Parenting class at our church, taught during the Sunday School hour by a couple with eight children. I think a lot of people are cheating themselves out of most of the joy of parenting … like anything else, it seems to be just a matter of applying a little effort to get the most out of it. We’re watching carefully to see how those with teenagers manage … I think we might be in for some wild and wooly times ahead.

A few weeks ago the leaders of the Parenting class had to be out of town and asked Kathy and I to teach. It was surprising to me how much I enjoyed the chance to teach and what a difference it made in my spiritual walk, to have the opportunity to exercise my spiritual gift. I think the lack of teaching opportunities is one of the things I’ve missed most … except for a brief visit to Michigan, I haven’t taught Sunday School in almost two years.

As it turned out, the leaders’ retreat was cancelled, but they let me teach anyway, which was very gracious but a little scary, since David and Kelly were there and could see it first-hand if I messed up. A number of our kids were sick, so Kathy stayed home while I taught the class, then we swapped and she went to church while I stayed home. Fortunately, she collaborated with me in advance, which turned out to be a big help.

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Even the rocks Sarah throws are dainty.

One of the things we talked about this last week had to do with how we define success, and how we communicate those definitions to our children. I felt rather convicted that I have heavily bought into worldly measures of success, including power, prestige and (perhaps most of all) money. I was reminded that at the end of my life, it will matter a lot more what kind of a husband or Dad I was than what was printed on my business card (or if I even had one). At work we’re in the midst of Performance Review season, and my focus has been on finding ways to measure my strengths and weaknesses. I wonder what my review would look like, if I faced an annual review as Dad:

Please rate the employee according to the following criteria, using the following scale:

  1. Strongly Agree
  2. Agree
  3. Disagree
  4. Strongly Disagree
  5. Not Enough Information
  • Keeps his promises
  • Is fun to be around
  • Teaches the scripture
  • Lives out what he teaches
  • Tells the truth
  • Works hard
  • Pursues justice
  • Acts with gentleness and compassion
  • Forgives and doesn’t hold grudges
  • Is generous
  • Shows kindness
  • Demonstrates patience
  • Exercises self-control
  • Loves others
  • Provides for his family
  • Disciplines his children
  • Lives with his wife considerately
  • Treats others as more important than himself

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David and Sarah were very sweet to each other throughout the day.

Ultimately we will all face the King of Kings, receiving from His hand our eternal reward based on just such a review, only much more comprehensive, as our works are tested by fire. These kind of reflections encourage me take a deep breath and square my shoulders … I have some work to do on a few of those, I’m afraid.

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