Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lewis & Clark Abbreviated

from the book "Finding Liberty"

“Daddy, can we go camping in the backyard sometime?” my 8 year old son asks.

“Sure,” I reply, safe in knowing that a camping trip is well off into the future. It’s January - we’re still living in Florida at the time and I’m still running a daily sprint in the corporation rat race - and though the landscape is not exactly covered with a blanket of snow, it’s still cold enough to keep two novices (this one without even a sleeping bag) indoors and waiting for warmer weather. “But we’ll have to wait a few months,” I finish.

A happy & excited boy bounces off like Tigger, already imagining the adventure.

“Daddy, is it warm enough to go camping now?” He’s back, and he hasn’t forgotten the promise. The seasons have changed - perhaps faster than I would have liked - and it is now April. This time, I lift my head to make a serious looking inspection of the outside world through the living room window. Cold weather is no longer an issue.

“I don’t know, David,” I say with due gravity. “Looks pretty cloudy out there. I think it’s supposed to rain tonight.”

“Okay, Daddy. But we’ll go soon, won’t we?”

“Absolutely. Very soon.”

A happy & excited boy again bounces off like Tigger. For a moment, though, it seems to me that his bounce is maybe not quite as high as it once was. Must be my imagination, I think to myself.

My son is blessed with an uncanny memory and dogged persistence. His father has been given the gift of procrastination and the ability to prioritize those things that are important only to himself. And so as the weeks go by, the litany of excuses continues:

“Can we do it tonight, Daddy? Can we?”

“Maybe next week, David.”
“Daddy’s not feeling too well today, buddy.”
“It’s Wednesday, David. Daddy has to be at work tomorrow.”
“Daddy has to finish some work for a big meeting on Monday.”

. . . and so on, and so on, and so on.

With each request, my little Tigger approaches me with boundless optimism and excitement, and with each rebuff, no matter how gentle, I can’t help but accept the fact that his bounce is a little less than it was before.

Finally, almost as if to spite me, a beautiful Saturday arrives that can accept no excuses. A promise must be kept. Lewis & Clark, however long delayed, must now depart for the wild unknown, even if the wild unknown is only 50 feet from the back porch.

Supplies are gathered, coonskin caps are donned, checklists are reviewed. The two intrepid adventurers cut their way into the dense wilderness - St. Augustine grass cutting viciously at their ankles - as they find the perfect spot to make camp. A site is selected and the tent is pitched, with only minor confusion and sorting of poles, rods, & ropes.

Soon, our meager supplies are safely stored inside; our one sleeping bag for David, a few threadbare blankets for me, and what little food we have left. We take our minds off of the peril of our situation by playing some video games on the 12” color TV that I rigged up.

By sheer luck more than anything else, I had rescued the 100’ orange extension cord from my pack just before it had plunged over the cliff earlier in the day. As more sheer luck would have it (what can I say, I’m a pretty lucky guy), we had located a natural 110v 3-prong power source nearby.

In preparation for the next day, Lewis patiently instructed the older Clark how to play a wide variety of video games. Lewis’ favorite teaching method seemed to involve trouncing Clark into oblivion over and over, but to his credit, the elder Clark was an attentive student, and soon learned methods & skills that allowed him to get trounced not quite so badly.

Midnight came and went. Finally, the two weary explorers, facing dawn in only a few hours, secure from the day’s instruction, take a quick walk of the perimeter, and then lock down the tent to keep the savage forest creatures at bay. As they lay there in the darkness, with only the nighttime sounds of insects, animals, and people driving around way past their bedtimes, the ever inquisitive Lewis begs to be regaled by some of the more perilous stories of Clark’s past. Namely, he wants to hear some ghost stories (“but not too scary, Daddy”).

And so passes the night.

In the morning, the two adventurers are abruptly awakened by a beautiful Indian squaw, who had thoughtfully prepared both men breakfast in a nearby teepee. The young Lewis was up almost instantly and bounded off, without even a glancing thought for his own safety. The older Clark, however, took a little more time shaking off the effects of the night; somewhere in the past 30 years, the ground had apparently gotten a little harder, and wounds once ancient and forgotten had been reawakened.

Two things entered into Clark’s mind as the morning sun bathed the stiffness in his body. The first were the words of another great adventurer, Indiana Jones, who once said “It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.” The second was a Far Side cartoon where a settler lay beside his wagon, his body pierced with a dozen arrows even as the Indians still circled, who looked up to his partner and said, “Yeah, Clem, I hurt. But it’s a good hurt.”

The expedition was a success.

After breakfast, I came out to the back porch with a cup of coffee to enjoy the peace of the morning with Catherine. David had returned to the tent and was just lying there inside, looking up at the top of the dome with his hands behind his head, a smile on his face. When we asked him what he was doing, he stated that he was just trying to make the campout with his dad last a little bit longer.

Suddenly, I realized for the first time how truly important this had been for David. This had not been a silly campout in the backyard at all, but a chance instead for a young boy to get the attention & affection of his father that he so desperately wanted.

I made a decision: Lewis & Clark would travel again. And if a brave little air mattress happens to make the next journey with them, well, so much the better.

1 comment:

dogear6 said...

These are the precious memories that make parenting worthwhile. But it is hard at the time to know how important it is to show up and participate.

I used to take off afternoons in the summer from time to time to take my daughter to the park. I felt the same way - I really didn't want to and I didn't think it mattered, but it did.

When she was graduating high school, her Dad and her played golf together every afternoon at the local muni course. He was devastated when she went to college and he had no one to golf with at the end of the day.

I'm glad now that we made the effort. As adults, she remains close to her Dad and I.