CAMANO, Wash. (AP) — I like to hike. No, I love to hike. Or, to say it another way, hiking is the only thing I’ll happily get up early for.
So, of course, I want my daughter to love to hike. I fantasize about hiking the PCT with her or going on other epic adventures.
Right now, though, she’s 5, almost 6, and epic isn’t really her style.
Picnic is more her style, and has been for a while. If I want to take her hiking, I have to be careful to avoid using the word “hike,” or she’ll simply say “No.” Not as if she’s being difficult, just as if it’s a fact.
If I let her pack a picnic lunch, however, she’s in.
My husband, Jerry, and I wanted to head outside recently, on one of the lovely summer-like days we’ve had this spring.
I envisioned something in the mountains, my default outdoor playground.
But all the trails were going to be extremely muddy from the days of rain that had preceded our sunny day.
Jerry suggested the beach. I resisted a little. Because when I say I want Hazel to love hiking what I really mean is I want her to love hiking the way I love hiking.
I want her to suffer up steep mountains with me and then, at the summit, flop down in ecstasy, take in the view and savor whatever fancy picnic we’ve packed.
But, like I said, she’s 5. She’s not really interested in anything as abstract as a view.
She cares about the things she can touch and play with.
So we went to the beach.
We started with the short walk to Cranberry Lake at Cama Beach State Park. Hazel led, playing her favorite game of being the teacher and telling us about the plants and wildlife.
We sat down in the trail to watch a millipede. Hazel let it crawl up on her hand before carefully setting it at the edge of the trail where it wouldn’t get squashed.
When we reached the lake, another family was already there with their two small kids.
They pointed out the frogs in the water, but Hazel was distracted by the damselflies. I was distracted as well. I love damselflies. They’re just as beautiful as dragonflies, you just have to look a little closer because they’re so small.
One of them, delicately shaped with a bit of bright blue, landed on my arm. I carefully lifted it on my finger and then set it in Hazel’s palm. She held it, entranced, and so very, very careful. Eventually, she wanted to see the frogs, so I helped her slip the damselfly onto a leaf.
She turned her attention to the frogs. She pointed out the different colors, the different sizes. She was suitably impressed with the gigantic tadpole we’d spotted. (Seriously, that thing was enormous.)
Then, as she lost interest in the frogs, she headed farther downshore and another damselfly landed right on her hand.
She was just as entranced the second time. And truly, so was I.
When we finally left the pond, after Hazel spotted a bird with its mouth full of nesting material, we walked the mile or so to the beach.
At the beach, we all settled in on the warm rock, backs propped up against a log. Hazel ran in and out of the water, occasionally eating, while Jerry and I watched and laughed at her goofiness.
Eventually, with the food and drinks gone, she lured me into the water and my husband put his hat over his face and fell asleep.
I buried her in the perfect beach rocks. As I dug up the rocks to cover her, I found shells and agates and chunks of perfectly weathered beach glass. I held up each treasure for her to examine.
When she got tired of being buried, she shook off all the beach rocks and we headed to the tiny playground.
We played in the sand box inside an old boat. She made me endless meals of sand, that we pretended to eat together.
I pushed her on the swing and then I took the swing next to her. I closed my eyes and I felt like I was falling and flying at the same time.
And really — that exhilarating feeling was a lot like what I feel when I stand on the top of a mountain.
We went home that evening so happy, all of us. I want Hazel to love the outdoors and I realize she does. She loves the rocks and the waves and the tiny damselflies. And some day, she’ll probably love the views and the summits and the feeling of achievement from getting there under your own power.
Maybe someday I’ll teach her that. But for now? She’s reminding me to look closer than a grand view. She’s reminding me to slow down, to watch the millipede, to smell the wild roses and to let the damselfly sunbathe on your skin.