Out west, our family sometimes stays in a cabin on a parcel of land plunked down in the middle of a national forest. There—with no cell service, no cable, and no wifi– we watch the weather unfold in the sky rather than on radar.
A couple of years back, a sunny September afternoon was overshadowed by clouds that rolled in over the Absaroka mountains, dropping rain and then snow as the temperatures plummeted. A splashy snow, it clung to everything it touched—the meadow’s tall grass, the aspen’s still-green leaves, and us. It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. As darkness descended, a movement in the distance prompted us to pick up our binoculars and search. A bull moose was plodding across the meadow, a dark shadow making his way between the hillside and the stream.
Until that moment, the only wildlife we’d spotted at the cabin had been trout and the occasional deer. We knew animals lived in the surrounding woods, of course. The cans of bear spray lined up on top of the refrigerator and three spotting scopes stationed by the windows silently testified to that. We’d just never seen them.
We went to bed, content with the falling snow and the company of the moose.
Morning brought a cloudless sky and a balmy breeze and we left the house to explore. Fresh tracks in the snow revealed that the moose had not been the only wildlife to pass by in the night. A rabbit had wandered around on the deck. A pair of deer had meandered across the dance floor in the meadow. A coyote had preceded us down the driveway between the cabin and the road.
The snow revealed their presence.
We set off into the meadow in search of the moose’s hoof prints from the night before. They were gone, covered by the snow that accumulated after he passed by. Back on the road we walked under a canopy of flocked pine boughs and followed it further up the mountain. At a bend—a blind corner—my son stopped and pointed to the ground. More tracks. While these were not the dainty tracks of rabbit or deer or even coyote, they were free from any covering of snow. They were clear. They were fresh. And they belonged to a bear.
We paused for a moment, looked at one another, and—in unison—turned to go back the way we had come. The best bear defense is a good offense, and a good offense is to let them know you’re there, to make some noise so they can move away. So we traveled back down the road the same way we had walked up—talking and laughing—but always aware, always listening, for the sound of a bear in the woods.
When we reached the driveway—my husband and I relieved to have made it back from the wilderness with our family alive and unharmed—our oldest daughter moved ahead and walked into the cabin. I drifted into the side yard and there, under a frosty awning of still-green aspen leaves, scooped up a handful of snow and lobbed it at my husband. It landed on the ground several feet short of its mark.
It didn’t matter. The game was afoot. Snow bombs began flying through the air, sometimes hitting their targets and sometimes falling harmlessly to the ground.
I slipped away and opened the cabin door. “Hey, Girlie, we’re having a snowball fight!” I called and turned back toward the battle.
Before long, my daughter was tossing snowballs, her sweet laughter mingling in with the rest of the family’s. When it was over, we headed to the cabin for hot cocoa and dry clothes. As we walked, my daughter fell in step beside me.
“Thanks for coming for me,” she said.
“I didn’t think you’d want to miss out,” I told her.
“Oh, I knew there’d be a snowball fight. But I didn’t know you would play.”
In that moment, she showed me something about the nature of the journey toward adulthood. At fifteen, she stood between the world of a girl and that of a woman, and she needed me. She didn’t need me for sustenance and survival and everything in between as she had during the little years. She needed me to play, to live, to show her that it was okay, that growing up wasn’t all serious all the time.
The moose returned that afternoon, weaving between the pines and aspen at the meadow’s edge. I watched my three children study him through their binoculars and considered the growing up years.
Like forest animals that offer only hints of their presence, transitional moments in our children’s lives are often hidden. We know they’re there. We see the tracks. We catch an occasional glimpse.
Transitional moments don’t require our recognition or perfection. They simply call for our presence, a living of our imperfect grown up life. Our kids are present too, and they’re looking to us to show them the way.
Natalie is a storyteller convinced that finding our way in wild places helps us navigate life in the civilized world. A mid-west dwelling wife and mom, she’s perpetually on the hunt for a cute skirt that will stand up to the trail. She encourages women to pause, ponder their path, and press on at natalieogbourne.com, Instagram, and sometimes even Facebook.