Katie found out she was pregnant about three weeks before I went on this late-season, two-night backpacking trip in the Never Summer Wilderness in Northern Colorado. The idea that I would be a dad and we would be parents by the spring was still very new to me. We didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl. Here are a few images and thoughts from that trip.
Twice as many roots, a thousand times the purpose. All the nested rings of my 36 seasons have only formed a seed now planted in the soil waiting for the spring to begin the unfurl.
Is that your face I see in the fibers of nature? Your eyes in water that's collected from the sky?
Nothing in me is still. Nothing in me has ever rested peacefully. But as a father I must be steady, strong—I must bring stability. I know I have it in me to love this family with the calm of a high alpine lake, as rooted and patient as a tree with 600 concentric rings.
From where I sit in a bowl at the base of an old pine truk, fallen and sun bleached, partly submerged a few feet near the bank of Blue Lake, I observe a partial cross section from the core of the trunk to the youngest layers on the surface. Story of a life if I could read the striations. Record of time if I could decipher the fibers. Metaphor for me if I'm lucky to live so long. Not a bad situation to grow and return on the bank of this lake. Despite the name, all the seasons to breathe beneath the slow granite peaks, carved basins for collecting the snow and rain. Another piece of driftwood blown to the shore—this one marked by light and dark folds, swirling around the knots where branches anchored and protruded, the wood like water around a stone, a living, layered flow.
If this basin was formed by glaciers and gravity and the swirling wood of this tree was shaped by branching probability, then what is parenting? This may be my first time, but I'm not so naive as to believe a father holds a chisel or a mother forms the clouds. The child will be born with instinct, know how to grow toward the sun. All we can do is bring them here, show them how deep their roots really go, show them the stars far from the city lights. It's up to them what they make of it in the context of their microclimate.
Our child will not be a pine tree, though that would bring simplicity. It will not be purely chance how they branch as they grow and explore the wilderness alone. A parent has to teach them how to read a map, why the compass magnet points the way it does, why the vast night sky appears as endless dust, and how the milky spine tells us where we're from. I want to tell them where I think we're going, but I also want to wait and see what they decide.
Our child will not be born a pine tree regardless of the food my beautiful wife eats. Our child will have mental faculties, and the first thought it will see is the life its parents lead. You and me, sweet love of mine. No more time to practice our married life. Those eyes will open soon.
You and I and all these pines carry eons in our flesh, the wisdom of the ancients and the patience and the calm and the knowledge that the path were on is a braid without an end, a cloth with many threads. You and I and our unborn child are woven with the rest.
The seemingly endless rippling hills and valleys, forests and rock formations, peaks and basins, textured stone faces represent the unfathomable landscape of our life on there on the horizon.
Coming off the ridge, I jarred a good-sized rock loose. It quickly gathered speed, tumbling and leaping from small mounds. It smashed into a boulder, leapt high with a kick of dust, and kept on going. It tumbled about its axis of maximal rotational inertia, a beautiful demonstration of gravity driving angular momentum. Still hauling toward the bottom, it clocked another rock, but this time it stopped abruptly, perched on an unlikely apex, poised calmly right where it was. I laughed at the absurd outcome, a seeming refutation of the second law—spontaneous order emerging? The two stones formed the base of a cairn, but no hands were employed in the initial construction.
You and I started tumbling fast as soon as we met. We never suffered painful impacts, and our love won't be stopped in its tracks, but nevertheless, the hurled stone reminds me of this momentous summer, marked by the unreasonable fortune of our love, our wedding, and the punctual conception. We are on a ride, my love. I'm just so excited.
What can I say to a respberry embryo who can probably barely read but already means so much to me? A few scattered passages, nothing substantial. Nevertheless, here's the message: I am here for you, unformed child. I will show you what I've seen. I will help you learn to speak.
Time to hike out. I take a longer route to see more of the area.
Climbing up a hill, thoughts are put on hold. There are times for planning and times for doing. Now it's time to go — time to chart the miles, hope we have prepared ourselves.
I saw a great, big elk, heard several bugles. Now I descend through the golden aspen to lower elevation where you're at home and our unborn child rests inside you. The autumn colors are bright in both of us, dramatic hillside all alight. I'm on my way home to you, my love. It's been so long without touch. I will remind you when I hold you tonight what it feels like to be loved with the colors of an aspen-covered hillside.
You and I are are intertwined, and bound as two can be: bond of love, bond of kin, and now the bond of parenthood.
As the sun grazes lower, it smells like dry leaves, and the air turns to crisp evening, beckons me deeper into autumn. Plenty to do to settle in for winter, to prepare for this momentous spring. By the next time I pack into the woods, our child will be born.