On the Trail
Taking lessons from life, past and present
By Mary OBrien
Its hard to fathom how many messages are given to a child on any given day. Last Saturday, my husband OB, son Josh, his 5-year old son Linus and I hiked to Tamolitch Pool, the "Blue Pool” up the McKenzie River. Linus first wanted to listen to Neil Young as we drove from Eugene, particularly a song in which Young mentions 9/11 (Linus had asked what 9/11 was when listening earlier to that CD). Then he wanted to listen to a National Geographic book I had brought about what Charles Darwin saw in his four-year trip sailing around the world on the Beagle. While its a picture book, the words are from Darwins diary.
The book mentions Darwins horror at slavery (yes, some people do this to other people); his experience of an earthquake and tsunami; a volcanic eruption; strange variations of animals otherwise familiar to Darwin; and the bones of huge animals that had become extinct. Which led to a discussion of how people at that time believed God had created each animal separately and would not let any creations go extinct. Which led to a discussion of God as opposed to gods, and Linus asks whether someone is a Christian if he or she believes in forest gods.
But then off on the trail to Blue Pool, never mind that it is a thoroughly gray day. When Linus catches up with Josh and me, he has learned from OB how to distinguish a cedar tree from a Douglas fir. Linus is lowered into a tree well formed when lava flowed around an ancient tree. The McKenzie River is rapids and noise beside us .... until we get to the Blue Pool, a rare, glassy blue about the color of the blue toilet bowl cleaner some people use.
A dipper is singing, the only bird we have heard along the trail. The bird is marching on the rocks, peering into the water. We eat lunch ã with Linus favorite being sheets of seaweed. (Josh and Linus mom Laura had no idea he was eating seaweed until the school teacher suggested Josh and Laura provide him with seaweed in some lunches, because Linus was asking his friend Peter to share Peters seaweed with him every day.)
But, oh my gosh, upstream of the Blue Pool there is no river. Silence. Where is it? Underground. A river can be flowing underground, appear in a pool, and roar downstream. Astounding.
Linus asks to be carried across the narrow bridge because its icy, but just after Josh puts him down on the other side, two hikers meet us coming down, speaking briefly with us.
"They probably thought I was 3 or 4,” Linus of 5 years and 2 months worries. So on the way back, he negotiates the icy bridge by himself (with nearby help). Another step away from fearing heights.
On the way back, the cut end of a huge log is moving back and forth near the trail. "Why is it moving, Linus?” I ask. Characteristic silence while he tries to figure this out.
"Water,” he finally states. He has discovered how its top 20 feet away is in the moving edge of the river. Much in the world can be figured out with observation.
A large tree has fallen over, uprooted. "Weve walked so far, and the tree is still beside us, " Linus remarks. These Pacific Northwest trees are REALLY tall.
Linus stands inside a tree hollowed by fire. Some trees can live after burning all the way through their trunk.
OB says something Linus doesnt believe. "Youre a fibber,” he accuses OB.
"Well, O.K., Linus. I can tell you a true story right now, or a fib. Which do you want?”
There are differences between truths and fibs.
A friend of mine who teaches "kiddie lit,” the term for a class taken by would-be teachers about childrens literature, eschewed having her college students read 40 or 50 childrens books during the course, which is a common practice. Instead, she had them read no more than 10, but would ask them to report on what messages about people and the world each of those books conveyed to a child hearing or reading that book. That turned out to be extraordinarily difficult for many of the students. A childs book is just a childs book, right? Nope.
A childs day is just a childs day, right?
Mary OBrien has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She is currently dividing her time between Eugene and Castle Valley, Utah.