A trail hike was the perfect order of the day. The boys were excited about the idea. It would be a good workout and it would be good to be together. We planned to leave immediately after lunch. I noticed Daniel, who will be ten in November, and Wes, who will be seven in December, scrambled for their gear. They had spent the morning pouring over outdoor outfitter catalogs looking at sophisticated equipment that would be sufficient to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I thought back over the years to the hours I spent with my official Boy Scout handbook. I was disgusted to remember that I spent more time reading about nature than I spent experiencing it. That’s when I said, “Guys, let’s just use the day packs we have and take a nice hike this afternoon.” They say the smallest deed is better than the grandest intention. The boys heartily agreed.
Immediately after dinner we made for the trailhead. Chuck joined us and led the expedition. He carried no pack. The little guys fell in on the trail ahead of me with their full day-packs, slouch hats complete with hand tied flies hooked into the band, and Nalgene bottles filled with water. (Hydration is a life and death issue when you forge into the wild like this). They soon found walking sticks. I laughed as I watched Wes lurching along the trail ahead of me struggling with all his gear. The fully-loaded Nalgene bottle dangling from a loop on his pack had to equal a quarter of his total body weight and reached nearly to the ground. He shuffled along behind his brothers careful not to drop behind. Not a syllable of complaint escaped his lips.
We hiked up some steep banks, through pine woods and across a meadow overlooking a pond. We climbed to the crest of a hill up an earthen stairs built into the hillside. Finally I asked Wes if I could carry the pack for a while. He smiled quietly and handed the thing to me. I noticed the compass hanging on a loop and a Carabiner. (The compass, I suppose, so we wouldn’t stray from the trial and find ourselves at the mercy of the elements. The Carabiner would be useful if in our Herculean struggle for survival we had to scale a steep ascent and wanted to lash ourselves together for safety).
The guys hiked quietly trying to “leave no trace.” The air was sweet with the scent of autumn. Goldenrod nodded yellow along the trial. Here and there a Maple showed its color. In places falling leaves streamed across the footpath overhead. Crows called out our location, giving us away. We crossed a footbridge over stream that ran among small boulders. At one point we came to the edge of the wood overlooking acres of corn ripening in an undulating field. In the center of the field sat a pleasant farmhouse, barn and silo.
I kept Wes’s pack and finally asked him; “What’s in the pack, Wes?” “A calculator,” he said. I thought I misunderstood him. I thought maybe trail mix, some apples, or maybe even some jerky would be good things to put in the pack. Maybe he packed a field guide, field glasses, the writings of Thoreau, or the poems of Robert Frost or another of the nature poets. Any of these would have made sense, but Wes said, “A calculator.” After forcing the boy to repeat himself as if he was shouting over the roar of a jet engine our the din of a factory or the rush of whitewater, I finally said; “Oh, a cal-cu-la-tor…???”
“What else did you put in here, Wes?”
“It’s kinda’ heavy, Buddy. Did you put some books in here, too?”
“No, just the calculator.”
He insisted the only thing the pack contained was a calculator. Then it hit me what he meant by calculator. He was talking about the huge desktop adding machine that had been underfoot at home for the last few weeks. It was complete with a grounded power cord and a roll of paper. I was trekking the wide outdoors with an adding machine in my backpack. Great, I thought, if we find a handy power source I can stop and add up how many wild animals we scared off thundering though the woods hunched over like Piltdown man. “Why the did you put an adding machine in your pack?” “I just wanted something in my pack,” he said. Kids are fun and full of surprises. I chuckle within every time of think of it and I am reminded what a priceless thing it is to have a little boy to hike with.
It’s better to live than waste your precious life watching other people pretend to live on television. There are people out there who want your love and it’s good to be alive. Get out and do something with the family. Spend time with the people who love you while you still can. Visit, ride bikes, stroll the beach, walk the dog, visit an orchard, get some pictures, go out for coffee and pie, walk the beach, go to church. If you can’t think of anything better to do, throw an adding machine in a backpack and hit the trails.