From the bean of Green Bean.
I reach back and hold the soft hand. Checking my watch, I signal him to be quiet and follow me. I don't want to wake my sister's family, sleeping nearby. We climb out of the tent and silently put on our shoes. Tiptoe quiet, we move away from the campsite, the leaves and sticks determined to crunch even under the gentlest step.
The harbor lies just on the other side of the road. A blue expanse of boats mottled by sea grass that resembles shredded newspaper. The tide is in. Not a foot print mars the soft dirt path along the marina and toward the estuary. A rabbit, white cotton tail and all, skids past us and into the underbrush. My four year old grins but knows better than to shriek his excitement. Mr. Bunny might have friends. We do indeed spot three more rabbits and a handful of chickadees before rounding the path and settling down on a rock to watch the water, still as glass.
Side by side, we marvel as a rare White American Pelican drops into the water and bobs along with the current. I doubt that it is a pelican but my son insists, pointing it out on the laminated bird guide we picked up at the visitor center. He is right. A sea otter lolls about, sleepily rubbing his eyes and ignoring the screeching gulls. My little guy spots the egret first. Stilt legs and darting head, it wades in amongst the reeds, searching for breakfast. A blue heron soars overhead and the snorts of sea lions echo from distant rocks.
Two years ago, I read Last Child in the Woods, realized how disconnected we, and especially our children, are from nature and I panicked. I dragged my family on urban hikes and transformed my yard into a pollinators' delight. A year later, I bemoaned the ability of us suburbanites to reconnect our children with nature and all its ravaged beauty. I wondered if I should throw in the towel.
This past year, a girl who never camped fell in love with the outdoors. With the crackle of a campfire and the slow turn of a roasted marshmallow. With the hours of conversation and the silence. With the stars spread like a blanket overhead and the cool feel of a sleeping bag on my check. With the hoot of an owl at night, the rustle of a raccoon in the brush, with the still egret at dawn.
This past year, two boys learned to identify poison oak and banana slugs. They learned what pelicans eat and how to walk without a sound so that you can actually see the animals who left those prints behind.
This past year, we camped at the seaside, in the redwoods and on the red dirt of Zion. We invested in a second hand tent and a new ice chest. We unplugged and recharged. We discovered life without TV or iPhones. We found imagination. We found home.
The camping season is over for this year. And while the rain has come and washed away our camping dreams until spring, our 2010 calendar is full - of campsite reservations and a summer trip to three national parks.
Sitting inside as rain peppered the windows, we realized that, this summer, we learned something about ourselves. That there is magic in a quiet marsh and a few small birds. That fallen sticks can become many things. That kids actually can go through eight pairs of pants in two days. That the phone and computer and television stifle conversation, connection. That silence can be a good thing. And that nothing is as beautiful as where the wild things are.