Dan Learns About the Mud Curriculum

Owen turning 3 with Max with his Aunt Laurel

Owen turning 3 with Max with his Aunt Laurel this past week

As grandparents, Hannah and I are living the dream by having our grandsons, Owen and Max, nearby in Massachusetts.  Though there will be time to teach them ping pong, golf, and Scrabble, now it’s about being a positive life force in their lives.

To that end, I am currently reading a terrific book on parenting, The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary.  Here’s a snippet for your reading pleasure about some of the things that you can hope for your children/grandchildren.

Conscious Parent

Not that they will achieve “success,” but that they will live a life of purpose.

Not that they won’t fail, but that they will find the courage to start again.

Not that they won’t hurt others, but that they will find the grace to ask for forgiveness.

How cool is that!

The Family Rawding

The Family Rawding

While breakfasting out with our daughter Molly last week, I learned about the “mud curriculum.”  As a teacher for hundred years, I never knew about it.  Here’s the good news: it’s not a part of the Common Core or the Race to the Top; there is no standardized testing.  When I googled “mud curriculum,” I got a link to a Masters of Urban Design.  That’s not it either.  It’s an idea to open up learning for preschoolers (and I believe schoolers of all ages).

The mud curriculum is about being outside, getting dirty, playing, exploring, being imaginative, digging, and planting. It’s about kids making choices in their activities and not having them always organized by adults.  In the mud curriculum, it’s been a successful day for Owen and Max if they need a bath at the end of the day.  The beauty of the mud curriculum is that the boys can do it again the next day, and the next.

highbush blueberries

This week we have 24 hours of Owen and Max at our place on Chases Pond Road.  Our mud curriculum includes going to the Blueberry Patch on route 91 in York for picking highbush blueberries.

PS After, they both needed baths.

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Dan and Hannah Hike the Hamilton Mountain Trail along the Columbia River Gorge

Arizona State Sun Devils, Hannah and Patty

Arizona State Sun Devils, Hannah and Patty

We’ve come to the Northwest to hang out with our Arizona State (Harvard of the West) friends Patty and Kent and hike the trails of Washington and Oregon.  Arriving by Alaska Air at 830 Saturday night on the Left Coast in Portland, it’s nearly 11P before we arrive at their place in McMinnville.  It is 2A ET by our body clocks (wah-wah-wah), but when Patty’s homemade Sangria comes out, we are up for the next hour old-friending it.

HM map of or and waSleeping six hours, we make our Sunday a lazy day of Patty’s loaded omelets and home fries, a 50 minute drive south to the capital of Oregon for the Unity of Salem service; followed later by naps and our traditional Mexican food out together.

Overnight, we are awakened by thunder on this the first day of June. Packing up early at 5A to beat the morning commuter traffic in Portland, we head north on route 99W on our way to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge; with the rain light and intermittent, our fingers are crossed that it will be at most light rain for today’s hike.

Breakfasting in Camas, WA

Breakfasting in Camas, WA

Driving east along the Columbia River, we set our sights on Camas, WA for breakfast.   While we each have our two eggs, home fries, and a homemade biscuit at Smitty’s Family Dining, we see the rain kicking up from the passing vehicles. The day has got soggy written all over it.

Our rental car, VW Beetle

Our rental car, VW Beetle

Thirty-one hundred miles from home in Maine and with just ten days to hike the Northwest, we know it’s going to take more than a little rain to keep us off the trail. The state of Washington tourism guide identifies the moderate-with-a-few-difficult-spots Hamilton Mountain hike as the premier trail in southwestern Washington.  It’s a six mile round-trip with 2100 feet of elevation gain above the Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.

Let the Hamilton Mountain Trail begin

Let the Hamilton Mountain Trail begin

With only one other car at the trailhead parking lot at 9A this workday Monday, we pack for rain. At the moment no rain is falling from the threatening cloudy sky of grey and black; we stow our ponchos in Hannah’s backpack for the climb and load my fanny pack with water, apples, and our favorite Nature Valley granola bars.

The leafy greenness of the Hamilton Mountain Trail

The leafy greenness of the Hamilton Mountain Trail

Under the forest canopy of old-gr0wth Douglas fir, we take to the sweetest of ascending trails.  Here in the rainforest, the packed dirt path is covered with pine needles. For a mile it’s easy-peezy hiking with a steady climb.  Used to being guided by white blazes when we hike the Appalachian Trail, we have no such markings here; that said, this well-maintained trail has signs and we never feel lost. The trail guide says a healthy dog, a child, or a senior citizen can climb to the top.

Hardy Falls

Hardy Falls

One mile into our three mile ascent, the Hardy Falls and the Rodney Falls are splashing treats that await us.  Hidden by the trees on this south facing slope high above the Columbia River, the Hardy Falls teases rather blows us away.

Rodney Falls

Rodney Falls

Soon we are directed to the Rodney Falls which cascades into the Pool of Winds beneath. On slippery waterfall-splashed rocks, we are protected by a wire fence as we feel the spray from the thundering glory of this spring-fed waterfall.

HM 4 bridge over rushing streamChoosing the direct assent of Hamilton Mountain, we pass a sea of ferns and giant green leafy plants which bracket our trail. Vistas to the Columbia River allow us to see a mile or two up and down the river despite the heavy overcast.

Looking west to the Columbia River

Looking west to the Columbia River

As the trail steepens, it turns rockier as we head into the interior and leave the wide river scenes behind. Though it has rained overnight, the trail is more dry than wet as we step carefully up the steeper parts.

As we approach the mountain top, the trail returns to the easy going dirt and pine needles. The wind is picking up and the chill makes me wish I had a sweatshirt.  An hour and a half into our hike, we still have no rain and know we must be close to the top. The below video shows some of the mountain trail which turns out to be within 100 yards of the summit.

On faith we believe there are Cascades behind us

On faith we believe there are Cascades behind us

There we meet Tony and Mike and their black lab Bug who have just summited themselves. Agreeable guys in their thirties, we talk of past hikes at Mt. St. Helens; they encourage us to climb Beacon Rock (an Angel’s Landing-like promontory) directly across highway 14 from the Hamilton Mountain trailhead.  Atop the mountain, the guide book promises panoramic views of the Cascades.  If there are Cascades, we see none of them as we are smack dab in the middle of a cloud.

The Mighty Columbia

The Mighty Columbia

Feeling spunky and cocky that no rain has fallen, we decide to hike Beacon Rock after we finish Hamilton Mountain.  Scooting down the mountain, almost skipping on the trail that at this point is rock-free, we still hope to beat the rain.

HM 7B H in ponchoThirty minutes into our descent, we try to ignore the first drops of rain, hoping that they are just atmospheric anomalies.  This is under the theory that if we ignore the raindrops, they won’t increase. But soon we hear the pings of rain on the leaves of the oaks. Though we are mostly under cover from the forest canopy, we decide not to risk getting soaked and slip on our bright Washington-evergreen ponchos.  With two unexpected hours of rain-free hiking, we count our blessings.

The below video catches us at the Rodney Falls as the rain is picking up.

The trail narrows

The trail narrows

The trail becomes slippery but nothing that we can’t handle by stepping carefully.  The toll of the 2100 feet of elevation descent is making my knees bark.  In a rash act of maturity (the first of two in the next twenty minutes), we choose not to hike the steep Beacon Rock today in the rain and save it for our return next week.

On the road to Packwood

On the road to Packwood

At the trailhead, we fold our ponchos inward to keep the rain from soaking what else lies in our trunk, grab an apple and some strawberries, and check the map for the shortest way to Packwood, WA; where we have reservations at the Crest Trail Lodge, near the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.  Noticing roads on the map that are closed in the winter and appear serpentine with a capital S to the east of Mount St. Helens, we strike a blow for adult onset maturity and double back on highway 14, then north to drive 70 miles on I-5’s four high speed lanes; then a 6o mile straight shot on route 12 to Packwood.

Though this route is 70 miles longer, we high five it that we didn’t make the short-sighted decision to take to the hair-pinned, frost-heaved mountain roads of death.  We just might be taking a peek into maturity’s big beautiful world.

Dan and Hannah Have Different Approaches to their Medical Issues (Part 2 of 2)

Hartford HospitalAfter an MRI and CAT scan, the local Windham Hospital ER docs had no answers and believed I needed to go to Connecticut’s top hospital (Hartford Hospital) an hour away; so I was packed off in an ambulance for the state capital.  While in the ambulance, the fog began to lift. I started talking to the EMT in the back of the ambulance and remembering the names of my Eastern colleagues.  I could focus on words posted inside the ambulance and could read again.

By midnight, the ER docs at Hartford Hospital sent me home saying they weren’t sure what was going on, but I should check in with a neurologist back in Maine.  There, after examining me, Dr. Brown had no answers; he told me that he had seen 10,000 patients and none had symptoms similar to mine.  Feeling fine by Sunday, I returned to teaching the following day in Connecticut.  Over these last 13 years, nothing like that has happened again.

Fast forward to this past week.  In his thoroughness and much to my gratitude, Dr. Thaler takes the time to listen to my story of my “health episode.”  He is just as puzzled about my current condition as Dr. Brown was back in the day.

While checking my vital signs however, Dr. Thaler does find that I have a heart murmur.  Son of a gun.  On a six point scale of heart murmurs, I am between a one and a two.  In the days prior to my visit with Dr. Thaler, I felt great having climbed Moxie Bald in Maine and worked out daily at the gym.  Good catch, Dr. T.

carotid arteryEven though he doesn’t find any explanation for what I was feeling in my neck, he does set up a carotid ultrasound at York Hospital, which I am having tomorrow morning; next week I will have an echocardiogram.  Stay tuned.

Hannah has been very successful with her approach to medical care.  My approach works for me.  Chacun a son gout.  Each to his own.  And a big shout out to Dr. Thaler who found the heart murmur that could have gone undetected for quite some time.

 

Dan and Hannah Have Different Approaches to their Medical Issues (Part 1 of 2)

Exhibit A – Hannah

Spider Woman

Spider Woman with her magic tape

You may remember that three years ago Hannah had successful surgery to repair her busted left tibia after a waterskiing mishap.  Lately, it’s her right knee joint that has been giving her trouble.  Two weeks ago, she limped noticeably and could not even go to the gym to workout.  Hannah’s approach to her injury is home self-care; allow it to heal on its own.  Eventually she did consult with a physical therapist friend who recommended lots of rest and magic tape.  Hannah’s done well not being stupid (her words) and has taken it easy.  Lately, her gait is steadier as she now can walk nearly a mile and slow-bike up to eight miles.

Hannah feels our bodies heal themselves if we give them time. She also does not want to burden the already overburdened health care system with unnecessary visits to the doctor.  For much of her young life, she just went down to the hall in her childhood home to see her dad, Doc Kraai, for any ailments.  She’s also just tough and has a high pain tolerance.  After breaking her leg, it was 14 hours before she went to see the doctor.  She had a glass of wine in the interim.

Exhibit B – Dan

I on the other hand can be soft.  I am all for using my Medicare coverage whenever I feel the need.

KFP logoUpon feeling a faint sensation below my right ear time and again for the past five days, I decide to have it checked out.  It turns out my primary care physician of 30 years, Dr. Graziano, at Kittery Family Practice here in southern Maine, is on hospital duty this week and is not available; thankfully there is another veteran on the staff, Dr. Thaler, with an open 215P appointment for me.

For forty minutes, Dr. Thaler questions, listens, and examines me thoroughly and still is unable to find anything that may explain the slight intermittent sensation I’ve been feeling in my neck. Checking my medical history, he wonders if there is a connection to my “health episode” 13 years ago.

Windham HospitalIn the fall of 2002, at the start of my Teaching Reading course to 25 graduate students at Eastern Connecticut State University, I began turning pale and my vision blurred such that I couldn’t even read the names of the students on my class list.   Very shortly thereafter, my department chair, Dr. Stoloff, drove me to the Windham Hospital ER in Willimantic to see what was up.  By that time, I was losing my memory.  I couldn’t even remember the names of my Eastern colleagues.  Then it was our kids’ names that seemed to be going down a tunnel away from me.  I was alert enough to wonder if I would have to learn how to use a fork and knife again.  I also couldn’t speak.  Let me tell you I was spooked. (to be continued tomorrow)

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail at Elkwallow in the Shenandoah National Park

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

We, or let’s be honest, I have chosen poorly for tonight’s motel stay in Luray, Virginia.  I choked.  Having just hiked three hours in the Shenandoah National Park in late April, Hannah and I arrive just before 7P in this town famous for its caverns.  Pulling into the first motel that we see, a Days Inn, we inquire about a room.

It’s two double beds for $62 and with a minimalist continental breakfast: Raisin Bran or Fruit Loops, mini store-bought bagels, oatmeal in a pouch, OJ, and coffee. That’s not good.  It’s a classic deal breaker!  But I’m soft. Having driven from Richmond this morning, hiked, and then driven 90 minutes more, I am just ready to kick back with an evening glass of wine with Hannah rather check out more in-town motels.  I convince myself that the breakfast can’t actually be as bad as what the motel clerk said it was.

EW  Luray

Downtown Luray, Virginia (population 4860)

As expected, the breakfast is dismal.   Neither fueled for our hike on the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah National Park or energized for the 600+ miles of driving home after we hike, the breakfast does prove to be the source of another good life lesson.  Take the time to get three bids for our business. That said, this hardly qualifies as even a first world problem.

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

With temps in the low 40s, it’s pants, long sleeve tee-shirt, and sweatshirt weather for our morning hike.  Leaving Luray via Route 211, we immediately climb the switchbacks of the three lane highway to the mountain top Skyline Drive as the temperature continues to drop. We select Elkwallow as our point to access the AT. (By the way, the verb “wallow” means to roll about or lie in water, snow, mud, or dust. The noun “wallow” is an area where animals wallow.)

Appalachian Trail HIker

Appalachian Trail Hiker

Pulling into the parking lot at the Elkwallow Camp Store, we jump onto the AT ready to begin a hike with 900 feet of elevation gain towards Rattlesnake Point. We’ll hike parallel to Skyline Drive, though we often can’t see the road from the trail.

EW 1B  H on trailApproaching from the north, we meet a young woman hiking a section of the AT for the past three weeks.   As soon as she sees us, she asks if we know what the weather will be. Though it’s sunny and 43F now, she has been hiking in rain and cold temps, colder than what she has expected. Whether it’s the cold or her caution or us, she is not into much conversation.

EW 3A  H on trailWe do learn she is from New England but shares few details of her life. Though one detail she does is telling – her dad didn’t want her to hike the AT alone.   She reminds me that females can feel and be more vulnerable hiking alone on the AT.  I think to myself, what would my advice be if our daughters Robyn or Molly wanted to hike the AT on their own.  My first reaction is that I’d be all in, supporting their goal to complete this daunting challenge.

There have been few hiking related deaths on the AT among thousands, millions(?) who have hiked this trail.  A notorious one in 1996 when two young women were murdered spooks people who are inclined to be spooked.  If Robyn or Molly are so inclined to hike the Appalachian Trail, I am on board and will be  cheer lead from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  I’d love to meet up and hike with them from time to time, buy them a meal, and treat them to an overnight in a motel.

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Once past Matthew Arms Campground, the trail levels out to ridgeline hiking; our core body temperatures warm with our steady pace. With no leaves on the trees, we see vistas to the valley below. The downside is that we have mostly brown trunks and brown branches as company in our hiking day.

As 10A approaches, we look for a turnaround point 90 minutes into our hike. We’ll straddle the Skyline Drive on our way back, though we are rarely close enough to hear the few cars that pass on this cool pre-season spring day.

EW 3 Trail north of Matthew ArmsThen another backpack toting hiker approaches. We learn his trail name is Early Light; we share with him that we, too, are early risers.  As another three week section hiker, he is hiking north from Roanoke, VA. He’s so happy to be within a day of getting off the trail at Harper’s Ferry, WV where he will get a bus to head back home to Massachusetts.  After weeks on the trail, he openly laments that he finds the hiking quite monotonous.  Rarely has he seen vistas and lakes to punctuate the sameness.  I’ve heard that thru-hikers call the AT the “green tunnel” once the leaves come out. When you hike, you could really be anywhere; it all looks the same. It’s no surprise that a beer and pizza are what he looks forward to.

EW 3E  white blaze of trailAs for me, sleeping in shelters with others, hiking in bad weather, and my balky knees after all day hiking are three of many reasons why I wouldn’t hike the entire AT.  Another reason is that hiking for 8 t0 10 hours a day would be tedious.  Early Light says he understands why kids have their iPods and their books on tape; he has not come around to those diversions.  Given his doubts, I wonder whether he’ll finish all 2180 miles of the AT in sections after finishing these 250 miles.

EW 3D  more of trailAfter three hours on the AT, we arrive back at the Elkwallow parking lot knowing we are staring at 600+ miles of driving home through the traffic-clogged Northeast. But I wouldn’t have missed the chance of three hours on the AT in Virginia just to get a jump on the long drive. These are golden moments.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Jones Run Falls Trail in Shenandoah National Park

With the Vintager B&B in the background where we stayed

The Vintager B&B in the background where we stayed

Heading west on I-64 from Richmond, Virginia, Hannah and I have just had one of the Top Ten weekends of our lives this late April day.  Our son Will married Laurel Ann Crane yesterday under rainy skies; rain that was a blessing – a blessing because that kept the twenty- and thirty-something energy in the modern day barn all night long rocking to the music.

Laurel Ann minutes before the ceremony

Laurel Ann minutes before the ceremony

Because of the rain and mid-40s, 30 degrees below normal, everyone stayed in the barn. These young’uns never stopped dancing.   Given their father’s reluctance to dance, you might never have guessed that the York Rothermel kids can boogie.  Can they ever!  Robyn didn’t miss a beat.  For her rocking style at the wedding, Molly earned a bronze medal for her moves.   Will and his cousin Abby rocked on the dance floor all night long for dancing supremacy. The judges could not decide and awarded each the gold medal.

Proud Mama Bear with her cub

Proud Mama Bear with her cub

And, yes, I got my groove on and danced, and then danced some more. Since there were so many people dancing (thanks to the rain) I could hide in the crowd and catch my dancing groove. My secret? I’d watch the kids dancing and mirror their moves. It was all very cool, even if I wasn’t quite as cool as I thought I was.

Will and Laurel kiss with all attendantsHave you classmates in the Fair Lawn High School class of 1966 or others of that era got to this point in your lives? There was no traditional “couples” dance where the dj asks all married couples to come to the dance floor. She then asks those married, say five years, to leave the dance floor. More music is played and then those married ten years or less are asked to leave.   As it turns out, our nearly 43 years married would have won!  Tonight, we needed no such attention.  We’ll take our notoriety in being the parents of the groom.

Ready for a wedding in the Modern Barn

Ready for Will and Laurel in the modern barn

Driving from the site of Will and Laurel’s wedding at the Vintager B&B in Quinton, Virginia, we leave behind our new family, Will and Laurel, her parents Sandy and Ken, and her sister Courtney and husband Josh.   The forecast for the Shenandoahs this morning is for clearing as we drive past Charlottesville to the Skyline Drive heading north. (By the way, heading south at this point is the Blue Ridge Highway.)  The ranger directs us to the Jones Run Falls Trail which has three waterfalls for our hiking pleasure.

At the southern entrance to the Skyline Drive

At the southern entrance to the Skyline Drive

Throughout the park, the Skyline Drive is a winding ribbon of highway along the ridge of the Shenandoahs.  Just after the ranger station, we see a mother bear and three cubs crossing the Skyline Drive directly in front of us; the cubs no bigger than a foot long (they looked like black lab puppies). Once safely across, mama bear raises high on her back legs to make sure that we are moving on. Mother bears of all species would do the same.

Jumping on to the Appalachian Trail to begin the Jones Run Falls Loop Trail

Jumping on to the Appalachian Trail to begin the Jones Run Falls Loop Trail

Twenty miles after the ranger station we pull into the trailhead at Jones Run Trail with room for twenty cars. Our car thermometer shows the temperature has dropped to 43F.  With overcast skies, we take no chances and pull on pants, long sleeve shirts, and sweatshirts for this 6.5 mile loop trail with a 1700’ of elevation gain which is rated “moderate.”

JF AT map

For the first mile we are hiking north on the Appalachian Trail as this ridge hike descends gently into the Virginia forest. Within minutes, we meet up with two AT hikers, the younger of which is a flip-flopper.

Slapshot

Slapshot

As a flip flopper, he started hiking in the middle of the AT at Harper’s Ferry, WV and is heading to Georgia during the better spring weather in the American South. Hiking 1120 miles to Springer Mountain, he will then be driven back to Harper’s Ferry and hike the 1160 miles to the trail terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine.   He is using a hockey stick as his trekking pole. Hence the trail name – Slapshot.

Crossing the Doyles River

Crossing the Doyles River

Within minutes we pass a young couple out for three days of backpacking. Guys have hit gold when they find an adventurous female willing to sleep on the ground in a tent, eat pork and beans from a can, and think that hiking in the pouring rain is a hoot. My gold is Hannah who likes to hike for three or four hours, return to the motel for showers, a glass of wine, and then sweet slumber.

Doyles River approaching the Upper Falls

Doyles River approaching the Upper Falls

As we hike the Browns Gap Fire Road, we see more day hikers coming back from the waterfalls this Sunday. Once two miles in, we turn east to hike along the Doyles River itself. We are in luck as the leaves are within a week or two of leafing out so we can clearly see the torrent of river; all from the same storm that doused Will and Laurel’s wedding last night near Richmond.

Rams in front of the Upper Doyles River Falls

Rams in front of the Upper Doyles River Falls

Still descending, we come upon the 28’ Upper Doyles River Falls. With melting snows and heavy rains feeding it, we are transfixed by nature’s exuberance – waterfalls. See the video below.

 

Soon we are descending the serpentine trail to the 63’ Lower Doyles River

Lower Doyles River Falls

Lower Doyles River Falls

Falls. We love us some falls. I hope you do too for here is our second falls video.

We continue descending on our trail with rocks that are manageable and nothing like the boot shredding rocks of the AT in Pennsylvania. Two hours into our hike we turn at the Jones Run Falls Trail and make our climb towards Skyline Drive. The temperature has gone to the high 5os now as we are down to tee shirts with our long sleeve shirts wrapped around our waists.

Poles needed for crossing the Jones Run

Poles needed for crossing the Jones Run

River crossings are few, but we come across one where we fortunately find two 5 to 6 foot river-crossing-branches that we use to steady ourselves. Though we must balance on slightly submerged rocks, we successful ford the stream and are on our way.

Soon we come to the third of three waterfalls, the Jones Run Falls.

Jones Run Falls

Jones Run Falls

Into our third hour of hiking, it’s all up hill. But the trail is not one that has us mountain climbing at all.  In fact, it’s gentle rise over two or three miles is pleasant and easy going. The Jones Run Falls Trail Loop with its three falls is a “don’t miss” hike in western Virginia.

Laurel Ann and Will Rothermel

Laurel Ann and Will Rothermel

It’s a good 75 minutes to our overnight stay in Luray, VA. Still aglow this day after our Second Wedding of the Century, we are just so damn happy for them and for ourselves.

Bon voyage Will and Laurel.

Dan and Hannah Say Good-Bye to Barry

Barry died from cancer last week. He just turned 65. When you are 67 like Hannah and I are, 65 is young. I only knew Barry for a short time; maybe met him five times tops, but his spirit grabbed me. It certainly grabbed a few others as 1200 came to his calling hours in the nearby small town of Kittery, Maine. The few times Hannah and I got together with Barry were when we played ping pong v. Barry and his, and our good friend, George.

Ping pongThroughout his treatment, Barry was irrepressibly upbeat and alive. It was said of Barry that if you met him once, you wouldn’t forget him. He didn’t waste a minute feeling sorry for himself. Never complained about the hand he was dealt. Just lived, and then lived some more.

His death gives me pause about my own endgame. While Barry’s passing leaves a hole in George’s heart, I am left with an idea how I might play my final cards.  Taking some tips from Barry – Laugh.  Be spontaneous.  Remember it’s all about family.  Be a little or a lot outrageous.  Live with joy each day.

I believe, Today is a loan. Use it wisely, especially at 67.

 

No surprise that his memorial service was standing room only. His sister-in-law included these words in the program.

As Barry pedaled toward the Pearly Gates hootin’ and hollerin’, St. Peter waved him through. “No need to stop here, we’ve been waiting for you. You did your job on earth in great fashion. No one who met you there will ever forget you and the laughter you brought to them. There are lots of folks here that have been waiting to meet you. Get to work!”

 

My final words are from Richard Bach’s Illusions that I recited at my brother-in-law Doug’s memorial service thirteen years ago when he passed at the age of 56. Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.

Dan and Hannah Hike with Owen and Max at Great Falls National Park

GF Richmond mapThe Family Rothermel is descending upon Richmond, Virginia for the marriage of our son Will to Laurel Ann Crane. While Robyn flies in from Syracuse, Molly and family drive south from Massachusetts. Hannah and I leave five days before the late April wedding to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Great Falls National Park straddles the Potomac River with  Maryland and Virginia sides

Great Falls National Park straddles the Potomac River with Maryland and Virginia sides

After hiking the AT, Hannah and I head south to meet up with Molly and her gang at the Great Falls National Park just off the I-495 Washington beltway in Maryland. Arriving almost simultaneously at the parking area across from the Angler’s Inn on this mid-week Wednesday morning, we find two parking places still available. On the weekends, unless one arrives by 7A, none of these spots are open. In that case, drive further on the Cabin John Road to the extensive parking lots inside the park itself.

Max and his Omi at the playground in Billerica

Max and his Omi at the playground in Billerica

Since Molly and Tip moved north from Virginia, Hannah and I love our Billerica Tuesdays with Owen and Max.  We drive an hour south from York each week to spend the mid-week afternoon with the boys in Billerica; in the winter we head to the Loch Ness Fun Center, Wegman’s Supermarket, or the Billerica Library. In the warmer weather, we take the boys in strollers to the local playground, and then it’s off to the library.

The Family Rawding with Omi and Boppa

The Family Rawding with Omi and Poppa

After we change the boys’ diapers, read and sing to them on these Billerica Tuesdays, we then have dinner with Molly and Tip. Over one of Hannah’s homemade dinners, we have conversation as good as her cuisine.

Owen ready to roll

Owen ready to roll

Again today, Molly and Tip make time 400 miles from their home in Massachusetts to include us in their family life. On the road, getting two boys under the age of three ready for anything just takes time. They need to be changed; it usually takes us going two-on-one to make this happen for 11 month old Max. Today Tip packs Owen in a high rise backpack while Molly has Max in a Baby Bjorn for our hike.

Packing up across the street from the Angler's Inn

Packing up across the street from the Angler’s Inn

From the parking lot, we immediately find the canal walk along the Potomac River. It is a part of the C and O (Chesapeake and Ohio) trail system that goes 180 miles from the Washington area to Cumberland, MD.

On the Cheasepeake and Ohio Canal Path

On the Cheasepeake and Ohio Canal Path

Though rain is in the forecast for the afternoon, we have most satisfying warm, muggy weather, without it being too muggy; a welcome change for us six who have endured another long, cold, and snowy winter in New England. Late April weather in the Border States is just about ideal.

GF 1H MM canal path 3With the boys now abackpacked, we have time for easy conversation as we pair up with Molly and Tip. First Tip and I talk while Molly and Hannah walk ahead. Later we’ll switch it up. It’s a blessing when your daughter marries a trifecta man – one who makes a priority of their relationship, their family, and sees the good in life all around him.  That said, he hit the jackpot in Molly.

GF 5 rushing riverAn hour into the walk, we head to the Great Falls themselves. The Potomac’s white water rages beyond the fences, which keep the ever curious and energetic Owen out of harm’s way. After two challenging AT hikes, we much appreciate today’s mellow walk with the Family Rawding.

The mighty Potomac rushing to the Atlantic Ocean

The mighty Potomac rushing to the Atlantic Ocean

As Max begins to fade with the gentle jostling from walking the trail, Owen gets out of his backpack and runs. He notices everything – the planes in the distance, and every pebble and stick along the way. Bending down and grabbing them, he steps close enough to the canal to throw them to make a splash. Herein lays the challenge of being his Poppa and the one responsible for Owen, The Energetic, at Great Falls.

How Max loves to have his picture taken!

How Max loves to have his picture taken!

On one side is the mellow canal, to the other the raging tributaries of the Potomac River. Recent rains have made the river a torrent of brown water. As I shepherd Owen, I see nothing but Owen; when he zigs towards the canal, I zig; then abruptly, we zag towards the river. When he veers too close I grab his hand with an unspoken message – close enough!

GF 2E MT at falls

In conversation, we fill Molly and Tip in on our two recent hikes of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland while we learn of the $1100 damage to Molly’s car due to her hitting a raccoon at 65 mph on the Interstate by their home.  Since Molly and Tip lived in the Arlington, VA for nearly seven years, they fill us in on their pre-wedding plans – the breakfasts out, play dates, dinners, and overnights they will have with friends in the DC area.

GF 3B  H with MaxDue to the rains, the Billy Goat Trail is closed. Though the canal walk is as level as level can be, the Billy Goat Trail clearly represents its namesake. There is modest rock scrambling and eventually a 60 foot climb over a challenging, but not insurmounable rock face. Three years ago we were introduced to the Billy Goat Trail by our Virginians – longtime friend Amelia and her son Brandon, Molly, five months pregnant with Owen, and Tip. We’ll just have to come back.

GF 5A stormy skiesAs dark clouds gather, we head back to the cars a mile and a half away where we’ll have lunch together. Max is zonked out and Owen is still in exploring mode finding the joy in pebbles and sticks to throw.   As we hike, the clouds turn cobalt black behind us.   With excellent timing, we arrive at the cars just as the raindrops join forces and begin their soaking fall from the sky.

Will and Laurel Ann with her soon to be in-laws

Will and Laurel Ann with her soon to be in-laws

Though we each must eat lunch in our own cars, we’ll all meet again in three days at the Vintager B and B vineyard in Quinton, VA for Will and Laurel Ann’s marriage.