Right Out Back

Setting forth, out the back gate.

The girls and I slung our heavy packs onto our backs and headed out the back gate. How can it be that I live someplace where I can literally head out my back door and hike and hunt and backpack? My what privilege I have stuffed into the pack along with my tent and sleeping pad. No wonder it feels particularly heavy.

There is an ease and a freedom in heading out back to an unknown destination. No trail, no destination, no problem. We know that we would be called to the right place and that our feet would not lead us astray. I love not having to drive to a trailhead. Hell there ain’t even a trail here. We follow our own path out back and that is a beautiful thing.

We started out by hiking across an old alfalfa field, which had been part of a large ranch, when such things were the norm around here. Weedy, scratchy and annoying could be an appropriate description of it, but soon we reached what we call the “shrub-steppe,” that is the beginning of mostly native plants and natural habitat. At this point, the land rises at a 30 degree angle up to a flat, glacial terrace. Our little side valley of the Methow Valley, is called Booth Canyon and gets more “canyony” farther up. Booth canyon is hemmed in by two nearly identical terraces created by huge continental glaciers that were several miles thick in this area. We paused at our the up on top of the terrace, where we often gather during Friday homeschool days and just sit and pay attention to the world around us. We call this our “Sit Spot.”

Gazing down the Methow valley from our Sit Spot.

After a short snack break, we continued up canyon, winding our way through sagebrush and bitterbrush. Not much was flowering except for some lovely little daisies and buckwheat. This is rattlesnake country so we paid attention, listening and looking as we stepped.

A bit farther on, we encountered an old two-track road that led back down to the valley bottom. It got weedier again as we neared the old ranch houses and areas where cattle grazed most heavily. Our dog was alert to something, which turned out to be a dead western racer, a bit stinky and already covered with flies. We named this road “Dead Racer Road.”

A bit farther on we neared the creek and found the campsite that we were looking for. An open grassy glade right down to the creek with nearby apple trees that provided a perfectly cozy spot, which my daughters immediately loved. We shared flowers from the shrub-steppe with this spot as a way to thank it for welcoming us in and then quickly set to trimming back dead apple branches so that we could set up the tent underneath their boughs. Before I even had the tent out of my backpack, the girls were climbing the tree and the dog was exploring the creek, lapping up its cold water happily.

Creek Camp

A small campfire, tended by the girls crackled away as I cooked a simple dinner. The fire provided the right amount of heat to make ‘smores and, more importantly, gave the girls a chance to learn about fires and how to take care of them. We cut marshmallow sticks from an apple tree, which the girls mostly did themselves. It brought up childhood memories of doing this very same thing with my dad on one of our many camping trips. Before bedtime we made sure we put out the fire completely. They learned to check for hot spots by holding their hands over the coals.

This past winter, Maddie and I camped beneath a ponderosa pine in the snow. We called it the Sheltering Tree and that campsite, “Winter Camp.” This new spot, right on the creek, was given the name “Creek Camp.” Naming things is powerful and should not be done lightly. I feel the connecting power of getting to know places so well that we have our own intimate names for them. Our Sit Spots, the Sheltering Tree, Winter Camp, Eagle Rocks, Dead Racer Road, and now Creek Camp. These are our names for the places that have meaning to us. Come on out and visit and we’d be happy to take you to these places. They’re just right out back!


By David LaFever

Ten Years On

Kristin and I in Morocco, during our final months in the country (2009).

Ten years ago, yesterday, Kristin and I left Morocco, a place that had become home to us, and returned, exiles in part, to a land once called home. I remember an absurdly early departure from Tounfite, our small Atlas Mountain town, which was still sleeping and quiet except for the feral cats and dogs that roamed quiet streets looking for scraps and mostly getting scrapes. The taxi driver, who I can picture but whose name I cannot recall, loading all our belongings while we hugged and kissed and hugged again a host family who had truly become family. Many tears were shed and words failed to express our love and gratitude for these more than kind women and a place that had seeped into our very being. Transformation is a trite word to describe how Morocco, the Eastern High Atlas Mountains, the Amazighen (“Berber”) people, and this family in particular changed us.

A different, and perhaps greater, change was to greet us upon our return home.

Ten years ago, my mom was nearly killed in a car accident that she had nothing to do with. Well, actually she had a central part in this drama, but sometimes our most important role happens when we are just sitting still. She was hit broadside on the driver’s side while waiting at a stop sign. As we hurtled out of the mountains and on across the vast Moroccan coastal plain toward the airport in Casablanca, she came within an inch of her losing her life, saved by the miracles of modern medicine.

The next day, this day ten years ago, we found out this terrible news upon our arrival in New York City. Blown away and shocked would be understatements. I didn’t know what nor how to think, it seemed, during the long drive from the city upstate to my hometown. Culture shock within culture shock. We immediately began spending our days in hospitals, malls (there was a branch of public library in it), and lawyers offices. Not places anyone wants to spend much time, except doctors and lawyers I suppose, much less two triumphantly returning Peace Corps volunteers. No parade for us it seemed. Just long days and troubling affairs.

Fast forward ten years. The sound of my girls, ages 8 and 5 can be heard. Talking, giggling and the occasional high-pitched scream as they splash and play in a cattle tank that we use as a pool. It’s big enough for a kids kayak, three pool noodles and two girls (or more when friends come over). What more do you need?

It is a hot early summer day. The irrigation is spraying happily away. I hear the soft clucks and sweet chirps of our mother hen and her four week-old chicks. An ochre ringlet butterfly flits and fluts by, and a robin sings sweetly from down near the river.

My mom and I in Copenhagen, our only trip overseas together (2006).

I sure miss my mom and I’ll probably never “get over” Morocco. Both changed….nay, both sculpted my life in such strong ways that I cannot separate out where they end and I begin, like mycelium and tree roots. They have and continue to nourish my life in ways unimaginable and seldom imagined. Life sure is a trip and you just never know what’s going to happen. Pay attention, appreciate it and live it well.