Fear and Loving on Vacation

The Pacific Northwest is UNbelievably beautiful. Have you been there? It’s lush and green, full of natural wonders and a sense of contented peace. It offers a fantastic quality of life combined with social awareness that’s positively inspiring.

OK, so the weather kind of sucks. Consider it part of the charm. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I just got back from five stolen days there with Husband and all three (almost grown) kids. This is a miracle, since these days getting together in one place at one time is a bit like herding cats.

We planned two days in urban Portland (an oxymoron), followed by three days on the Columbia river in the shadow of Mt. Hood. Family time. Nature. Bliss. Well — almost, as it turns out.

Truth: Deep down I’m a city girl. While I love to be surrounded by green mountains and blue oceans, I’m most comfortable when I’m not at their mercy. The power of the planet makes me anxious. I get that humankind is a tiny blip on the radar screen of natural history, and sometimes it freaks me out. But I’ve worked hard to avoid letting my fears spread like The Blob to my kids.

Exhibit 1: Older Son lives to surf (he is from Southern California, after all). Being in and of the ocean makes him happy. It’s his spiritual center. I struggle not to hyperventilate when I watch.

Exhibit 2: One of Younger Son’s favorite spots is an organic farm owned by a friend that is 25 miles from the nearest town and exists entirely off the grid. Goats provide milk and cheese and the garden grows everything else.

Exhibit 3: Daughter loves nothing more than galloping on the bare back of a horse through a meadow covered with wildflowers. Teenage boys — not so much, and that’s a good thing.

Who raised these children, anyway?

But I digress. After a couple of happy days spent exploring the city (overcast, wet and cool, but otherwise terrific) with the people I love most, we head out to the Columbia River Gorge, where Husband and the kids look forward to being one with the natural universe. Me? While I love the idea of nature, and agree it’s beautiful to look at, it scares me. Especially when it takes me to the top of a mountain.

We head out on day 1 to a hike we’ve heard raves about. We park at the trailhead and head up the hill towards a waterfall that’s been described as nothing short of dazzling.

Within minutes I know I’m in trouble. The trail is steep, and the drop-off on the side of the mountain makes me dizzy. The fear-of-heights monster is rearing its ugly head. Husband kindly climbs on the outside, forming a human barrier between me and certain death. Yes, he loves me, and he knows the fun is over if I pass out and fall into the abyss.

The kids are exhilarated. They’re thrilled with the edgy climb and stop often to take advantage of Older’s encyclopedic knowledge of plant species along the trail, oblivious (or maybe not) to my heart pounding away in my throat every time one of them perches inches from … well, gravity.

After several minutes they fall behind as Husband and I push on, hoping that the trail will head into the forest, away from the drop-off that by now must be 25,000 feet or so. Hours (OK, minutes) later it does, and I feel my terror ebbing away as I begin to notice my surroundings and enjoy the physical work of the climb.

At that moment I hear a whoop behind us (or was it a blood curdling scream?). It’s Younger. The one with the least amount of caution, most vulnerable to his twenty-something testosterone surges. I tell myself he’s found a rare plant species or something equally harmless. He couldn’t have fallen off the mountain. Could he?

Husband and I continue on to the waterfall. The trail is working for me now. Fears of (my) imminent death have faded, replaced by a continuous loop of that scream (now I’m sure it was a scream). Every 20 minutes or so I blurt out, “You think they’re alright, don’t you?” There’s no sign of the kids.

We come around a curve and hear the pounding of the water before we see it. This massive sucker is at least 200 feet high and 30 feet wide. We’re not even close and I feel the spray on my face.

I’m trying to enjoy this, but the voice in the back of my head keeps replaying the scream. Where are they? It’s been too long now. I picture Daughter sitting with her injured (or worse) brother while Older goes for help. Husband clearly thinks I’ve lost my mind, but he’s kind enough not to say so.

A moment later they’re there, laughing and happy at the sight of the cascading water. I almost cry with relief.

Next, they point out an addendum in the guide book. Extra credit if you scramble across the (wet and slippery) rocks that lead to a cave behind the falls. I take one look and quickly pass (out). The four of them head off to the challenge.

As I gaze at the spellbinding water I watch my babies slowly make their way across the boulders, fifty feet above the crashing pool. One wrong step …

To avoid vomiting I look away and stare blankly at the mountainside. I think about what we’ll eat for dinner (and the bottle of wine I’ll have with it). I count to 100. Surely they’ve reached the cave by now.

Then I see them start back over the black, slick rocks. I close my eyes and imagine when they were tiny and I felt in control. Well, more in control anyway.

I look up to see Older heading towards me on the trail. “It was great,” he says. “You should have seen it, Mom.”

No thanks, but I’m truly glad you did.

 

 

 

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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One response to “Fear and Loving on Vacation”

  1. Phyllis

    I really enjoyed your description of the VACATION !!! I also enjoyed your writing style and will work hard to try and adapt some of it, to my own. (yeah, right…good luck!)

    I have just retired from a long but successful career in Nursing, and I plan to begin a book soon.

    Have you written any other stories, books??

    Thx

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