There are seven kids hiking with us. Mt. Townsend is covered in fog, which isn’t disagreeable because it keeps us cool, makes the hiking easier. A view of the Cascades would be nice, but the kids who have cameras, Evan and Dillon, are content to snap macro shots of the dewy lupines. The other five—Nico, Will, Ethan, Hopi, and Josh—catalogue the sights in their heads, form memories easily as lasting as a digital image.
Tyler and I are the leaders, the chaperones, the teachers, but we act more like friends to the kids. After all, we are not much older than most of them, only seven or eight years. They are juniors and sophomores mostly, while Will, the youngest, is entering 8th grade. They are all old friends, Port Townsendites familiar with each other’s mannerisms and nervous ticks. I have known Ethan and Nico for a few years now, having played Frisbee with them over the summers, but the others I am just getting to know.
Finding common interests is easy. Conversation flows in natural pools and eddies, maintains a constant vocal undulation like the rushing Big Quilcene river below. Laughter is as common as serious discussion. Nico, who has a knack for insults, says something to Ethan, his close friend, while we’re hiking together at the head of the group.
“Your life is just a series of inappropriate events,” he says. Ethan is unphased by the remark. I try not to laugh but can’t help myself. I tell Nico I might have to steal that phrase to use on some of my friends.
The kids are all very intelligent, out-going, confident, happy. And they are damn strong hikers too.
After only a few hours, we reach the 6200’ summit and spread ourselves out for lunch. I offer smoked oysters to everyone. Some of the kids make disgusted faces while others enjoy the savory oceanic flavor.
They don hats and jackets and discover a lonely patch of snow near the summit. Snowballs come flying at me out of the mist. I realize that Tyler is the one throwing them, that the kids would never target me. I enjoy lazily dodging his noodle-arm lobs while eating smoked salmon and crackers.
Even though the mountain is shrouded, even though Ethan has blisters on his heels, even though Josh is only wearing shorts and Hopi is the only female in the group, everyone is having an awesome time.
Tyler captures a photo of the group jumping into the air. We are frozen forever, our feet inches above the summit earth, our frames silhouetted into a white background that is so quintessentially Northwest.
As we descend the trail, some of the kids are running. I am reminded of Ecuador, of Vladamir and Santiago tumbling down the slopes of paramo grass. Sharing your passions and seeing others enjoy them as much as you, is something very powerful.
Sometimes, when I’m standing on the top of a forlorn peak or anchored to a massive wall a thousand feet from the valley floor, I feel like the luckiest person alive. To be able to experience things like that, to be able to do what I love to do is an enormous blessing. The only thing more rewarding than having those experiences is being able to share them with other wonderful people and to give those people the opportunity to learn the skills that they need in order to have those same amazing experiences on their own.
So, hiking down the trail at the back of the group, I feel blessed. There is no place I would rather be and no people I would rather be with.
Evan stops in front of me, leans down and drinks a pool of dew off the leaves of a trillium. All the kids are finding collected droplets, drinking from the body of the forest. I follow suit, leaning down and sipping from spruce needles. When I look up, the kids have disappeared into the mist, but their generous laughter betrays their location only a few feet ahead, poised on the verge of the wilderness.