The air was fresh and sweet as we started down the dirt path, our steps oddly out of synch without the kids there to balance us. We realized after only a few paces that this was our first time hiking without them since the eldest was born. Family hikes have become part of our regular rhythm, one of the things we do to define us as a family, and we love them. I hadn’t realized how much I was missing Carl-and-Louise hikes, though, until we started this one.
After we crossed the narrow bridge and started on the trail proper, winding beside the river and through the woods, our feet found their pace and we were able to keep step with each other. Carl was mostly in front, yet somehow managed to miss all the cobwebs that continually wrapped themselves around my face. Why do they always end up in one’s mouth?
The sounds of the river accompanied our hike, rushing, chuckling, gurgling, occasionally roaring where the rocks lay such as to produce a small waterfall. It’s a sound so familiar to me I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I heard it again. I will never complain about living near the ocean, but rivers and lakes are part of what formed me in my younger days, and I feel a peace by freshwater that doesn’t come anywhere else. The River Cam was a bit too placid to fill that need, even when it wasn’t choked with students and tourists, lining the banks as well as on the water itself. It was better than nothing, but this river, hurling itself over rocks and bordered by trees, felt like home.
Carl and I talked about everything from politics (ugh) to the next things we need to do to continue making our new house feel like a home. The nice thing about a week away is that it gives you perspective, as well as a break from the regular routine that can feel so wearying after a while. I even felt more ready to paint the mudroom and the china closet, and I have been hating the very word “paint” since about our first month.
We found a likely-looking island in the middle of the river about the time we were getting hungry, and I took off my shoes and socks to wade across while Carl stretched his longer legs to go dry-shod from rock to rock. I had planned ahead and was wearing my bathing suit under my hiking clothes, and before eating I slipped into the river and let the water lap over me. It was too shallow to swim, but that was enough. The water was cool but not cold, refreshing and gentle, chuckling to itself as it diverted its way around and over me.
I could have sat there all afternoon, but my awareness of Carl’s work needs pressed in on me, so I hauled myself back onto the rocks of our little island and we ate our lunch side-by-side in companionable silence, our arms just brushing the other’s as we reached for the occasional grape or chip from the backpack. After we finished, I rested my head on his shoulder for a few minutes, and then we sighed and made our way back to the trail.
We didn’t have time to do the entire 7.5 mile loop, though we would have liked to, so we turned and retraced our steps to head back to the car. We ventured out across the rocks sticking out of the water only once more, trying to reach the island we thought we remembered hanging out on when we would hike this trail in college. The bugs as well as the height of the water defeated us, though–clearly the water had been lower the last time (seventeen years ago!) we had come through, and the bugs had been fewer, or else we’d been young and adaptable enough to ignore them.
Still, it was fun peering back at our younger selves for a short time, and Carl joked as we dashed back to the trail away from the bugs that we ought to see if Josie’s was open so we could get pizza bites and Lambrusco for supper–a combination we found thoroughly sophisticated when we were 21, 22 years old. (We returned to the house and enjoyed roast beef, potatoes, and asparagus with my parents and our kids instead, and I suspect our digestions were happier for it.)
Right before reaching the car, we found the red raspberry bushes that we had forgotten were always there, and plucked a few to sustain us the last few yards to the vehicle. Summer sweetness, bursting in one’s mouth! Black raspberries are my favorite, but wild red raspberries have a magic of their own. Far sweeter and juicier than any cultivated strain, they taste of woods and sunshine and dreams of youth.
Back home in time to greet the intrepid fisherladies from their first-ever fishing trip with Grandpa, to hear all about how they didn’t catch anything but they did accidentally-on-purpose slip in the river with their clothes on and then decided to swim a bit while they were there, and how much fun they had, and how they would all three like to do it again sometime. They had just as good of a time in their own way as Carl and I had had in ours. Mother, meanwhile, had enjoyed her time alone in her own way by pulling the weeds that were encroaching on the driveway. To each their own.
A splendid outing, a chance for peace to seep into my soul in a way I haven’t experienced in years, and a reminder that as fun as coffee shop dates are, maybe Carl and I should take more hiking dates in the future as well. Come to think of it, the occasional solo hike might not be a bad idea for me, either. Especially if I can make my way along a river or brook–or sometimes in it.