My daughter was about a week old when I first took her on a trail. More accurately, we stood at the trailhead, and looked at it. An unseen bird trilled nearby, and somewhere across the nearly-dry creek another answered. The sky, full of Hurricane clouds and wild wind when my daughter was born, was a beautiful autumn blue, deceptively calm. I could smell the approaching weather in the air, but the trees shielded us from the rising wind and approaching storm. I remember hearing the tops of the trees stir in the air, and suddenly the scent of earth and forest and leaves rose and surrounded me. I clutched my daughter tighter and breathed.
We stood together in that moment, a rare moment of silence: me, swollen everywhere, breasts engorged, C-section scar throbbing, wearing my husband’s flip flops because my shoes no longer fit… my daughter, a tiny but vibrant spark of life, all huge eyes and flailing them. It was as though the trees were leaning in, whispering to her: you are here. You are part of this world. You are needed.
I grew up moving from naval base to naval base. I learned very quickly that once you knew your way around one Navy base, you knew your way around most of them: I remember walking the street of 32nd Street Naval Base in San Diego, CA and being vaguely amused at how similar it was to Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan. Outside the base, though… that was where true adventure lay. My mother, two brothers, and I, accompanied by family dogs, would go outside the first opportunity we had. Together, we found all the hidden places and secret trails that we could. I remember hiking with my family in Japan, on a mountain whose name I cannot remember. I was jumping determinedly from stone to stone, trying to cross a creek. Predictably, I fell in. Years later, hiking in a state park in Virginia, I came to a similar crossing. I picked up my dog and carried her across, laughing as the creek water lapped through my shoes, wetting my socks and leaving my feet cold. I wiggled my toes and wondered if, somehow, that was the same water I’d fallen into years before in Japan.
As I stood with my daughter at the trailhead, listening to the trees whisper and the wind start to rise, I whispered to her, too. I told her that the world was wide, strange, dangerous, and beautiful. I told her that matter where I went, no matter how far, there was always something just around the corner. There was always an invitation awaiting, for a new adventure, to a new, beautiful spot.
I hope my daughter learns fear, and learns when to listen and when to ignore it. I hope my daughter hears the call of adventure, sometimes a clarion call and sometimes a soft murmur, and follows the ones she wants. I hope my daughter will one day sing to her children the song I sing to her now, but that she also draws from starlight and sunshine and wind-tossed waves to create a song uniquely her own.