It was dark when we pulled our sleepy kids out of their warm beds and into the car. The sky was shaping up to be gray, a familiar horizon when living in the western part of Washington state. With warm cups of coffee in hand, we drove out toward the Olympic National Park, a piece of earth that feels more like our backyard than anything else these days. Making our way up the steep road to Hurricane Ridge, the sky turned into ribbons of white, and visibility became nearly zero as my husband watched for orange markers along the side of the road. By the time we pulled into the parking lot at Hurricane Ridge, the world around us felt like a snow globe, the wind slamming frigid ice crystals in gusts upon the windshield. We eyed one another, seriously considering just turning around to head home, but instead gave each other a fist bump and decided we were going to make the best of the weather and snowshoe as long as we could before the kids crying would be too much to bear.
Dressing children in snow clothes can be painstakingly frustrating when you have room to spare, but doing it in the one-foot space on your lap with a 4.5-year-old, tucking mittens in just right and sliding on layers, is mostly a recipe for someone losing their cool. Surprisingly, we all found ourselves laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation as I would rush outside to the back of the car, freezing wind whipping my hair across my cheeks as I squinted to see where I was going, grabbing more gear and jumping back into the front. All in all, I think it took us over 40 minutes to get our cold-weather gear and clothing on in the front of our small car. It felt like a victory before we even got out of the gate!
One minute out of the car and our two-year-old daughter was screaming, refusing to wear her goggles, hair wet and matted to her forehead in an array of curls. I picked her up and we tucked ourselves into a shelter on the leeward side of the lodge. I looked up to see my son, a child who still hates getting water on his face in the bathtub, pull his goggles down over his eyes, making the world around him rose colored as it were. He put his head down and marched headfirst into the sea of ice crystals pelting his body, leaning sideway as the steady stream of wind blew at him relentlessly.
My son was the real champion of the day. Where I anticipated him being upset, he showed up with determination and joy. With snowshoes strapped on, we had a couple hundred yards to traverse before reaching the shelter of the tree line. I followed behind, my son's bright yellow jacket shining like a light ahead, his hand cozy within my husband's as the two of them made their way, one slow step at a time, across the snowfield. My daughter was tight against my chest, my oversized black gloves creating a shield around her tiny face to protect her from the weather. When the four of us entered the trail curving behind the trees, it became calm and peaceful. My daughter peeked out from her cocoon to whisper "snow" as she gazed up at tiny falling flakes. We tromped along as a family, me telling my son every five minutes how PROUD I was of him for the hard work he was doing. And him smiling in response. We would stop to play, make snow angels (with snow shoes on, no easy feat), hike fast, hike slow, but always together.
Every single time we choose to explore together, I learn how resilient kids are. How capable they are. When we pulled our car into the lot I had already assumed how miserable this would be for them, and I was proved wrong a hundred times over. I got to witness him trek through miles of soft pillowed snow in his first pair of snowshoes with sheer delight on his face. I got to wait patiently for my daughter to lift her tiny boots in and out of deep snow, letting her interact with the earth as we would pass people who admired her tiny-but-strong little body hike with her family.
I got to see all the ways in which my husband loves his children and love him even more for it. I was gifted so many things on this day. It's a day I want to tuck away in the vault of my soul forever. A day we thought would be challenging turned out to be beautiful. I hope we are teaching are children to always adventure, work hard, love well, and have fun while doing it all. I hope these days in the forest and mountains are helping shape who they are and instilling in them a deep appreciation for life and the world around them. I hope in time they will find another home that exists beyond four walls. And I certainly hope my kids never stop surprising me and teaching me new lessons about joy and patience and how to live slow in a busy world.