Did I know that Draculaura on Monster High has a crush on Deuce Gorgon?

I did not.

Did I know Lilia K likes to chase the boys around at lunch and they absolutely hate it?

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I did not.

Did I know that mother pigeons feed their babies with a kind of milk that they secrete from deep down their throats, and that they are only one of three bird species on earth that can do this?

Really?

I’m genuinely surprised this time (as opposed to just confused). I’m learning a lot from my daughter about this – our first real foray together, back into nature. Pigeon’s milk…who would have guessed?

WAVING WITH THE WHITE DIAPER
Parents hatch all sorts of idealistic plans for how things are going to work out. And then those kids get old enough to crawl and your golden plans hit the brick wall of reality. It’s a reality that includes diapers, tantrums, and all the whatever-the-hell-ness you failed to consider while planning that all-day hike.

We held out for a while, wildly dragging our firstborn on her first nature outing when she was about a week old and not much more than a squirming prune of a baby. We had moved to the most rural corner of Northern California for a reason – to be outside and in the woods as much as possible. Having kids wasn’t going to slow us down. At least we thought so. We faithfully fought the good fight and subjected our daughter to countless Sunday family death marches until she reached the three-year mark and was joined by a little sister.

I’m not sure why adding another wailing infant to the mix put a problem in our adventure, but we soon found ourselves doing the one thing we swore we’d never do: we started by campers … or whatever it is you actually do when you pull up to a tree-lined parking lot on Forest Service property, pull out the tent, crank up the Coleman two-burner, and sit down to listen to ” the campers” next door are arguing over a can of pork. prayers.

On my own, I was still heading out on the kind of big trips that nourish the soul. But when it came to taking my kids into the woods, I found myself slumming it at group campsites. Something had to change.

BACK IN ACTION
This year I vowed to end the car-camping schtick and get back to the real deal hiking in it, carrying exactly what we needed on our backs, and blissfully sheltering my fellow man, somewhere devoid of port-a – pots, pay showers and RV hookups.

And we are. My daughter bombards me with questions, speaks the strange language that only eight-year-old girls understand, and I huddle dumbly next to her. As a realist, I’ve planned something achievable for our first father-daughter venture back into nature: a short hike up to a small lake in the Cascades. Although the hike is less than five miles, the trail starts soaring straight up into the sky and doesn’t let up until it finally spits you out, sweaty and knee sore, at a small lake. The elevation gain does a good job of dissuading most people from attempting the hike themselves. Perfect.

“Did you know you can eat them, Dad?”

My daughter points to a small clump of red berries that I’m pretty sure would make me yawn a rainbow if I so much as looked at them wrong.

“Um…I’m not so sure about that,” I offer limply as I fish around my pack for a copy of Northwest foraging.

“And they—they’re really good, too!” She excitedly points to another plant that looks poisonous.

Look, she’s entitled to the money. We are surrounded by gooseberries, foxgloves and chokeberries. Some of them are actually quite good. The thimbles, in particular, have a sweet, intense flavor—as if someone condensed all the flavor of a raspberry into a fruit about one-tenth the size. I’m impressed and a little embarrassed…but also proud. My child knows the local edibles better than I do.

A CUP HALF FULL…SPAM
We reach the lake as the sun begins to sink behind the surrounding cedar trees. As far as lakes go, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s no more than five acres-max and full of old snags. But there’s also a population of small, bejeweled brook trout and a sprinkling of larger grinders in the mix. I went out to catch dinner. Normally I’m a catch-and-release guy, but my kid dreams of a delicious, crispy fried trout dinner, so I rig up the rod and start casting spinners.

Nothing. I change lure colors and vary the retrieve. Nada. As in nada damn thing. Huh. I never get skunked here. I’ll give the fly and the throw-a-bubble rig a try. The sun is low on the horizon now – the air is filled with the magical golden hour light and the smell of defeat. My child has been passing the time, merrily talking to dragonflies and building homes for the local water beetle population. I broke down the rod and prepared to fail her.

“So… honey, the fish are not cooperating tonight,” I began.

She looks up with a confused look on her face.

“So, uh, I really didn’t expect to have to do this, but I brought this can of Spam with us and…”

“What is spam?” she says, wide-eyed and curious.

“Well,” I muster, “Spam is like a brick, or maybe a hockey puck, of sausage-tasting…thing.”

I braced myself for the pout, but instead she jumps up and down.

“It tastes like hot dogs and it’s square? Cool! Oh, Dad, that’s great!”

Is it? Really?

This right here is perhaps the coolest moment of the trip. Of course we end up seeing deer slide down to the shore of the lake as the light failed. We catch fish the next morning. We drink strong camp coffee and try to nibble on thimble – it’s all good. No, it’s great. But really, my highlight is this spam moment.

Adults have expectations. You plan, you strategize, and sometimes you’re shocked when none of it works out the way you thought it would. Spam for dinner? To me, that’s failure. I only brought a can of the stuff to brain a bear if the need arose. But to my kid, that same spongy pork product is an exciting, super cool, pink brick that never breaks down and can keep you alive indefinitely. Which, when you think about it, is kind of amazing.

For kids, clouds don’t have silver linings – clouds are just super cool on their own. This, I realize as we sit around our little campfire gnawing away at spam, is something I could stand to learn again.

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