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A Trail of Memories

I found joy on epic adventures with my dad. Now I'm finding that same joy exploring close to home with my own children | By Andrea Laughery

My breath left my chapped lips in frozen puffs, matching the cadence of my crampons sticking into the icy glacier beneath me. Spiraling fog gave way to a shred of a glowing crescent moon as the horizon flushed pink with the sun’s impending arrival. While I was lost in my own reverie at the sight of this new dawn, I felt a slight tug on my rope, and I continued relentlessly upward behind the crunching footsteps of my dad on our way to the summit of one of the Northwest’s iconic volcanoes.

As we topped out over the last 40-degree pitch, I looked up to meet his steel blue eyes as he gestured to the landscape below us. I knew then that witnessing the first ethereal light of day in such an inhospitable place is not something everyone gets to experience. I looked back at him and he blinked his eyes at me, as he often did as a sign of affection. He was happy I was there next to him, his only child following his path into a world full of far more magical and wondrous lessons than he could ever teach me on his own. It was my first of many long days in the mountains, where I came to learn that mindful endurance and a bit of suffering is actually a portal to joy, and that I’m capable of so much more than I ever believed.

Siblings. Photo by Andrea Laughery.jpg
Photo by Andrea Laughery.

My dad was my best friend, and when he died 2 years ago my obsession with the mountains intensified. I found myself frantically climbing into the wilderness, hot grief blazing through me, looking for the ghost of him, but really only finding myself. The mountains always allowed me a space to cry and reflect on my memories, but they didn’t care that I lost him. It was some kind of tough love; to be faced with the reality that his life and my own are but grains of sand in the sea of existence, no matter how significant his loss was to those who knew him. These big endeavors of hiking long miles into the backcountry and sleeping under the stars and navigating glaciers have always felt like the most valuable experiences I’ve had in nature. I didn’t think anywhere else would give my soul what it so desired.

My kids have given me the gift of time, and instead of pushing higher, I find myself just moving slower and noticing all the details.

So it’s been surprising, shocking even, to discover that the short and very (very) slow hikes with my two young children on local trails near our home have given me more gratitude for life than I knew possible. It is on these walks together that I’ve cried over the beauty of a delicate swirl of moss and watched my kids stare in wonder as a deer and her fawn crossed our path and delighted in the uniqueness of mushrooms sprouting up along the trail. My kids have given me the gift of time, and instead of pushing higher, I find myself just moving slower and noticing all the details.

Mushrooms. Photo by Andrea Laughery.jpg
Andrea Laughery likes to explore Newberry Hill Heritage Park in Kitsap County with her kids. For her, it is literally The Trail Next Door. Photo by Andrea Laughery.

It has been in these easier-to-access trails and local green spaces that my kids and I have had meaningful conversations about the mysteries of life, as I answer question after question about how legs work, why the sky is actually blue and where we go when we die. We’ve picked up trash together, reveled in the sunshine on our faces after weeks of unending rain, held hands and collected fallen pinecones. I’ve felt pride swell in my chest watching at my kids work hard and persevere to reach the top of a big hill when they wanted to quit.

Getting outside on the trails next door has been just as worthy to my heart, if not more so, than big endeavors and epic adventures. I saunter down our local trails and wonder if this is how my own dad felt all those years ago. I wonder if any of these memories will be the ones that help shape their childhood, like the slow days hiking in the woods with my dad did for me. I see beyond where we are, the inspiration of my dad’s love and memory carrying his grandchildren down the same enchanted path of learning and growth and gratitude he set me on so many years ago.

Trail magic. Photo by Andrea Laughery.jpg
Photo by Andrea Laughery.

It isn’t in the mountains that I find my dad, but in the heartbeat and footsteps of my children as we play and discover and hike together slowly, savoring the carpet of ferns swaying in the breeze, splashing in puddles down a muddy trail and growing together in love.

Don’t be fooled; time in nature is never wasted, no matter how small. You don’t have to drive for hours or hike big miles or reach the summit. Whatever trails you trek will surely offer you what you seek if you’re open to it, be that healing, gratitude or joy.

Andrea Laughery is a writer who lives on the Olympic Peninsula with her husband and two adventurous children. She enjoys climbing mountains, walking underneath towering trees, participating in type 2 fun, and photographing everything along the way. You can find her online at andrealaughery.com or @laughclan on Instagram.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.