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Suzan Jackson - Writer
© 2000 Suzan L. Jackson
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Mountains and Milestones

"Just wait. Having kids changes your life.  You two won't be doing all this outdoor stuff much longer!"  When we were expecting our first child, my husband and I heard this kind of admonishment often.  Our life was filled with camping, hiking, backpacking, and canoeing adventures, and many of our friends and family were convinced that our outdoor expeditions would come to a screeching halt when the baby was born.  We had different ideas, though.

Spending time outdoors was very important to us.  Years before, our relationship had grown and developed along with our mutual interest in outdoor activities.  We both thought of being outdoors in the natural world as a much-needed oasis from our hectic work lives.  We were determined to continue doing the things we loved after our baby was born, and we did, right from the start.

Our son went on his first hike (duly noted in our photo album, along with first smiles and first steps) when he was only a month old.  He slept through most of it, riding snugly in a front carrier.  From then on, my husband and I have tended to measure our children's growth and development in terms of their hikes.  We've been pleased to find that our two boys have not only gone along with us but have each developed their own love of the outdoors at an early age.

Our oldest son's next major hiking milestone was unplanned. We went on a weekend camping trip when Jamie was two years old and spent one morning hiking.  For the first time, Jamie hiked the entire 1 ½ miles on his own, without asking to be carried in the backpack carrier.  Some much older boys ran past as he was struggling to climb up a large rock.  One of them yelled out, "Hey, big guy! You rock climbing?"  I'll never forget Jamie's look of pride at being recognized by the big boys as he replied, "Yeah!"  He never seemed to tire, and we felt both proud and a little saddened at this sign of his growth.

Jamie was especially proud of climbing his first mountain.  The summer that he turned four, we were on vacation in Maine's Acadia National Park.  We carefully read through guidebooks and pored over maps, looking for a mountain that would be just right for his first peak hike.  It had to be high enough and challenging enough to feel like a real achievement, without being so strenuous that he'd tire out or get discouraged.  We finally settled on South Bubble Mountain, with the locally famed Bubble Rock perched at the top.

Jamie did great that day.  His boundless energy propelled him up that little mountain.  At the top, he was thrilled with the view, with the huge boulder balanced precariously, and with his own accomplishment.  When we visited the park gift shop a few days later, he chose a beautiful 8x10 picture of South Bubble Mountain, his mountain, to hang in his room when we returned home.  It still hangs there (at age 18), a tribute to his achievement.

When Jamie was three and could hike 2-3 miles on his own, we decided he was old enough to try backpacking.  We found a short overnight hike along a portion of the Appalachian Trail, not too far from our home, that seemed just about right for his first trip.  We set out with our packs. Jamie was carrying a tiny toddler backpack containing his special "blankie" and a few small plastic animals to play with.  The hike turned out longer than we'd planned, but Jamie met the challenge, and another milestone was reached.

That trip stands out in his own mind, and this winter he's been telling us that his little brother, Craig (now 3), is old enough to try backpacking, too.  Jamie says that he's ready to help carry our gear and proudly wears his first "real" backpack around the house, showing it off to anyone who visits.  It looks like each of the boys will be hitting another milestone this spring.  As they do, their love of the outdoors will continue to grow, nourishing their special relationships with us, with each other, and with nature.

©  2001, Suzan L. Jackson