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Wed, July 17

Hike with two-year-old grandson is a step into past

I took my grandson, Dillon, for a hike a couple of months ago.

Dillon is two years old. I've been meaning to hit the trail with him since he was maybe six months old. Since manhood is approaching at an alarming rate, I set aside the homework, didn't split wood for my neighbor, read my newest Twain delight, rake the leaves or rebuild that section of chain link fence that our Puppy, Blink, occasionally makes a jail break from.

When I arrived to pick Dillon up, he was standing in the driveway looking up the street for me - mittens, beanie, and hiking boots on - itching to get a move on.

We ventured off to the trailhead. Wide-eyed and keen, my little navigator continually interjected inquisitions, compass-bearings, observations and casual, yet pointed, philosophical suppositions, looking for my replies. Between chuckles, I gave him the best I could muster.

Dillon got us to our destination in record time and amusement. The formalities of unloading my dog, strapping on the pistol, canteens and fanny pack, etc., followed smartly. My young navigator had become the woodsman.

"Grandpa, I'm ready to hike!" For the first hundred yards or better, our "hike" turned into a run. But Dillon quickly discovered that in the mountains there are some random rocks that always seem to be in the way. He also found that there's a heck of a lot more oxygen at Tonto Park than there is in the Aspens above Potato Patch. Furthermore, that it is oh, so much more civilized, convenient and respectable to go "to the bathroom" when there is one!

From that point we slackened our pace a bit, partly by necessity and partly by virtue of "smelling the roses."

We came upon several pristine examples of old growth Fir and Ponderosa, hugging them, (and, yes, even kissing them). We contemplated the essence of moss and its tactile pleasantry. We shook brown Gamble Oak leaves from their hesitant branches.

We meandered off the trail, then back on. We called the dog, we shooed him away. We threw rocks in the creek when it was above ground, we looked for it when it was below. In the openings of the leaves and boughs above us we noted the speed of the clouds across the sky, dizzying ourselves in the effort.

At what I reckon was about the half-mile mark on our journey, Dillon suddenly said, "Grandpa, I want to hold you." "How cutel" I thought, "he wants to hold my hand while we walk." So, I grabbed his left hand and started to walk. His hand stayed with me, but his body remained. I stopped.

He then raised his arms and began crawling up my legs. He wanted me to carry him. So up he scrambled, nestling in. With about a five percent grade and three quarters of a mile to go; just how long he wanted to "hold me" a fruitless ponder and waste of energy on my part.

I began the onward ascent, my 30lb. counter-weight ogling the mesmerizing clouds, occasionally reminding me to avoid the branches overhanging the trail at his level but somehow forgetting to mention when they were at my level.

Early on, I had recognized that enthusiasm was his motivation. I now found mine to be determination. I figured that he could "hold me" all he wanted, because Grandpa was going to show him that mine even if he reached his fifth birthday in the doings!

Every 100 yards or so, I'd set Dillon down, gently hold his hand and quietly ask, "Do you want to hike now?"

"No! I want to 'hold you,'" always came the reply. As the trail got steeper I began saving my breath and ceased inquiring. I was having fun anyway and getting the best workout all at once.

As the earnest switchbacks began, I spotted the tailings I'd been envisioning, took a quick break and transported my papoose to the mouth of the mine.

Again I caught my breath as Dillon peered into that black void and casually tossed some rocks into the water at its mouth.

"Do you want to go in the cave with Grandpa?" I asked. "Oh yeah, I do, Grandpa," he answered.

Into the yawning void we stepped, past some timbers and a small puddle at the entry-way. On went the flashlight. Our hike was coming to fruition!

I had been to the very end of this intriguing bit of history once before and paced it at 53 steps, or roughly 160 feet deep. Dillon held my hand with conviction as we passed into the twilight of the entry-way. His steps shortened as the natural light weakened. At about 30 feet in, I heard a miniscule voice rise from below my knee: "Grandpa, I don't want to go in there."

Respecting his fondness for sunlight, I did not press the matter. Our great mine adventure was over.

Once outside, he was immediately hungry. I divvied up a peanut butter and honey sandwich, a banana for dessert. He inhaled them both, took a big swig of water then leaned back against the bank of pine needles and dirt. Adventure-full and belly-full, my little companion started to shiver a tad. I put my extra sweatshirt around him. Then my little woodsman started to whimper a smidge.

So, I strapped all my doo-dads on, didn't even ask him, just let him "hold me" and set off back down the trail.

He continued to whimper - the only true word I could catch out of it was "Mama" once every paragraph or so. I quickened my pace, knowing that my diminuitive adventurer was yearning for warm arms and his bed. He finally fell flat asleep perhaps 200 yards from the truck. When I stepped up to the truck, he woke up. He groggily arose, took notice that he was back at the truck and immediately conjured a gargantuan smile. He was happy again!

I strapped him in, loaded the dog, fired up the truck and got the heater going. Mama was waiting nervously for him at the same spot in the driveway that she had bid farewell.

Our hike was over, but by no means the memory. In fact, the episode evoked a memory of a similar outing some 14 years ago.

Back then, I had taken a young lad of three out for an early morning hike through the snow to spot some deer. I placed him in a fork of a grand oak tree and marvelled at how quiet he was being. It was then that I heard a sound - my young game-spotter was snoring.

I let my son Shawn "hold me" all the way back to camp as well.

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