Yes, that’s my toddler snowboarding. Extreme sports don’t have to stop when you have kids.

familysmallCross-posted from Washington Post

My husband and I believe our outdoor adventures should not be curtailed just because we are parents of three kids. The photos in our living room attest to the creative ways we’ve managed to fish in Alaska with a newborn or hike a glacier with our children, who were 2 and 5 years old, outfitted in crampons. Last year, our then 1-year-old even snowboarded at Snowshoe Mountain.

These are our parenting creds. However, to those who label me as an American-born Chinese and my husband as an American-born Korean coupled with the reminder that we are both products of tiger parenting, we are often judged. My dad would chide, “You are a straight A student. You went to Harvard. Don’t you want that for your kids?”

Sure, but I also have great respect for how the outdoors and extreme sports shaped my character. By the time I turned 20, my parents had taken me white water rafting, spelunking, hiking, and horseback riding through nearly all the national parks in the United States and Canada. This fueled a thirst post-college for snowboarding, snow-machining and ice climbing. When my dad passed out at the bottom of the 600-foot deep Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park and it was up to 9-year-old me to get help, when I thought I was going to die the first time I ice-climbed and found the strength to use my icepick for a self-arrest, these are the moments that I think of when someone (including myself) tells me I can’t do something.

While my husband did not grow up with outdoor or extreme sport experiences, he did find a passion in these things once he left home. He scuba-dived all over the world before we met and earned a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo. His father taught him that when you start something you have to finish it. This is what he tries to teach our kids, especially my eldest (10) who announced as soon as she could string together a sentence that she wanted to be a race car driver and an Olympic snowboarder.

Serving as Girl Scout and Cub Scout leaders, my husband and I can prove that kids who spend time outdoors eclipse their peers in environmental stewardship, more readily seek challenges, are better problem solvers and gain skills that will help them do better in school. In extreme sports, we find them happier, more passionate about their goals, more sure of who they are.

The key is introducing outdoor adventures and extreme sports early. We had to find outfitters who were willing to waive age-limits and find creative solutions like strapping adult instep crampons onto my 2-year-old. We found coaches like Chris Hargrave, president of Windells Academy who sprung my 1-year-old loose from Snowshoe’s pre-ski school and showed us how to attach an accessory to her board so we could tow her and she could discover the sensation of riding on her own. (My oldest, Kyra, wasn’t allowed on a board until age 5 due to age restrictions at the resorts we tried.) A father of three kids, Hargrave said, “If you put the things that you want your children to have access to later in life in their hands when they are babies, they will develop a balance and taste for it.”

Second, my husband is all about safety; he’s made a career out of it. (He’s the Regional Safetly Manager for a Fortune 500 company.) We go to places like Snowshoe in West Virginia, a family-friendly resort that offers Terrain Based Learning (TBL), an approach created by Hargrave using shaped snow to keep speed in check so students can have fun without the fear of losing control.

“If early lessons aren’t handled right with the young ones, they will turn against the sport quickly,” says Frank DeBerry, president of Showshoe whose daughter threw her first terrain park trick at the age of 7.

So we decided to send our risk-adverse son, then 6, to TBL and Snowshoe’s first snowboard camp, coached by Hargrave. We didn’t care if he never snowboarded again after the camp, we just wanted him to give it a try at the top of a mountain with the best conditions in the region.

On the first day, Ethan started on flat ground, learning to balance and jib, then moved to the mini-pipe feature (like a skate ramp made of snow) where he learned to pump and control pressure. Next, he pumped the rollers into a return wall, worked on going down the fall line with banked turns, and linked turns on a perfect slope. By the afternoon, he was shreddin’ the gnar on the greens.

On the second day, when a camp instructor asked who was a beginner, Ethan refused to raise his hand. I whispered in his ear, “But you’ve only snowboarded for one day.”

“Mooommm!” he shushed me. “I want to do tricks.”

On the third day, Ethan studied a steep runway leading to a nearly 15-foot jump in a terrain park. While airdogs flew by and showed off huge stunts, Ethan tried to blend into the scene by planting his hands in the snow, shifting all his body weight onto the tail of his board and lifting the nose into the air. With his head down in the tripod trick, Ethan contemplated whether he was going to drop in on the jump.

Decision made, Ethan stood up, took a few hops towards the jump, bent his knees and pointed his board straight down the ramp.

We were shocked. That jump was way beyond even my skill level and I had been snowboarding for 19 years.

Ethan’s bravery inspired me to give the jump a shot even though I crashed miserably. When I caught up to Ethan, he was whimpering on the steep landing. “My heart,” he cried. When I asked if he was okay, he said, “Mommy, you shouldn’t have tried the jump.” He kept telling me that the jump was too hard for me and that next time, he’ll show me how to do it. Before I could process this great transformation in my son, Hargrave yelled in my direction, “Kyra just did a 360!”

Though both of them had a few falls that weekend, they were hooked on snowboarding.

Now, all three of my kids practice tricks off their skateboard and on their snowboards. Their friends beg us to take them on our next adventure. Their backpacks are stuffed with books about climbing Everest or how to survive an avalanche.

As winter settles in, all of our dinner conversations are about when and where they get to ride. Ethan says he will never ski again. Kyra insists that I cook them healthy meals packed with protein since they both joined a Ski & Snowboard Racing Team at Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain Resort.  This is a family commitment that will require a four hour drive every weekend until March, but we’re committed.

Whenever any of us are afraid to try something new, I direct them to our newest family photo hanging strategically next to the television. I remind them of this moment when they pushed their limits because these are the times that I see my children reach for greatness.

On the softest powder above the clouds at 4,848 feet, the five of us are on snowboards, yes even our toddler who just learned how to walk.

Leslie Hsu Oh is a freelance writer whose work has been named among the distinguished stories of the year by Best American Essays and is working on a memoir. Read more at and on Facebook or Twitter: @lesliehsuoh


The More You Give, the More You Get Back

Cross-posted from Today Parenting Team

In this season, I often remind my children of the important lessons we learned about giving and sharing when we lived in Alaska. In this photo, Kyra (5) and Ethan (2) are presenting their first harvest of petrushki (beach lovage) to Rita Blumenstein, a renowned traditional healer and member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. Auntie Rita had spent Mother’s Day with us on the coast of Turnagain Arm, Alaska, where she taught my children not to take too much, so other people and animals can harvest too.

At Anchorage Museum’s Living Our Cultures, Sharing our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska exhibit, Elders and youth are interviewed among the Athabascan, Eyak, Haida, Iñupiaq, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Unangan, Sugpiaq, Yup’ik, and Saint Lawrence Island Yup’ik..

In the Yup’ik video, Alice Rearden (Cucuaq Aluskak) speaks about ella, or awareness. Growing up in Napakiak, her Elders taught her “that if you are out walking and see a piece of driftwood sticking out of the mud, you should pull it out and turn it over so that the muddy part can dry. That piece of wood is alive and aware, and it will feel gratitude for your kindness.”

Her features are delicate, but when she speaks, her voice is laced with the weight of more than 12 years of wisdom, gleaned from serving as lead translator for the Calista Elders Council. The video pans to a scene of fish hanging on a dry rack while Rearden says off screen: “We always grew up with that sense, of not putting yourself first or above others. Giving gifts to people, those kinds of, you know, unselfish gestures that you do for people—it will come back in turn.”

Yup’ik Elders explain that “those who are capable must help those less fortunate through sharing food and doing chores for them. We were admonished: ‘Even though an old woman wants to pay you, you do not receive it.’ When an elderly woman or man is given something or helped, she is extremely grateful and thanks you with enthusiasm. And they give the person who helped them something beneficial, thinking of something in their minds that will aid him positively in his life.

“Yup’ik discussions of the ethics of sharing describe its consequences in terms of its nonmaterial return—the grateful thoughts it elicits.…Today, sharing knowledge is as critical as sharing food in both the transfer and transformation of Yup’ik moral standards. Admonitions to act with compassion and restraint remain foundational not only in Yup’ik interpersonal interaction but in their relations with their environment.”


Living in Alaska, it seemed easier to teach my children about sharing. While dip-netting, we always collected fresh fish heads discarded on the beaches and delivered them to Elders whom I worked with in town. They helped me clean, pack, freeze, and ship salmon to relatives in the Lower 48. Now as they get older and we move further away from Alaska, I hear them yelling “mine” at each other and slipping into that urban self-centered way of thinking.

As a mother of three, Kyle (13), Kayla (11), and Christopher (4), Rearden trades ideas with me on how to teach our kids tuvqakiyaraq, the custom of sharing, in an urban setting. Rearden grew up “feeling shame to get more than someone else. Whenever I was asked to share, I always gave the other person a bigger piece. I would cut a candy in half and be ashamed to take the bigger piece.”

She raises her children, who were all born in Anchorage, with these ideas: “The more you give, the more you get back. If we are stingy, like if you don’t share your toys, then [they] will break right away. When you give, it will come back to you. Your selfless act is always rewarded. They see that I don’t hold back when it comes to helping in any situation. I hope they [her kids] watch me and observe what I do.”

Because it is hard to keep traditions like tuvqakiyaraq in the city, Rearden goes out of her way to share food. She often hosts feasts where she cooks all day, serving her most precious subsistence foods, making sure her kids see that she is serving her last bag of salmonberries. She says, “it’s just enough for them to see. I am always talking to them and explaining the reasons behind sharing, the reason why it’s important to give to others and have compassion for others.”

Here’s something simple that I try with my kids. I take an apple and cut it in two. I present both pieces to my oldest. Sometimes she will try to stuff them into her mouth before her two younger siblings notice. Sometimes, she’ll bargain with them. “Okay, I’ll give you this apple, if you give me that Xbox controller.”

Always, I’m patient. Using these opportunities as teaching moments, I’ll remind her of the lessons we learned in Alaska. Always, she’ll give away the larger piece or press both pieces into the little hands of her brother and sister.

Parts of this post are excerpted from my original publication in First Alaskans Magazine.

Interview with Leigh Newman

Cross posted from
When I first met Leigh Newman at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, I felt like I found my long lost sister. We are both raising our children in an urban setting (New York for her, Washington, D.C. for me) when we hope to pass on the values we learned in the wilderness. In Still Points North, out now in paperback from Shorefast Editions, Newman writes with tenderness about searching for identity and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live. It was a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle John Leonard Prize. Her fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in One Story, Tin House, The New York Times Modern Love and Sunday Book Review, Fiction, Vogue, O The Oprah Magazine, Sunset, Real Simple and Bookforum. She currently serves as Books Editor of and teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. 

The first time I read Still Points North, by the time I got near the end, I flipped through the last few pages impatient to find out whether this self-reliant/self-exiled travel writer would choose marriage or divorce. We are all dying to know if you are still married to Lawrence, for how long, how old are your kids, and what is his reaction to this book and comments readers have made about him? Does he come with you on book tours?
Wow! You’re right. I should included a follow-up insert. Yes, Law and I are still married. We have two kids, both boys. One is 9 and the other 5. As for Lawrence’s reaction to the book: he loves the reader comments; he comes off great!
At the end of your book, you drop teasers like “mugged at knifepoint by a transvestite (long story, another book)….drifting until you end up on camelback at the border of Libya (long story, another book).” Well, which book are you working on? And if you aren’t working on these stories, can you please tell us what happened?
I’m working on a book of short stories about Anchorage—and that weird existence between the city and the wilderness. Most of it is about dreamers, dazzled and deluded and crashing to earth. Not unlike myself.

The stories you’re talking about are part of a book I may never write…I ‘m not sure. It’s about very dumb things I did and survived.


In your book trailer, you say “by age eight, I could land a 40 pound king salmon, dig out an outhouse, patch a wader.” Will your kids be able to make similar claims? As a mother raising a nine-year-old, six-year-old, and one-year-old in the Washington DC area, I’m often frustrated that I can’t give my children experiences like hiking with crampons on a glacier at the age of two when we lived in Alaska. I too have photos from my childhood like the one on the cover of the book (your sassy pose beside your father who is repairing something in front of his floatplane and your dog Jasmine) and those you shared in various interviews (you as an infant bouncing up and down in a pack n’ play in the woods beside a tent) which I’m trying to capture for my kids now. What have you done to make sure your kids have the same experiences you did with your dad?

I just do the best I can. I try to go up with the kids once a year. This year we’re going to Fairbanks to go snow machining with my brother, who lives in a dry cabin. Other years, we’ve gone fishing, camping , skiing. The Alaska I grew up is kind of gone for me now—my dad no longer flies so we use cars and boats to get into the bush, which is a totally different experience. Powerful but different. I also just try to teach them all the skills they will need. They both ski, fish and do archery.


One of the things I loved about your book was the parenting tips that surface here and there. For example, “Ask kids about feelings. Specific ones. Mad. Sad. Broken Heart.” Do you have any tips for moms who are or dream of being travel writers?

Leave the kids with dad. Go. Come back with big present.  It will be happifying for you and inspirational for your kids. Show them how you want to live.


In interviews you shared that the process of writing Still Points North was not easy including a coffee spill right before the manuscript was due that shorted out your computer, “I wrote a lot of sloppy, long, meandering drafts. My editor Jennifer Smith at Dial was the one who kept (gently) pointing me in the right direction. Her comments really woke me up to the values of collaboration, even when that meant cutting out 120 pages (an excruciating process). The same went for her editorial assistant, Hannah, who weighed in on key points. Once I let them in, I had to let everybody in—agents, PR people, other writers. They all had good ideas, ones better than my own. It’s kind of shocking when you think about how talented and insightful people can be when you offer them the chance to help you.” From the point of time in which you sold Still Points North on a book proposal to publication, what advice can you offer other memoirists on how to navigate the implosion or explosion of a book? When to listen to your gut vs. agents/editors/writers?
I think….that you have the best b.s. meter. Usually when a good editor or agent points out an issue, you already know it’s an issue, you just couldn’t admit it to yourself. It is almost a relief to get rid of the problem. If they point out something that really doesn’t resonate—just don’t do it. I usually sit on edits for 3 days before I say or do anything. The first day I’m furious and weepy and sure they are idiots who just don’t get my vision. Then the second day, they might have a point. The third day, they are so insightful! How could I not have seen it!
We’ve all heard in critiques to avoid the present tense because it complicates what Philip Lopate calls the “double perspective, that will allow the reader to participate vicariously in the experience as it was lived (the confusions and misapprehensions of the child one was, say), while conveying the sophisticated wisdom of one’s current self.” And yet, you managed to do this beautifully in Still Points North. Please do share your secret.


I don’t know. I wish I did. I had read almost no memoirs when I wrote mine, save A Boy’s Life, which is in past tense. Now, of course, I feel so conflicted. Writing in the present tense is so natural for me. But I read all kinds of criticism about it (see William Gass) and it does rob you of reflecting, as an adult, on the complexity of what happened in your past. You lose out on your own hard won insight . So I wish I could do it differently—I feel very animalistic about writing, very instinctual—but I go back to the present, again and again. The past tense to me is sophisticated, elegant, and I long for it the way rube always long for urbanity, even as a rube knows she is still a rube.

The Great Blue Heron

It balances like royalty, on one long elegant leg upon a tree outside my bedroom window. Head raised high, azure blue-gray plumage ruffling gracefully in the breeze, it is a magnificent bird, nearly as large as my 18-month-old.

I had only seen it once before in the two years we lived in this townhouse. That time, I enjoyed the bird on my own. Baby was asleep in her crib, while I photographed the bird standing like a statue on that tree, stalking prey in a man-made lake trimmed with office buildings and houses. When it launched itself into the air, I nearly felt its wingtips brush my cheeks as I admired it quietly from my balcony. “Thank you,” I said to the bird, “for bringing me a taste of the wilderness that I am homesick for.” _MG_2804


Photo credit Leslie Hsu Oh

Today, Kyra is helping me pack bags for a road trip. Ethan jumps up and down on piles of clean laundry on my bed while Riley attempts to dip her fingers into the toilet (yes, her new game to annoy mommy). I pull the shades up, hoping the man-made lake as depressing as it is can rejuvenate me like the river that used to run in the backyard of my cabin in Alaska. And that’s when I see my bird.

I squeal. The kids drop whatever they are doing and press their noses against the window. “Mommy, is it injured? How come it only has one leg?” Ethan asks.

“What is it?” Kyra asks.

Perfect opportunity to crack open the Audubon  bird book, which we never get a chance to use now that we live in the city: “Who can tell me what kind of bird this is?”

While the kids flip through the book and ask each other questions like “does it have a yellow bill“ or “chestnut and black accents,” I tell them about the day I spent with this bird and how happy I am that they get a chance to meet it.

Finally, they reach a consensus: Great Blue Heron. I play its call on my iPhone bird app and Riley snatches it out of my hand. Kyra and Ethan wrestle the iPhone out of Riley’s hands and google answers they can’t find in the Audubon book.

Thank you Great Blue Heron for creating a teaching moment that entertains all three of my kids.


Photo credit: Leslie Hsu Oh

“Oooo mommy, do you know why herons stand on one leg? Thermoregulation hypothesis,” Kyra stumbles over the words, “Or to look less suspicious to their prey. Cool!” Now they are teaching me.

“Can we go on the balcony to see him?” Ethan asks.

I agree, but warn them that we must be quiet and go all at once so that we don’t scare the bird. While I put on a coat for Riley, Kyra steps out too impatient to wait. By the time, I get outside the heron is showing off its six-foot wingspan as it glides across the surface of the lake crusted with the light of the sun.

“Wow!” all three kids say.

They are so quiet that beneath the sound of the cars whipping by for last minute Christmas gifts at Fair Lakes Shopping Center, we can hear the ducks squawking on the shore and the advertisement calls of the frogs. Who knew that in the midst of office buildings and townhouses, animals had made a home for themselves just like I need to.


Photo credit Leslie Hsu Oh

Brace Yourself



This summer, I was determined to celebrate my children’s birthdays with an outdoor adventure. Three years ago, we had to uproot them from their place-of-birth (Alaska) and move to the Washington, D.C. area. I feared that they would lose their confidence in nature where at age 2, they could traverse a crevice in crampons with the biggest smile on their faces. So you can imagine my disappointment when I suggested whitewater rafting for Ethan’s birthday and both kids said, “No” without even looking up from their iPads.

“Do you even know what I’m talking about?” I asked after confiscating their iPads.

“Sounds scary,” Ethan said.

I sat both of them down in front of my laptop and searched for some videos. I explained how my parents took me rafting as soon as I was old enough. Ethan was turning six and I wanted to give him the same gift.

“I’d rather get toys,” Ethan said. That statement alone made up my mind. I was going to take them no matter what obstacles I had to overcome such as how were we going to afford the trip and who would we beg to watch my one-year-old.

Kyra, who turned nine a month ago, studied one of the rafting videos I found. For her birthday, we fished for flounders on the ocean but returned empty handed. “Boo,” she had said as she did now when she saw someone fall out of a raft on a Class 5.

“Boo,” she said again on Ethan’s birthday after all the arrangements I made to get us on the Shenandoah River. Our River Riders guide, Kaitlyn, had just maneuvered us through a series of Class 3 rapids. “The Doah” as Kaitlyn called it sloshed into the raft soaking our shoes.

Ethan complained, “Ack, I don’t want my feet wet!”

In an effort to get some reaction from my stone-faced kids, Kaitlyn pointed out some of the wildlife. “Do you see that bird with the long neck on the shore? That’s a blue herring or West Virginia Pterodactyl.”

The kids got frustrated that they couldn’t see the bird. Five rafts with the rest of the passengers guided by River Riders swept by.

Kaitlyn asked Kyra, “What can I do to make you smile?”


Kyra said, “I’m hungry.” For the month of August, we had a rare day when the sun did not burn my skin and a gentle breeze lifted the hair on the back of my neck and my child who was knownas the “thrill-seeker” in the family was paying absolutely no attention to her surroundings.

“Forward paddle,” Kaitlyn shouted at my husband and I. “Back paddle. Together please.” She had seated us at the frontof the raft and instructed us that the more in sync we were the smoother the ride. The river fought my paddle and a blister developed on my right thumb. I kept thinking, please, don’t let any of us fall into the river. Images from the safety video River Riders showed us at the start of the trip played in my mind. Feet trapped on the river bottom. Helmets slammed against rocks. So far, my husband had not made one comment about whether he thought this trip was a good idea or not. It seemed like our paddles were also not communicating too well.

By the time, we landed on a massive pile of boulders in the middle of the river I started to worry whether the city had ruined my family. As soon as each of us stepped onto the rock, we immediately scattered in different directions. Plus, with what seemed like thirty other people that landed with us, it took a while for me to herd the four of us together.
None of us said much as we downed several cups of pink lemonade which the guides reassured us would be the sugar kick we needed to get through the rest of the rapids. Kyra finished a granola bar that Kaitlyn had given her.

“Want to take a swim?” I asked Kyra and Ethan.

“I’m scared,” Ethan said.

“You know how to swim and you have a life jacket on,” I said, taking his little hand and helping him into the river. We all had the right gear, that’s something I am religious about, so our wet shoes gripped the slippery rocks as we made our way deeper into the river until the water rose to my waist. My husband seemed much more relaxed than I. He chased and splashed the kids while I just stood there observing them all. By the time someone snapped a family photo for us, both kids were floating on their backs and giggling.10553782_553026271469369_5096286803175696260_o

After our swim, Kaitlyn deftly guided us through a rapid called the “Dragon’s Tongue.” The boat spun 180 degrees and white froth coated our backs. Ethan loosened his death grip on a webbing strap and said, “I felt the tongue lick me.”

Meanwhile, Kyra started to warm up to Kaitlyn. She started to ask questions like “So can we pretend to fall off the boat?” or “When can we go down a waterfall?” or “Can I scuba dive?”

Scuba dive? How did my daughter know what scuba diving was?

Kailyn asked, “So if you could scuba dive anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Without hesitation, Kyra replied, “Atlantis.”

Ethan agreed.

When we entered the Potomac River, Kaitlyn pointed out Virginia and Maryland and said we were now in the “State of Confusion” and I thought that’s exactly how I was feeling. Confused that I didn’t know my kids as well as I thought I did. Confused about whether my parenting had failed in the city.

Fortunately, Kaitlyn had a solution. First, she “surfed” our raft in Lower Staircase for a long time, long enough for the bucking, spinning wet ride to remind me to enjoy the present moment and the thrill of not being in control. Second, she hooked a flip line to a biner on the bow and asked Kyra and Ethan to hang onto it for our last rapid of the day.

“Brace yourself,” she yelled as we paddled hard down a chute. The raft tipped back and the kids were launched into the air above White Horse Rapid. As the raft pitched, Kyra and Ethan whooped so loud that the other rafters smiled at us.

Later on the way back to the car, after Kaitlyn arranged for all the rafters to sing “Happy Birthday,” Ethan grabbed my hand and pulled me down to his eye level. He whispered as if he were telling me the greatest secret ever, “Thank you, Mommy.”

I couldn’t resist asking, “So if you could only play your iPad or raft, which one would you choose?”

His cheeks turned pink. “The White Horse,” he said.



Also posted at Spawn and Survive

The Couple in Trouble

A sticky fog descended as we made our way up loose boulders that peaked relentlessly towards the Summit of Chilkoot Pass. My stomach growled from missing dinner. Nothing in this historic landscape had been stable for the past few hours. My fingertips were raw from clawing my way up. Knees scraped. Feet duct taped and sore.

Getting ready to summit Chilkoot Pass.

Somewhere up ahead sending mini avalanches upon my head was my husband. “I’m not having any fun,” he had blurted out yesterday a few hours after we started the Chilkoot Trail and his back had gone into spasms from a pack that was too small.

“Good thing the kids aren’t with us,” he yelled as he slid and had to jam his hiking pole in a crevice to stop his fall. Crossing the Chilkoot Trail off my bucket list seemed like a good idea when we discovered we both had work in Anchorage. We thought five days off the grid would be a great way to celebrate our ten year anniversary.

A product of parents who never did anything without us, I worried whether I was being judged for leaving the kids behind.

Before we boarded our plane, Kyra, who just turned seven, blinked with her big round eyes.  “We want to go home too.”

“I miss Alaska,” Ethan, who just turned four, added. I nearly snuck them into my carryon.

But whenever we called them, Ethan was too busy playing to talk to us while Kyra yelled into the phone, “We’re fine. Gotta run.”

There were other parents on the trail who were feeling the same guilt. One couple cried when they called their one-year-old, who refused to stop balling.

As things grew colder and darker, two hikers approached us from the Summit. “Where are you headed?” we asked, relieved that we weren’t the only losers still hiking around 9pm.

“We’re actually looking for you.” They were the rangers stationed at the top of the Summit, who had spent the day asking hikers that crossed the pass whether they had seen a “couple in trouble.”

To ease our embarrassment, they offered “How would you like a honeymoon suite?”

They settled us into the warming shelter at the top of the pass with two steaming thermos of hot water. We collapsed beneath the weight of our packs and stared at the signs posted inside the cabin. One said, “Happy Camp is still 2 to 4 hours away. Do not stay here overnight.”

Warming shelter at the top of the pass.

We felt like teenagers that had snuck behind barricade tape. Peeking out the windows at a cloudless turquoise sky layered on top of snow covered peaks and emerald lakes, I said to my husband, “Now are you having fun?”

He smiled. The world was so quiet up there we could hear nothing, not a peep from an animal or rustle of wind. If we held our breath, we might hear the drip of ice melt into a clear stream.

We savored the silence, the kind of peace we rarely experience now that we are parents. I felt as if my brain was getting a desperately needed reboot, a chance to dump all the complications of parenting and return to the nuts and bolts of our marriage.

In the morning, we enjoyed an incredible view before heading down the side of the steep glacier.

That night, Thomas cooked me dinner and we had a chance to dry out our gear and talk. Ten years had braided and frayed our relationship so we were grateful to finally have the time to mend and forgive.

Without 24/7 connectivity and the stress of bills or deadlines or obligations, it was easier to relax into the present moment. With four days of nearly twelve hours of hiking where we had to worry about nothing but placing one foot before the other, we had time to hear rain staccato on our tent or photograph the gills on an orange Alice-in-Wonderland mushroom. Finally, I could enjoy Alaska the way I dreamed of and give myself a chance to be a kid again.

Resting on the trail.

Fellow hikers reassured us that that’s why it was critical for parents to take time away from their kids. Rekindling the parts of yourself that you had neglected after you became parents, they said, made you a better parent. When things got tough in the future, we had moments like this to grip onto. Mothers reminded me that it was important to show my daughter that when she became a mother, it’s okay to take a break and take care of yourself.

A man in his late sixties who kayaked from Washington State to Skagway in order to hike this trail patted me on the back and said, “You can’t sacrifice your life for the kids. That’s really smart that you are doing this now, when you are young.”

Before we reunited with our kids, we squeezed in a fishing trip, which would fill the bellies of our family and friends. We even ran into a former classmate of mine passing through Whitehorse. Similar to our reasons for moving away from Alaska, my classmate and his girlfriend had tears in their eyes when they told us that Alaska was the only place they ever felt at home or made any friends. They were grateful to hear how we’ve stayed connected to Alaska. It had been a year since we left Alaska and I was surprised to hear myself say, “When you miss Alaska, just remind yourself that home is wherever your family is.”

The Ablation of Grief – Part II

Two weeks after moving to Vienna, Virginia, Tropical Storm Lee kills at least seven and forces tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.   A fifteen minute drive home turns into several hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, something I’ve never had to deal with in Alaska.

This is where Thomas parks to take the bus to work. Photo credit:

My windshield wipers cannot keep up with the rain pouring at a rate of four inches per hour from the skies.  Every detour that GPS offers routes me back to the same closed road leading to my neighborhood.  Meanwhile, Thomas, Kyra, and Ethan, dry inside our rental home, call me on my cell to report that our neighbors and their horses are being evacuated.

Stuck only a mile away from my family, I have a lot of time to ponder the wisdom of resisting change.

Kyra and Ethan ride change like champions.  On our last day in our Eagle River log cabin, Kyra woke us up in the morning with, “Come on guys.  It’s time to go to D.C.”

Whenever I look down, Ethan asks, “Are you sad Mommee?  Is it Alaska? Do you need kiss?”

Starting first grade was rough for me, but not Kyra.  The school encourages all kids to ride a bus to school.  Since Kyra has never ridden a bus before, I begged her to let me take her to school on the first day.  I was worried about her transition from a tiny school with one classroom of kids in her grade to one with five classrooms of first graders.  The school is so large that the four of us got lost during open house.

Kyra said to me, “Mommee, I’m not scared.  If you don’t let me take the bus, I’ll be mad.”

I ask Kyra, “Tell me everything that happened on your first day of school.” Kyra answers, “Nothing happened.”

The kids ask me from time-to-time when we are going back to Alaska.  They will even say that they miss our house, but I can tell they have moved on, something I’m not very good at.

To be honest, I’m still at Patricia (“Trish”) Opheen Redmond’s Celebration of Life, the eve before we depart Alaska, grieving about my loss of Alaska and Trish, a colleague of Thomas’ who always made me feel loved.

With the rain beating down all around me and the shrill of passing ambulances with boats strapped to their roof, I remember that Trish’s best friend of 40 years, Carolyn Bettes, encouraged all of us to “move forward” in her remembrance speech.  She offered a list of moving forward ideas, things that Trish used to do: prepare an amazing meal and share it with friends, send a postcard to a best friend about your day, walk a dog, be a mentor, volunteer, live up to your own potential, live out loud.

Mike Redmond, Trish’s husband, defined Trish’s attitude towards life as a woman who could never cook the same thing twice, “no matter how strongly I pleaded, because there were so many other recipes to try.”  If it was a sunny day, she would cancel whatever they had planned for the day.  “Even if we had planned something for weeks, nope, she would change the plan so we could be together outdoors: hiking, biking, backcountry sledding.”

Trish enjoys a sunny day with Harry above her cabin in Resurrection Bay.

Adapting, letting the waters of life sweep you off your feet, moving on.  I grip the steering wheel and force myself to move.  Approaching the cop car that blocked my road, I roll down my window and plead with him.  I tell him I need to get to my family, that I am driving our only form of transportation.

The cop says, “Well, you can go around us, but do so at your own risk.  Your street might be underwater.”

With images of Trish coasting down mountains lit by moonlight with the engine turned off or sipping a glass of wine to the sunset on the landing of their Resurrection Bay cabin, I maneuver around the cop and make my way slowly down the slick street.  I’m the only one on the road and I can see a lake where the road disappears around the bend.

Fortunately, the entrance to our rental is still above water.  I drive into a forest of trees, where my friends joke that I managed to find the only Alaskan cabin located in Northern Virginia.  Thomas is waiting anxiously at the front door.

“This is not good,” he escorts me into the house and points out our glass sliding doors facing the backyard.  Through the dense trees, what used to be roads and homes is now a lake as far as our eyes can see.

Our backyard turns into a lake.

“Let’s go to my sister’s house.  Pack your bags,” Thomas announces.

Kyra and Ethan erupt into excitement at the prospect of playing with their cousins.  “Yeah, I’m Superman!” Kyra yells, then starts to run in circles around me.

Ethan chases her and says, “I’m Batman!”

My heart is pounding and my knees feel weak from “moving on” and I can do nothing at the moment but lie down on the carpet where I stood.