It is the last week of a month in France for us, and I find I have been thinking much about my mother, who first took me to France when I was eighteen. She is no longer the robust, tireless woman of my youth, now frail in mind and body, though not in spirit. I have been missing her!
My mom taught me much of what I know about outdoor adventure. The first lesson in camping was how to squat to “go” in the woods: heels apart, elbows inside knees flanged wide, facing up a slight incline so the stream trickles downhill without pooling at your feet. My first attempt at the age of 5 exasperated her, as I haplessly filled my sneakers to the brim.
We camped a good deal back then, so I learned about tent setting and sweeping out, about food handling, about packing, site selection and more. We had a wonderful old tin breadbox that was the “kitchen” filled with cutlery, salt & pepper in Tupperware shakers, metal plates and coffee cups, tightly rolled dish towels, and, of course, matches. I still have it, and memories flood in whenever I open it.
My mom taught me how to ride a horse. And canoe. And row. And sail. And hike. And travel. I have climbed to high mountain tarns in the Colorado Rockies with her (she herself summited the 14-er Longs Peak). Together we climbed Mount Snowden in Wales. We paddled rivers swift and lethargic, and sailed and sailed and sailed. I owe my love of nature and the outdoors to her. Mom took me to Europe for a month before I started college, finding ourselves in Paris in the middle of the hottest weather in recorded history. We traipsed the city from end to end: Eiffel Tower, Tuileries, Montmartre, Notre Dame. This was when I learned that the French don’t like COLD drinks, and that asking for ice-MORE ICE S’IL VOUS PLAIT-only brings looks of disdain from the server. My mother taught me to seek out the adventure, to get out into a new place and explore by foot. We had escargot in Nice because it was important to try a culture’s exotic foods. Today I recognize the privilege of such an upbringing, with a mother who worked fulltime to pay for the adventuring.
The world is a kind of wilderness in its beauty and unpredictability.
Still, I am a more cautious traveler now. Just the other day, two women surrounded me with clipboards asking if I spoke English. This is a typical scam in France-for gangs to send out emissaries to distract a tourist with a petition for a charitable cause and lift her valuables while she is signing. I said “no.” When they pushed further into my personal space, I shouted, “NO!” They jumped back as if I had a communicable disease.
My vehemence surprised even me, giving me pause. I must thank you mom for everything you taught me, but most especially for taking me to church week after week where I would encounter the adventure of a life with God. I am learning that the world is filled with people wandering in a different kind of wilderness, where God is remote and survival is everything.
So, I have spent this week contemplating the wide gulf between awe and pain. Between beauty and baseness. Between the fist that holds tight, and the open palm that gives away. Between pushing away with a shout and beckoning the lost by gently saying, “Jesus loves you.”
It’s an uphill climb, and I have miles to go, but my mother taught me well.
Thanks for reading!