Soren and Claire with their friend, the banana slug
I took Soren and Claire camping for a few days during the early part of the week, because I had the week off and Mom was taking Ronin to Wyoming to go to a dinosaur excavation and Yellowstone and visiting Grandpa Bruce and all kinds of other exciting things. I have been busy planning a much more complicated vacation for later on in the summer and Justin was (and still is) working a lot of hours on a project that keeps seeming to need more time and input. He couldn’t tell me if he would be able to take any time off that week or not. I wanted to do something fun with the kids who were staying with me so they wouldn’t feel left out of the exciting trip, but it was hard to figure out what to do.
Claire and Soren deciding to take the difficult way around the log blocking the trail
I didn’t finalize my plans with Claire and Soren until the day before my vacation started. We knew we wanted to go camping, but it was hot and several of the places I had thought about visiting after our camping trip in the redwoods last year were closed because of the drought. The water levels were too low in the surrounding creeks and there was no water supply for the campgrounds. I finally found this small, quiet campground with few amenities tucked away in the general vicinity of the other ones, but it hadn’t closed because it had received a grant and because it was a state park and not a county park.
Claire drawing at our campsite in the redwoods
Portola Redwoods State Park was lovely. It was sparsely populated and even people who had reservations were packing up and leaving because they couldn’t handle the mosquitoes. The creeks were low and murky, which may be why the mosquitoes were so plentiful. We saw quail and deer and loads of banana slugs and chipmunks. There was a nature trail with informative markers, and the kids loved it so much they wanted to hike it twice.
Short hike on the Escape Road Loop
There was a Visitor Center that was not open when we got there on Monday afternoon and was not open at all on Tuesday or Wednesday. There was a welcome area that sold firewood that was also never attended. Luckily I had brought everything we needed, including local firewood. I have gotten very good at gathering camping supplies and setting out for a couple of days, and now the kids are reaching that idyllic stage where they can actually run around and play and have a wonderful time for hours and hours and all I have to do is tend to the occasional injury. I dreamed about this when we went to Mendocino, and it’s starting to come true. It does help to have a natural jungle gym of gigantic trees all around.
Soren climbing down The Ship of Strength, one of his favorite hangouts and his biggest adversary
Soren had a big fall, from a fallen tree he called The Ship of Strength, but luckily he landed on his feet. He was screaming and crying and shaking when I reached him, and he couldn’t talk at all. You can’t see it in the picture, but since the tree is propped on top of another trunk, it’s about twice as high off the ground as it looks in the picture, and he fell into a little pit next to it. I asked him if he could point to where he was hurt, and he still couldn’t do anything except shake and cry. Then I asked him if he was scared or hurt, and he stopped crying for a moment, thought about it, and decided he was just scared. Since he doesn’t often listen to me about edges or heights or hot or sharp or anything, I decided it was just as well that he got scared about something.
The Ship of Strength, looking from below
There was a campsite full of boys next to us the first night. They were playing baseball and Claire bravely joined in their game, telling them she knew how to play (even though she didn’t, not really, but had seen people play on occasion) and she had to be shown how to hold the bat and swing, but after one or two tries she was hitting the ball pretty well some of the time and the boys were giving her tips and cheering her on. The mom at that campsite told me I was brave for going camping alone with my kids. Shortly after that Soren picked up a cyanide millipede and carried it tenderly from across the campground to show me his new pet. I didn’t realize at the time it couldn’t hurt large animals, but I suggested he watch it crawl on the ground instead.
Harpaphe haydeniana (the yellow-spotted millipede, almond-scented millipede or cyanide millipede)
Soren did not let his experiences dissuade him. He spent his time running around pell-mell, jumping off of large trees or the bear box, climbing around, and picking up other insects. He got stung by a bee. He fell down a few more times, although Claire was the main person who ended up with large bandaids. His other favorite tree he named The Ship of Exercise, and it had a slide-type area at one end and bouncy branch hanging down at the other end. He and Claire would climb up the large roots at the end, slide down, run down the trunk, and dismount on the branch they called “Lifty.” That’s where Claire got her scrapes. I think it was really cute that they named the trees they were climbing on.
Soren and Claire sliding down The Ship of Exercise
The second day, a family from the neighborhood school joined us. The older boy is in Claire’s grade and the younger one is Soren’s age, and we’ve known them since Claire and Ronin started kindergarten. Together, the kids built racetracks for banana slugs and read to each other and climbed up logs.
Walking on the Sequoia Nature Trail – Claire is pointing out the sandstone layers on the opposite bank
Claire loved being the guide on the nature walk with our friends on the second day. She had paid close attention the first time and wanted to read the information to them at each stop along the way. She was reading out loud sentences such as “One of the most critical components of a healthy redwood forest is rich, spongy topsoil” and would only stumble on the occasional Latin name, but she got frustrated when the three boys would race ahead to find the next marker and didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying. She would occasionally say, “But wait, I didn’t finish…” and then peter out as she realized they were already around the next bend.
Soren and his friend examining Pescadero Creek
I sympathized with Claire and said it’s hard to want to say something important when it seems like everyone else wants to do their own thing, and she hung back with me for a bit, holding my hand, and then joined in the race with abandon. Then she helped out more by coaching the younger friend to the last marker so he could find one first while we moms distracted the older boys. I loved the responsible and helpful, yet fun-loving side I saw of her on this trip, which sometimes gets lost in competing for space or attention or things.
Claire trying to draw a mustache on herself with a crayon
I found the camping trip to be very peaceful and relaxing, despite the occasional trauma and mosquitoes. Getting there and setting it up wasn’t too bad. Neither was taking it down, packing it up and coming home. While I was there, I could just hang out and not feel like I should be doing a chore or working on a project, since something is always hanging over my head at home. Getting supplies ahead of time and doing laundry afterward were more difficult, and also when I came home I had less than 24 hours before we had to leave to go to Tahoe for the weekend of the 4th of July. Sadly, when I got back to cell phone range, I found out that our hotel reservation had been canceled and the town was almost entirely booked up and nobody responded to my messages until the next day, when we were supposed to leave. That is a story for another entry, though.
Claire, sitting in front of Portola’s Shell Tree, 17 feet in diameter and approximately 2000 years old when it burned down in 1989