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First Night Out: Essays

Three authors write about the moments that changed their impressions of the backcountry forever.

Mother Nature
By Tracy Ross

Dear Scout, You won’t remember your first time backpacking. But I sure do. You were intolerable. Whining in the kid carrier like some kind of wounded puppy. Wiggling against my shoulder straps as if you wanted to break my collarbones. You devoured a day’s supply of vegetable puffs within the first two hours of hiking. We nearly abandoned our first family overnight after that. But both your dad and I knew the power of wilderness to make us happier, more observant people. So on we hiked, down the snowmelt-soaked trail, over the moss-draped rocks, into Colorado’s Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. It’s a wonder you nap now, Scout, because 11 years ago, you didn’t. Not in your crib, not in my arms, not in your car seat on a rumbling dryer. But I’m happy to report that by hour three, I heard your snores mingling with the trilling of the marsh wrens. I picked up the pace, using your dozing as an opportunity to cover distance. Only now do I realize I didn’t need to. Because when you awoke, you were a different baby. I know: All babies are sweeter after a nap. But you weren’t sweet so much as present when you woke up. At a shimmering pond we stopped for lunch, and you sat in the dirt, staring at the water. When a beaver slapped its tail on the surface, your shriek sounded like amazement. As the afternoon warmed, we took off your shorts and stood you in the water. More shrieking, followed by a full-body tremble. Back on shore you touched stones, lay your cheek on the dirt, ate some mud. Then you held up your arms, signaling for me to hold you. Gently, I put you back in the pack, and we hiked on to our campsite. You didn’t grouse again until after the tent was up, dinner was cooked, and the stars were shining. That night, you slept soundly in the crook of my arm until morning. Because of this, I can’t claim that the wilderness alone soothed you through your first full night of slumber. But that’s the way I like to tell it.

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