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September 2001

Take Your Family Outdoors

Camping with kids can plant a wild seed in them that will grow as they do-but only if you get them Out There.

This isn’t to say there aren’t bad moments. Ten days into the journey, a daylong rainstorm pounces. Slabs of riverbank and entire trees topple into the torrent. We slide around corners, desperate for a camp, any camp, not drowned beneath the rising river. We finally ram into a bedraggled mudbar. Within half an hour of getting a tarp up and serving the first round of hot chocolate, the grim situation has improved. Ruby is sitting next to Kim, drawing rainbows in her journal; the boys are furiously battling Charlie for the hand-slapping championship.

My children are proving themselves.

Some 250 miles downstream from Dawson, Kim and Charlie paddle

ahead to retrieve our vehicles. We have 2 final days to be a family in the Alaskan wilderness.

We float along, our canoes often rafted up together. The boys offer Ruby advice about what to expect in kindergarten. Harry Potter comes to a close. There is no shortage of sticks to collect.

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On the last night, we camp at the gravel nose of another island. The kids tear around in the sand, build a fort out of logs and rocks, take dips in a sun-warmed pool, wing stones at passing driftwood logs.

Later, after dinner, Marypat herds us all together for a family photo. One of Ruby’s eyes is swollen shut by a blackfly bite. All three of the children are gritty and bug-bitten and in desperate need of hot baths.

“C’mon, you guys,” Marypat calls. “This is our last chance for a family shot. We get out tomorrow.”

It’s then that they all say, in one voice, what I most hoped to hear, words that, 2 weeks earlier in our roadside camp, I’d never have predicted I’d hear:

“Aw, Mom! Can’t we stay longer? Can’t we just keep on going?”

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